The Truth About Refeed Myth – Part 2: Refeed boosts metabolism

Refeed

a widely used method in the fitness industry that gives you the justification to eat more than you should on a weight loss diet. The idea behind refeed days is that higher calorie intake days improve your weight loss, increase satiety hormones (I addressed this point in Part 1 of this series) and to boost your metabolism on a weight loss diet.

 

When I hear that refeeding boosts metabolism and helps weight loss, I can only shake my head. Without lots of explanation and many words here are just a few interesting facts taken from research studies:  

 

refeed metabolism booster.png

Do you see the problem? Even if you dramatically overeat you never increase the daily energy expenditure so much, that you burn the calories you overeat. Basal metabolic rate (aka the metabolism) is a component of the daily energy expenditure. Thus, the effect of overeating on the metabolism is even lower when compared with the total daily energy expenditure (which includes food digestion and movement).

Important point: If you overeat you don’t noticeably boost your metabolism. The only thing you do is gain fat. 

As a side note, metabolism behaves similar to leptin. The basal metabolic rate decreases already on the first day of the energy deficit.

 

To cut a long story short:

A refeed day to maintenance calories or slightly above may - in the best-case scenario - increase your energy expenditure by about 100 kcal, which definitely doesn’t make you lose more fat. In contrast, you don’t lose any fat on that day, because you aren’t in an energy deficit. As soon as you return to a caloric deficit, your energy expenditure will decrease again.

 

From the metabolic perspective, refeeding makes absolutely no sense to me.

 

However, to be fair I also need to present the arguments in support of refeeding. There is a way to boost your metabolism with leptin.

It’s injecting leptin!

You can increase your energy expenditure to pre-dieting levels if you inject as much leptin as it is required to get the same leptin level as you had before dieting.

No pain, no gain…or in this case, no pain, no boosted metabolism. Maybe leptin injection is the way to go to boost metabolism!

Let’s have a closer look at it.

After having a look at leptin costs and calculating the amount of leptin I would need to inject per day to boost my metabolism, I realized that my daily leptin dose would cost me at least $154. Paying $154 every day to burn 100-200 kcal more a day?

Not sure how much I like this idea. I would rather do a 30 min morning walk every day and save $154.

 

Take-home messages:

  • Stop believing in things that seems too good to be true.
  •  If a theory suggests that you will lose more weight by eating more, then it’s most likely not true (except the cases when increased energy intake leads to an increase in subconscious movement or upregulates your heat production and turns you into a heater)
  • If a refeed has a positive effect on your mindset, such as making it easier for you following your diet and being more consistent, then go for it. Just don’t use refeeds as an excuse for eating more than you should. Don’t tell yourself the lie that refeeds boost your metabolism and leptin levels, which make you lose more fat. Be honest to yourself, take responsibility for your actions and more importantly, don’t pig out, but eat using common sense.

 

When I have higher calorie-days:

As you can probably imagine, I don’t have planned refeeds. However, I have occasional higher calorie days. This happens when:

  • I have social events I want to enjoy, such as dinner out with family and friends. But even then, I go for the healthiest and most satiating meal options that are reasonably low in calories. Even though I may go over my daily calorie and macros targets, I make sure that it doesn’t end up in an overeating disaster. When I cut for a competition, I even take my food scale with me to a restaurant to make better estimations of what I eat and how much to eat.
  • My life gets incredibly stressful or I travel without having access to good food options. In such cases I try to do the least damage possible and stick to my macros as precisely as possible.
  •  I get food cravings that drive me absolutely crazy, so that I can’t focus on work. At this point it is very important to mention that I distinguish between specific food cravings (e.g. craving chocolate or pizza) and nutrient cravings I have for entire food groups (e.g. any food that is high in carbs or protein or fat).

I don’t give into specific food cravings, as it will make food cravings worse overtime. However, if I have nutrient cravings for more than 1-2 days, I give into them by shifting my macronutrient ratio and trying not to go over my calorie targets. This means that if I crave carbs, I may get more carbs that day and cut down on fat. The carbs sources I choose usually come from healthy, fiber-rich sources, such as fruits, starchy vegetables or legumes (no processed carbs!). This helps me to get more vitamins and minerals in and reduce the chances of overeating, because of the higher fiber and water content of these carb sources. If I crave fat, I usually specify what type of fat I crave (more on the importance of different types of fatty acids in this blog post) and go for the fat sources I am the least likely to overeat on. For example, to get saturated fatty acids I would choose coconut over chocolate, for monounsaturated fatty acids avocados or olives over almonds and for polyunsaturated fatty acids chia or flex seed instead of nuts or nut butters. Of course, the food you are less likely to overeat on is dependent on your personal taste.

Usually, a serving size with an energy content of 200-300 kcal is enough to get rid of my nutrient cravings. I don’t need to consume tons of food to satisfy this type of craving. Also, the extra 200-300 kcal a day I can easily burn by increasing my activity on that day.

 

It’s about finding a diet right for your lifestyle and not the other way around.

I hope this article series could help you not to fall into fitness industry diet myths and plan your diet in a way that gives you the most progress!


Are you confused about what macronutrients you should be following?

Do you find yourself struggling with knowing how to fit your macros?

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The Truth About Refeed Myth – Part 1: Refeed increases the satiety hormone leptin

Refeed

a widely used method in the fitness industry that gives you the justification to eat more than you should on a weight loss diet. The idea behind refeed days is that higher calorie intake days improve your weight loss, increase satiety hormones and to boost your metabolism on a weight loss diet.

 

Refeeds are very popular among dieters. This isn't surprising because refeeds allow you to eat more calories – mostly coming from carbs - on one or two days a week. On refeed days calories are usually increased up to the individual energy maintenance requirements or are set even higher to create a slight surplus. Your weight loss is supposed to benefit from it, because refeeds are thought to:

  • Improve fat loss
  • Boost metabolism
  • Increase the level of the satiety hormone leptin, which drops shortly after going on a weight loss diet
  • Reduce hunger
  • Improve diet adherence
 

The refeed concept is pretty neat, particularly for a semi-starved dieter who is obsessed with food he/she can’t eat on a weight loss diet. Don’t we always want the things we can’t get? 

The best thing about a refeed day is that you don’t need to feel guilty eating the food you shouldn’t eat on a weight loss diet because a refeed gives you the ideal excuse to do it. Refeeds are supposed to be good for your diet!

Yet, I am very sceptical about things that sound too good to be true. This also applies to the refeed concept. For this reason, I decided to put numbers taken from the research literature on the supposed benefits of a refeed. This way, I will provide you clear and transparent information on how beneficial refeeds truly are, so that you can decide whether they benefit your diet or are a setback for your weight loss goal.

 

Refeed's influence on the satiety hormone leptin

The main argument why dieters should refeed is that short-term increased carbohydrate intake boosts the satiety hormone level. This hormone – leptin, to be more precise - drops shortly after the start of a diet.

Here, the important key word: SHORTLY

Already 6 hours after a meal the leptin level start dropping.

Thus, the question that instantly comes into my mind is:

Why should I waste a day of dieting by not losing any weight or maybe even gaining some weight, in order to increase my leptin level, if it already drops on the next day (after I fasted overnight)?

To put a few numbers on it to make it clearer:

-         40% energy surplus created by overeating on carbohydrates for 3 days increases leptin level by about 27%

-         Eating as little as 140 kcal by 1 pm after an overnight fast makes leptin level drop by about the same percentage as 40% overeating on carbs for 3 days increases it

 

 Influence of energy intake on leptin level. Three days overeating lead to 27% increase in leptin. Dieting until 1 pm leads to 27% decrease in leptin.

Influence of energy intake on leptin level. Three days overeating lead to 27% increase in leptin. Dieting until 1 pm leads to 27% decrease in leptin.

 

The findings above don’t sound like a very convincing argument in support of the refeed concept. As the leptin level respond to changes in nutrient intake so quickly, it is unlikely that the effect of one day refeed will be maintained until the next day.

 

There is another interesting study in support of the point I made above. This study compared the effect of skipping breakfast vs eating a carbohydrate-rich breakfast on leptin levels. Both groups - breakfast-skippers and breakfast-eaters - were provided with a carbohydrate-rich lunch they could eat as much of as they wanted. It is not surprising that the breakfast-skippers ate more food for lunch compared to breakfast-eaters. However, a fact that may appear somewhat surprising is that breakfast-skippers had significantly lower leptin levels in the afternoon despite eating more carbs for lunch. Indeed, their leptin levels were as low as during their morning fast. Thus, it seems like one carbohydrate-rich meal is not enough to compensate for fasting in the morning.

Another surprising fact is that even though breakfast-skippers had a significantly lower leptin levels than breakfast-eaters, their appetite scores didn’t differ. This mean that having less leptin in your blood stream doesn’t make you hungrier, at least short term

 

This finding is supported by another study, in which the subjects were put on a 62% energy deficit diet for 2 days. After 2 days of this severe calorie-restriction they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted for another 2 days. The energy restriction lead to a 27% drop in leptin. No wonder that the participants overate after the calorie-restriction was over. However, there was no association between the decrease in leptin at the end of the diet and the degree of overeating the days after. This finding shows once again that a lower leptin level doesn’t make you more hungry. 

 

Up to now I described short-term leptin changes, but does the same apply for long term dieting? A person who wants to lose weight doesn't diet for one or two days after all. It often takes weeks or even months to reach the desired weight loss goal.

 

The first and most important point to mention is that leptin is not only dependent on the current energy intake and nutrient status, but also on the body fat percentage. The more body fat a person has, the higher is this person’s leptin level. Leptin levels can differ by over 7-fold for individuals with different body fat percentages.

 Body weight has an influence on leptin. Individuals with a higher body weight produce more leptin.

Body weight has an influence on leptin. Individuals with a higher body weight produce more leptin.

 

For this reason, it is not surprising that leptin level drops when a person loses a significant amount of fat. Trying to maintain the leptin level at the pre-dieting value is like losing lots of weight while hoping that the clothing size won’t change, because one doesn’t want to buy new clothes. No matter if you want it or not, weight loss results in a smaller clothing size and a lower leptin level. That’s how the nature works.

Thus, the question is: Why the hell should we try to maintain initial leptin level while dieting if it will drop anyway?

 

Even refeed-friendly dieting protocols, such as alternate day fasting, lead to a 40% leptin drop over 12 weeks dieting while the dieters lost about 5.2 kg. This dieting method alternated one dieting day with an energy deficit of 75% with one refeed day during which the dieters could eat as much as they wanted. It’s like having a refeed every other day. Yet, the leptin level dropped despite refeeding half of the dieting time.

In another 12-week study that used a more realistic dieting protocol with a daily deficit of about 680 kcal (480 kcal deficit from reduced food intake and 190 kcal deficit created by exercise) leptin levels decreased by 54% already after the first week of dieting. Leptin remained low until the end of the diet without being significantly different from the value measured after the first diet week. 

This means that after an initial drastic drop, leptin level doesn’t change much until the end of the diet (at least if one diets for a few months). The decrease in leptin level was not associated with the amount of weight or fat lost. However, leptin decrease was associated with the feeling of hunger and the desire to eat.

In contrast to the findings I described above that an acute leptin drop doesn’t make one hungrier, this may not apply for long term dieting. If you diet for several weeks, a higher drop in leptin may make you hungrier.

Yet, even if it is the case, this information doesn’t help us when it comes to real-life application. It seems like we can’t do anything against a leptin drop that occurs when we reduce energy and carbohydrate consumption on a weight loss diet.

Refeeds may increase leptin for less than 24 hours, but most likely not for longer. For this reason, there is just one thing you can do:

Suck it up and don't try to be smarter than the nature by attempting to manipulate your leptin level.

 

 Short-term increased carbohydrate and energy intake may increase leptin short-term, however, this doesn't transfer to increased fat loss. If you aren't in energy deficit, you don't lose fat. 

Short-term increased carbohydrate and energy intake may increase leptin short-term, however, this doesn't transfer to increased fat loss. If you aren't in energy deficit, you don't lose fat. 

 

But what about refeed's metabolism boosting effect? Does a refeed day increase my metabolism and make me burn more fat?

Metabolism boosting effect will be the topic the next part of the ‘The Truth About Refeed Myth’ series. Stay tuned!


Are you confused about what macronutrients you should be following?

Do you find yourself struggling with knowing how to fit your macros?

Would you like a customized meal plan that is designed with your goals and progression in mind?

Then you will love my customized macros package! 

Optimize Your Nutrient Timing

Are you an advanced lifter but fuel your muscle gains like a beginner?

Or are you a beginner that doesn’t eat well enough to support your muscle building goals?

Don’t run the danger of ruining your gains, read on how to fuel them correctly;

First of all, let’s clarify who is a beginner and who is advanced. In general, with respect to muscle building ability, a beginner is a person with approximately 6 months to 1 year’s worth of training experience. And by this I mean REAL training, not sitting around in the gym, drinking a shake and picking up girls or dudes!

If you have 2 years of solid training experience, you are most likely advanced. However, don’t forget, that there is no precise transition between these stages; they happen gradually.  

And here is the reason why your training stage matters for your muscle gain nutrition strategy:

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Beginners have a very long post-workout anabolic window, which means they grow muscle for up to 72 hours after a workout.

In contrast, if you already have some training experience, approximately one year or longer, your anabolic window shortens and reaches to less than one day at the end. If you are advanced, most of your muscle are built only within the 6 hours after your workout.

This means that you should support your muscle gains in this period as much as possible by making sure you get enough protein and sufficient calories. The strategy you can use is eating less and having smaller meals further away from your workout and have large pre- and post-workout meals. By having a meal before your workout, you ensure that protein is in your bloodstream when you need it, which is straight after your workout. You also won’t waste valuable muscle building time on digesting food instead!

If you're a beginner and your goal is muscle gain, you can just have equally large meals with sufficient protein at all times, if you train every 2 to 3 days.

If you are intermediate, somewhere between a beginner and advanced, then your anabolic window is somewhere between 24 and 72 hours, like at 48 hours for example.

 

Take-home message: Your training stage determines how you have to arrange your meals and your energy and nutrient intake throughout the day. 

For beginners: sufficient food intake more important than timing

For advanced lifters: high protein and calorie intake around workouts important

 


Are you confused about what macronutrients you should be following?

Do you find yourself struggling with knowing how to fit them in?

Would you like a customized meal plan that is designed with your goals and progression in mind?

