Tag Archives: nutrition

Do You Want to Look Better for 90 days, or Forever?

Probably the most common fitness related goal is weight loss, more specifically fat loss, and every one wants the fastest route there starting yesterday, I get that, but not many people pause to think that if they get there, how hard will it be to stay there and not rebound like the majority of flash-in-the-pan crash dieters and over-exercisers? Do I know how to do this without an all or nothing mentality?

Let’s clear the air really quickly: the fastest way to fat loss is through dietary restriction and through large energy expenditures. At the start this will mean a fairly radical dietary overhaul, and various weight training circuits, intervals and other high intensity methods that put out large amounts of energy in a relatively short period of time, BUT, is this the most sustainable way to transform your physique? Probably not.

Strength, Muscle and Habits are yours to keep

These three things are the most important long term predictors of a transformation that is yours to keep forever, not just rented for 90 days before your trip to Mexico or 10 year reunion, so let’s talk about each one of them in a little more detail.

Strength

“I don’t care how strong I am I just want to look better!”

At the base of this sentiment, I get it, you didn’t come into the gym to be the world’s strongest man or woman, you just want to look better, but, your strength has a whole lot to do with how quickly you’ll lose fat. Thanks to Greg Nuckols for highlighting this in one of his articles, but the energy expended during a workout is highly correlated to how much resistance you’re overcoming (aka how much weight is on the bar) and lifting a 300lb deadlift for 8 reps takes almost perfectly 2x as much energy to move as 150lbs for 8 reps, but they both take the same amount of time. So the person who is consistently getting stronger over time is actually expending progressively more and more energy in the same amount of time as the person who stays the same strength but just does endless circuits. The person getting stronger is also building muscle to boot, which brings us to the next key piece of the puzzle

Muscle

The more of it you have, the more energy you burn at rest, and the more energy you burn while you move. So long as you keep training, and don’t do any crazy starvation diets, the muscle you build is yours to keep, and there it will sit, silently pushing up your metabolic rate 24/7, and giving you better return on your workouts. Compare that to the person doing cardio and interval training only, who will likely be losing some muscle tissue and therefore slow their metabolism over time, and because of this they will have to train longer, or eat even less to maintain their fat loss efforts. Eventually this practice becomes prohibitively restrictive, downright unenjoyable, and unsustainable; you can’t eat nothing and run forever.

Habits

Building muscle takes time, actually significantly longer than it takes to gain or lose fat, and to do so takes consistency. You’re going to need to show up to the gym at least 3x per week and make that a habit, you’re going to need to eat enough of the right foods to recover from the muscle damage you created in your workouts and probably take care your hydration. You’re going to notice that sleep affects your strength, and that’s pretty damn important too.

The weight on the bar never lies to you, you can’t fake strength or pretend you’re working harder by grunting, if you’re hungover, eating poorly, and half-assing your workout, the weight won’t move, simple as that. By measuring your progress with objective numbers instead of subjective sensations, you take responsibility for your own progress and will have to look introspectively if something stops working – this is where true progress happens! It’s the same process and habit formation you can apply to your nutrition, your sleep, your health, and any other important facet of your fat loss/physique transformation journey.

We have had some incredible transformations at Blacksmith Fitness, people who have lost up to 100lbs and stayed there for months and counting, and every single one of those people are stronger, have more muscle, and better habits than they had one day 1 – it’s not a coincidence!

 

Have We Finally Found the Best Diet?

There are so many options out there, each with their cult-like followers proclaiming that their approach cures cancer and turns you into a semi-bionic super god that breathes fire and shits awesomeness; however, once you get past the surface marketing hype you will often find that these diets have more in common than they have apart. Here are just a few of the popular methods being touted as the holy grail of nutrition for physique:

  • Carb cycling
  • Ketogenic
  • Carb backloading
  • If it fits your macros (IIFYM) aka flexible dieting
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Zig-zag
  • Zone diets
  • Hand measuring
  • “eating clean”
  • “calorie is a calorie”

First let’s tackle the “eating clean” diet; it’s not really a diet at all. Eating clean will mean something different to everyone, and from what I and many others have observed, usually involves some pretty heavy self bargaining and willingness to succumb to shady food marketing. “cheese is good as long as it’s natural right?” “I’ll get frozen yogurt instead of ice-cream”, “these chips are baked, so i’ll just have the whole bag, it’s not that bad”, “chocolate has bioflavonoids that are supposed to be good for your heart” etc. Read on and you’ll see that “eating clean” doesn’t adhere to the basic tenants that the other diets in the list have been built around, with the largest shortcoming being that it makes no attempt to control the amounts of food being consumed.

There are a still a few that still believe that a calorie is a calorie and that someone eating 1500 calories of swedish berries, Mcdonald’s cheeseburgers, with a multivitamin, and some one eating 1500 calories lean meats, fruits, nuts and vegetables will have the same physique. The problem is that this idea arose from studies didn’t involve moderate to intense physical exercise, more specifically a periodized resistance training program, or have a study period long enough to truly show the cumulative effects on the slower acting hormonal systems. However if you truly believe in this approach I highly suggest you talk to your doctor about conducting your own study for at least 1 year and report back with your results.

Other’s suggest that you can eat infinite amounts of food, as long as you eat the right types at the right time, pointing to research on insulin sensitivity, activity of micronutrients, intestinal flora, growth hormone output, leptin, thermic effects, nutrient partitioning etc. This is where the bulk of nutritional research is being focused nowadays (about time), but if you’re thinking that you’re going to be able to eat 8000 calories of avocado, grapefruit, and chicken breast without gaining any fat, then you’re in for a rude awakening. Most of these diets revolve around the fact that it’s pretty damn hard to shove 9000 calories of lettuce and carrots down your throat (although if you try please make sure you film a fast motion video of your attempt, also don’t try this). This leads me to the point that most popular diets from our list up top still left standing, although they have greatly different approaches have these points in common:

  1. They control total amount of food consumed
  2. They provide adequate to high amounts of protein
  3. They provide adequate intake of essential fats
  4. They attempt to control insulin levels

So which one is the best?

The best style of eating is the one that you can realistically adhere to for the longest amount of time.

Adherence to a nutrition program is the #1 determinant of success when it comes to nutrition for physique improvements. If you’re a vegan, chances are that you aren’t going to adhere to a strict ketogenic diet even if some new research comes out showing that high protein, high fat is the key to looking like the spawn child of Aphrodite and Hercules (it could be done, but your food choices would become severely limited). Likewise if you can’t bear the idea of measuring/weighing your food or inputting everything you eat into a calculator/app, you probably won’t do very well with the zip-zag approach (high/low caloric cycling with the same ratios of protein, carbs, and fat), these people will probably do better with a food list and approximating portion sizes with their hands like precision nutrition recommends. Hate portion control altogether? Maybe modified intermittent fasting is for you, after all you can only get so many calories into your stomach at one time, again a food list will greatly increase your chances of success with this approach. Maybe you hate planning your own food, so pay someone else to do it for you.

The most important thing when evaluating a diet is actually to evaluate your personal preferences and tendencies and figure out which one will suit your lifestyle the best. Once you have chosen a method, you can tweak and adjust to achieve your desired effect. Try sticking to one style of eating for at least 4 months. If you’ve adhered to the style, made revisions, and still have the itch to try an new method, by all means give it a shot. Yes there are individual differences and you may respond to one slightly better than the other, but if you do find that one style of eating works better for you, don’t become one of those irritating fans that claims that they’ve found the holy grail of turn-you-into-arnold-schwarzenegger-in-a-week diets, and that everyone else might as well be eating paint chips; we have enough of those in the nutrition world already.