Author Archives: Bret

How to Become a Metabolic Machine! An Interview With Katie Anne Rutherford

I’m quite pleased to interview Katie Anne Rutherford today – a dual powerlifter/figure competitor with a highly impressive work ethic and regimen, and an advocate of DUP for powerlifting strength and muscularity. I believe that many of my readers would benefit from adopting a similar approach and attitude as Katie Anne, while obviously tailoring the training and eating to individual weaknesses and preferences. I hope you enjoy our discussion!

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1. Hi Katie Anne! Thank you for agreeing to conduct this interview, I know my readers will appreciate it. Let’s get right down to business. You compete in figure and powerlifting. Which do you like most and why?

Thanks so much for the opportunity Bret! I appreciate it! Yes I do compete in both powerlifting and figure – I truly love both! However, I would say my number one love is training. I have been an athlete as long as I can remember so the athletic performance of powerlifting is what gives me the most enjoyment. I would have to say that I like powerlifting slightly more for that reason – it’s just you vs. the weight. Not much subjectivity to the sport. However, I do love the femininity and challenge of figure – it takes a different type of mindset and training. I love the constant strife to improve myself in both sports – either with how much weight I am lifting or sculpting my physique through hard work each day. With that being said, I would not choose one over the other. I love being a duel sport athlete and demonstrating to women that you can still lift heavy and look good on the figure stage!

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2. Great answer. Let’s switch gears and talk diet for a minute. You’re an advocate of IIFYM, and you have a freakishly high metabolism. How many calories were you consuming when you first started working with Layne Norton, and how many calories are you currently consuming?

Thanks Bret! When I first started working with Layne, I was actually consuming close to 2700 calories (over 300g of carbohydrates) and maintaining weight! However, I weighed closer to 165lbs then (vs 143lbs now). Over the course of the last year, I lost about 20lbs over about 8 months to step on the figure stage. My macros never had to go below 165g of carbs in my prep – which is relatively rare for female prep standards. Over the course of my reverse diet this year, I reached an intake of 320g of carbs and 80g of fat – close to 2700 calories while doing no cardio and maintaining stage leanness. I started my reverse diet at about 144lbs last November and ended it (in Late May) at the same weight. Right now, I am not quite back up to those food numbers (after having had to diet down for a couple weeks for my two figure shows) – but inching back up. I am currently eating 260g of carbs and 65g fat one week post show.

3. I bet many of my female readers are envious of your bodyweight multiplier of 19 for total calories. But this wan’t all magic – it occurred in tandem with some serious strength gains. You turned your body into a metabolic machine by getting freakishly strong. How strong were you at the big 3 lifts when you first started working with Layne, and how strong are you now?

Thank you! That means a lot to me. When I first started working with Layne (we met at a seminar he held in Columbus, Ohio for the Arnold), my max squat was around 290lbs and my max deadlift was around 300lbs. I am not even sure what my bench was! Probably around 130lbs or so. Currently, my max squat is 347lbs, deadlift is 363lbs, and bench is 175lbs.

4. Amazing. Actually, what’s even more amazing is your training volume. You adhere to a DUP approach to training. How many days per week do you squat, bench, and deadlift?

Yes I do! I actually started my DUP training one year ago. Prior to that, I was following a hypertrophy/power program from April of 2014 until July of 2014, which is when I met Dr. Mike Zordous, who has conducted quite a bit of reseach on DUP. Layne and I decided to focus on powerlifting from that time on and incorporated it into my training. I currently squat 3x per week, bench 4x per week, and deadlift 2x per week. Prior to my last training block, I was doing the three main lifts 3x per week. We changed my program up a bit since my bench tends to be the lift that lags behind my other lifts. I am currently prepping for Raw Nationals in October.

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5. Do you just grind through week in and week out, or do you deload regularly? And do you ever have days where you go super light and pull back the reins due to fatigue and exhaustion?

I typically deload about every 5 weeks or so. Generally, there are not many days where I feel completely exhausted and have to go super light – occasionally, if I am not feeling well or I just do not have much energy (which I have experienced a couple times due to figure prep), I may leave out my amrap set (as many reps as possible) and add an extra set. The beauty of DUP is that the volume is looked at from a weekly perspective. As long as I am getting my volume in for the week, I try not to stress about little changes to a day here and there. For example, if I am battling a shoulder injury, let’s say, I might decrease my bench weight and increase the sets and/or reps to equate for the same volume for that session (volume = weight x reps x sets).

6. Do you ever incorporate variety with the big lifts, or is it pure specificity? In other words, do you ever pull conventional (since you pull sumo), or perform front squats, or high bar squats, or close grip bench, or board presses? What about pause squats, pause deads, and extra long pause benches? If not, why?