Then you will love my customized macros package! 

 


 

Workout Nutrition For Maximum Gains - What to eat before, during and after training

Imagine the frustration: every day you go to the gym, train hard, give your best but still don’t see the results you desire. This scenario can be even more frustrating, when you realize that the reason for this disaster is a nullity - ie, not eating the nutrients you need at the times you need it, which has a negative impact on muscle gain, or you eat too much even though you don’t actually need it. This could hinder your fat loss and your hard earned muscle would disappear under a layer of fat, so that you couldn’t see them at all. 

 

What to eat around your resistance training workouts

 
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CARBS

There a few points as to why people think that consuming carbs around workouts or even during a workout is beneficial for their strength and muscle gains:

●       Carbs are supposed to give you the energy you need for training

●       Carbs replenish glycogen stores (= carbohydrate stores inside the muscle you get energy from)

●       Carbs spike insulin (anabolic hormone) to reduce muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth

 

The first point is totally logical, right? You get energy in before and during your workout. Thus, you have more energy to fuel your performance; you can lift heavier, you can do more reps, you don’t get tired as fast. Such theories always sound great and inspiring. However, often they don’t match reality.

From the research we have so far, carbohydrates before and during workout reduce glycogen losses (loss of energy from energy stores inside our muscle). However, it doesn’t translate into improved performance. The only time when a performance-improving effect from carbs was shown for resistance trainees, was during the second resistance training session in one day (1). If you don’t train twice a day, there is no point in having carbs before workout. With the exception of the placebo effect, of course ;-)

The same applies to having carbs immediately after a workout. It makes sense to refill glycogen stores immediately after exercise only for those who train twice a day or have less than 8-hours between training sessions. This applies particularly to endurance athletes. For strength athletes fast glycogen replenishment is of minor importance. Moderate volume high-intensity resistance training with 6-9 sets per muscle group was shown to reduce glycogen stores by less than 40%. Glycogen is usually replenished within 24 hours, provided you eat enough during the day (2). 

 

But what about the insulin-spiking effect of carbs? Does this at least give me more gains? 

Sadly not. There is lack of data supporting the theory that consumption of carbohydrates immediately after training is beneficial for muscle gains. Also protein increases insulin levels in blood (you can read more on this topic in my article: The fattening hormone insulin - falsely accused). If you eat enough protein after your workout, you will achieve the insulin level you need to prevent muscle breakdown even without carbs (1).

However, if you train fasted in the morning, it is important to consume protein and carbohydrates immediately after workout to transfer the body from catabolic to anabolic state (2).

 

Conclusion: Carbs before workout don’t make you perform better. However, those may be the “unnecessary carbs” that could make you lose fat slower (in case fat loss is your goal).

Carbs after a workout don’t make you gain more muscle though it’s also not necessary to avoid carbs before or after a workout. Just eat the normal meals you usually eat without stressing about adding more carbs to them.

 

PROTEIN

It’s not a question of whether protein consumption around workouts is beneficial for muscle protein synthesis, but how much protein should one eat.

The recommendation for getting maximum muscle gains is eating 0.25-0.4 g protein per kg of body weight every 3-4 hours (1). This is also the amount of protein that would give you the maximum anabolic response if you ingest it after training. An exception to this applies to lifters on a plant-based diet. As vegan protein sources have about 16% less essential amino acids, the recommendation above should be increased by 16%.

 

Example for a 65 kg person:

 

65 kg x 0.4 g/kg = 26 g protein after a workout is definitely enough for maximum muscle growth. In fact slightly less protein would probably do the same job.

 

If this person is vegan, then this applies

26 g x 1.16 = 30 g protein after workout will give maximum gains.

Now do the calculations for yourself by using your own bodyweight.

 

If a protein-rich meal is consumed pre-workout, it has an influence on an amino acid level in the bloodstream during and after workout. As such, eating protein immediately after the workout is not really necessary. However, if your last protein-rich meal was 3-4 hours before the end of your workout, having protein straight after your workout makes sense. For advanced lifters, this window may be even slightly shorter. 

 

FAT

It is likely that fat is neither directly beneficial nor disadvantageous for muscle protein synthesis after the workout. However, fat may have an indirect muscle growth enhancing effect. It is important to be in the anabolic state to maximise muscle gains. This is when your body has enough calories to feel well and build muscle. If you are on a low calorie diet all the time and your body doesn’t even have enough energy to go through the day without losing weight, you can’t expect it to ‘waste’ energy for building muscle. Muscle building is not your body’s priority when enough energy isn’t available. Fat has a very high energy content; it is twice as much as carbs and protein have per 1 g of the nutrient. For this reason, eating fat after a workout can make it easy to reach the anabolic state after the workout; the state that is the best for muscle building. There is an interesting research study in support of this. In this study, the consumption of whole milk post-workout resulted in increased utilization of available amino acids and a higher muscle protein synthesis compared to fat-free milk (3).

 

Then, two more questions remain:

1. How much fat should I eat after workout? - As much as it fits into your macros. 

2. What are the best fat sources to eat? - Read the second part of the article:  3 Things You Should Know About Muscle Gain - Lean & Strong Series - Part 1. It is exactly on this topic!

 

In my next article, I will tell you more on optimized nutrient timing:

How much to eat and when to get the optimal gains! Stay tuned!


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I'm going to give you all the tool you need to create an individual program that works for YOU so that you won't have to start again next year.

BCAA Myth

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) is one of the most popular supplements the supplement industry wants to sell us. BCAA is each lifter’s dream supplement because it supposedly: 

●      helps to gain muscle

●      prevents muscle breakdown when fasting

●      contains significantly fewer calories than protein-rich food or even protein powder

 

No wonder that almost every serious gym-goer is tempted to supplement with them. Lean Gains, Bro!

 

But what actually is BCAA?

BCAA is a mixture of three essential amino acids - leucine, isoleucine and valine - that cannot be produced in the human body, however, have very important biological functions.

Leucine, for instance, is crucial for muscle hypertrophy (aka muscle growth) not only because it is an important building block for muscle, but also because it signals the body to start muscle protein synthesis (aka build muscle).

 

Can BCAA help prevent muscle breakdown when dieting or fasting? 

In theory, BCAA supplementation can prevent muscle degradation when dieting or when muscle glycogen and muscle glucose concentrations are low. BCAAs can be used as fuel (1,2) that can be burned. 

However, a bit of protein powder in water or maybe even some table sugar might do the job as well, whilst being significantly cheaper and having the same caloric content.

If your body doesn’t have enough energy in the present moment and you give your body something that it can burn, it will use it, no matter if that thing is a portion of BCAAs or not. 

 

But wait, wasn’t it shown that BCAA supplementation could preserve muscle, while a placebo couldn’t (3,4)? Maybe it’s about BCAA magic, not just calories? 

Great point! Speaking of calories...considering that in both studies referenced above (one examining tracking and the other prolonged skiing), the subjects in the placebo group lost more weight than in the BCAA group and food intake was not controlled for, it’s a no-brainer to suspect that the placebo group lost more weight, thus had difficulties preserving muscle mass, because they were in a higher energy deficit compared to the BCAA supplementation group. It’s not about BCAA, it’s about not eating enough.

 

Another interesting note; Catabolic state, when the body uses muscle as a fuel in the fasted state, can’t eve nbe  reversed by BCAA injection (5). 

 

But what about muscle gains? Can BCAA help us to get bigger?

bodybuilding-685081_1920.jpg

Indeed, there was an incredibly good sounding research study suggesting that (6). Resistance-trained subjects could gain entire 4 kg lean body mass after an 8-week training program, during which they supplemented with BCAA. Those weren’t newbs! Rather they were experienced lifters. Wow! 

The whey protein supplementation group could only gain 2 kg and the carbohydrate supplementation group only 1 kg. 

BCAA for the win!

But not too fast. Everything that sounds too good to be true should be particularly questioned.

 

This study was only presented in the form of a poster at a conference. It wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed research journal. We don’t even have the full research study protocol to know

●      What diet participants followed

●      If nutrient timing was taken into account

●      If the intake of anabolic steroids may have played a role (if researchers excluded lifters on steroids)

 

Another interesting point is that according to the abstract, the compliance among participants was 100%. Having run research studies myself and knowing how difficult it is to make people stick to a diet, irrespective of whether these are subjects in a research study or clients, it appears very unlikely to me that 36 people could follow the prescribed diet and training protocol to a T for the entire 8 weeks.

 

Lastly, as I already mentioned, this study wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed research journal. Peer-review means that other researchers check the study carefully before publication and if there are some minor errors, they make the author correct them. Should there be major errors in the research study protocol, they then don’t allow the study to be published.

 

The fact that this study wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed research journal appears very suspicious to me. I see it as a waste of time and money to run a research study without publishing the results in a journal and simply presenting it just at a conference. Basically, you can present whatever you want as a conference poster because nobody checks it. If you wanted, you could even invent a research study that never took place. Nobody would probably notice it. 

 

Another important point: In order to build muscle, one needs to have all building blocks, all 20 amino acids. BCAA provides only 3 of the building blocks. BCAAs don't increase muscle protein synthesis when taken fasted, as the other building block are missing.

 

Adding BCAA to little protein, can increase muscle protein synthesis to achieve the same effect as one would achieve after eating enough protein (5 g BCAA + 6.25 g whey = same as 25 g whey) (5, 7).

But why not just eat enough protein in the first palace? Why mess around with a BCAA-little-protein-mixture?

 

Interestingly, the opposite happens when one adds more BCAAs to protein: muscle protein synthesis goes down!

The muscle growth stimulating effect of leucine, the amino acids that sets the signal for muscle growth and is one of the 3 amino acids in the BCAA mixture, may be diminished by the other 2 amino acids in the BCAA mixture, as they probably compete for the same transporters to be absorbed. Thus, BCAA may actually reduce the signal for muscle growth (5, 7).

 

Take-home message:

BCAA seems to be a waste of money that may even reduce muscle growth if you are too enthusiastic about supplementing with it and take too much.

 

Ohh...did I ruin your mood? Maybe it wasn’t even me, but the effect of BCAA supplementation…

BCAA compete not only among themselves, but also with other amino acids for absorption. This applies also to the amino acid tryptophan, that is the building block for happiness hormone serotonin. The competition between BCAA and tryptophan happens for brain uptake.

Protein-rich meals, for example, were shown to decrease happiness, as tryptophan is outcompeted by other amino acids (especially essential amino acids), which results in a poor tryptophan brain uptake from the bloodstream. For this reason, foods high in tryptophan and low in protein may have the highest mood boosting effect.

In contrast, carbohydrate-rich meals have been shown to enhance the mood, as they indirectly boost tryptophan uptake into the brain (8). Mechanism of action seems to be that carb-rich meals lead to an increase in insulin level. Insulin makes our cells (e.g. muscle) take up various amino acids, especially BCAA, leaving more tryptophan in the blood stream. This increases ‘tryptophan to total amino acid’ ratio in our blood stream and results in a higher tryptophan uptake by our brains. More tryptophan in our brains results in a higher serotonin production and our mood increases.

Personally, I don’t think that BCAA supplementation should lead to major problems with the mood. However, if someone is susceptible to it and is in a ‘my-life-sucks-depression-phase’, maybe reduction in BCAA intake could be a thing to experiment with. 

Anecdotally, I had a few clients who were on antidepressants and noticed some unexpected side effects after increasing their protein intake, thus also BCAA intake. So, if you are in similar situation and notice something weird happening with your brain, it may be a good idea to decrease your BCAA intake to see if you get better.

 

My last advice: Don’t try to find any magic supplement that will give you more gains or try to trick nature. It doesn’t work. Just eat your food and lift!


How To Get Started?

I recently got this email from one of the subscribers to my email list:

 

“Hi Anastasia,

Glad to receive your email.

Here I am writing to you about my obstacles that are weighing me down from achieving a desired body. I want to dedicate time in fitness and cut down on my body fat%. And I am clueless about how to start. It's been months since I have hit gym. And my nutrition is also not on point.

I am so depressed and I am really pathetic at time management. Please suggest me how to bring my fitness regime life on track.

Waiting for your reply soon.

 

Thanks Much!”

 

This email is a precise representation of the problems many people have and the sadness and helplessness they feel, because they can’t get the body and the life they so desperately want. I decided to reply to this email in the form of this article, so that everyone, who struggles with similar issues, can benefit from it (of course, the person who emailed me agreed with me replying this way).

 

Let’s make it simple and address my reader’s goals and problems step by step.

 

There are two goals:

1.     Dedicate time to fitness

2.     Lose fat

 

However, there are several problems my reader has:

1.     No idea how to start

2.     Skipping training for months

3.     Not having the diet on point

4.     Being depressed

5.     Being bad at time management

 

The best strategy to address these problems is to start with the problem(s) that will automatically solve or will make it easier to solve other problems. That’s why let’s start with time management.

 

 

Step 1: Set priorities and schedule them

A person who doesn’t have time is a person who doesn’t have priorities. If something is important to you, you will find time.

Just think of this: Most people’s priority is to go to work in order to earn money for living. Can you imagine telling your boss that you don’t have time to work? God no! You will lose your job before you can blink. If having enough money to survive is your priority, you will turn up at work no matter if you have or don’t have time, no matter if you feel like it or don’t feel like it.

If you want to bring your fit life back on track, you need to make fitness to your priority. You have to schedule in the time you will spend in the gym and time for food prep. No matter if you feel like it or not. Just like work, you need to turn up there and do your job no matter what.

Is there a zombie apocalypse outside?

Do aliens invade your hometown?

Is the flying spaghetti monster attacking you and tries to strangulate you with his long noodle-like arms?

I don’t care. If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

 

Action plan: Schedule your training and stick to your schedule. It is helpful to do the things you prioritize first thing in the morning. For this reason, it can make sense to hit the gym the first thing in the morning. Even though mornings are not the best time to exercises, if no exercise it  alternative to it, because something always happens during the day that makes it ‘impossible’ for you to get to the gym, then working out straight after waking up is your thing.

And if you really, really have no time to get to the gym, then stay at home and deadlift your bed, in the ideal case with your significant other lying in it…this is hardcore! To accommodate weight progression into your deadlift training, think about improving your cooking skills and fatten your significant other, so that the weight you lift progressively increases.

I hope you get the crux of what I mean with all this:. If you can’t get to the gym, workout at home.

