Carb & Fat Blockers - Backed up by Science?

Who isn’t tempted by the idea? - Eat as much as you want and lose weight at the same time. That’s the reason why fad diets attract so many people after all.

Eat as much starch as you want (starch solution), eat as much fruit as you want (801010), and so on.

But wouldn’t it be great to abandon the restriction of the fad diets and just eat whatever you want without all the calories from it?

That’s where carb blockers and fat binders come into the game.

Calorie Blockers.png

 

Carb Blockers

Carb blocker are substances, usually extracted from white kidney beans, that block carbohydrate-digesting enzymes.

However, the name 'carb blocker' may be overestimated to some degree. Carb blockers (aka extract of Phaseolus vulgaris) don’t inhibit all carbohydrate-digesting enzymes; they act only on amylases, the enzymes that digest complex carbs (starches). Simple carbs (sugars), either don’t need to be digested to be taken up by the body or are converted into absorbable forms by other enzymes.

 

Carbs that can be potentially blocked by carb blockers: Starches coming from foods like

-        Bread

-        Pasta

-        Grains, like rice, oats, quinoa, etc.

-        Legumes, like chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc.

-        Starchy veggies, like potatoes

 

Carbs that aren’t blocked by carb blockers: All simple carbs like glucose, fructose and sucrose found in

-        Fruits

-        Sugary junk food, like candies, ice cream, chocolate

-        Sugar-containing soft drinks

 

How effective are carb blockers?

One shouldn’t forget that enzymes are highly efficient ‘machines’ that evolved and were optimized over the past hundreds of thousands of years. Even if one fraction of enzymes in the digestive tract is inhibited, the few remaining are so potent that they can digest a significant amount of starch molecules. It will just take longer. Thus, you can’t expect that by taking a carb blocker you can block starch digestion and absorption completely.

 Also, there is the chance that the starch that doesn’t get digested and absorbed will be converted into short chain fatty acids by the intestinal microbiota. These short chain fatty acids are taken up by the human body and contribute to ingested calories.

Let’s do the numbers – which is a very speculative idea from my side:

An in vitro (in the reagent tube) research study has shown that amylase inhibitors have the potential to inhibit about 50% of starch-digesting enzymes. Although this finding is not directly transferable to what happens in the human body, let’s assume that 50% of the starch is digested and absorbed. The remaining 50% will be processed by the gut bacteria, giving us 50-75% of the energy in the form of short chain fatty acids (under the assumption that starches are treated like fibers and possess the same calories content after being transferred to short chain fatty acids).

Making these speculative and very vague assumptions, we would, in theory, still get over 75% of the calories for the eaten starches and lose only 12.5-25% (in the ideal case).

Well, 12.5-25% is better than nothing, but it definitely doesn’t support the idea of eating as many carbs as one wants without gaining weight.

 

Stop the speculations and speak about real humans!

Multiple human studies were conducted to assess the efficiency of carb blockers on weight loss in real life settings (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). The evidence in support of carb blockers is mixed and inconsistent. The effectiveness of carb blockers depends on the amount and the type of carbohydrates in the diet. Some research studies have found no significant difference in weight loss between the carb blocker and the placebo group (4, 6), whereas others did (2, 3, 5). However, even the studies that found a difference, couldn’t present any impressive findings. The average weight loss rate in most studies was about 1 kg per month. Considering that participants in all studies were overweight or obese individuals and the trials were often combined with a calorie-restricted diet, the effectivity of carb blockers is pretty poor in my opinion.

 

Fat Binders

A fat binder (aka chitosan) is a substance that is supposed to bind fat in the intestine and prevent fat from being absorbed. According to fat binder sellers, 2 capsules of a fat binder containing 1 g of the active compound can bind 60 g fat. This sounds like a dream! Sadly, there is a ‘but’. It is likely this amazing finding was obtained in an in vitro study, in which fat, water and chitosan were mixed in a reagent tube to detect how much fat chitosan can bind. Studies conducted in humans show less optimistic findings.

In a research study in which the participants supplemented with 15 capsules a day (5.25 g chitosan) and consumed 135 g of fat daily, the fat absorption in participants was the same before chitosan supplementation compared to the days when the supplement was taken (6a, 6b).

Another study examining supplementation with 2.5 g chitosan per day found out that chitosan could prevent the absorption of 1.8 g fat per day in men, but had no effect on female participants (7). These findings are in line with a third study that found that fat absorption decreased by 1.1 g per day in men supplementing with 10 capsules of chitosan per day (8).

