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Frequently Asked Questions

This page has answers to the 70 most common nutrition and training questions I have been asked in the comments over the years.

In addition, I’ve created special pages for coaching info, translations, contact info, and recommended resources.


NUTRITION QUESTIONS

The Most Commonly Asked Nutrition Questions

Food Specific Questions

Hunger and Meal Timing Related Questions

Supplement Questions

Other Nutrition-related Questions


ABOUT THE SITE



TRAINING QUESTIONS

NUTRITION QUESTIONS

Do my macro calculations look right?

It is impossible to say. You won’t know that until you try them out. Initial calculations are an estimation, a start point from which to adjust based on how you progress, nothing more.

  • Your actual energy expenditure will vary somewhere between plus or minus ~20% of what you calculate due to genetic differences,
  • Your metabolism adapts when you are in a calorie surplus or deficit, your calorie target is a moving target, not a static one.

You need to make sure you are tracking your progress in detail so that you have data from which to base fine tune adjustments to your calculations off of. You then, of course, need to know how to make the adjustments. Fortunately, I’ve put together those guides for you here:

• How To Track Your Progress
• 
All Articles On Making Adjustments


I calculated different macros from what I’ve been using, should I change?

Not necessarily, for the reasons mentioned in the previous answer. You are better off tracking how your current set up is doing and then adjusting it if necessary.

This is assuming that your current protein intake is not considerably higher or lower than what I recommend. If that’s the case then adjust your carb and fat intake to maintain the calorie balance. (Fats have 9 kcal per gram, protein and carbs have 4 kcal per gram. So, if you need to up your protein intake my 40 g for example, that’s 160 kcal, so reduce your fat and carb intake by the corresponding calorie amount.)


I calculated a negative carb number. What did I do wrong?

  1. Check that you didn’t set your fat loss rate too high for your current level of body fat.
  2. If you have done this correctly, then, reduce the calorie difference between the training and rest days to be less severe.
  3. If you’ve already done that, then reduce it further manually by just taking some of your carb intake from the training days and adding it to the rest days.

How do I make meals to fit my macros?

This guide is one of the most popular on the site: Macro Counting 101: The Comprehensive, No-nonsense Guide.


What do you think of ketogenic diets?

Keto diets are trending and currently overhyped.

A keto diet (a very low carb diet, typically under 50g of carbs each day) does not lead to superior fat loss outcomes in a calorie matched diet. I’d argue that for most people, they lead to a worse outcome.

The positive of keto:

  • Is that “avoid carbs!” is a simple guideline for people to follow and because your diet becomes boring as shit, it’s hard to overeat.

The negatives of keto:

  • It’s overly restrictive and hard to sustain for most people. Anything that is hard to sustain is a no-no.
  • It causes a large initial weight loss (which is not fat loss, just water and gut content from a drop in muscle glycogen) that people confuse for fat loss. Whenever someone then eats carbs, they gain this weight back, which causes them to panic, and it creates a false dependency on keto, and the false illusion that it is superior.
  • It robs us of the fuel (carbohydrate) necessary to maintain high training volumes while dieting. Strength training is the most important tool in our arsenal to signal to our bodies to retain muscle mass when in a caloric deficit, therefore, keto diets can lead to unnecessary muscle loss.

Now, if you’re someone who is an experienced trainee used to monitoring your macros and wish to systematically test whether you’re one of the few who do well on it, I have a guide on the site here: How to Know if Keto Is Right for You.

For other people though, keto is not a shortcut and my advice is to do things right in the first place, as per the guides on the site.


Do I need to slam a protein shake after working out?

Not unless it’s been several hours since your previous meal or will be several hours until your next one, as you’ll still have amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in your bloodstream.

Meals take a while to fully digest. The larger the meal, the longer this will take.

Now, I can understand why you ask this. The supplement industry profits from perpetuating the myth that protein timing is more critical than it actually is.

Recall the hierarchy of importance for nutrition set up:

If you’re eating a sufficient amount of protein during the day and not doing something stupid with your meals, you won’t run into a situation where you’ll compromise your recovery and muscle growth.

Also, what the pyramid above means is that you can’t eat just ‘clean foods’ and ignore calories, you can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet, and you can’t use some special timing tricks to enable you to binge eat on the evenings.

If this isn’t a familiar image to you, I’d highly recommend you read my complete guide to nutrition setup.


Do I need to supplement with protein or BCAAs prior to fasted cardio?