My lifting is pure specificity – I do not incorporate variations of squats into my program or pull conventional on deadlifts (I pull sumo). I do add in accessory work to focus on my weaknesses – for example, I add in shoulder exercises to help with my bench and back exercises to help with deadlift. However, with DUP, I focus on weekly volume progression. Especially since I am a dual athlete, focusing on too many variations would be overwhelming for my programming. I run a very high volume training schedule – therefore, I have to determine what will give me the most benefit in terms of my powerlifting programming. So as of now, I solely work on the lifts in the same way that I compete (back squat, sumo, and bench with a slight pause). My training is constantly evolving, however, and so who knows how long that will stay constant!

7. I would imagine that you’d attribute most of your body improvements to increases in powerlifting strength. But what other exercises do you typically perform in order to “round out the body” for figure competitions? Please include your favorite accessory lifts for the glutes, hams, lats, delts, and any other favorites.

Yes, I have found that the BEST glute exercise that exist are the squat and deadlift – I can attribute the significant change in my lower half to those exercises alone in the past year. However, I do occasionally add in hamstring work (glute ham raises or leg curls), but no additional quad work. Other accessory work that I really have to focus on are back focused exercises – your back can truly never be big or dense enough for figure! I also add in quite a bit of shoulder work too. Some of my staple exercises I add in are rack chins/pull ups, any type of rows, shoulder presses, lateral raises, calf raises (seated & standing), and standard bicep and tricep work. My accessory work is typically spread out over three days – with a heavy emphasis on back. Figure shows are won from behind 😉

8. Do you do any cardio? If so, how much and what type?

The only cardio I perform is cardio squats and deadlifts! (anything over 8 reps). Haha – no, I do not perform traditional cardio right now, unless I randomly decide that I want to do some interval sprints every once in a while. I warm up on a cardio machine before my lifts for about 10 minutes – if that counts ☺

9. When you compete in figure, do you change the training much? In other words, do you employ higher reps, or add in more accessory lifts, or increase cardio? Or do you keep that all the same and just rely on diet?

When I am getting close to a competition, I do add in a bit more accessory work to increase the volume for my lagging body parts for figure. Generally, my training stays pretty constant throughout the year. Leading up to a powerlifting meet, I typically reduce the amount of accessory work I am doing just to conserve more energy for the main lifts. Ebs and flows, but generally stays constant! Luckily, I have not had to do much of any cardio since last fall – so the only tweaks that Layne and I make to get a bit leaner are through my diet (macros).

10. Do you bulk and cut throughout the year or just stay close to a given bodyweight? By the way, what is your current bodyweight and bodyfat percentage?

Since my show last fall, I have maintained my weight at around 141-146lbs. I tend to fluctuate in weight quite a bit simply due to my high sodium and water intake. To give some perspective, I ended my reverse diet this year at 145lbs and stepped on stage at about 140lbs. I will hope to reverse diet, put on some mass, and maintain around 148lbs this fall/winter. Right now, I weigh 143lbs. I had my body fat measured in the spring when I weighed 145lbs – it was 8 percent – I would estimate I am probably slightly under that right now coming off my show.

11. Let’s revisit nutrition again. What are your current macros, and what does a typical day look like in terms of eating?

My current macros (after coming off my competition season, where I competed at NPC Junior Nationals and NPC Team Universe) are 260 carbs, 65 fat, and 150 protein. My coach and I are reverse dieting and will continue to do so until I determine when I want to compete in figure again. Since I follow a flexible diet, a typical day truly varies! I eat a lot of eggs – so usually I start my day with 2-3 eggs with toast and cream cheese. Pre workout, I focus on getting at least 25 percent of my daily carbs and post workout is the same as well. I like to save quite a bit of my fats for night when I have more eggs or peanut butter (one of my favorites).

12. What are some of your favorite foods that you make sure to include in your diet each week?

As I mentioned, I love eggs! So I usually have 3-5 whole eggs per day. I also love whole grains and potatoes – so Ezekiel bread and sweet/regular potatoes are staples in my diet. I can never turn down ice cream – so that is something I also love to treat myself to at night typically. However, I also eat lots of fruits and veggies – roasted asparagus and strawberries being two of my favorites. Peanut butter, honey, and rice cakes are also foods that I enjoy. No foods are off limits for me, my taste buds are always changing, so I change up my meals pretty frequently!

13. Great choices, and very well put! Just goes to show you the value of added muscle mass in combination with high frequency/high volume training. What advice can you give to beginners out there who are seeking to change their physiques through strength training?

My number one piece of advice is that results will come with hard work and consistency. There truly are no shortcuts when it comes to getting results. Focus on establishing both a training and nutrition plan that are sustainable for the long term – and a workout program that emphasizes heavy lifting and progression. I see too many beginners focusing on quick fix diets and training programs that are not maintainable for the long term. Also, find a program you enjoy! The journey of health and fitness should be something that complements your life and happiness – not detracts from it.

14. Do you believe that figure and powerlifting complement each other, or could you see better results if you just focused on one or the other?