These findings suggest that one fat burner capsule has the ability to bind 0.11 g fat. Considering that the average price for a fat burner capsule is 60 cents when purchased from a bulk supplement supplier, the best advice I can give is:

 

If you want the same effect that fat binders provide and save money at the same time, eat 1 g fat less in a day. It will save you 9 kcal and 6 Euros (which is nearly the same in US$).
 

Weight loss studies over a prolonged time period (up to 6 months) examining chitosan supplementation found either no difference in fat loss between the supplementation and placebo group (9, 10) or a small difference. Also, a review reviewing research studies on fat binders concluded that chitosan’s effect on weight loss is minimal (12). The highest fat loss seen from starting chitosan supplementation was 1% body fat loss in 3 months in overweight individuals (13). However, given the participants didn’t change their habitual energy intake throughout the study, which was considerably low with 1700-1800 kcal per day anyway, it is possible that an increase in activity led to increased fat loss in the supplementation group. As the activity level was not monitored, it is not possible to exclude this possible confounding factor. Another research study reported about a decrease in body fat by 0.8% body fat in 2 months in the supplementation group (11). A possible confounding factor in this study is that not all subjects provided dietary records and that there was a trends towards decreased fat intake in the chitosan supplementation group.

 

When Taking Blockers Makes Sense

As should be clear by now, fat binders seem to be a pure waste of money. Eating a few grams less of fat per day is as efficient as taking fat binders, and much cheaper too.

Carb blockers are more interesting. They can be a useful tool in the big pool of weight loss tools. It doesn’t make sense to make carb blockers an everyday component of a weight loss diet. A weight loss diet shouldn’t be centered around starches anyway. Getting majority of calories from satiating, nutrient-dense food like vegetables, combined with sufficient protein and (essential) fatty acid sources should be the prime goal of an energy-restricted diet plan. Starches, especially refined starches like white bread, don’t fulfil the beforementioned criteria. There is, however, one exception: potatoes – they performed very well on the satiety level and aren’t too bad regarding their nutrient content. The same may apply to other starchy vegetables, however, at this point I extrapolate the data based on my assumptions and not proven research findings.

 

Carb blockers can be a useful tool for social events, like birthdays, meals out with friends or similar occasions. When you are on a weight loss diet, it makes sense to avoid any unnecessary calories.

When you go out and want to minimize the damage by taking carb blockers, follow these points to benefit from carb blockers the most:

-        Choose foods that are satiating, higher in starches and low in fat and sugar. Good choices are starchy veggies like potatoes. However, don’t choose French fries or fried potatoes, as they violate the low fat criterion.

-        Get protein and lots of fiber-rich veggies with your meal, regardless of whether you take carb blockers or not, as they are filling. The more you fill yourself up with satiating lower-calorie food, the less high-calorie food you will fit in.

 

And don’t forget: carb blockers are a damage-reduction tool after a starchy meal, not the ‘free ticket’ to overeat on starches.

 

Would you like to get a simple plan for successful fat loss and strength gain? Then check out my meal plan, training plan and recipe package!

 

 

Are there genetic benefits of eating beef?

Just recently, a post/interview was sent to me asking for my opinion. The topic was: research shows that there are genetic benefits of eating beef. I decided to have a closer look at it, as the topic looked interesting.

Research background: One research study found that eating red meat was associated with longer telomeres.


What the hell are telomeres?

Telomeres are ‘caps’ at the end of our DNA. These are repetitive sequences at the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres protect chromosomes from fusing with each other and other disastrous events. Every time cells divide and chromosomes replicate, small bits of telomeres get chopped off. Short telomeres are associated with aging and the risk of developing cancer. In contrast, longer telomeres are associated with longevity.

 

Back to the research study: The researchers attained unexpected findings when they examined 28 individuals. The people who ate more red meat had longer telomeres. This finding is surprising, because previous research studies have either reported that red meat consumption had a negative effect on telomere length or no effect.

Also, the beforementioned research study found that smoking has no effect on telomere length as well as physical exercise. These findings are equally surprising, as it is a no-brainer and pretty much established knowledge (that’s why I don’t provide any references) that smoking is bad for you and exercise is good for you.

Confused?