No. The risk of muscle catabolism with fasted cardio is minimal because it does not cause muscle damage in the same way as a strength workout. There is no need to take BCAAs.


What’s the difference between your ‘Leangains Guide’ and ‘Complete Nutrition Setup Guide’?

The former is me giving you a fish, the latter is me teaching you how to catch your own.

They are not mutually exclusive, the latter explains why the former works and removes the nutrient timing limitations by teaching you the underlying principles.


Why is this site free?

I earn a living from book sales and online coaching.

However, the vast majority of readers use the guides on the site to be successful and don’t pay me anything. This is fine. I don’t need any single individual reader to buy from me because the tiny fraction of those that do is more than enough.

By giving so much content away for free I become the obvious choice for those that struggle to implement it. The result of this is that since 2011 I have had a waiting list of people seeking to work with me.

I get to impact far more people this way and I earn beer credits in nearly every city around the world from readers that feel they owe me one. I love it.

I choose not to fill the site with advertising as I feel it would just compromise credibility.


Can I include refined carbs and sugary foods in my diet?

Yes. As long as you don’t neglect fruit and vegetables, as long as you make your carb choices fit your macros you will not affect your progress. This is because calorie balance determines weight loss.

This is the if it fits your macros (IIFYM) philosophy to dieting, but this is not an excuse to eat like an asshole. Intuitively, you know already what I mean by this. This is not a diet hack, this is allowing yourself a degree of flexibility.

The glycemic index (GI) of a food is irrelevant in the context of a mixed food meal as digestion and absorption will be slowed. Brown vs white rice/pasta/bread is a taste issue, not something that will affect your results.


Are frozen vegetables ok?

Frozen vegetables are totally fine. Whether they’re fresh, frozen, or canned, if you eat enough fruits and vegetables every day, you’re going to reap some of their nutritional benefits (though there are minor differences between methods.)

I choose frozen veg often as it’s easy to prepare. If you get a little steamer for the microwave then fresh vegetables can be cooked in just minutes.

Microwave steamers make eating healthy easy. Just pour a little water in the bottom, add chopped veggies on top, and then put it in the microwave for a minute or two.

 

How much water should I drink?

We lose water at night through sweating and respiration, so drink a few glasses to rehydrate in the morning, and aim to be peeing clear by noon. If you find yourself waking in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, taper your intake down towards the end of the day.

There is no single suitable water intake target for everyone so do not set a target water intake per day. Your needs in any given day will vary on the weather, your body type, your activity level, and your carbohydrate consumption for the day.

Water helps you get jacked and lean. You’ll perform better in your workouts when properly hydrated and you’ll burn more fat. (The liver plays an important role in fat metabolism. If you don’t drink enough water then the kidneys can’t function at full capacity and thus the liver has to work to help them, decreasing the rate which fat can be metabolized.)


Can I drink coffee / tea / diet soda in the mornings when fasting?

Yes. No calories = no problem.

A splash of milk in your coffee(s) in the mornings is fine too, but don’t put sugar in there, sweeteners are fine.

Basically, if you’re trying to fast, do it properly, keep your calorie intake as close to zero as you can.


Can I drink alcohol?

Yes, but alcohol has calories which have to be accounted for and there are trade-offs to doing so. I’ve written more on this here: The Alcohol Guide.


 

Is high salt intake a concern?

The evidence for whether high salt intake is good or bad for health is inconclusive. However, unless you are eating a diet very high in junk food your salt intake overall is not likely to be a concern.

Changes in salt intake in the short term, however, will bring weight fluctuations. If you reduce your salt intake, you will temporarily drop water; if you increase salt intake you will temporarily gain water. Don’t try to manipulate this*, just be aware of it, and if you suddenly gain or lose weight one day, know that this is likely the reason.

*This advice applies to my physique competitor clients also. Water manipulation is never something I use to get people looking shredded lean. My co-author on The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books has a paper on contest preparation if it interests you, here.


Is protein powder ok to use?

Yes, but there is a time and a place for it. Protein from real food (meat, fish, eggs, etc.) will keep you feeling full for longer, which is obviously a desirable thing when dieting. Try to make your reliance on powders under half your protein target for the day.

Both casein and whey protein are fine. The former has slightly longer digestion times, but this won’t make any meaningful difference.


I’m a vegetarian, do I need to make any modifications to your recommendations?

Yes. Generally speaking, you’d need to consume approximately 20% more high-quality plant protein (i.e., pea & soy) to be on par with animal protein in terms of amino acid profile quality.