I do believe there are aspects to both types of training that complement each other. The heavy lifting of power lifting has developed my physique into something I honestly never could have achieved without it! Focusing on my weaknesses with bodybuilding accessory work has also given me more strength for power lifting. With that being said, I am sure if I solely focused on powerlifting and did not maintain the leanness that I do for figure, of course my absolute strength would increase. However, as I mentioned before, I would not give up one for the other. I truly enjoy the challenge of being a duel sport athlete. I will say that I do not think I would have the legs that I do without powerlifting – even if I focused solely on bodybuilding.

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15. Thank you very much for your time Katie Anne, last question. Where can my readers follow you? I believe you’re on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube right?

Thank you for the opportunity Bret! I am on Instagram, @katieanne100. My YouTube is under Katie Anne as well (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1SUzQui0z4IBw21dENIpvg) – and my Facebook is www.facebook.com/katie.rutherford Thank you Bret! I hope that this was helpful and interesting for some of your readers!

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You Got Guru’d: Postexercise Cold Water Immersion

Cryotherapy (cold therapy) has been around for ages. Athletes and celebrities alike love it, including Floyd Mayweather (see the video below of Floyd using it), Kobe Bryant, Cristiano Ronaldo, Justin Gatlin, the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Cowboys, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Jessica Alba, Mandy Moore, Minka Kelly, and more (according to HERE, HERE, and HERE). I’ve used cold tubs in the past, and like many things in the world, it made intuitive sense to me that it would help me recover. I never really knew how it would help and through which mechanisms it helped, but I just “felt” it working, and I didn’t really question tradition.

The problem with relying on “feeling” is that it could just be temporary and fleeting, it could be due to the Placebo Effect, or it could actually diminish results without us knowing. This is why research is so important; conducting RCT’s allows us to examine short term physiological mechanisms inherent to a particular intervention along with long term changes in performance measures that are associated with a particular intervention.

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Many athletes and coaches like to jump into a cold tub immediately following a workout. Hell, cold tubs are common in high end training athletic training facilities around the world. Past research in postexercise cold water immersion is unimpressive. Some studies show minor potential, for example postexercise cold water immersion may improve postexercise lipid peroxidation (HERE), but for the taking a long hard look at the evidence on postesexercise cold water immersion doesn’t justify it’s inclusion in most sports recovery programs – it doesn’t appear to outperform a Placebo (HERE), it doesn’t improve sleep architecture (HERE), a major review paper didn’t approve of it for treating muscle soreness (HERE), and another review paper concluded that it benefited endurance athletes in terms of recovery, but not strength/power athletes (HERE).

A recently accepted article in The Journal of Physiology summarized two eye-opening studies that warrant further attention in the Strength & Conditioning field (HERE). I’m going to copy and paste the abstract, key points, and some author quotes below.

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Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training

Abstract

We investigated functional, morphological and molecular adaptations to strength training exercise and cold water immersion (CWI) through two separate studies. In one study, 21 physically active men strength trained for 12 weeks (2 d⋅wk–1), with either 10 min of CWI or active recovery (ACT) after each training session. Strength and muscle mass increased more in the ACT group than in the CWI group (P<0.05). Isokinetic work (19%), type II muscle fibre cross-sectional area (17%) and the number of myonuclei per fibre (26%) increased in the ACT group (all P<0.05) but not the CWI group. In another study, nine active men performed a bout of single-leg strength exercises on separate days, followed by CWI or ACT. Muscle biopsies were collected before and 2, 24 and 48 h after exercise. The number of satellite cells expressing neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) (10−30%) and paired box protein (Pax7)(20−50%) increased 24–48 h after exercise with ACT. The number of NCAM+ satellitecells increased 48 h after exercise with CWI. NCAM+– and Pax7+-positivesatellite cell numbers were greater after ACT than after CWI (P<0.05). Phosphorylation of p70S6 kinaseThr421/Ser424 increased after exercise in both conditions but was greater after ACT (P<0.05). These data suggest that CWI attenuates the acute changes in satellite cell numbers and activity of kinases that regulate muscle hypertrophy, which may translate to smaller long-term training gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy. The use of CWI as a regular post-exercise recovery strategy should be reconsidered.

KEY POINTS SUMMARY

  • Cold water immersion is a popular strategy to recovery from exercise. However, whether regular cold water immersion influences muscle adaptations to strength training is not well understood.
  • We compared the effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on changes in muscle mass and strength after 12 weeks of strength training. We also examined the effects of these two treatments on hypertrophy signalling pathways and satellite cell activity in skeletal muscle after acute strength exercise.
  • Cold water immersion attenuated long term gains in muscle mass and strength. It also blunted the activation of key proteins and satellite cells in skeletal muscle up to 2 days after strength exercise.
  • Individuals who use strength training to improve athletic performance, recover from injury or maintain their health should therefore reconsider whether to use cold water immersion as an adjuvant to their training.