Ok, here is the problem: the research study that found beneficial effects of red meat consumption on telomere length and no negative effect of smoking was most likely statistically underpowered. In this study, only 28 people were examined. In other studies, which I have mentioned above, up to 70 times that amount were studied; 840 subjects in one study and 1958 subjects in the other. It is likely that the findings that red meat has a positive effect on telomere length, thus longevity, and smoking and exercise have no effect were obtained just by chance. Even the researchers wrote in their paper:

“The study did not confirm negative effect of smoking on telomere length. This finding is probably associated with insufficient sample size. Statistical analysis also excluded the effects of smoking as a covariate modifying the TL among red meat consumers. The observation study continues and we expect changes after its completion.”

 

As this is an observational study, the researchers will follow the participants for another 3 years, repeat the measurements and see if the findings change (which is very likely in my opinion).

 

Take home-message:

-        It is not the researchers’ fault that they got very questionable findings and not enough subjects. Everyone who conducts research studies knows how hard it is to get a high subject number. The researchers just reported the results they got (and they were pretty surprised about their findings).

-        The problem is that some people cherry pick the studies that appeal to them and don’t look at the collective evidence. If the majority of evidence (with much higher subject numbers) shows a negative effect or no effect, the findings of one underpowered research study are just not strong enough to make a point.

 

Want me to tell you everything once again? Then watch this video.  

 

Confused about what you should eat? If so, then just book a consultation with me. Click here for more info. 


 

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.

Why You Should Train Every Day

Hey Bro, do you want to maximize your gains?

What training program do you follow? Is it a one-body-part-per-day split routine? If so, then you are completely off-track.

 

How often should I train?

Although there isn’t too much research on high frequency resistance training, there is evidence that higher training frequency (training 6 times a week for example) with a lower volume per session (doing fewer sets) is more beneficial for muscle gain than just a few long training sessions a week.

There was a really cool experiment done on Norwegian elite powerlifters (not a research study, just an experiment within the national team). The outcome was that training 6 times per week leads to greater strength and muscle gains than 3 days per week when the weekly training volume and program are the same.

Recently a new research paper was published, in which the scientist established the following model:

Dankel, S.J., Mattocks, K.T., Jessee, M.B. et al. Sports Med (2016). doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8

Dankel, S.J., Mattocks, K.T., Jessee, M.B. et al. Sports Med (2016). doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8

 

Each peak represents muscle growth after a training session. Training 6 days a week (black curve) is better for muscle growth than 2 days a week (grey curve), because the total area under the back curve is higher than the area under the grey curve (the time muscle are built).

Increasing the number of sets from 3 to 9 sets per muscle group when training only 2 days a week, doesn’t give you more gains, as the additional sets will 'get wasted'. It seems like there is an optimal number as to how many sets per session one can do to achieve optimal growth. Doing more sets in one session doesn't give better results.

The researchers concluded:

“Performing fewer sets per session at a higher frequency will likely be sufficient for increasing muscle size while also limiting fatigue to allow for higher frequencies and thus more frequent stimulations of muscle protein synthesis. Performing more sets per session while using a lower training frequency may reduce the time spent in a positive net protein balance because the large number of sets performed within a given session may exceed the ‘anabolic limit’, resulting in wasted sets.”

 

Of course, the individual training stage also matters. Trained individuals are used to the stimuli of resistance training. For them, muscle growth returns to baseline levels within 16-24 hours after a training session (black curve). In contrast, beginners grow muscle for up to 72 hours after a training session (grey curve). However, even for beginners, a training frequency of more than twice a week is also beneficial (because they get more spikes and there is more area under the muscle growth curve).  

Dankel, S.J., Mattocks, K.T., Jessee, M.B. et al. Sports Med (2016). doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8

Dankel, S.J., Mattocks, K.T., Jessee, M.B. et al. Sports Med (2016). doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8

 

Want to recap? Then watch this video

 

For people who are at an advanced training stage, not only does the optimal training frequency change, but also the optimal training volume. For most persons who are beginners to resistance training, 9 sets per muscle group per week are sufficient to get optimal results, however, advanced lifters should train with a higher volume to achieve optimal muscle growth (If you want to learn more on this topic check out the Bayesian PT course). This means that if you are an advanced lifter and train 6 days per week, you may need to do 3-5 sets per muscle group each workout (this means that whole body workouts are more beneficial than split-type workouts).

 

Size vs Strength – Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting

The research paper presented above didn't discuss optimal frequency for strength gains. That’s why I am going to expand with my thought on this topic. If poor recovery isn't an issue, higher training frequency is also beneficial for strength gains, as observed in the Norwegian elite powerlifters experiment. This makes sense, as hypertrophy and strength go hand in hand. However, you can’t expect a linear increase in strength if you increase your training frequency in a linear manner. There are diminishing returns with increased training frequency. This applies to many other things as well; there are diminishing returns for muscle gain in an energy surplus, there are diminishing returns for calorie deficit when cutting (higher kcal deficit doesn't result in more weight loss), etc. Nevertheless, there is an advantage to strength gains when it comes to higher training frequency. Higher frequency is beneficial for the improvement of lifting technique. Lifting is a skill. The more you practice, the better you get.