 

Amazing, the first step solved not only the problem with time management, but also the problem with not going to the gym.

 

 

Step 2: No idea how to start…training

If you have no idea how often you should train, how to create a training plan, and how to choose exercises, then read my previous article. I explain everything there.

If you still struggle with it, get the Training Plan Package I designed. The package includes whole-body workouts, upper-lower body split workouts and 3-day body-part split workouts for building muscle and strength in the most efficient way for each training stage - beginners, intermediates and advanced lifters.

If you still struggle, hire me as your online coach. I will be happy to digitally whip you through your workouts.

Screenshot (1047).png

 

Step 3: No idea how to start…eating right

To make it as simple as possible for you, I will give you a one-size-fits-all advice. You know how much I like these…*cough,cough*...but is seem like, that’s what the masses prefer. Find yourself a simple trick on the internet that solves all your problems and dissolves the belly fat in no time. Oh no, turns belly fat into a six-pack…that’s a much better way to sell it.

Ok, all jokes aside. Without knowing anything about a person, it is very difficult to give good advice. However, from all the years of my coaching experience a few things some things  just become plain obvious which can be successfully applied to most people.

 

That’s how you can put together your meals if your goal is to lose fat:

·        300 g or more of fiber-rich vegetables, e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts,…

·        20 - 30 g protein

·        Half of your usual fat intake (e.g. half the amount of oil you use to prepare your meals or nuts, nut butters or seeds you add to meals)

·        Half your usual carb intake (e.g. grains, such as rice, pasta, bread, oats, cereals,…and legumes, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas)

 

If you still have no idea how to put your meal together, just eat 300 g broccoli, 150 g tofu and ¾ cup cooked chickpeas 3 times a day and hope that you don’t turn green from all the broccoli.

 

However, if you don’t want to eat the same stuff every day for every meal and your ambitions are higher than just following a one-size-fits-all diet and you want to design your super cool, individualized meal plan, download the free meal plan guide I made for you

 

 

If you still have trouble figuring out how many calories, how much protein, carbs and fat to eat, check out my Customized Macros Package .

I will do the job for you!

 

Ok, in just three steps we solved the problem covering bad time management, not going to the gym, not knowing how to train and what to eat. The problem that is left is the depressed mood.

Most likely, this problem will get solved by itself considering that exercise has a mood enhancing effect. Living a fit life, eating healthily and seeing one’s own progress is very motivating and encouraging, that’s why I expect depression to disappear (if unfit lifestyle was what caused it in the first place).

 

However, there is another problem I see that was not mentioned in this email. This is a problem many people have. It is not that they don’t know what to eat, but more that they have other factors in life that sabotage their progress. Such factors can be having the ‘wrong’ food around that makes them unnecessary snack on or overeat on, or having challenging situations in life that trigger unnecessary eating, such as sadness, stress or tiredness, or having the wrong mindsets. What I mean is the all-or-nothing mindset. When a small diet break, such as eating one cookie, leads to a I-eat-the-entire-cookie-package disaster.

But writing more on this topic goes clearly beyond the scope of this article. In fact, there is so much to write on this topic, that would be enough material for an entire book. In fact, the book I write at the moment 😉 The book on why we overeat and how efficiently prevent it. Stay tuned!

 

 

Is the Keto Diet Better For Weight Loss?

The ketogenic diet is another diet that is surrounded by a certain “magic weight loss” diet’s aura. Magic weight loss diets are to me the diets that are supposed to lead to a greater weight loss compared to other diets, even when calorie intake is the same.

 

The keto diet’s major selling point is the supposedly enhanced fat loss as a result of carbohydrate restriction to less than 50 g per day (just to give you an idea, in case you don’t count macros, 50 g per day equals to the carbohydrate content of 1 cup of cooked rice).

 

Carbohydrates are supposed to be “fattening” because they initiate the release of insulin, the hormone that is among other things also responsible for fat storage. However, there is one important error in reasoning when it comes to the fattening action of insulin.

It is important to note that protein consumption - well, essential amino acids to be more specific - also leads to insulin secretion that can cause even more insulin to be released compared to carbs. Based on the reasoning above, protein should also have a “fattening” effect and be eliminated on a keto diet. However, this is not the case. (If you want to learn more on the supposedly “fattening” effect of insulin, see my previous article: “The fattening hormone insulin - falsely accused”).

 

Another reason why ketogenic diet is supposed to be better for fat loss is because a higher level of fat oxidation is observed on ketogenic diet. Fat oxidation is a fancy term scientists use to tell that the calories that are burned by the body to provide the energy for living (organ function, movement, etc) come from fat. However, fat is not the only energy source for the body. The body can use carbohydrates - those you just ate or you have stored as glycogen in your muscle and your liver - to cover the energy needs or even protein from muscle can be used for energy generation (not good!).

An important point that is not considered or maybe not understood by those who claim that higher fat oxidation results in higher fat loss, is that fat loss is about the amount of energy burned and not if the energy comes from carbs or fat (well, ideally you shouldn’t burn muscle as fuel). 

To make it a bit clearer here is a citation from a very interesting research study that compared the effect of a carbohydrate-restricted keto diet with the effect of a fat-restricted high carb diet on fat loss.

 

“Whereas carbohydrate restriction led to sustained increases in fat oxidation and loss of 53 ± 6 g/day of body fat, fat oxidation was unchanged by fat restriction, leading to 89 ± 6 g/day of fat loss, and was significantly greater than carbohydrate restriction (p = 0.002).”

 

Let’s reword the citation to make it easier to understand:

Keto diet led to a higher fat oxidation. Fat oxidation was unchanged on the high carb diet. However, the high carb diet led to a significantly higher fat loss than the keto diet.

 

How can it be?

The subjects following the high carb diet lost more fat because they burned more calories. However, as we know that the fat oxidation on the high carb diet didn’t increase, the most likely scenario is that the extra calories that were burned came from carbs.

Screenshot (888).png

 

At the end of the day, do you really care if the calories you burn come from fat or carbs if you lose more fat? To be honest, I don’t.

 

[Side note: If you are curious now why high carbohydrate diet may burn more calories, my speculation is that one of the possible reasons may be the different thermic effect of food for both nutrients. Carbohydrates require more energy to be processed by the human body than fat. Thus, a bigger percentage of the calories that are eaten as carbs are used for carbohydrate absorption, metabolism and storage compared to calories coming from fat.]

 

However, the study described above is not the only one that debunks the magic effect of the ketogenic diet. There was another brilliant study conducted on the effects of a ketogenic diet, in that subjects received exactly the same amount of calories and protein amount during both conditions, which isn’t typically the case with other research studies. Additionally, the subjects were trapped in the research facility, which meant they had absolutely no access to outside food. Visitors were allowed to meet with the study subjects in a common area, under supervision of nursing or research staff to avoid the exchange of food or beverages. Meals were consumed in a common area, under the observation of the research staff and participants were not allowed to leave the table during the meals. All meal trays were checked after consumption and any food that was not consumed was weighed and subsequent meals were adjusted for previously uneaten food. This was a really good controlled study!

After the subjects spent two months in the research facility, firstly following a high carbohydrate diet and then a ketogenic diet, body fat loss slowed down during the ketogenic diet period, which means that it is NOT better for weight loss.

Want to recap? Then watch this video on keto diet.

 

So, why do so many people think that the keto diet is better for weight loss?

 

Research studies: Previous research findings may have been confounded by not matching the calorie and protein intake. If one group eats fewer calories and more protein (protein has a higher thermogenic effect of feeding than other nutrients and is more satiating to some degree) then this group loses more weight. This is common sense.

Appetite suppressant effect: Another reason why the keto diet works for some people is the fact that the ketogenic diet seems to be more of an appetite suppressant (at least for certain individuals) than a higher carbohydrate diet. As such, it is possible that the ketogenic diet may be better, simply because some people lose their appetites and as a result eat less.

Stricter restrictions: Ketogenic diet puts very high restrictions on food choices. It automatically excludes most of the junk foods (as they usually contains carbs) and food many people are likely to overeat on (Yummy carbs!). Restrictions in food choices can not only lead to eating less, which is the major point of a diet, but also reduce the chance of overeating by eliminating the food that is tempting for most people. Keto diet seems to work well for people with an all-or-nothing mindset.

 

Take-home message:

There are no miracles, no magic diets… If you want to lose weight, the most important thing is to find a diet you can stick to.


Are you confused about different diets and how many calories you should eat?

Nutritional advice is great when it’s transparent, easy to understand and based on science. These are the principles I used for the design of my ‘Customized Macros Package’ that provides you

  • Customized macros calculated individually for you
  • Tables with food serving sizes and substitution options
  • Meal suggestions and recipes
  • ‘‘Fit Your Macros’ Calculator that will make it easy for you to fit the food you want into your macros
  • Video tutorial that teaches you general principles of fitting macros and how to use the calculator
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutrition Labels - What Can Go Wrong

How can it be that the very same product but from different manufacturers have different nutritional content?

That's a question many of my clients ask me.

The first thing I advise them to do is to check if the nutritional label really makes sense. Here is what I mean based on the example in the image. I saw this label recently in a store and thought that it was just too funny not to be shared.

Screenshot (873).png

The first and most obvious thing is that the sum of all nutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) in 100 g of product shouldn't be more than 100 g. Usually, it's even less, because many products contain in addition to that other ingredients such as water or salt.
However, in the nutritional label shown above the weight of all the three nutrients combined gives 150 g in 100 g product. This is complete nonsense!

Furthermore, if you calculate the calorie content of the product, considering that carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 kcal per 1 g of the nutrient and 1 g of fat 9 kcal, you get that this product actually contains 848 kcal and not 398 kcal, as is shown on the label.

What’s going on? The thing is that many manufacturers don't actually measure the nutritional content of their products in a food analysis lab. They just take data from databases containing the nutritional content of individual ingredients and calculate the theoretical nutritional content of their products. That's when they can make mistakes. As you can see here, very very big mistakes! As such, it is important to use common sense when reading nutritional labels.
 

Fiber content

Another things that can make a difference why the same products have different nutritional information, can be the fiber content. In some cases, fiber counts as a carbohydrate and included into the total carbohydrate content. In other cases, fiber is given as a separate nutrient. For example, it is different in the US and Europe and can lead to some confusion when Europeans try to follow an US meal plan and the other way round.

Including fiber into the total carbohydrate content can also lead to a confusion. First of all, fiber has fewer calories than other carbohydrates, such as sugar or starch. Fiber has about 2 kcal per 1 g and not 4 kcal. If you don’t account for it, it can falsify your calorie calculations when you put together your meal plan or just want to check if the nutritional label is correct. The additional issue I see with counting fiber as carb is that although it belongs to the structural class of carbohydrates when we eat it, it’s not a carb any more when we absorb it. I know this sound super confusing and weird, however, it has a simple explanation. The human body can’t digest carbs, but our gut bacteria do. In fact, they use fiber to cover their energy needs (energy they need to stay alive) and all the fiber that is left is transformed into short chain fatty acids that are absorbed by our bodies. For this reason, for humans fiber is actually a fat source and not a carb source.

 

Water content

Another factor that can make a difference in nutrition labeling is the water content of foods. Just to give an example, if legumes are cooked longer and soak more water, then the energy content (calorie content) also gets diluted. Because of this, certain legumes preparation contains more water will contain fewer calories compared to a product that contains less water in a preparation with the same weight (e.g. 100 g).

Screenshot (872).png

 

I hope this article was useful in shedding some light in to the confusion with nutritional labelling. If you found this information helpful, please share it with your friends and spread the knowledge. I would really appreciate it! Thank you!


Are you confused about different diets and how many calories you should eat?

Nutritional advice is great when it’s transparent, easy to understand and based on science. These are the principles I used for the design of my ‘Customized Macros Package’ that provides you

  • Customized macros calculated individually for you
  •  Tables with food serving sizes and substitution options
  •  Meal suggestions and recipes
  •  ‘‘Fit Your Macros’ Calculator that will make it easy for you to fit the food you want into your macros
  • Video tutorial that teaches you general principles of fitting macros and how to use the calculator
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality check - 5 foods that curb sugar cravings

This morning I had an email from myfitnesspal with the subject: “No more cookie cravings” with a link to an article about 5 foods that curb sugar cravings. Curious as I am, I clicked on the article link to check out their magic craving killers:

1.  Berries

2.  Almonds

3.  Yoghurt

4.  Celery sticks with peanut butter

5.  Pumpkin seeds

 

Now, my reality check:

1.  Berries – nothing to say against berries. They are delicious, healthy and low in calories. However, if I carve a delicious piece of chocolate cake with even richer chocolate frosting on top, no berries in the world will be able to replace this craving. Even if I was to eat a bucket full of berries! Yes, I will be full, but not satisfied. Don’t you agree?

Reality tip: When I have chocolate cravings I kill them (very efficiently!!!) with my ‘High Fiber Chocolate Spread’, which consists almost only of fiber and a little bit of cocoa powder and tastes like the junkiest, chocolate-richest stuff in the world. Honestly, when you taste it you won’t believe that it’s actually not real high-calorie food!  Recipe: here!


2.  Almonds – according to the article almonds are supposed to keep ‘intense sugar cravings in check’ and their healthy fats keep one more satisfied for longer. I think that almonds are indeed more satisfying than berries for example, as they have more calories and more fat, which leads to a more rewarding signal in your brain when you eat them. However, it is precisely their calorie content that is the problem. You can’t just snack on almonds whenever you want and expect not to gain weight. Almonds have about 575 kcal per 100 g. Considering that 1 almond weighs 1-2 g, depending on it’s size, a handful of almonds can easily add 120-160 kcal to your calorie budget. On top of that, it’s difficult to stop snacking on nuts once started, which will most likely increase your calorie intake even more. Honestly, nuts are just simply not the best snack choice for weight loss in my opinion.

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3.   Yoghurt – the article claims that a reason for sweet cravings may be an imbalanced gut microbiota and that yoghurt helps you to reset it. Well, there is indeed some animal based research that suggests that the composition of our gut bacteria may influence our behaviour. [Btw, I have this theory that it’s actually not us who rule the world, but our gut bacteria. We are only giant incubators who feed them, keep them at the right temperature and they tell us what to do. We are just robot-like figures without their own will, as our gut bacteria give us orders and determine over our actions. – Just kidding 😉 ] But we definitely don’t have enough research to tell if gut bacteria may influence the behavior of humans. We are not mice! There are several areas of research, in which things that were found to have an effect in mice did not have any effect in humans or even had the opposite effect. For this reason, it is very hypothetical and most likely not true that yoghurt helps against sugar cravings.