“The key findings were that cold water immersion (1) substantially attenuated long-term gains in muscle mass and strength, and (2) delayed and/or suppressed the activity of satellite cells and kinases in the mTOR pathway during recovery from strength exercise. We propose that regular deficits in acute hypertrophy signalling in muscle after cold water immersion accumulated over time, which in turn resulted in smaller improvements in strength and hypertrophy. The present findings contribute to an emerging theme that cold water immersion and other strategies (e.g., antioxidant supplements, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that are intended to mitigate and improve resilience to physiological stress associated with exercise may actually be counterproductive to muscle adaptation (Peake et al., 2015).

This investigation offers the strongest evidence to date that using cold water immersion on a regular basis may interfere with training adaptations. No previous study has investigated the effect of cold water immersion on muscle hypertrophy after strength training.”

As you can see, this evidence is extremely damning. It seems like we all got guru’d. Jumping into a cold tub after a hard workout hampered our gains by slowing down the normal rate of progress in terms of satellite cell and mTOR pathway activation, strength acquisition, and muscle fiber hypertrophy. If you’ve heavily relied on cold tubs following your strength training workouts, you could have been more jacked. Hopefully professional sports teams, coaches, and trainers will be open-minded to ditching this common practice, as it’s used abundantly in the preparation of athletes in the NFL, NBA, and UFC.

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The Dead-Stop Reset Push-Up

Many individuals have a very difficult time keeping their cores in check when they perform push ups. They tend to sag in the hips and overarch their low backs. If I had to guess, I’d say 33% of men and 66% of women exhibit this problem when they perform push ups.

Not Good

Not Good

The dead-stop reset push up has you starting from the bottom position. First, you posteriorly tilt the pelvis with a giant glute squeeze and lock down the core. Next, you perform the push up while trying your best to maintain this core positioning throughout the concentric and eccentric portion of the set. Then, you pause at the bottom and reset.

Good

Good

These are much harder than standard push ups for most people but they will teach individuals to control their lumbopelvic hip complexes (LPHC) and keep them static while performing dynamic push ups.

Left: Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT) - this is undesirable in a push-up. Right: Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT) - this is the position you want in a push up (neutral is fine too)

Left: Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT) – this is undesirable in a push-up. Right: Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT) – this is the position you want in a push up (neutral is fine too)

Below is a video of Camille performing 3 reps. Notice that her form still isn’t perfect – you still see some hinging at the mid-back. These are very challenging for her; she can normally perform 10 bodyweight push ups but she typically anteriorly tilts her pelvis and hyperextends her lumbar spine. With the dead-stop reset push-up, she can only perform 3 reps but her form is markedly better. My guess is that in 6 weeks of employing these twice per week, she’ll be doing push ups like a boss while keeping her LPHC solid.

The dead-stop reset push-up serves as an excellent teaching tool for proper push up performance, I hope you give it a try!

5 Tips for Leaning Out

If you’re the type of person who can formulate a plan and stick with it to a T for months on end no problemmo, then you won’t find this article as useful as others who struggle with adherence. Furthermore, if you’re the type that just needs to recomp (add muscle while decreasing fat and staying relatively at the same weight), then this article won’t be as much help to you. The vast majority of individuals will indeed benefit from this article since most people are markedly overweight. However, I wrote this article for the folks like me who have been training for many years and have put on a significant amount of muscle mass but never reached the level of leanness they desire. This applies to the majority of advanced lifters as well, since most never truly get into competition shape (I never have, for the record).

For me, adherence is the most difficult thing in the world. Every few hours, it takes everything in me to not enter the kitchen and devour everything in site. Since I was 16 years old, I’ve always been a terrible sleeper, and if I’m hungry, I can’t sleep. In fact, most nights I wake up in the middle of the night starving and the hunger pangs are hard to bear. I have to drink a protein drink or eat a Greek yogurt then go back to sleep. For these reasons, although I’m highly skilled at creating macro plans, I’m not the best at sticking to them.

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I’ll elaborate to make a point. Last year, my intern Andrew Vigotsky would come over and we’d work on various research projects from around 8:00 pm to 2:00 am in the morning. During these 6 hours, he wouldn’t eat anything, he wouldn’t drink anything, and he wouldn’t go to the bathroom once to take a leak. In this same amount of time, I’d predictably eat 3 different times, drink 1.5 Liters of fluids, and take a leak at least 3 times. He doesn’t get hungry often and has to force himself to eat enough, whereas I’m hungry around the clock and have to try my hardest every day to not go berserk and consume 10,000 calories/day. I’m certain that if we took blood samples throughout the day and analyzed our physiology, we’d see  completely different hunger hormone profiles. It’s like my bodyweight set point is for some reason at 300 lbs and I’m trying to be 215 lbs. At any rate, I finally buckled down and made some progress, and I’m excited to share with you the tips that worked for me. 