Regarding vegans specifically:

  1. All vegans will need to supplement with vitamin B12 because you won’t be able to get enough from your diet. 1,000 mcg (1mg) per day.
  2. Most vegans are at a high risk of vitamin D (unless you get daily sun exposure without sunscreen) and iodine deficiency (unless you eat a lot of sea vegetables). So consider taking 2,000 I.U.s of vitamin D and 90 micrograms of iodine per day respectively.
  3. Some vegans will fall short on their calcium needs. Consider 1,000 mg daily. 

 

Can eating ‘too much’ protein be bad for you?

Here’s a quick summary of the research findings I could find:

Protein and the kidneys

  • If you have healthy kidneys you have nothing to worry about. If you have kidney function issues then you may need to control your protein intake.
  • It may be prudent to gradually increase protein intake to higher levels rather than upping it immediately, but there isn’t much research on this topic.
  • It is generally recommended to consume more water during periods when protein intake is being increased. Whether or not this has biological basis is not known, but it may be prudent to do so.

Protein and the liver

  • In healthy persons and rats, there is no evidence to suggest a relatively normal style of protein intake is harmful to the liver when habitually consumed as part of the diet. There is some preliminary evidence, however, that very high protein refeeding after prolonged fasting (>48 hours) may cause acute injuries to the liver.

What about blood acidity?

  • Though the evidence is theoretically sound, the acidity caused by excessive amino acids in the blood does not appear to be a clinical concern as it is not potent enough to cause harm to most individuals.

Source and further details/references: Can eating too much protein be bad for you? – Examine.com


How can I hit my macro targets easily if I fall short on any given day?

I have an article on this here.


I’m having hunger issues, what can I do?

Some degree of hunger when dieting is natural and some people suffer it more than others.

However, it should never be extreme. If your caloric deficit isn’t too high, and you have been taking periodical diet breaks, then:

  • Are you making your food environment work for, or against you?
  • Are you making appropriate food choices?
  • Cut down on any alcohol intake so that you can use those calories for food.
  • Switch from shakes or liquid foods (like juice and protein powder) to real food.
  • Eat a slow-digesting protein like eggs or cottage cheese, or eat meat with plenty of fibrous green vegetables before bed.
  • Switch from refined carbs to foods like potatoes or pasta. Potatoes tend to be the most filling and satiating, at ~15 g of carbs per 100 g raw weight.
  • Coffee in the morning can blunt appetite.
  • Keep busy. An idle mind will wander and think of food.

I feel too full, what can I do?

For those that are dieting, the feeling of being too full is common. This happens because people often start eating less calorie dense/more filling foods (vegetables for example) despite the drop in calorie intake overall. Typically your stomach will adjust within a couple of weeks. Eventually, your body will recognize that you are in a calorie deficit, and you will feel a degree of hunger as a consequence. So enjoy the feeling of being full while dieting while it lasts.

For those that are bulking, it is common to feel full. This is because your body senses that it has enough energy intake and reacts accordingly. You need to eat past your hunger.

  1. Choose more calorie dense foods. Think, cereal vs. salad for example. Both contain carbohydrate but the difference is extreme.
  2. Choose more palatable foods. This means foods that you enjoy more. As long as you maintain a diet that has included the healthy foods you should eat first, there’s no real harm in including the empty calories from so-called “bad” foods.
  3. If you continue to feel too full, and it’s uncomfortable, try spacing your meals out further apart, increase meal frequency, or try a mixture of both.

Do I need to weigh all my food?

Certainly not. However, you do need to weigh some things, especially at the start. As a general guide, weigh your un-cooked meats and carbs and eyeball everything else. I weigh my rice, pasta, potatoes and meats, and just look on the packets for the macronutrient information for others. Get a small electronic kitchen scale. I never weigh vegetables.


 

Can I snack between meals?

Snacking won’t make a difference to your diet as you make it fit your macros and you hit your calorie targets for the day.

However, most clients find that snacking just makes hunger more persistent. It also introduces more opportunity for counting errors.

Hunger pangs will come and go when dieting. Accept this, don’t try to ‘hack’ your way around it by snacking.


 

I OVERATE yesterday, should I adjust the weekly calorie balance?

If you’ve experienced some weight gain and you’re panicking, relax, this will be mostly water from the higher carb intake and will come off in the next few days.

Calorie balance determines whether you gain or lose weight, so technically, yes you can.