 

Individual variability & lifestyle variability

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. One must consider individual cases.

Genetics: If someone has poor genetics and poor recovery, then a higher training frequency could make more sense for bodybuilding, than for powerlifting.

Energy balance: In a caloric deficit, it can make sense to decrease the volume. However, training increases energy expenditure and can be considered as additional activity that makes it easier to lose weight. If you tolerate a high training frequency and volume, then I would rather keep it. This also allows you to keep your calorie intake higher. Higher activity is not only beneficial for increasing energy expenditure, but may also reduce the drop in resting metabolic rate resulting from adaptive thermogenesis in an energy deficit.

Lifestyle: A stressful lifestyle, chronic sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption and eating too much junk are issues that have to be sorted out, no matter what your training frequency is. All of these factors reduce body’s ability to recover and are counter-productive for muscle and strength gains.

 

FAQ – You asked, I answered.

What if you don’t have the time to do 3-4 sets for each muscle group every workout?

  • Smart exercise choice: Choose exercises that target several muscle groups at once = compound exercises (e.g. squat for quads and glutes and, of course, to some extent back and abs).
  • Set priorities: Choose what muscle groups you want to grow the most. If you want to get big shoulders, but don’t care about your biceps, do 5 sets of a shoulder exercise and fewer sets of biceps curls.
    • Side note: you train biceps automatically when you train back, e.g. rows or chin ups. If you frequently train your back, you can skip biceps isolation exercises on most days and do them only a few times a week, except if you want to be the person with the biggest biceps in your gym. If this is the case, do 5 sets of biceps curls every day :)
  • Do paired sets: Paired sets are sets in which you alternate 2 or even 3 exercises with a short rest between the exercises (not back to back like supersets). Usually, I choose 2 exercises for completely different muscle groups, e.g. lower body and upper body (leg extension and shoulder press). I try not to pair set difficult compound exercises like squat, bench press or deadlift, but pair set isolation exercises. However, if it is not possible due to time constraints I pair set heavy compound exercises with light isolation exercises (e.g. deadlift with lateral raises or bench press and calf raises).

 

I currently train 3 times a week doing a full body workout. Should I increase training frequency?

If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, and not a total newb, then yes. 

 

What rep range should I do?

This depends on the exercise and your genetics. If you are slow twitch muscle fiber dominant, a higher rep range may be beneficial for you. If you are fast-twitch muscle fiber dominant, you may want to decrease the rep range. For more info, read my previous blog post.

 

Is it better to do 2 sets 6 times a week instead of 4 sets 3 times a week for each muscle group?

I wouldn't necessarily do only 2 sets per workout, at least not for body parts that are important for you. For muscle groups you want to grow the most, I would do 3-4 sets as often as possible, for other muscle groups, 1-2 sets if you don't have the time to do 3 sets.

 

How do you structure your training?

I usually do

1. Squat or Deadlift (or Good morning/Hip thrust on my easy days)

2. Bench press (different variations on different days)

3. Back exercise

4. Shoulder exercise

5. Exercise for hamstrings if squat was my first exercise or exercise for quads if deadlift was my first exercise

6. Triceps or Biceps or Lower back (depending on what my current priority is and what exercises I have done earlier in the session)

 

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

 

If you have any questions or suggestions for future blog posts, drop me a line at anastasia@sciencestrength.net

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.

 

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 :-)


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.

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.

Find more delicious high-protein recipes, meal plans and training plans that bring you closer to your dream body in my Diet Plan, Training Plan & Recipes Package. If you want to lose body fat, gain strength and have a sweet tooth, then this package right for you :)

Click on the image carousel below to get a preview of the recipes and plans included into the package.


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.


Real life example:

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 ;-)

 

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.

 

Do you need more help with reaching your goals, planning your diet and training, staying on track and get constant motivation and encouragement? Then apply for my BOOTCAMP!

Click on the image to get to the BOOTCAMP page.


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.

 

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 protein 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’

But if you want to become your own meal plan expert, apply for my BOOTCAMP!

Click on the image to get to the bootcamp page.

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.

 

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!