As I mentioned in a blogpost HERE a couple of weeks ago, I recently lost 22 lbs (from 246 lbs to 224 lbs) and leaned out considerably. Many of my readers were curious as to how I went about it. As a matter of fact, I posted a picture of my current physique on Facebook and it received 4,690 likes – by far the most I’ve ever received!

This was pleasantly surprising to me because I don’t feel like my physique is very impressive. The dude in the picture below – now that’s an impressive physique! Nevertheless, having leaned out myself and having helped numerous clients lean out over the years, I believe that I have some good insight to share.

This guy is shredded!

This guy is lean! Not me.

I Figured Out What Worked for Me, You Have to Figure Out What Works for You!

Throughout this article, please realize that these are the approaches that worked well for me; they won’t necessarily work for you. However, you can learn from my strategization and experimentation in order to help you figure out the methods and systems that best suit your individuality.

After much deliberation, I decided to narrow things down to five main tips that should help you on your way to leanness, should that be your goal.

1. Do what you need to do to continue achieving excellent workouts

It’s much easier to train hard when you’re eating like a horse. When you’re dieting down, your workouts will eventually suffer, and this effect gets more pronounced the longer you’ve been dieting.

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It is mandatory that you have plenty of energy to train hard to maintain strength (or even better – to build strength) over time. If you feel weak and shaky when you lift, your performance is obviously going to suffer massively, therefore you won’t be sending the same growth signals to the muscles, and your muscles will atrophy. The goal is to keep as much muscle as possible while you lose weight so that the weight you do lose is mostly fat. Most people mistakenly focus on losing weight instead of losing fat. Muscle gives you shape and keeps your metabolism more revved (*side note: many fitness experts overestimate this though; a pound of muscle burns approximately 5.9 calories/day whereas a pound of fat burns approximately 2.0 calories/day, at least according to literature referenced HERE), so it’s imperative that you prioritize strength training. You don’t want to just be a smaller version of your current self; you want to keep your muscle and lose mostly fat so you will appear more ripped and possess lower bodyfat levels.

So how do you ensure that you have sufficient energy to train hard when dieting down? Everyone is unique in this regard – I cannot give you a precise formula. You’re going to have to experiment and be scientific in order to figure out what works best for you. In particular, you need to figure out:

  1. The ideal time of day you should train in order to put forth your best effort
  2. The ideal number of meals you should consume prior to your training session
  3. The ideal combination of foods you should consume prior to your training session
  4. The types of supplements, if any, that help you train harder
  5. The amount, type, and timing of cardio, if any, that helps you lose fat without interfering with strength
  6. The optimal amount of calorie reduction and macro proportions that allows you to steadily drop weight (fat) while keeping your strength (muscle)

I know of some lifters who like to train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This strategy alone would cause me to lose significant strength and most likely muscle as well as I don’t perform optimally in the mornings – especially with squats, deadlifts, and other “big rock” movements. I do best when I train in the afternoon or evenings.

I know of some lifters who don’t feel right if they don’t have a couple of moderate carb meals prior to their workouts or at least a high carb meal 1-2 hours before their workout. I know of some lifters who consume all of their daily carbs during the 3 hours surrounding a workout (before, during, and after). I don’t require moderate or high carb meals before I train; this doesn’t seem to affect my performance. However, I like to have several meals in me by the time I train, especially a protein shake around 40 minutes prior to my workout.

I know of some lifters who love their HIIT and can’t stand steady state cardio. I don’t like doing HIIT or running as I feel that it interferes with my strength since I train with high frequency (*side note: THIS review shows that concurrent training does interfere with strength, power, and hypertrophy, and THIS review discusses some of the factors involved in the interference effect). I walk for 40 minutes 4-5 days per week – always after my strength workouts.

I know of some lifters who thrive off of coffee and/or caffeine pills prior to training. I rarely drink coffee, and I don’t take pre-workout supplements, but I always drink a diet energy drink on my way to the gym.

Initially, I was able to reduce my calories substantially while still maintaining my strength. This could be explained by a drop in carbohydrates (I was consuming tons of carbs every day) leading to improved insulin sensitivity/enhanced physiology, along with a significant portion of the first 10 lbs of weight loss coming from water losses. I lost 16 lbs during the first 3 weeks of dieting, and the remaining 8 lbs took 9 weeks, but my physique looked better every week. I know I was a little overaggressive out of the gates, but it all worked out in the end.

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I had to be more meticulous as time went on in terms of calorie reductions in order to prevent strength and muscle losses. As I lost weight, I fought vigorously to maintain my strength. I’m going to reiterate that to make a point: I CARED ABOUT MY STRENGTH AND MADE IT A PRIORITY. You need to do this too if you want to hold onto your muscle while you lose weight.