4.  Celery sticks with peanut butter – Did anyone say peanut butter? If you are a peanut butter junkie like me, then the only safe thing to do is to stay away from peanut butter as far as possible. Having peanut butter at home means exhibiting constant afford and willpower not to snack on it and fight against your own brain’s rationalizations as to why you should have peanut butter right now… “just a little bit”, and then this little bit turns into half a jar. Considering the high calorie content and overeating potential of peanut butter, it is definitely not the best diet food.


5.  Pumpkin seeds – according to the article, chocolate cravings can mean being low on the mineral magnesium. Chocolate contains some magnesium, and pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium. As such, one has to eat pumpkin seeds in order to prevent chocolate cravings. A neat theory, isn’t it?

If you are really concerned about not getting enough magnesium, then I would rather go for cocoa powder than pumpkin seeds, as it has almost 1.5-times the amount of magnesium per calorie consumed (Yes, I love numbers and really calculate such stuff!). What I mean is that cacao powder is lower in calories and has about the same magnesium content as pumpkin seeds. That’s why from a dieting perspective consuming cacao powder as a magnesium source makes more sense. If you want to save all the calories, just get a magnesium supplement. However, be careful not to get it as magnesium oxide (MgO), as it is as hard as a rock and not really absorbable by our bodies.

Additionally, I don’t really think that magnesium is the issue with regards to chocolate cravings. If this was the case, then why the hell aren’t you craving pumpkin seeds instead of chocolate if you are really low on magnesium? Pumpkin seeds have about 3.5-times more magnesium than the same amount of dark chocolate!

Having chocolate cravings can mean that you are stressed, bored, unhappy,… and want to feel better by eating comfort food, which results in happiness hormone release in your brain. Or maybe, you just like chocolate. Eating chocolate frequently may have become a habit and the reason why you crave it, once you decide to cut it out from your diet.


Take-home message: When you read such articles, do a reality check. Just because something may work in theory, it doesn’t mean that it will work in reality.

 

My sweet-craving tip: What helps me against sweet cravings is eating a small, ripe, mashed banana with cacao powder and chocolate FlavDrops or preparing one of the delicious, low-calorie recipes from my ‘Guilt-Free Desserts’ recipe book. Some of the recipes actually have zero calories! If you’re interested, check it out here.

 

I hope this article helps you to make the right choices when you get sweet cravings. If you found this article interesting and think your friends would benefit from it as well, please share it  and spread the knowledge. I would really appreciate it! Thank you!


 

How To Turn Intermittent Fasting Into An Efficient Fat Loss Tool

As you have probably read in part 1 of the Intermittent Fasting article series, IF has several disadvantages besides the things that are good about it.

In general, IF can be a good tool if it fits into your lifestyle, which brings me to why I personally started IF and recommend IF to others…

 

Best restriction for some people

All types of diets is based on restriction of some sort. This is the reason why diets works, besides energy restriction, there are all kind of other restrictions, like fat for High-Carb-Low-Fat Diets, carbs for High-Fat-Low-Carb diets (e.g. Keto diet), processed ‘modern’ food like in the case of the paleo diet, or the time restriction for IF. Depending on your personality, some of the restrictions will work better for your than others. For me, time restriction works really well, as it is mentally easier for me to either eat or not eat, than have a little bit of food here and there. If I don’t set myself strict rules for when I am allowed to eat and when not, my brain will then try to find excuses why I should get something to eat right now. This is not only challenging for keeping up with my diet, but also for staying focused at work. When having food is not an option, like during my fasting window, the thoughts of getting something to eat don’t even cross my mind. This is what works for me, it doesn’t mean that it works for everyone.

 

Making Bigger Social Meals Fit Into A Weight Loss Diet

Often the clients that I suggest implementing IF as a strategy are those that tend to have bigger social meals in the evenings, ie eating out and not having prepared meals that fit their meal plan, thereby putting themselves at risk of exceeding their calorie deficit. A good strategy for them to save some calories for events like that in the evening, is to fast earlier in the day, for instance not to have breakfast.

 

Larger Meals Are More Satisfying

Another point to mention is that during a calorie deficit, which a person usually is in when they do IF as a means for weight loss, many people, myself included, prefer to have fewer, larger meals a day as opposed to many smaller frequent ones. In addition to this, as I am already at an advanced stage with my training, I want to consume most of my meals around my workouts (detailed explanation why it is more important for advanced lifters than beginners will come in my future articles). I usually train later in the day or sometimes in the afternoon, so I try to save my bigger meals for after my workout to support my muscle growth.

 

Shifting nutrient intake to the evening for a better body composition

Another benefit of shifting all my nutrients towards the evening is that research has shown that it is better to consume most of your protein later in the day (ref). This also applies to carbs; there is some evidence that shows that people that consumed carbs later in the day also found positive benefits for their body composition (ref).

 

IF saves time and increases efficiency

I have found that IF actually helps me to get more things done in the mornings and work more efficiently because I tend to do most of my important tasks before breakfast. Actually, as a result, it motivates me to get focused and not procrastinate, so that I could get what I need to done and finally have my breakfast!

 

Trying new exciting food without compromising the progress

Lastly, I have found that as I travel a lot and I want to enjoy my travel experiences by enjoying the local foods; IF has again proven to be an effective tool for saving and distributing my calories accordingly. So again, I have managed to save my bigger meals for the evenings when I go out and simply fast through breakfast.

 

Again the diet strategy works if you can stick to it and it fits into your lifestyle, not because one diet is superior than the other. Actually IF has several drawbacks when it comes to energy balance (decreased movement, and BMR), as I mentioned in the previous article.

 

But isn’t it hard to fast?

In the beginning, IF will be hard. I personally found this to be the case, because I am a breakfast person and it is my favourite meal of the day. By the third day however, I had adjusted to it. So how were these three days? I usually wake up at around 5:50am and try to have breakfast at 7:00. In this in stance, I just delayed my breakfast. So in the first day, I just had some tea and delayed it until 10:00 am. The next day, I delayed it again til I had it at 11:00 and then by the third day I was able to fast until 12:00. Doing it in this gradual way wasn’t that painful because you could positively push and motivate yourself by saying “Yesterday I did it at 10, so today I could do it half an hour or even an hour later”.

 

What about protein absorption?! Don’t you waste protein but consuming too much within a short time?

Isn’t there a claim (cough: myth!) that says it could be a problem if you consume most of your protein in this short window, because you can only really eat 30 g of protein at once, therefore the remaining will get wasted? Well, that is simply not true! For example, a study has compared the consumption of 40 g protein against 70 g of protein, and the latter outperformed because the whole body net nitrogen balance was higher (ref). The reason for this is that the 70 g meal caused the protein not to break down as much; to clarify, it wasn’t like the 70 g caused (muscle) protein synthesis to increase more than it would have in the 40 g meal, rather less protein was broken down. The concept of “total muscle gain” is based on a balance between muscle protein synthesis (building muscle) and muscle break down. Therefore (this will make sense now!), the breakdown was lower with the 70 g meal in comparison to the 40 g meal. As such, I do not have any concerns about consuming more protein later in the day.

Want to recap all the facts?

Then watch this video:


 

PS: If you want to make sure you are following the most optimum nutritional plan for your current goals and learn the tools to make your diet work for your lifestyle and not the other way around, then check out my Customized Macros Package!

 

Intermittent Fasting - where you are going wrong & missing out on the benefits

Is intermittent fasting really the miracle solution to losing fat, gaining muscle and living healthily?

Is it the all-rounder diet which could help to reach all your goals - muscle gain and fat loss - at the same time (even if they contradict each other)?

What if I told you that IF can actually make you lose muscle and gain fat if you don’t do it right?

What to learn how to do it right? - Then read on.

 

IF 101

Fasting should usually be done overnight and extended into the morning, whereby the first meal is lunch. Usually a person’s last meal would be in the evening, ie dinner, then they start IF again which continues through the night until the next day again, where their first meal is lunch.

It is important to highlight that there is no strict rule to this. In theory, you could also have breakfast and lunch, skip dinner and fast overnight.

How you arrange your fasting window and its length is dependent on your schedule and your personal preference. There is no fixed time or window for IF itself and when you should eat. Some people will have a 4 hour window, some may have 6 and some will have 8 hours. Again, this entirely depends on YOU.

What is important is structuring your meals. You shouldn’t just eat anything at any given time during your non-fasting-window. There are many benefits to a structured meal pattern, including the most obvious of not just randomly eating and thereby running into the danger of overeating.

 

So why do people IF and why is it beneficial?

I often get the impression that many people do IF because they think that it is another miracle solution for fat loss and possibly lean gains. Another diet that offsets fundamental energy balance principles (ie you need to eat less than you expend to lose weight) and makes you lose more fat than other diets do.

IF is definitely more beneficial for people, that want to lose weight as opposed to those that want to gain weight or muscle. As a result of the shorter eating-allowance-window, it is more difficult to get more calories in, therefore this would be difficult if you were say a big guy that needs to get 5000 kcal in/a day!

If you were a big overweight guy that wants to lose weight, not being able to get 5000 kcal in is a good thing. On the other hand, if you were a ripped active dude who needs 5000 kcal to make muscle gains, not getting these in because of the limited eating time is not a wise strategy for your goals.

As always, it is important to use common sense for the entire issue. A shorter eating window does not guarantee that you won’t overeat in this period and lose weight automatically. Everything depends on your food choices. If you eat high-calorie junk in your short feeding window instead of calorie-reduced meals that bring you into an energy deficit, then you actually can gain weight with IF. It doesn’t matter what strategy you use, the general principle for weight loss stays the same: you need to expend more energy than you eat.

 

Speaking of energy expenditure, there are equally some negative things about IF too.

 

Fasting periods of 20 hours or longer (if your eating window is 4 hours or less) causes your basal metabolic rate (BMR) to decrease; thus, your metabolism slows down even at times when you don’t fast (ref). BMR is the energy you spend for your basic tasks, such as for your heart to beat. I personally would not recommend to anyone to fast more than 18 hours anyway.

Fasting causes you to move less during the fasting period, thereby causing you to expend less energy overall (to learn more on this topic, join the Bayesian PT Course).  IF isn’t ideal for people that are very active in the mornings, it probably has a smaller negative effect on those that are more sedentary (ie office based jobs). If you have a very sedentary occupation, e.g. sitting in front of your computer all day, then it probably won’t matter too much for your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), other than that you may become lazier and start writing shorter emails! However, if typing emails is the task you expend the most energy on during the day, then perhaps you need to look into other things you could do ensure you are moving more.

However, if you are active during the fasting times (e.g. you are doing lots of housework), fasting may decrease your TDEE, thus you may lose less weight at the end, compared to a diet with the same calorie intake, but without intermittent fasting.

Screenshot (816).png

In general, if fasting saves you enough calories to overcome the 'moving less and expending less' trade off and you like the strategy, then you can use it for weight loss. That is subject to having the time restriction being helpful for you. If not, then it's not a good strategy for you.


Here is an example:

A busy house wife usually prepares food in the morning and may snack unnecessarily on food while preparing it. The unnecessary snacking adds 250 kcal to her calorie intake every day. By starting IF and putting a restriction on not eating in the morning, she starts consuming 250 kcal less a day. However, because she fasts she starts moving less and expends 100 kcal less in the morning - in total, she has  saved 150 kcal (250 kcal from not snacking - 100 kcal from moving less) compared to before. For her IF makes sense.

However, if her energy expenditure goes down by 300 kcal as a result of her decreased movement in the morning, fasting wouldn't make sense. The energy she did not burn is 50 kcal higher than the energy she saved by not snacking.


Another situation in which IF can be disadvantageous is when IF triggers overeating. The restricting of eating times is mentally difficult to handle for some people, especially those with a history of eating disorders or chronic dieting. This can result in the loss of control and overeating in the feeding window, which is not only bad for weight loss, but can also result in the development of disordered eating behaviour and other psychological problems, like the feeling of guilt or being unhappy with oneself.

 

IF and muscle gain

As already mentioned before, IF is probably not the best method for muscle gain for most people, especially for beginners to resistance training.

If you are a beginner, your anabolic window is really long, so after training you can build muscle for up to 72 hours. If you start fasting within those 72 hours, then you will not support your body with enough energy to build muscle.

Screenshot (817).png

However, the more advanced you get then the shorter your anabolic window gets. Therefore, if you are an advanced lifter whose anabolic window is say 16-24 hours, IF wouldn’t be such a big problem if you goal is body recomposition, ie simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain. In this instance what you can do is make sure your bigger meals are after your workout, some food before your workout, and fast before that time to lose fat. In general, training in the fasting window is not the best thing to do.

Screenshot (818).png

Nevertheless, if you are an advanced lifter and you want to focus on building muscle, then it doesn’t make sense to keep fasting windows longer than necessary (e.g. in the case of overnight fast), as during the fasted state the body breaks down more muscle to fuel its energy needs than in the fed state. If you really want to make big gains, then your goal is not only to maximize your muscle protein synthesis, but also to reduce the breakdown as much as possible, as it is the difference between the both that matter in the end for overall muscle gains.

 

In the second part of this article, I will talk about my personal experience and findings when utilising IF as a dieting protocol. Stay tuned for part two next week!

 

PS: If you want to make sure you are following the most optimum nutritional plan for your current goals and learn the tools to make your diet work for your lifestyle and not the other way around, then check out my Customized Macros Package!

Why Slow Cutting Burns Your Muscle

“Lose weight SLOWLY!”

“Diet on as MANY calories as possible!”

“If you decrease calories too fast, you WILL lose muscle!”

Really? Is there real science behind any of these claims or are they just bro-science wisdom?

To answer this question, let’s have a look at real data from real research. This data comes from probably the best and absolutely unique weight loss study; the Minnesota experiment.

The reason why I consider this study to be the best is because it studied very drastic weight loss conditions for a prolong period of time on normal weight people.

[ You may be wondering what the problem with current research is. Most drastic weight loss studies involved overweight or obese individuals. Therefore the findings from these studies aren’t necessarily applicable to normal weight people undergoing drastic weight loss diets such as for a bodybuilding competition for example. ]

In the Minnesota experiment, 32 normal weight young men were put on a radical weight loss diet for half a year with the aim to lose 1 kg (2.2 lbs) per week. That’s a lot; 24 kg (~ 53 lbs) in six months!