However, this line of thinking can be a slippery slope that leads people into thinking they can make up for poor diet adherence, which encourages further indulgence and jeopardizes the overall plan. This is amplified whenever alcohol and is thrown into the mix due to the effect on inhibitions. Some people will be fine with it, some people will drive them towards binge-starve cycles, which must be avoided. The key is to be self-aware.


HUNGER FEARS: Will I feel hungry in the mornings if I skip breakfast?

Typically you’ll feel it for the first 4–7 days and then your body will adjust. This whole website is littered with comments from people amazed at how they have adjusted and are feeling great. Our ancestors did this and so can you.


 

SLEEP: Why is it important?

Poor sleep can cost you muscle mass.

To train hard and recover from it, you need to sleep well. Though there are rare exceptions, the majority of people need to get a consistent 7-9 hours sleep a night, and it does not appear that sleep deficits cannot be ‘recovered’ over the weekend with a long rest. Ideally, you should be able to wake up without an alarm.

In one study, two groups of people, both in calorie deficit conditions. One group got ~8.5 hours  sleep a night, the other group were allowed just ~5.5 hours sleep a night. Both groups lost the same amount of weight, but the sleep deprived group lost ~50% less fat, with the rest coming from muscle mass.

Sleep: A Checklist for When You’re Struggling To Get Proper Sleep

  1. Is the room cool enough? Use thinner sheets, use a fan, turn on/up the AC.
  2. Is the room dark enough? Consider black-out curtains or an eye mask.
  3. Are there any sounds disturbing you? If they’re loud and often, consider ear plugs. Consider that if a room is too quiet, we’ll likely hear every little outside thing and that can piss us off. A small but consistent noise (like the sound of the AC, a fan, or even very soft music) can be useful to make the noises less prominent.
  4. Is your mattress/pillow right for you? If the mattress is uncomfortable (too hard or soft), or the pillow uncomfortable (too high/low, hard/soft) then that’ll harm you getting a good night’s sleep.
  5. Do you drink caffeine-containing drinks? Try quitting these earlier in the day.

Other things to consider

  • Blue light from the screens of computers and mobile devices can disturb sleep. Install the Flux application on your computer. If you have an iPhone, turn on “Night Shift” and set that to automatically adjust the screen 3 hours before bed.
  • Reduce screen time before bed.
  • Don’t do any work in the hours before bed. Stress from work can disturb sleep. Consider reading a novel, not a nonfiction book.
  • If hunger pangs disturb your sleep, consider shifting your evening meal later.
  • If you find that you sweat, despite the room being cold, try positioning your evening meal earlier. (Most people find that a big meal sends them to sleep, but some people sweat after a big meal.)
  • Consider 10 minutes of meditation if under a lot of stress. The application “Headspace” is good for this. I do it every morning, but you can do it at night.

We spend 1/3 of our time on this planet sleeping. It’s worth spending money on a good mattress, pillows, sheets, etc. If you’d like to read more about the science of sleep, check out this detailed guide by my friend, James Clear.


STRESS: Why will stress affect my results?

Work and family stresses, though psychological, have physiological consequences.

Adding in more stress to this equation by having a calorie deficit and/or increasing activity is not a good idea. It can cause significant stalls in weight loss (due to water retention, an effect of cortisol rises), increase moodiness, and generally ramp up all the other negative effects of dieting.

As for working with clients, these things throw a significant spanner into the works when it comes to the predictability of things. This can cause tension, because they will be bugging me to get the fat loss moving, and there may be a point where I’ve tried several things but my conclusion will be: get more sleep, lower stress, which as a client I can understand being a frustrating conclusion. This is why I insist that my clients have those elements in place before we work together.

Doing less can sometimes be just the thing that you need. Don’t fight gravity.

Related: Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress


MEAL FREQUENCY: Can I eat 4 meals instead of 2 or 3?

Absolutely. This is covered in my complete set-up guide, in the fourth section.


 

TIMING MISTAKES: I ate lunch a little later today, should I change my other meal times?

No. Your hormones get used to when you usually eat, so eat as close as possible to your normal meal times, and don’t stress when the timing of the occasional meal is off.


 

How do I go about setting up meal timing and training when I have an irregular schedule?