Throughout the 24 lb weight loss, my high rep deadlift strength, weighted chin up strength, max rep chin ups, and lat pulldown strength soared, my max rep deadlift strength, hip thrust strength, reverse lunge strength, rowing strength, and incline press strength remained fairly steady, and my squat strength, front squat strength, bench press strength, and military press strength diminished by around 10% – similar to my bodyweight reduction. So I gained in some lifts, maintained in some lifts, and lost in other lifts. However, I set weekly goals, I planned, tracked, and analyzed my workouts, and I tried my absolute best to still set PRs when possible. I believe that this caused me to retain more muscle and lose more fat throughout the dieting process. This are the strategies that worked best for me; you’ll need to figure out what works best for you. 

2. Eat less and prepare to suffer more

When I was at The Fitness Summit a couple of months ago, some of my colleagues noticed that I looked leaner and asked me what I was doing in order to lean out. I thought about it for a few seconds and replied with this:

“Um, I’m eating less overall calories and staying hungry more often.”

We all laughed because they expected some fancy formula, but all I gave them was something any moron could tell them. However, this advice is very important. I suppose I could have been more technical and informed them that I created a caloric deficit by progressively cutting my carbs and fat down while keeping my protein the same (around 1 gram/lb of bodyweight per day). However, one of the main things I had to do was get used to being more comfortable with being hungry.

I realize now that I was a spoiled little b#$%* when I weighed 250 lbs. Whenever I experienced the slightest bit of hunger, off to the kitchen I went. In fact, sometimes I’d even hit up Valeros at 2 a.m. before I went to sleep. Valeros is a local Mexican food take out restaurant near my house – I’d order a chorizo and egg burrito with beans and rice. Who in the f*#$ did I think I was LOL? This was just one of the 8 meals I ‘d consume per day. Back then I was eating around 6K calories per day at 250 lbs, but in order to get down to 224 lbs I had to eventually get to around 3,000 calories per day. This was fine when I was in my early 20’s, but I’m 38 yrs old now and can’t handle all those calories while staying lean.

chorizo

When I was at 250 lbs, I would guess that I experienced general hunger for around 20 minutes per day. But at 224 lbs, I would guess that I was experiencing general hunger for around 3 hours per day. I had to accept this and learn to deal with the suffering. Getting lean isn’t all fun and games for most people.

3. Prioritize diet, but every little bit can help

It’s important to be mathematical with regards to the fat loss puzzle. How many calories does exercise in general burn? Of course, it depends on various factors such as the nature and intensity of the exercise and the person’s bodyweight, but let’s just go with 5-10 calories per minute for sustained exercise.

Common sense tells us that extreme methods don’t pan out in the long run. So let’s assume that you’re going to be realistic and lift weights 4 times per week for an hour. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you train very hard – full body – and that each training session has you burning 300 more calories more than you would at rest. This equates to 1,200 extra calories per week. Say you add in four 30 minute steady state cardio sessions which burn an additional 200 calories per session above what you’d normally burn. This equates to 800 extra calories per week. Now you’re burning an additional 2,000 calories per week through exercise, or 286 calories/day.

Not very impressive, right? Let’s say you currently eat a bagel with cream cheese each day as a snack, or say you have a few alcoholic drinks after work each night. Simply cutting these out of your diet will create the same caloric deficit as all of that exercising above (6-8 hours of total activity). Obviously strength training with the extra calories would be the best choice for your physique over the long haul since it causes the body to transform by building more muscle and shedding fat (assuming weight stays fairly constant), but the take home point is that the primary focus with fat loss should be on diet, not exercise, since it’s easier for most people to eat less as opposed to exercising more.

That said, every little bit can help. For example, when you’re dieting down and you crave a sugary snack, you might very well be willing to add in 40 minutes of brisk walking as a trade for allowing yourself to gobble down some tasty treat (for example, a snickers bar, not a giant bowl of icecream or half a dozen donuts). It just depends on your cravings and mindset. Some people aren’t tempted and can stick to their macros like a boss. Others struggle more in this regard.

Inclined treadmill walking is one of my favorite forms of cardio - doesn't interfere with strength and hits the glutes pretty well.

Inclined treadmill walking is one of my favorite forms of cardio – doesn’t interfere with strength and hits the glutes pretty well.

On days when I train clients for 4 hours or so, I find that I’m able to consume around an extra 600 calories compared to days when I don’t train any clients, and I won’t lie, the extra calories are very nice. But truth be told, if I wasn’t making money from the personal training, I’d prefer to just omit the extra hours of work/activity and just consume less calories. For those who don’t have tremendous cravings, you can just lift weights and adjust your diet appropriately; you don’t have to employ additional cardio to get lean. I realize that this is contrary to popular opinion, but many of my clients have pulled it off just fine – they stepped on stage looking incredibly lean having never done on ounce of cardio. Some cardio is indeed important for health purposes, but many people greatly overestimate how much cardio is ideal for health related goals (*side note: specifically with running and vigorous exercise, there’s a sweet spot, or a u-shaped curve, that maximizes health benefits, according to THIS paper, and it’s capped at 30-40 minutes per day).