Each participant was weighed once a week and if he hadn’t lost 1 kg during the week passed, his calories were subsequently decreased. A pretty sadistic weight loss protocol if you were to ask me. This is also the reason, why the study is so unique. Nowadays, it would be impossible to get the ethical approval for such a study!

Over the course of the study the weight loss progress of the subjects were precisely recorded; how much weight they lost, how much of it was fat and how much was muscle.

The amount of muscle mass loss in relation to the total weight loss can be expressed as energy-partitioning p-ratio [p-ratio = burned energy from protein/ total energy burned] (1, 2). If a person burned mostly fat during weight loss and only a low amount of muscle protein, then the ratio is low. In contrast, if the person lost lots of muscle, then the ratio is high.

In the figure below I plotted the data from the Minnesota experiment. We can instantly see that the participants who started at a higher body fat percentage lost less muscle mass (smaller p-ratio) than the participants who started the severe weight loss diet at a lower body fat percentage.

To make it clearer, for participants who had about 20 % body fat at the beginning of the study about 20-30% of the burned energy came from protein, whereas for those who started at about 10 % body fat, 40-60 % of burned energy originated from protein.

A big part of the lost protein came most likely from muscle protein; however; also other sources, like organs for example, were used to cover the energy needs during the weight loss diet. ]

To be honest, this finding is basically common sense:

 If you have more fat, you can lose more fat when dieting.  

In my opinion, for long, drastic weight loss diets, like bodybuilding show preps, it makes more sense to start with a higher energy deficit and decrease it over time to maintain as much muscle mass as possible.

This is exactly the opposite to what most bodybuilders do during show prep; after they lose lots of weight and get to a low body fat percentage, they decrease the calories even further.

A research study conducted on a bodybuilder during the contest prep showed how inefficient the typical bodybuilding cutting strategy can be (3). The poor guy started at 14 % body fat and dropped his energy intake over time ending up with an energy deficit of just over 1000 kcal per day during the last two weeks before the show. Of the 11.7 kg he lost during 14 weeks of show prep, 43% came from fat free mass and ‘only’ 57% from fat. This means that about half of the weight he lost WAS NOT FAT!

So this brings us to the important question, what should you do to prevent unnecessary muscle loss at low body fat percentage?

One important thing we shouldn’t forget is that there is an ongoing balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown in the human body. It’s not like your body decides on the day when you start your cut that it is going to stop building muscle and switches to using them as a fuel. Muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis occurs at the same time. In the fed state, muscle protein synthesis dominates over muscle protein breakdown, thus is it the time when we build muscle. In the fasted state, muscle protein breakdown is higher than the muscle protein synthesis, therefore we lose muscle.

 “Skeletal muscle protein turnover illustrates the balance between protein synthesis (shaded bars) and protein breakdown (open bars) during different physiological conditions, including the anabolic period after a meal or the catabolic period during an overnight fast.” Figure source ( 4 )

“Skeletal muscle protein turnover illustrates the balance between protein synthesis (shaded bars) and protein breakdown (open bars) during different physiological conditions, including the anabolic period after a meal or the catabolic period during an overnight fast.” Figure source (4)

 

Thus, an important take-home message is: fast less and eat more.

I know, this almost comes across as sarcastic advice coming from someone currently on a weight loss diet. Nevertheless, it is not as useless as you think. There are some things you can do to reduce muscle loss whilst in an energy deficit:

1.      Don’t fast for a long time. Intermittent fasting is probably not the best strategy for muscle retention in an energy deficit at low body fat percentage.

2.      Considering that the longest fasting period for most people is the overnight fast, it makes sense to get some protein in before bed to counteract muscle protein breakdown at least in the few hours after falling asleep. This strategy is supported research as well (5). An additional bonus is that protein before bed increases the resting energy expenditure the next morning, thus making it beneficial for weight loss (6).

3.      Of course, the ideal scenario would be not to wait until the next morning, but to just consume more protein at night to prevent your body from breaking down more muscle. If you don’t want to compromise your sleep quality to pour down a protein shake in the middle of the night, you may want to consider a rather unconventional tool: a gastric tube! There is a cool research study on this topic (7). Participants received a constant protein supply via a gastric tube throughout the night, which resulted in an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Does this sound too extreme to you? Your Bro-friend would probably say: No Pain, No Gain. Incidentally, this quote may be even more applicable to nutrition than to training.

 

If you want to know how I cut and what my cutting macros are, watch this video:

 

Now, as we’re approaching the end of this post, I will answer a few questions some of you may have in mind or may have asked me already.

 

If I am one of the nut cases that decides to have protein shakes throughout the night, how much protein should I aim to get?

Most likely 16 g protein per serving is enough, at least for isolated, well digestible protein source like a protein shake. This amount of protein contains enough leucine to maximally stimulate the muscle protein synthesis. If you have protein as a part of a meal, issues with protein digestion and absorption may arise, which in turn may increase the protein requirements per meal. If you want to know more, read this.

 

Should I take BCAA before bed?

The answer is: BCAAs are better than nothing. If you are lost somewhere in the wildness and have nothing but BCAA with you, take it. However, if you can choose between a protein source that contains amino acids, including all the essential amino acids, then choose that over BCAA.

There are two reasons, why BCAA is not as good as protein:

First, you need all amino acids to build muscle, not only the three that BCAA supplements contain (leucine, isoleucine and valine). BCAA intake without other amino acids doesn’t give enough building blocks for building muscle, especially in a fasted state.

Secondly, it can happen that a part of the BCAAs doesn’t even get to the desired destination: your muscle. Free amino acids (not as part of a protein that needs to be broken down first) are a very easy energy source for your gut cells (8). BCAAs are basically ready to be eaten. Yumyumyum… your gut cells will thank you.

 

Take-home messages:

1.      When you have more fat to lose, you will lose less muscle in a drastic energy deficit. If you are already at a low body fat percentage and drop your calories too much, you will most likely lose more muscle than necessary.

2.      When you get to low body fat percentages, your goal is to reduce the time during which you muscle protein is broken down as much as possible. This means: reduce your fasting times and have some protein before sleep.

 

Did you like this article? Then share it with your friends on social media. I would really appreciate it! Thank you :-)

 If you are confused and don't know what is the best way to lose weight and gain muscle? Then consider booking a consultation with me.

 

 

Debunking The Metabolic Damage Myth

Do you struggle with losing weight despite cutting calories?

Are you unable to maintain weight loss?

Do you even gain a few extra pounds extra after each diet?

Maybe metabolic damage is the culprit...and you are doomed to diet for your entire life if you want to maintain weight loss.

 

Does metabolic damage really exist?

To answer this question, the Bayesian Bodybuilding Research Team, which I am a part of, spent months digging through research literature and analysing research studies on weight loss and regain. Our research review was published in December 2016. In this blog post, I am going to present to you our key findings and give you useful tips on what to do to stay lean after a weight loss diet.  

 

 

What is metabolic damage?

Metabolic damage is permanent metabolic slowing after dieting. When you start eating less, your metabolism slows down. Thus, your resting metabolic rate (RMR) decreases because your body doesn’t expend as much energy for all the basal tasks you need to live, such as making the heart beat, for example.

 

Our research question was:

Does this metabolic slowing persist after you stop dieting and increase your energy intake?

 

If this is the case, it would be devastating, because if your energy expenditure stays low after dieting, but you increase your food intake to pre-dieting levels, then you will regain all the weight you lost.

 

Our Findings:

A big part of our study was devoted to the Minnesota experiment. The data from the Minnesota experiment was used in the past as a support for the metabolic damage hypothesis. In this experiment, 32 normal-weight, young men were put on a drastic weight loss diet for 24 weeks (It’s half a year!!!). Their target was to lose 1 kg (2.2 lbs) per week. That’s a lot! Their average body fat level at the end of the diet period was 5%. That’s the body fat level hard-core bodybuilders reach when they compete. However, in contrast to bodybuilders, the participants of the Minnesota study didn’t have much muscle mass to start with. For this reason, they looked like this by the end of their diet.

 Time Life

Time Life

Afterwards, the participants were refed under controlled conditions to examine which refeeding strategy is the best after a prolonged semi-starvation period. They underwent a 12-week controlled recovery period, during which they received a prescribed diet. Afterward, some of them, who decided to stay in the facility for additional 8 weeks, transitioned to ad libitum energy intake (meaning they could eat as much as they wanted). During this period the researchers recorded precisely how much each of them ate.

 

Comparison of basal metabolism before starvation and after refeeding

Previous studies haven’t considered the entire recovery period; they examined only the 12-week controlled recovery. We analysed the entire recovery period of 20 weeks and we found no sign of metabolic damage. We compared subjects' basal metabolism (RMR in relation to each subject’s fat free mass and fat mass) before and after starvation. We used three different RMR prediction equations to obtain precise predictions. We compared the predicted RMR values with the RMR value that was actually measured for each subject. Our results showed that subjects’ metabolism – body composition related RMR - was either the same or even higher after starvation (as I mentioned, we have done this analysis 3 times with different equations).

 

Energy intake influences metabolism recovery

Another important point was that the subjects were divided into four groups during the recovery period. Each group received a diet with a different energy content. The lowest energy group had a diet with a slight surplus of a few hundred kilocalories more than they needed to maintain their starved bodies. The highest calorie group had a daily energy intake of over 1500 kcal more than they needed to maintain their weight at the end of the starvation period.

The rate of lean body mass gain (aka muscle gain) was the same between all the 4 groups. This makes sense because the guys didn’t even lift. Why should the subjects in the higher calorie groups use the additional energy to build an excessive amount of muscle?

The subjects that were in the highest calorie group gained significantly more weight (59% weight recovery) - thus more fat as muscle gain was about the same in all groups - compared to the lower calorie groups (30% weight recovery). The participants who ate more, gained more fat. It’s that simple.

  This table shows subjects' recovery levels during the 12-week controlled recovery period. 'Energy intake for 12 weeks' represents the sum of calories each subject consumed in the 12-week recovery period. The percentage recovery is related to the weight, lean body mass or metabolism change from baseline until the end of the starvation period ( [value after 12 weeks recovery - value at the end of starvation] x 100 / [pre-dieting value - value at the end of starvation] ).

This table shows subjects' recovery levels during the 12-week controlled recovery period. 'Energy intake for 12 weeks' represents the sum of calories each subject consumed in the 12-week recovery period. The percentage recovery is related to the weight, lean body mass or metabolism change from baseline until the end of the starvation period ( [value after 12 weeks recovery - value at the end of starvation] x 100 / [pre-dieting value - value at the end of starvation] ).

 

The metabolism recovered in relation to energy intake. The groups that ate more had a higher RMR increase. An interesting fact we found was that the lowest energy group had a significantly higher metabolism (body composition related RMR) in the recovery period than in the starvation period. Also, the actual RMR value showed a trend towards higher values, despite the fact that subjects’ body composition was less favourable during the recovery period than during the starvation period (their lean body mass was significantly lower).

Why? Because they ate more!

Important point: Energy intake influences the resting metabolic rate.

Previous researchers who ignored the fact that the subjects were divided into groups receiving diets with a significantly different energy content concluded that RMR recovers in relation to the degree of FM recovery, without being influenced by the higher metabolically active fat free mass. In other words, only after you regain all the fat you lost will metabolic slowing stop.

Our findings sharply contradict this statement showing that metabolic slowing is a result of an energy deficit and is reversible by an increase in energy intake. Post-diet fat gain is not the result of a suppressed metabolism, but overeating.

When you are in a calorie restricted state, your body slows down and expends less energy. When you increase your calorie intake and start eating more, your body starts expending more energy.

 

Evidence from other studies

The Minnesota experiment wasn’t the only study we looked at. We also examined studies on malnourished individuals and anorexia nervosa patients. We found that even in such a drastic, chronically undernourished state, the basal metabolism of the participants corresponded to their body composition. RMR was low, but it was low because subjects’ body mass was low. Another interesting point is that some studies showed that during refeeding of anorectic patients their RMR increased more than predicted based on their body composition. This means that they actually wasted the energy instead of saving it as fat.

 

All the cases I have described up to now are very extreme. What about ‘normal weight loss dieting’ or the type of dieting bodybuilders do to get shredded?

We also analysed studies that are more relevant for real-life strength athletes, or just for those of you who want to get super lean and crazy shredded.

bodybuilding-685079_1920.jpg

We have seen the same trend analysing literature on bodybuilders and other weight class athletes: in caloric restriction, like preparation for a competition, RMR decreases. However, after the competition, when the athletes started eating more to return to their initial body weight, their basal metabolisms also increased.

 

Take-home message

# 1 Body composition is the most important factor that determines how much energy you expend.

 # 2 Acute changes in energy intake – such as eating less or eating more – can decrease or increase your RMR. But then, within one to three days after you stop dieting and return to your maintenance energy intake, your basal metabolic rate will also increase. The human metabolism is flexible and adjusts to changing conditions quickly.

Based on the current evidence: metabolic damage doesn’t exist!

Want to recap? Watch my video on metabolic damage

 

What to do if you can’t lose weight or maintain weight loss

By now it should be clear that if you can’t lose weight, it’s not because of metabolic damage. In most cases, poor diet compliance causes weight loss plateaus. Based on my calculations only one 'cheat meal' with an energy content of about 1,500 kcal, may ruin most of the weight loss progress you make in one week. Be honest with yourself and how strict you are with your diet. Also, if you think that you can’t see weight loss on scale because you retain water, it’s most likely not the case. The guys in the Minnesota experiment retained water, but I really doubt that your diet is as drastic as and as long as their semi-starvation was and that you are as ‘starved’ as they were. If so, stop dieting and start putting weight back on.

Another potential reason why you can't lose weight is, because you don’t know how much you should eat, how to plan your diet, or what food to eat to hit your macros. If so, download a free copy of my meal plan guide to learn how to plan a weight loss diet.

 

Another reason, and in my opinion the most likely reason why you can`t lose weight is that you don`t move enough. Try to include 10-20 min walks every morning and every evening into your daily routine. The difference between your energy intake and your energy expenditure is probably not large enough to see significant weight loss at the moment. 