We do the best we can. First it’s important to understand a few fundamental points:

  • The reason that we try to keep the meal timing consistent is that the body regulates to our usual feeding times and tells us to eat (by dumping the hunger hormone, ghrelin, into our system) at these times. This means that it is possible to skip breakfast everyday (if you wish to) and experience no hunger in the morning. Practically this is useful because it means we can eat just 2 (or 3) meals in a shorter space of time and thus feel satisfied despite dieting.
  • When we eat at different times the body doesn’t get the chance to regulate to this, meaning that we’ll get hungry at more random times. – The penalty is hunger, nothing more. This is an important point when considering your set-up.
  • There is nothing magic about having a 16 hour fasting window. I see people eat dinner an hour later than they had scheduled, panic, and this shift their lunch the next day an hour later so as not to “break the 16 hour rule”. – Bullshit. Totally backwards. In fact by doing this you upset the ghrelin rhythm if anything. In that situation you’re best to not adjust anything the next day.
  • Training can be at any time as long as you can have time for one meal in the interval between finishing training and bed.
  • The feeding window can be longer some days and shorter on others, but they must always overlap.

So when we put this together for the person that has a varied schedule, what have we got?

  • If possible, then keep at least one meal at the same time every day and let the other be flexible.
  • If that’s not possible then just keep the meals in the same rough time of day. i.e. The Lunch/Dinner timeframe.
  • If it’s not possible to eat at your regular times due to your shift schedule, preference, or social circumstances at all then don’t worry about it, it isn’t going to affect your progress. Note the nutritional hierarchy of importance:


SUPPLEMENTS: What about them?

Supplements are covered in section 5 of my complete diet set-up guide.


 

CREATINE: Types, dosing, and timing

Creatine is the most scientifically significant supplement of the past thirty years. It’s safe for most people, has neuroprotective properties, and can improve strength and performance.

Types: There are many types of creatine on sale, standard creatine monohydrate has been shown to work as good as, or better than anything else available. It is also the cheapest.

Dosing and timing: Take 5 g a day, timing doesn’t matter, I mix it in with a protein shake in the morning. More is not better. A loading phase is not necessary.

Bloating: Creatine can cause water weight gains. It can take up to 30 days for creatine to take full effect. This can throw off your progress tracking, so take that into consideration when evaluating progress.


BCAAs: Should I count them towards my total protein intake target for the day?

Frankly, I don’t think they are worth taking unless you train in the morning on an empty stomach (fasted), but even then, whey is probably better. (See: Training Fasted? Consider Whey Protein Instead of BCAAs.

BCAAs have a caloric value. If you are consuming more than 10 g in a day, you may wish to adjust your calorie targets by reducing your macros to account for this.

For every 10g of BCAAs you consume, reduce your carb and fat intake by 5 g. This is an approximate caloric equivalent. Do not count BCAAs towards your protein target.

Reason:

The amino acid profile of BCAAs limited, they do not have the same muscle building (nor sparing, properties and can’t be considered the same as protein. However, kind of like alcohol, BCAAs still have a caloric value that you need to count this against your calorie targets for the day. I would recommend reducing your carb and fat intake to make up for the consumption.

BCAA formulas are typically a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine. The caloric value of this mix in this proportion is 6.38 kcal/g (leucine & isoleucine each have 6.52 kcal/g, valine has 5.96 kcal/g). So, 10 g is 63.8 kcal, 20 g = 127.6 kcal 30 g = 191.4 kcal. So, for every 10g of BCAA you consume, reduce your carb and fat intake by 5 g. This is an approximate caloric equivalent.

Why do I say count anything over 10 g? – Well, that’s just a guideline to simplify things as anything under that will be sub 60 calories, which you might not consider worth adjusting for.


How low can one safely go with calorie intake?

There isn’t a bottom line for this as long as micronutritional needs and basic protein requirements are covered. If you’re eating a variety of vegetables, taking fish oil supplements, and perhaps a standard multivitamin, you’ll be fine, even if you go as low as 500kCal as per Lyle McDonald’s protein sparing modified fast (PSMF).

Just to be clear though, that is NOT my recommendation. Usually mood, hunger or sleep issues will force you to bring your calories back up. It is difficult for a person to starve themselves into malnutrition.

This is not medical advice. Essentially what I’m saying is that I think you can make cuts to your calorie intake without needing to worry about doing any “metabolic damage.” There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that a person can damage themselves hormonally, permanently, by restricting calories.


Any tips when eating out?

It can be very easy to overeat at restaurants, especially after a period of dietary restraint, so here are some tips to help keep things on track:

  • Do your best to eyeball the food portions you receive in restaurants. When you cook at home, compare portion sizes of carbs and protein on the plate to your fist, palm and thumb.
  • It will be very hard to count or have any idea about fats or the macros in sauces. You just have to guess.
  • It takes a while for your brain to signal that you are full. So, make a conscious effort to chew your food slowly. Ideally, eat some salad first, followed by protein, and then the carbs after.
  • Take some protein powder with you so that you can take some if the protein portion in restaurants isn’t large enough. Don’t be afraid to leave things on your plate.