4. Figure out clever ways to stave off hunger

Calculating macros is easy, but sticking to them is not always very easy, especially as you get leaner. Now, if you’re the type that isn’t prone to experiencing hunger pangs, then you’re a lucky individual and you can ignore this tip. However, if you’re like most people, you’re going to reach a point when dieting down where you find yourself getting extremely hungry. The body has inherent set points for bodyweight and bodyfat, so when you drop down, your body responds by sending out hunger signals. You will need to find a way to stave off hunger.

This is another thing that is highly individual. Some people consume a lot of fibrous veggies. My body doesn’t seem to be fooled by this – 30 minutes later my stomach is growling like crazy. Others chew gum, drink tea, drink a bunch of water, or even brush their teeth. What works best for me is exercise, caffeine, and carbonation. Each of these stave off my hunger temporarily. Sometimes I’ll be starving and I drink a diet energy drink and then go for a walk, and my hunger will have vanished. Three hours later I’m finally hungry again, and I successfully “stalled” my hunger for a few hours which helps enable me to stick to my macros. You will need to figure out similar strategies that work for you.

5. The 1-2X/week whey protein macro-fitting strategy for long-term adherence

Adherence is the name of the game over the long run. If you can set up, stick to, and intelligently adjust your macros for months on end and consistently set PRs in the gym, you’re going to look incredible. Many people don’t understand what “macros” means. Macros are protein, carbs, and fat, and the amount you consume of each determines your caloric intake. If this is new to you and you desire a basic guide to teach you about flexible dieting and calculating macros, click HERE to check out Sohee Lee’s “The Beginner’s Guide to Macros.” It’s an affordable guide and it’s very well written – I vouch for it. I also included a bonus guide in my 2 x 4: Maximum Strength product.

Before I divulge my “whey protein macro-fitting strategy,” I’m going to first rant about anti-flexible dieting comments I’ve seen over the past year.

Rant start

I’ve been seeing some people dissing “flexible dieting” lately as if it doesn’t have merit. This would then mean that they’re all for “inflexible dieting” or “rigid dieting.” Having trained numerous competitors who ate the same meals everyday for a couple of months during their preps (egg white omelets, broccoli, chicken, tilapia, sweet potato, oats), I can tell you with much confidence that this doesn’t pan out in the long run. As soon as the competition is over, most of these ladies put on 15 lbs the following week, then they’re miserable. This is why I’m a strong believer in moderation and why I don’t like excessive cardio or dieting. Variety is ideal for adherence.

On a continuum of “dieting flexibility,” on one end you’d have the most rigid dieters who would just eat a few different things each day, whereas on the other end you’d have the most flexible dieters who would switch things up and eat new things daily. I’m pretty sure nobody would recommend just eating one food, such as milk. Or beef. Or eggs. Or whatever. You’d be very unhealthy and would develop serious health complications pretty quickly. So rigid, inflexible dieting is out, and at the very least, it would be prudent to regularly consume at least 10 different foods. Most people are flexible dieters whether they realize it or not.

The difference between the flexible dieters and “anti flexible dieters” is that flexible dieters often purposefully work in some junk food such as pop tarts, or ice cream, or whatever, but it’s in small amounts. The rigid dieters think this is unhealthy, but something that they’re missing is that you can still adhere to flexible dieting and abstain from junk food. You can “eat clean” (misleading term but we all kind of know what it means) while still being flexible and incorporating a lot of variety. For the record, adding in some junk is not unhealthy in the grand scheme of things as long as around 80% of your foods come from whole, minimally processed foods, and I’m unaware of a single marker of overall health that would be negatively impacted such as insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. Many “clean eaters” have a cheat day where they go crazy for an entire day and end up eating just as much junk throughout the week as the flexible dieters anyway.

Nevertheless, variety is better for overall health since you get more of a variety of micronutrients, phytochemicals, etc. But being lean is very healthy in and of itself. Many of you will recall “The Twinkie Diet” rage years ago where professor Mark Haub lost 27 lbs in 10 weeks by eating 800 less calories/day. He consumed a protein shake and a can of veggies each day, but everything else was junk – twinkies, oreos, little debbie snacks, hostess products, doritos, and sugary cereals. Even though he ate a bunch of crap, since he leaned out, his overall health improved – his LDL levels dropped by 20%, his HDL levels increased by 20%, and his triglycerides improved by 39%. Overweight people who add fruits/veggies to their diets without losing weight don’t tend to improve their cardiovascular health (see HERE).

This is why adherence is the name of the game! So we all need to figure out strategies that allow us to “adhere” for the long-term. This allows us to be at the right weight and bodyfat that we want to be at and stay there for the long-term. This leads right into my next point.