 

How to maintain the lost weight

If you have reached your weight loss goal and want to maintain your current body weight, increase your calorie intake, so that it corresponds to your current body composition. You could use an online calculator to predict your maintenance energy intake. Go from there and adjust calories if necessary. If you keep losing weight, add more calories to your diet. If you start gaining weight (beyond the first day gains that come from increased food volume in your digestive system and/or increased glycogen stores), reduce your energy intake slightly.

 

Should I reverse diet?

There is no need to reverse diet. Reverse dieting may be a more careful approach to find where your new maintenance is, but it is also a more painful approach that is not really necessary.

The most important thing is: don’t binge and don’t overeat! Just because you reached your target weight doesn't mean that you can eat whatever you want.

 

The next time someone offers you advice on how to repair your metabolism after dieting, just ask the dude: Do you even science?

 

Did you like this article? Then share it with your friends on social media. I would really appreciate it! Thank you :-)


Is Your Food Obsession Really About Food?

Are you one of the thousands of people who could eat all the time? Even just after a meal? And you aren’t even in an energy deficit?

The good news is that your obsession with food may not necessarily be about food. Understanding the real reasons why you think of food all the time will help you to overcome your obsession and live a much happier and healthier life.

Can you tell when you crave food the most despite not being hungry?

Is it when you work or maybe getting stuck with work? Is it when you don’t want to do something or want to procrastinate on an upcoming task?

Do you start craving food during a task that requires lots of focus or after a stressful situation that soaked up your willpower and self-control? It can be anything, from getting stuck in a traffic jam, to giving a presentation or even not telling your boss that he is an idiot, even though you think it all the time.

Food may be just a tool you use to keep your self-control in annoying situations.

 

Willpower and self-control are limited resources. If you spend too much effort on one task, your working performance on the second task decreases. It goes even further; some research suggests that when people face challenging tasks their blood sugar levels drop, which diminishes their willpower. However, drinking a sugary drink before starting a new task replenishes the willpower and restores the ability to work hard. Metabolic energy (calories) increases the persistence to work on demanding tasks. Thus, it is not surprising that many people are emotional eaters and start craving food after a stressful situation. In this scenario, high-calorie food can serve two purposes:

1. It activates the reward centre in the brain and makes the person feel better.

2. It refills the willpower and self-control if the person has to continue performing stressful tasks.

In this context, stressful tasks don’t even need to be work-related. It can be anything you don’t want to do, even house work, like doing the dishes, or speaking to a relative that makes you feel like your life is a mess.

To cut it short, without even realizing, you may be using food as a tool to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do

 

By the way, sleep restores willpower and self-control. For this reason, we usually feel much more motivated to work in the morning than in the evening. During the day, our willpower and self-control diminishes. This is also the reason, why most violent incidents happen late at night. People lose their self-control to follow social norms and instead act impulsively. For this reason, it is not surprising, that many people follow their diet in the morning, but fall off the wagon in the evening and overeat on comfort food.

The more challenging the task you have to fulfill or the more decisions you need to make, the faster your willpower and self-control is depleted. The less self-control and willpower you have, the lower your chances to work productively, to give your best when training hard and to eat right for your goals (no matter if it is eating healthily or following a calorie-restricted diet).

 

What to do

Split your willpower focus on different tasks throughout the day

Set times when you use your willpower for work and other times when you use it for your personal goals (e.g. exercise and healthy diet).

For example, during working hours when you need to focus on work, use your willpower only for this task. Determine what foods you should strategically have to support your mental performance (if you have a job where you need to think a lot or need to be polite to other people). Don’t try to diet hard and starve yourself while performing challenging tasks, as both depletes willpower.

Schedule more challenging tasks for the morning and easier, fun-type of tasks for the evening. It will help you reduce food cravings in the evening, when your self-control is depleted anyway.

In the evening, you can make your diet compliance to your major willpower task. Focus on staying on track with your diet. Spend evenings doing things you enjoy and that don’t require lots of willpower, like reading a book, watching TV, surfing on the internet, hanging out on social media, etc., which distract you from thinking about food all the time.


Tip: If you want to lose weight, and use social media as a relaxation tool, it may be a good idea to unfollow all the people who constantly post food porn.

 

Set rules and routines

There are several steps for willpower. One of them is setting rules. Rules are important. Without rules you don’t know what to do and what to follow. NOT having a plan is nightmare for your willpower.  Making unnecessary decisions every day depletes willpower that could be used for more important tasks. The more willpower you waste on trivial stuff, the less willpower you have for work and living a healthy lifestyle.

Why not pre-determine what you eat for breakfast every day? Why should you waste your willpower early in the morning by thinking: should I have pancakes for breakfast, or rather cereal, or toast…but what should I put on my toast?

Or even worse, you decide to grab your breakfast on the way to work and get to a place that has dozens of different options that overwhelm you and put you in a state of analysis-paralysis: What option has the better macros? What has more protein? What is healthier? What will keep me full for longer?....

This depletes some of your willpower even before starting the working day. Routines, limited options and restrictions make success in life so much easier.

Many people ask me whether being vegan is hard because I have only limited options available when I go out for meals. No, definitely not. Being vegan makes everything so much easier for me, because I don’t need to waste my willpower deciding which of the dozens of dishes I should choose for dinner.

 

How to fuel your willpower

Why do we care so much about fuelling our workouts and getting our post-workout nutrition right, but disregard the importance of fuelling our self-control and willpower, which is the basis for achieving our goals?

Build in strategic, willpower-replenishing meals during the working day, rather than trying to push through. If you try to push through, then the chances are higher that you will eventually give in to cravings because a long, annoying meeting depleted your willpower.

You can fuel your willpower to work in the same way as an endurance athlete fuels his body during a long race.

During this time, high carb options, ideally concentrated, fast-digesting glucose sources, are good choices. I love dextrose tablets as a concentrated form of glucose. They act fast, are efficient and don’t add too many calories. If you would like to bring a healthier aspect into the concentrated carbs issue, juices or smoothies are another option.

Of course, whole foods like fruits are healthier, but it takes longer to absorb the sugar because of the high water and fiber content. Also, fruits not only contain glucose, but also fructose, which isn’t a problem in general, but for this certain task of refueling willpower, glucose is better. Thus, you may not get the willpower boosting effect from fruits as fast and as powerful as you may need it (dried fruits may be an exception). The same applies for all kind of sweets like chocolate, cookies & co.

Although they contain sugar, they aren’t as efficient as glucose or dextrose tablets when it comes to boosting willpower. Also, they add much more calories to your macros budget compared to glucose in isolation.

Additionally, dextrose tablets as a carbohydrate source have another beneficial effect. You can keep it in your mouth for a long time waiting until it dissolves. Some research on endurance athletes suggests that mouth rinsing with a carbohydrate solution (without swallowing it) is enough to improve performance during exercise. It seems like carbohydrates activate oral receptors, which leads to a subsequent activation of brain areas involved with reward, which in turn improves performance. Thus, it is plausible that not only carbohydrate solutions, but also other carb sources have the same effect, especially when kept in the mouth long enough.

Because of practical constraints in the working environment, dextrose tablets are a great choice, as they are small and can be kept in the mouth discretely for a prolonged period of time. On the other hand, sitting in the office with your mouth stuffed with bananas may appear a bit socially awkward.

However, don’t confuse fuelling your willpower with rewarding yourself with food for something you have done. This approach may backfire, as food shouldn’t be used as a reward. An athlete who needs to fuel during a marathon race, doesn’t consume calories to reward himself for running, but uses it as a tool to enhance his declining performance. The same should apply for functional food to boost cognitive performance and willpower. Also, as you may have noticed, I don’t suggest eating your favourite comfort food to make you think harder. What I propose is to consume glucose (or oligosaccharides that are built of glucose units, like dextrose). It is about the function of this specific molecule, not your personal taste.

 

Additional strategies to refuel your willpower

Take a nap: If you have the opportunity to take a nap during the day, especially when you notice that your willpower is diminishing and you start craving food, do it. It may save you lots of unnecessary calories.

Tell yourself why you do what you do: You don’t necessarily need glucose to motivate you to work (increased glucose consumption for willpower replenishment should be seen as the emergency solution). Intrinsic motivation is another tool to increase your willpower and self-control. Even if you are overwhelmed by your workload and want to run away, tell yourself why you do what you do. Is it to help others? Is it to secure income for your family? Is it because you actually love your work, but forgot it because of the stress. Reminding yourself of the purpose will refill your willpower.

Use sugar strategically: You can use sugar strategically before large meals if you want to keep enough willpower and don’t want to overeat. Having sweets before (dextrose tablet or maybe order a juice before you even choose your meal) can reduce your appetite, increase willpower and may be a good strategy to reduce dessert consumption after a meal (Check out Menno Henselmans’ interview on ad-libitum dieting for more info).

 

Losing weight and working hard at the same time

Performing mentally demanding work and restricting your energy intake is twice as challenging, as doing just one of these at a time. Sadly, sometimes this situation is unavoidable. There are a few things you can do:

-        If you can choose your workplace (e.g. you are a student and need to study for an exam), choose places in which food is inaccessible. You could work in a library for example, as it is usually forbidden to eat in libraries. This will work against your impulse to get some food, once you get stuck with work.

-        If you like working from cafés, take only as much cash with you as needed to get a drink. If you don’t have any money to get food, you won’t get tempted (don’t take your credit card with you!)

-        If you have to work in an office, create a safe environment. Bring only the food with you to work you plan to eat this day and not more. You can even leave your purse at home to make sure you don't have the option of getting some junk from the vending machine in your building.  Ask your colleagues to keep their junk for themselves and not to offer you any food.

-        You can have dextrose tablets as an emergency solution to refill your willpower, as they don’t have too many calories (12 kcal/ tablet). Also, they are so sweet that it’s unlikely that you will overeat on them.

 

Do you really want us to eat all the sugar in the form of dextrose?

I know, sugar is not particularly healthy. However, my point is that when you are in a situation that requires lots of willpower and self-control, it is better to have a few dextrose tablets than trying to resist food cravings, eventually losing self-control and ending up eating an entire bar of chocolate. It is about choosing the lesser of the evils. A few dextrose tablets cause less damage than a bag full of cookies, a doughnut or a bar of chocolate.

 

To sum up:

If you think that you have a problem with food, because you are obsessed with it, there is a chance that your current willpower demanding lifestyle creates your obsession and not the food. Food is just a tool.  

 

Do you want to take control of your life and finally overcome your food-tool-obsession issue? Then you may be interested in working with me and getting my full support on your journey to your new self.

What I Eat in a Day - Lean & Strong Series Part 3

After you learned in the first two parts of the Lean & Strong Series (Part 1, Part 2) the necessary basics for diet planning for optimal muscle gains, it’s time to apply them. In this blog post I show you how I apply science to my personal diet.

 

Protein content of my meals

All of my meals have about the same protein content, which is 33 g protein per meal. The meals that are further away from my workout have about 30 g protein and my post-workout meal has slightly more protein, about 40 g. Protein content of my meals is calculated based on the leucine threshold for optimal muscle gain. My daily protein intake is between 125-150 g protein.

 

Energy intake

My current goal is weight loss. My lifestyle is pretty sedentary, as I work from home and spend most of my day in front of my laptop. For this reason, my calorie intake is fairly low. My calorie target is set to 1650 kcal per day. This is for training days, as train almost every day. On days I don’t train (because I travel or don’t manage it to get to the gym for whatever reason) I aim for 100-200 kcal less.

 

Fat intake

I aim to get 40% of calories that I consume from fat, which is about 73 g fat per day. To get a balanced fatty acid profile, I aim for 22 g saturated fatty acids (30%), 26 g monounsaturated fatty acids (35%) and 26 g polyunsaturated fatty acids (35%). As I mentioned in my previous post, omega-3 fatty acids, which are one type of polyunsaturated fatty acids, are particularly important and should ideally comprise one quarter to one half of daily polyunsaturated acid intake. For this reason, I get 7-13 g omega-3 fatty acids every day.

 

Carbohydrate intake

The remaining calories that are required to reach my energy target come from carbs. On most days, my carb intake is between 120-130 g per day. My diet is low in carbs (Yes, vegan low carb diet is possible ;) ), because I feel better following a low carb diet and carbohydrates are not very important for strength athletes. For me, it makes more sense to use my calorie budget for nutrients that are more important for my performance and body composition goals (such as protein and fat).

I this video I show you what exactly I eat in a day.


Do you want me to design your diet? Then check out the ScienceStrength Transformation Bootcamp! You will love it!


Here is an example of what I eat in a day (of course, it can vary :) ):

Breakfast:

Protein pancakes with berries, one cup of tea and coffee with unsweetened almond milk, flavoured with vanilla or white chocolate FlavDrops.

Macros: 319 kcal, 28 g carbs, 30 g protein, 7 g fat

I created many protein pancakes recipes, as I absolutely love pancakes. One of my favourite recipes are this pancakes, I also included into my Diet Plan, Training Plan & Recipes Package.

If you can't eat gluten, I also have several gluten-free protein pancake creations. In this video, I show you how to prepare one of them.

Although, I love breakfast, breakfast is a reasonably small meal for me, because it is further away from my workout. It makes sense to consume most calories around the workout.

 

Morning Snack:

I usually have a big mug of hot almond milk. I use unsweetened almond milk, which only has 13 kcal per 100 ml. I sweeten and flavour it with FlavDrops. I choose to drink hot almond milk instead of eating food as my morning snack, because I made the experience that drinking hot liquid (sometimes I spoon it) is more satisfying to me than eating a small amount of food. A possible explanation may be that my brain registers it as a meal, because it takes a prolonged period of time (as I need to drink it slowly, because it is hot).

Macros: 39 kcal, 0 g carbs, 1 g protein, 3 g fat

 

Lunch:

I usually have about 350 g veggies, mostly stir-fried zucchini and mushroom with herbs and spices, protein bread and coconut oil for lunch. Coconut oil is my way to get saturated fatty acids in. Each serving of my protein bread contains chia seeds, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. I get about 2.5 g omega-3 fatty acids per serving protein bread. You may have heard that thermal processing, like baking, destroys omega-3 fatty acids; however, when I analysed the data from a recently published research paper, I concluded that the losses are not significant for real life settings.

Macros: 385 kcal, 32 g carbs, 34 g protein, 13 g fat

If you want to know how I prepare my chia-protein-bread, watch this video.