The reason why Boris Sheiko's programs are so successful

Just recently, once again, I had the honor to work with Boris Sheiko, one of the most successful powerlifting coaches in the world, and support him as his interpreter during his seminar. This time, there were two particular features about his seminar. First, it was his first seminar in Germany (finally, I can connect the dots and it makes sense why I grew up in a bilingual German-Russian environment :) ). Secondly, it wasn't the typical powerlifting seminar. The seminar was carried out in a crossfit gym and athletes with different backgrounds were present: powerlifting, weightlifting, strongmen, crossfit and even karate.After the theoretical part of the seminar (see my previous blog posts - #1, #2, #3 - for the content), all athletes showed their lifts and Boris Sheiko made technique corrections and suggestions on how to improve.

The first question, Boris asked each athlete was: "What is your sports background?" and File_000(42).jpegonly then he made suggestions. You might be a bit surprised why sports background matters. If the squat technique is correct, it shouldn't matter if one is powerlifter or weightlifter or crossfitter after all. Right?

 

However, it does matter a lot. These are the small technical refinements that matter, such as the bar position, stance width, range of motion, etc. that determine the squat efficiency for the individual sport or the individual goal.

To give an example, let's take a powerlifter, a weightlifter and a bodybuilder and the way everyone needs to squat.

The goal of a powerlifter is to push as much weight as possible. This means that a shorter range of motion (not a full squat, but just below parallel or to parallels, depending on the federation rules this lifter competes in) and a low bar position are most beneficial.

A weightlifter doesn't really care about squat because his competition disciplines are snatch and clean & jerk. However, squat develops leg strength and is a good assistance exercise for his competition lifts. For this reason, weightlifters squat with a full range of motion and high bar position, in which the lifter's position is more similar to the one in his competition lifts.

A bodybuilder has muscle growth as his main goal. How much weight he can or want to push, is a secondary issue, that is mostly determined by the size of his ego. Thus, a full range of motion, automatically implying a high bar squat position (the one you can push less weight with), make more sense for a bodybuilder.

What do we learn from this? Sports background determines what exercise form to use. The lifting technique should be adjusted to individual goals, which Boris Sheiko does for all of his students.

However, it doesn't end here. What exercise form to use is pretty easy to determine, but what about program planning? If we just look at strength building programs for powerlifters, there are so many different options. Which one is the best?

Here it is totally dependent on you as an individual. As long as you aren't a complete newb (everything works for a newbie), a good program is the one, that works on your limiting factors and eliminates them, no matter if these are weaknesses in your technique, muscle groups that are lacking behind or even psychological issues, such as little confidence to lift heavy. To cut a long story short, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there is no program that works for everyone, as everyone has a different limiting factor....but...

...but, if all programs need to be individualized, and there are no programs that work for everyone, how can it be that Boris Sheiko's programs you can download from his page led to such drastic strength improvements for so many lifters even without individualization? (Just as a side note: Also Boris Sheiko says that all programs need to be individualized)

In my opinion, there are three reasons for it:

1. Boris Sheiko analyzed dozens or even hundreds of training log books from his athletes. Looking at the data he found correlations for training intensity and progress and he implements these findings into his programs.

2. Based on his longstanding experience he knows what are the most common mistakes and weaknesses lifters have. For this reason, Boris Sheiko uses variations of competition lifts in his programs that improve these weaknesses. No matter what your limiting factor is, the chance is pretty high that some part of Boris Sheiko's program will address it. 3. His programs are designed for the right genotype.

Designed for the right WHAT?

As I described in my previous blog post, there are genetic differences between people. These differences may play a crucial role for program design. Some people, whose genetic trait is classified as the endurance trait, respond better to low intensity high rep programs, even if building power and not endurance is the goal. Others, however, carrying the power trait respond better to high intensity low rep programs. The probability that the majority of powerlifters carry the power trait is very high. People like to do things they are naturally good in, like in the case of powerlifters lifting heavy stuff for one rep or just a few reps. Thus, it is reasonable that a successful powerlifting program targets exactly this group. If we have a look at Boris Sheiko's programs, we see that *surprise, surprise* the majority of competition lifts or variations of competition lifts are trained with low rep numbers. This is what I meant by saying that the programs are designed for the right genotype. They are designed for a powerlifter.

Take-home message: In my opinion, Boris Sheiko's programs are so successful, because they

  • are designed for true powerlifters (...the guys who like to lift really heavy stuff, because they're naturally good at it),
  • fix most common mistakes powerlifters do and
  • use optimal average training intensity for powerlifters.

Happy lifting!


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