Rant over

When you’re dieting down, you tend to crave predictable foods. Sugary foods, fried foods, foods that have lots of carbs and fats, etc. For example, pizza, burgers, fries, ice cream, peanut butter, bacon, cereal, pancakes, macaroni and cheese, cookies, brownies, pie, candy, and chocolate. I started utilizing an interesting flexible approach that 1) allowed me to get in the foods I craved, and 2) was quick and didn’t require a lot of prep time. Win win!

My Whey Protein-Fitting Macro Plan

Now, you don’t have to follow this same approach, but you could easily tweak it to suit your individuality. What I did was simply jot down foods I really wished I could eat. For example, I love my giant bowls of cereal, I love my cheeseburgers, and I love my pancakes with tons of butter and syrup. Guess what? I realized that I could have cereal in the morning along with a whey protein shake, a double cheeseburger for lunch, pancakes for dinner along with a whey protein shake, and a whey protein and peanut butter shake (actually more like pudding) before I went to sleep. How’s that for a day’s meals? The things I craved were loaded with fat and carbs, but I “filled in the gaps” with whey protein in order to ensure that I hit my macros and didn’t go overboard on calories. Think of the foods you crave (when you’re dieting down, sometimes the things you crave are different than when you’re not dieting down), work them into your diet in reasonable amounts, then balance everything out with protein. Here’s what one of the days looked like for me:

Breakfast: 

Giant bowl of Grape Nuts: 500 calories, 12 grams protein, 94 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Skim milk: 135 calories, 12 grams protein, 18 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
2 scoops in whey protein in water: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Total: 855 calories, 66 grams protein, 120 grams carbs, 4 grams fat

grape nuts

Lunch:

Double cheeseburger (Wendy’s): 700 calories, 48 grams protein, 38 grams carbs, 39 grams fat
Total: 700 calories, 48 grams protein, 38 grams carbs, 39 grams fat

double cheeseburger

Dinner:

3 pancakes: 471 calories, 12 grams protein, 69 grams carbs, 15 grams fat
2 tablespoons butter: 204 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 24 grams fat
6 tablespoons syrup: 312 calories, 0 grams protein, 78 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
2 scoops in whey protein in water: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Total: 1208 calories, 54 grams protein, 155 grams carbs, 41 grams fat

pancakes

Snack:

2 scoops in whey protein: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Skim milk: 90 calories, 9 grams protein, 12 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
3 tablespoons peanut butter: 300 calories, 10 grams protein, 9 grams carbs, 24 grams fat
Total: 610 calories, 64 grams protein, 29 grams carbs, 26 grams fat

chocolate-pudding

* I’d make the protein shake so that it was really thick and then I’d refrigerate it so it came out like pudding

Grand Total:

3373 calories, 232 grams protein, 326 grams carbs, 110 grams fat

You’ll note that this day of food intake totaled 3373 calories. Toward the end of the 10 weeks of dieting, I was down to around 3000 calories/day, so if I went over on calories like this, I’d walk for 30-60 min (depending on the overage on calories) at night at a brisk pace in order to make up the difference.

I would do this once per week at first and then twice per week after I’d been dieting for six weeks. These days would feel like cheat days, but they’re not cheat days – you don’t gain any weight and you don’t feel like complete crap the next day because you keep your calories in check. You’ll find that the rest of the week, you feel extra motivated to eat “cleaner” and get more fiber in, etc. I don’t experience digestive issues with these days but I would expect some people to, so those folks could take a fiber supplement on those days I suppose.

The other 5-6 days per week, I’d stick mostly to whey protein shakes, skim milk, eggs, tuna, chicken, lean beef, Greek yogurt, orange juice, fruit, dried fruit, mixed veggies, cheese, mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, pickles, and fish oil caps. So this way, the vast majority (over 80%) of my food throughout the week is still considered whole and minimally processed, with plenty of fiber and diversity. Of utmost importance, the flexibility allows me to stay lean, stay healthy, and stay aboard the plan.

Again, you don’t have to use this same approach. Many people don’t like protein shakes (I love them), but the whey is almost pure protein so it works very well for this purpose. You will obviously crave unique foods that are different from mine. But make no mistake about it – adherence is the name of the game in the long run, so you have to figure out ways to help you stick to the formula.

Conclusion

I hope that these 5 tips are helpful in your endeavors to get leaner. I’d like to state that many of my clients lean out considerably without ever dieting down. They simply keep their calories consistent, improve their macro proportions to contain more protein, and get way stronger. Over the course of several months, their physiques transform markedly despite the scale not changing. So the advice provided in this article is more so for the person who is too heavy and needs to lose weight to achieve their preferred level of body composition.

As I’ve repeated consistently throughout this article, these are the strategies that worked well for me, but you’ll need to get crafty and figure out ways to help you adhere to your diet so that you keep your calories in check, stick to your macros, and maintain or gain strength in the gym. You want fat loss and muscle maintenance, not weight loss, so strategize accordingly and defend your strength levels like a boss as you diet down.

2015-06-12 00.00.00

Me at 224 lbs after losing 22 lbs over 10 weeks