 

Dinner:

Dinner is my largest meal, because I have it straight after my workout. I usually have a gigantic salad (~ 200 g leafy greens + other veggies) topped with fat sources like olives or avocado (both are good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids). If I top my salad with other fat sources, such as nuts and seeds, that are low in monounsaturated fatty acids, I use olive oil for dressing to get monounsaturated fatty acids, otherwise I use hemp oil, to increase my omega-3 fatty acid intake.

Additionally, I have protein pancakes. Because I love pancakes, I eat them twice a day (on a weight loss diet…hahaha...I love my diet!).

Macros: 565 kcal, 51 g carbs, 40 g protein, 20 g fat

 

Pre-Bed Snack:

Most evenings, I have one or two cups of hot almond milk and before I go to bed, protein powder with chia seeds. Research suggests that protein before sleep is beneficial for muscle growth. My favourite protein powder (taste-wise) is white hemp protein powder, particularly when sweetened with maple FlavDrops.

Macros: 341 kcal, 12 g carbs, 36 g protein, 16 g fat

 

I often use protein powder for cooking, because I don’t like protein shakes. I prefer eating food to drinking it. Eating calories instead of drinking them is more satiating and satisfying. In this video I tell you all my secrets about cooking with protein powder.


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How to Fit Vegan Macros - Lean & Strong Series - Part 2

Struggling to find the right food for your meal plan?

Don't know how to put food together to meals that fit your macros?

Do you overshoot on carbs or fat and don’t get enough protein?

 

Then read on to learn how to manage your meal plan easily...

In the first part of the Lean & Strong Series you learned how much protein to eat and how to combine fat sources to get balanced fatty acid profile that is optimal for muscle gains. This post will give you practical tips on meal planning.

If you are not sure, how much you should eat, read my practical guide - ‘how much you need to eat to get results’.

After calculating your calorie intake, you have to figure out how to distribute your calories among carbohydrates, protein and fat. To cut it short, you already learned what your protein intake should be in my previous post. I usually set fat at 30-40% of total calories consumed and all the calories that remain to complete the calorie target I use for carbs.  For detailed calculations and explanations how to calculate macronutrient targets download your free copy of the ‘The ultimate Meal Plan Guide’

The next step is to familiarize yourself with vegan protein sources and how to combine them so that you get the macros you want. I saw so many people struggling with putting their food together to a meal plan that hits their macros targets without overshooting on carbs or fat and getting enough protein.

To prevent this scenario, it is important to understand that there are different food categories.

Putting meals together is similar to working with a construction kit. You can use different bricks (food categories) to put meals together with the macros you need.


Do you need help with your diet? Then you will love the ScienceStrength Transformation Bootcamp!



Here a real life example how get the macros you need:

Let's say you want to get 30 g carbs, 30 g protein and 15 g fat in one meal. There are different foods you can combine to achieve this macro target:

1. You can use a combination of pure carbohydrate + pure protein + pure fat source, like fruit + protein powder + oil. For instance, you could combine 125 g banana + 35 g protein powder + 14 g coconut oil to make a smoothie and to hit your target of 30 g carbs, 30 g protein and 15 g fat.

2. You can also use foods with mostly carbs + mostly protein + mostly fat, like legumes + soy products + nuts. If you make curry out of 45 g legumes (dry) + 95 g tofu + 7 g peanuts, you hit the macros targets of 30 g carbs, 30 g protein and 15 g fat, too.

3. Another option is to use protein sources with the same carbs and/or fat amount. You could combine 87 g coconut flour + 20 g lupini beans. Although this a pretty weird combination, it also hits the macronutrient target of 30 g carbs, 30 g protein and 15 g fat and serves the purpose of showing what I want to show; how versatile macros combining is.

Want to recap? Then watch my video on this topic.

 

If you still aren’t sure where to get your protein and which food belongs to what category, you can find complete lists are in ‘The ultimate Meal Plan Guide’

Giving a food list for each category goes beyond the scope of this post. For this reason, I describe here only one, the most important one in my opinion: category 3. This category comprises food sources that have an intermediate carb, protein and fat content or even a high protein and low carb and fat content.

Choosing food from this category is particularly important for vegans who want to lose fat and maintain or even gain muscle and strength at the same time.

All the food I compiled in the table below is vegan and has a higher or at least similar protein content compared to other macronutrients. This is the food vegan bodybuilders love!

Do you want me to tell you all the info on high protein vegan food for bodybuilding diet once again? Then klick on the video to watch it ;-)


DO YOU FEEL LIKE NO MATTER WHAT DIET YOU TRY, IT JUST DOESN'T WORK AND YOU WIND UP BEING A CHRONIC DIETER?!

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Transform your body and mind!


What’s next?
In the next blog post I will do my own case study. I will show you what I eat and how I apply all the guidelines described to my own diet.


If you found the article helpful, I would really appreciate it if you would share it with your friends, so that they can benefit from it as well. Thank you!

 

3 Things You Should Know About Muscle Gain - Lean & Strong Series - Part 1

New year, new goals. It's time to plan and to start working on achieving your dreams. Because one of my favourite quotes is

“scientia potentia est” (knowledge is power)

I decided to give you knowledge, so that you have the power to reach your goals. (Yes, also Latin is on my “languages I studied” list)

 

What you should know before you start reading:

This series will give you guidance on building muscle, particularly with regard to vegan diet (because I’m vegan, the majority of my clients are vegan and I think there is not enough practical, easily understandable, science- and evidence-based info on vegan diet out there). However, as most of the recommendations I give are based on universal research findings, you can benefit from reading my posts also if you are not vegan.

 

Let’s start with 3 things every vegan (or not vegan) who wants to build muscle should know.

 

1. Protein content

Vegan protein sources have a lower content on essential amino acids than animal protein sources. Essential amino acids are the amino acids our bodies can’t produce. For this reason, people who follow vegan diet have to eat more protein than omnivores.

It seems like 1.8 g protein per kg bodyweight (0.82 g/lb) is enough protein for strength athletes who consumes animal products. Because vegan protein sources have 16% fewer essential amino acids, I usually recommend vegan lifters to consume about 2.1 g protein per kg bodyweight (0.95 g/lb).

In addition, if less refined cereal grains or legumes is your major protein source, which can be the case for people who follow a high carb vegan diet with about 70% of calories coming from carbs, you might need to add ~20% protein on top. A research study found out that under these conditions protein digestion and absorption can be about 20% lower. Possible reasons for this protein loss may be the anti-nutrients that may inhibit the digestive enzymes or the high fiber content that may interfere with digestion and absorption.

For this reason, if you eat mostly less refined gains and legumes while eating a diet with a high carbohydrate content, you may need to increase your protein intake to 2.5 g/kg (1.14 g/lb).

 

Side note: If your really read the research paper I link and have done all the calculations yourself, you might have found out that the theoretical protein intake should be 2.7 g/kg under these conditions. I have used 2.5 g/kg for 2 reasons; first of all, the number is easier to remember and secondly, because I really doubt that a significant number of strength athletes reaches a carbohydrate intake of 70%. Such a high carbohydrate content in the diet would displace other nutrients (protein and fat) that are more important for building muscle than carbs. If your macros profile is balanced, 2.7 g/kg protein is a bit of overshooting in my opinion.  

 

It is important to note that to vegans need to combine different protein sources in a smart way to get a more balanced amino acid profile. If you want to learn more about complete protein and how to combine vegan protein sources, check out this video.


Do you need help with your diet? Then you will love the ScienceStrength Transformation Bootcamp!


2. Leucine content

Leucine is one of the essential amino acids and for those who want to build muscle, it is probably one of the most important amino acids. Leucine gives the signal for muscle protein synthesis (tells your body that you need to build muscle now). To maximize your muscle gains you need to reach a certain leucine threshold. If you are young, then 1 g leucine per meal should be enough to set the signal for maximal muscle protein synthesis.

 

Side note: Young is relative. Elderly individuals are defined in many research papers as people who are 65 years of age and older. For elderly individuals, the required leucine amount for maximal muscle gain can go up to 3.2 g leucine per meal. However, some researchers questioned if the leucine threshold increases with age or with decreasing activity. Some research suggests that elderly individuals who are active show a similar response when it comes to muscle protein synthesis initiation as young individuals.

 

Vegan protein sources contain fewer leucine than animal protein sources (6-8% vs 8-11% leucine). This is another point why vegans who want to gain muscle should eat more protein. According to my calculations a meal containing 33 g protein should be enough to maximize muscle protein synthesis for a vegan (for an omnivore less than 20 g protein per meal).

 

Side note to calculations: 16 g plant protein contain 1 g leucine. Because of the issues with digestion and absorption, I mentioned earlier, I doubled this amount to 2 g leucine per meal, contained in 33 g protein.

 

3. Balanced fatty acid profile

This point is equally important for vegans and omnivores. Vegan diet is naturally low in saturated fatty acids and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. In contrast, many omnivorous diets I analysed, were high in saturated fatty acids (coming from animal products) and low in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. To optimize muscle gains, a balance between all fatty acids is important. In the ideal case, you should get 30 % saturated fatty acids, 35% monounsaturated fatty acids and 35 % polyunsaturated fatty acids (you can learn more about this topic in the science- and evidence-based Bayesian PT – best PT course ever!).

To increase my saturated fatty acid intake (as I don’t eat animal products as a vegan) I consume coconut oil daily. Olive oil, almonds and avocado are my favourite sources of monounsaturated fatty acids.

There are different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids; omega-3 and omega-6 are the most important ones. Ideally, ½ to ¼ of your polyunsaturated fatty acids should come from omega-3 fatty acids. And this is another challenge on the vegan diet (as vegans don’t eat fish). There aren’t many foods that contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. For this reason, you should pay particular attention to you omega-3 fatty acid intake. It is important, because omega-3 fatty acids have the highest association with muscle gain. In general, you should have at least 7% of your total fat intake coming from omega-3 fatty acids. My major omega-3 fatty acid sources are chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp oil (that’s why many of my recipes contain chia or flax seeds).

To make it easier for you I made a list with different fat sources.

vegan-fat-sources-v2.png

The bottom part of the figure is particularly important: Chia and flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seeds and walnuts have some omega-3 fatty acids, but also omega-6 fatty acids, peanuts, soy products, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts have mostly omega-6 fatty acids.

 

Did you know that you can remember things better when you read, see and hear them compared to just reading? This is a good reason to check out my video on this topic as well ;)

 

If you want to learn more about meal planning and how to optimize it for your individuals goals, get your free copy of the ‘The ultimate Meal Plan Guide’


DO YOU FEEL LIKE NO MATTER WHAT DIET YOU TRY, IT JUST DOESN'T WORK AND YOU WIND UP BEING A CHRONIC DIETER?!

Are You Ready For Your Transformation?

Transform your body and mind!


What's next?

In the next blog post I will give you all the tools you need to fit your macros. I will show you how you get enough protein in without overshooting on carbs or fat.


If you found the article helpful, I would really appreciate it if you would share it with your friends, so that they can benefit from it as well. Thank you!

 

How Much You Need To Eat To Get Results - the practical guide

Do you want to lose fat? Do you want to gain muscle? No matter what exactly is your body composition goal, you have to know how much you need to eat.

How much you need to eat to get results -.png
How much you need to eat to get results -.png

There are dozens of different equations and calculators you can use to determine your needs. Which one should you trust?

If you want to hear my opinion: none of them.

Equations are great to make estimations, good estimations for the average of an entire population. However, you aren’t the average of the entire population. You are unique. Do you want to know how much you should be eating or all the people in your neighborhood with the same body weight; the marathon runner who lives next door or the granny who walks her chihuahua up and down the street every day?

Another reason why I think equations are not ideal is that in order to use one of the more precise equations, you have to know your body composition; your lean body mass and your body fat, not just body weight.To determine your precise body composition, you need to do a DEXA scan or another type of a higher precision body composition measurement (btw. your bathroom scale doesn't cut it). But even then, the chance is high that you get errors due to inter-individual variability. Some people eat naturally more or less than it is in theory appropriate for their body composition. A big part of the differences comes from variations in activity levels; some people move more, some move less. I mean even subconscious movements we don't notice. No equation can precisely predict how much energy you burn when you sing and dance under the shower every morning.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need an equation to find out how much you should be eating for your goals. Everything you need is to live your live, collect your data and make adjustments based on it.

This is what you need to do:

Track what you eat for at least 3 days, however, the longer the better. One week is ideal. It is improtant that during this time you eat what you normally eat. Don’t decrease your serving sizes, just because you think you eat too much or increase, just because you think that you eat too little. Don’t try to be extra healthy by replacing the chocolate bar you snack on during the day by apple slices. What you need is an honest baseline assessment. You need the point you are at now.

This is how you do it:

  1. Download a food-tracking app: The easiest way to track your intake is using myfitnesspal or any other food-tracking app (download the app on your phone or use it on your computer).
  1. Log your food intake: You can search for the food you eat, set the amounts, you can even scan the barcode to make it faster. It is really simple. However, there is one important thing to consider. When you set up your account, myfitnesspal asks you for your data and makes suggestions on how much you should eat. Please, completely disregard the recommendations! Just eat what you normally eat and log it. I made the experience that in the majority of cases myfitnesspal targets are imprecise. If you realize that you eat more than the app suggests, then it is a good sign.

Want a real life example why not to use the app recommendation? The app gave me a target of 1200 kcal a day! This is ridiculously low for me, even for a weight loss diet. 


  1. Measure the food as precisely as possible: If you have a food scale to weigh out the food you eat, it is great. If not, don't worry, just use standard measuring devices (e.g., measuring cups, measuring spoons) to estimate the food quantities you eat.When you enter your data into the app, pay attention to the entries in the database. Check if they are complete and no data is missing. Also, don’t forget to distinguish between raw/dry or cooked food. Especially for starchy carbs, such as rice or pasta, it makes a big difference.
  2. Calculate your average calorie intake after 3-7 days: Go to the daily summary under the "nutrition tap" or turn your phone by 90 degrees. Write down your calorie intake for every day you tracked, then add all numbers and divide them by the number of days.

Here is an example how to calculate the average energy intake:

Let's say I tracked for 3 days. My energy intake was 2120 kcal the day before yesterday, 2038 kcal yesterday and 1961 kcal today.

My average calorie intake is

2120 kcal + 2038 kcal + 1961 kcal = 6109 kcal

6109 kcal / 3 days = 2036 kcal per day on average

Now, you have to adjust your energy intake according to your goal:

Weight loss

If you want to lose weight, you need to decrease your energy intake. However, your energy intake shouldn’t be so low that it becomes very painful to diet and difficult to sustain the energy deficit. In the ideal case, your energy intake shouldn't fall below your basal metabolic rate.

If you are a beginner and/or have a higher body fat percentage, you can tolerate a higher energy deficit than an advanced lifter without losing lots of muscle.

People who are overweight and beginners to resistance training can target a drastic energy deficit of up to 50%. A smaller energy deficit of only 5% is more appropriate for very advanced and lean lifters. If you are somewhere in the middle between these extremes you need to adjust the percentages accordingly. For example, for an intermediate lifter with a body fat percentage in the normal range, an energy deficit of 20% is reasonable.(1)

Weight gain

For weight gain, similar guidelines apply. If you are advanced, your energy surplus shouldn’t be as high as for a beginner. A beginner can build more muscle, as he or she is further away from his or her genetic potential. A beginner can gain muscle without gaining lots of fat consuming an energy surplus of 20%, whereas an advanced lifter should not exceed a surplus of 2.5-5%.(1)

For more info and cool tips on this topic get your free copy of the 'The ultimate Meal Plan Guide'

One thing to keep in mind is, that everyone responds differently. Some people adapt quickly to the increased energy intake and start expanding more energy by moving more. Then it is necessary to increase energy intake even further if there is no weight gain after 2-3 weeks. Others, however, can adapt to lower energy intake and have difficulties losing weight even though they have already reduced their energy intake. Then it is necessary to decrease the energy intake even further. Also, individuals who aim for a big weight change, not only 2-5 pounds, have to do re-adjustments on a regular basis. As the body weight changes significantly, so does the energy expenditure.

Practical tips

What to do if I can’t eat that much:

  • Shakes: if it is too much food for you, just make a huge and drink it. In my experience, many people who struggle with eating lots of food, have fewer problems 'drinking' it.
  • High-calorie low-volume food: Prefer whole food that is higher in calories, but lower in volume; nuts, seeds, oils, fruits like bananas or mango, or even dried fruits in moderation are good options.
  • Don't eat too much fiber and protein: Both fiber and protein are incredibly important, but eating too much of these can fill you up too quickly and in some cases even cause digestive issues. This doesn't really motivate to eat more.

What to do if I am constantly hungry:

  • Increase your fiber intake: All veggies that are green are great for it!
  • Increase your protein intake (if you consume less than 1.8 g/ kg bodyweight)
  • Eat less sweet foods: Sweets often increase appetite and make us craving more
  • Focus on whole food and cut out as much processed food as possible
  • Drink more: Thirst is often confused with hunger
  • Find something entertaining to do: Watch a movie, read a book, have sex...just do something that is more rewarding to you than eating
  • You will get used to it: Don't forget, when you start a new diet, a new lifestyle or have a change in your life, it takes some time to get used to it and to create new habits. Of course, if your diet starves you, you won't get used to it. However, a well-planned diet shouldn't starve you. A well-planned diet is sustainable, easy to follow and motivates you to continue because of the progress you make!

Need help with meal planning? Get your free copy of the 'The ultimate Meal Plan Guide'

Reference: Guidelines for weight loss and weight gain are based on the info from the Bayesian PT course.  Honestly, the best PT course I have ever seen, because all of its content is based on science and evidence!

Let's Overeat Protein To Lose Fat

  Yes, I know the protein topic can be confusing. Some guys on YouTube say that you can’t gain fat by overeating protein and others, like me, say that it is possible. Actually, the fact that it is not only possible, but in certain cases pretty likely is the content of the science- and evidence-based Bayesian Personal Trainer Course. If you want to learn how to distinguish real science from bro-science and maximize your muscle gains, check out this course!

Let's get back to the protein overeating issue. The best way to look at it is to separate theory from practice.

Theory

A person CAN gain fat if he/she eats too much protein. Some amino acids, aka glucogenic amino acids, can be converted to glucose and glucose can used to produce fat. Other amino acids, aka ketogenic amino acids, can be converted to a molecule called acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA can be used either for fatty acid synthesis or transformed into ketone bodies, which are used as fuel. Thus, if there is enough energy available coming from over-consumed amino acids then a person doesn’t burn the stored fat. One may even end up storing fat if glucose and acetyl-CoA - made out of excessive amino acids - are used for fatty acid synthesis.

If you are one of the biochem nerds check outmy video

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 15.07.17.png
Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 15.07.17.png

Reality

It is difficult to overeat protein because of its satiating effect.(1–3) Also, protein has a higher thermic effect (~30%) than carbs (~5-10%) and fat (0-5%). This means 30% of the energy you get from protein is used for its own digestion.

Now, let's have a look at some research - in both of these studies resistance trained individuals over-consumed protein (4.4g/kg and 3.5g/kg) in isolation.(4,5) Other nutrients were kept nearly the same in the study group and in the control group. The subjects in both groups didn't gain fat on average, also those who were overeating protein and consequently consuming more total calories (500 – 800 kcal/day).

Interestingly, according to my calculations the subjects in both studies weren't in caloric surplus. Most of them ate a maintenance diet or maybe even slightly more or less energy than they required. Why should they have gained fat? Gaining lots of fat without an excessive calorie intake doesn't really make sense.

Thus, let's have a look at two different studies, in which the subjects were actually overeating (19-20.6 kcal per lb body weight compared to 12-17 kcal/lb in the studies above). One of the studies examined the effects of carbohydrates and protein overeating in comparison to carbohydrate over-consumption (214 g P + 495 g C vs. 90 g P + 597 g C).(6) The energy and fat intake was nearly the same for both groups. And surprise, surprise, there was no significant difference in fat gain. Both groups gained a similar amount of fat. Why didn’t the high protein group gain less?

In the second study, the subjects overate fat and protein in different ratios (45%C/15%P/40%F vs. 45%C/25%P/30%F) consuming basically an isoenergetic diet.(7) Again, also in this study both groups experienced an identical level of weight / fat gain.

Wrap up

It is important to look at the total energy intake and not only at protein intake. Studies conducted in energy surplus, over-consuming both, protein and another macronutrient, suggest that it is possible to gain fat from protein over-consumption. If protein is over-consumed in energy balance or energy deficit, then fat gain is less likely. Why the hell should one gain fat not eating ‘enough’?

How to get a ‘real’ answer to the ‘excess-protein-causes-weight-gain question’?

To get some solid evidence if excess protein causes weight gain, we would need a study, in which both study groups would consume only protein and nothing else (to exclude other effects, such as hormonal effects). Hypothetical study design: one group consumes an excessive amount of protein eating a calorie surplus diet. The other group (control group) eats the amount of protein that is needed to cover the daily energy requirements. What we want to see is if the group with excessive protein AND energy intake gained more fat than the control group. However, who would like to take part in such a study drinking only protein shakes for weeks? ;)

References

  1. Veldhorst M a. B, Westerterp KR, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Gluconeogenesis and protein-induced satiety. Br J Nutr. 2012;107(04):595–600.
  2. Leidy HJ, Todd CB, Zino AZ, Immel JE, Mukherjea R, Shafer RS, et al. Consuming High-Protein Soy Snacks Affects Appetite Control , Satiety , and Diet Quality in Young People and Influences Select Aspects of Mood and Cognition. 2015;145(7):1614-1622.
  3. Ortinau LC, Hoertel H a, Douglas SM, Leidy HJ. Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutr J. 2014;13(1):97. 
  4. Antonio J, Peacock C a, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2014;11(1):19. 
  5. Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Orris S, Scheiner M, Gonzalez A, et al. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women – a follow-up investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; 2015;12(1):39.
  6. Spillane M, Willoughby DS. Daily Overfeeding from Protein and / or Carbohydrate Supplementation for Eight Weeks in Conjunction with Resistance Training Does not Improve Body Composition and Muscle Strength or Increase Markers Indicative of Muscle Protein Synthesis and Myogenesis in. 2016;(November 2015):17–25.
  7. Bray G a, Redman LM, de Jonge L, Covington J, Rood J, Brock C, et al. Effect of protein overfeeding on energy expenditure measured in a metabolic chamber. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Mar;101(3):496–505. 

The complete 'incomplete protein' story

Are you confused which plant protein sources to eat to get a complete amino acid profile? What is a complete amino acid composition? Isn’t it sufficient to eat ‘just enough’ protein?

Actually, we don’t need protein, what we need are particular amino acids. Although most recommendations speak about the protein requirement, the actual requirement is for amino acids, not for protein.1 Amino acids are building blocks for proteins. There are 20 different amino acids that are crucial for protein synthesis. You can imagine a protein as a long chain composed of different amino acids.All organisms - no matter if bacteria, plants or animals - contain proteins. Proteins have not only structural function (e.g. muscle), but also a variety of vital functions for all organisms. Enzymes, antibodies, ribosomes, all of these are proteins. The only difference between proteins found in different species is the amino acid composition, thus the ratio of individual amino acids. To apply the chain analogy: it means that all chains (proteins found in different species) contain all of the 20 different amino acids. However, not all chains have the same number of single amino acids.


Why is the amino acid composition important?

Humans cannot produce all of the 20 biologically important amino acids. Some of the amino acids, aka essential amino acids (EAA), we have to get from food. In general, most plant foods have a lower content of at least one of the essential amino acids compared to animal protein sources. This is the reason why plant protein is often considered to be incomplete. However, not all plant foods are low in the same essential amino acid. For instance, cereal grains are low in lysine, which is the limiting amino acid for many plant protein sources. On the contrary, legumes have significantly higher lysine content, but are lower in sulfur containing amino acids (Fig. 1). For this reason, it often is not enough just to get “only” enough protein, if the protein source is low in one of the essential amino acids.

fig-1.png

Figure 1. Content (in milligrams) of essential amino acids lysine and sulfur containing amino acids per 100 g of the selected foods. Cereal grains have relatively high sulfur containing amino acid content compared to their lysine content. For legumes applies the opposite.


Although, it is in theory possible to obtain the recommended daily allowance on essential amino acid from one food source, in most cases an enormous food volume has to be consumed to hit the recommended target.2 For instance, for a 70 kg (154 lb) person it would require the consumption of 1.75 kg (3.85 lb) bread or 3.6 kg (7.92 lb) cooked rice to ensure an adequate intake of the limiting amino acid lysine (as shown in Figure 2). In this case, in order to obtain an adequate amount of the limiting amino acid, other amino acids are over consumed. As you can see in the Figure 2, sulfur-containing amino acids exceed the theoretical requirement (indicated by the red dashed line). For high carbohydrate fruit-based diets it is even more difficult to meet essential amino acid requirements. Let’s take bananas as an example. To reach the recommended lysine intake a daily consumption of 7 kg (15.4 lb) bananas is required. Getting enough of sulfur containing amino acids would require the consumption of 10 kg (22 lb) bananas a day! This huge food quantity is needed just to get the MINIMUM requirement of these essential amino acids. To what extent the human body can adapt to a very low essential amino acid diet is not entirely clear. However, I am very skeptical about the idea that most people (genetic freaks excluded) can thrive on such a diet.

Through a combination of different plant protein sources it is possible to meet the targeted daily allowance of essential amino acids and to obtain a more balanced amino acid distribution. An example for a suitable food combination is the ‘300 g tofu and 400 g rice’ meal shown in Figure 2. This food amount can be easily divided into 2 main meals and is sufficient to meet the requirement for a sedentary 70 kg person.

fig-2.png

Figure 2. The amount of different foods necessary to meet the estimated daily requirement for a 70 kg (152 lb) person. The dashed red lines highlight the theoretically required amino acid quantity. The meal consisting of ‘300 g tofu and 400 g rice’ provides the required amino acid quantity in contrast to the same foods when consumed in isolation when not overconsumed.


Using only one protein source to meet essential amino acids requirement can have additional disadvantages. Overconsumption of a certain macronutrient is one of them. Just to give an example: the use of a high carbohydrate and lower protein source, such as bread, to meet essential amino acid requirements drastically increases the amount of carbohydrates in the diet. Getting most of the dietary protein from nuts would lead to very high fat content. Carbohydrate or fat overconsumption is likely to increase the energy intake above the required level and lead to undesired fat gain for most individuals.

If you need ideas how to combine food sources efficiently to get the desired macronutrient distribution following a balanced diet, check this out.

Even if a food source with a higher protein content, such as tofu is chosen, relying on it as a major protein source may have some disadvantages. Although legumes, such as soy, contain compounds that are in general associated with health benefits,3 eating too much of them can also cause micronutrient deficiencies (iron, zinc and calcium) with unbalanced nutrition or undernourishment.4


Do we really need to track all essential amino acids individually to prevent a possible deficiency?

No, not really, provided that a person eats enough protein. In this case, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) is definitely not enough. RDA was established using 2/3 animal products with a higher essential amino acid content compared to plant protein sources. Also, RDA characterizes the protein amount at which the risk of becoming protein deficient is very low (<3%) for most sedentary people (as I explain here). To put number on it (YES, I love numbers!), in theory, it is necessary to consume 16% more protein than RDA suggests for people following a well-balanced plant-based diet. This means that a 70 kg person needs to consume 65 g protein (not 56 g as RDA states) to meet the minimal (not optimal!) essential amino acid recommendation.

Take-home message

  1. Eat a variety of protein sources if you follow a plant-based diet, e.g. soy products, beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds. Supplement with plant-based protein powders if necessary.
  1. Eat at least 16% more protein than RDA recommends (for healthy individuals)

Side note

When it comes to muscle building, often the importance of leucine for muscle protein synthesis is emphasized (see my previous post). In this context it is important to note that leucine gives the signal for muscle protein synthesis, however, all amino acids (especially essential) are required as building blocks for muscle. For this reason, supplementation with leucine as the only amino acid is not likely to be a promising strategy.


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References

(1)      Baechle, T. R.; Earle, R. W. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; 2008.

(2)      Young, V. R.; Pellett, P. L. Am. J. Clin. Nutr.1994, 59, 1203S–1212S.

(3)      Threapleton, D. E.; Greenwood, D. C.; Evans, C. E. L.; Cleghorn, C. L.; Nykjaer, C.; Woodhead, C.; Cade, J. E.; Gale, C. P.; Burley, V. J. BMJ2013, 347, f6879.

(4)      Schlemmer, U.; Frølich, W.; Prieto, R. M.; Grases, F. Mol. Nutr. Food Res.2009, 53, S330–S375.

(5)         Nutritional information take from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/