I’m feeling unusually run down. What’s up with me?

Stress the same and sleep has been fine? You’ve probably caught a cold but haven’t experienced the more obvious symptoms yet. This is a very common question. Stay out of the gym until you feel better.

Also, note that it is normal for strength to fluctuate.


Do you recommend cheat days?

“Cheat day” is an abused and misunderstood term. Some people take it to mean, “eat anything that you want” which was not the original intention. I believe the term was originally coined to describe the days where a large quantity of carbs would be strategically consumed after a period of severe restriction in Lyle McDonald’s Cyclic Ketogenic Diet. This was then jumped on and abused. A better term for this would be a ‘refeed’, which is something that is done every training day with the leangains method.

I recommend periodic diet breaks, free-meals (where the calorie intake is the same, but macros are ignored), and a relaxed attitude to counting macros, but I don’t see cheat days as being part of your diet. You can easily wipe out an entire week’s deficit in one day of binge eating.


 

What is the best MACRO RATIO?

There isn’t one.


Should I cut or bulk?

This is discussed in: Should I Cut or Bulk? — The Definitive Guide.


 

How much fiber do I need?

Daily fiber intake guidelines: A minimum of 20 g for women and 25 g for men; a maximum 20% of your carb intake (with the former rule taking precedence)

Why fiber is good:

  • Increases food volume without increasing caloric content, providing satiety which may reduce appetite,
  • Lowers total and LDL cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,
  • Regulates blood sugar, which may reduce glucose and insulin levels in diabetic patients and may lower risk of diabetes,
  • Speeds the passage of foods through the digestive system, which facilitates regular defecation,
  • Adds bulk to the stool, which alleviates constipation.

Note: While fiber aids digestion, too much can actually be detrimental to your GI health and your ability to absorb some nutrients, hence the recommended maximums.


Why do sudden changes in weight happen?

I’ve covered this in a special section here.

ABOUT THE SITE

How did you end up living in Japan?

I’m British but I have lived in Japan since 2005. I created the site because I was fed up with seeing people get ripped off here and wanted to do something about it.

The site was originally written in both Japanese and English, however, at some point, I figured out that no Japanese people understood the meaning of “ripped” (oops!), so I dropped the Japanese from this site and made Athletebody.jp, which we’ve built into Japan’s most popular fitness site.

I bought the .com domain finally in July 2016 after five years of having it as a .jp domain.

You can read more about the site story and how I ended up living in Japan here.


Why does the advice I read on your site differ from that of [X]?

1) I could be wrong. I have been in the past and assume I will be in the future.

2) There are many ways of getting results for people, this doesn’t necessarily make one way of doing things better or worse than another. I tend to recommend the simplest effective approach while getting people to diligently track their progress so we can make adjustments.

3) Perhaps they are recommending something with a specific context in mind.

4) Often in this industry though, people purposefully present one-sided arguments in order to sell you something or further their agenda.

5) Sometimes the person is ignorant without being aware of it. 

Regardless, I am not here to critique or judge other people’s methods. I’m here to offer action points, solutions, guides, positive steps for people to take.

So, if you ask me a question like this, or “What do you think of [x]?” I politely decline to be drawn into it.


Why do you update the site guides so often?

A mix of pride and responsibility. The site gets a lot of readers, so I’m mindful that the information I put out has to be accurate and as unbiased as possible without losing the edge. I make updates and additions as I learn new things and develop as a coach, and I work to correct places where I was wrong.

Also, I’ll admit that I’m completely addicted to it and I want to show my best work always. This is true of the information I give to clients also. This is why you don’t see any dates on the content, it’s not getting old, it’s evolving with time.


Is this site relevant to women?

The site is written with men in mind, based on my experience coaching men. While a large part of the information on it has relevant crossover elements to the female population, it is not a site targeted at female trainees, nor does it cover any of their specific issues.

I don’t believe it’s possible to make additions or clarifications in a simple way to make it more applicable, without muddling the content considerably, so I have no plans to do so. I’m sticking to what I know best because that is the only way to create something that is ‘stand-out’ great. Plenty of women have used the site to help them though. The readership is split 80/20.

COACHING RELATED

Where can I find out more about your coaching?

→ Here is the COACHING APPLICATION PAGE.
→ Here is the COACHING FAQ.

TRAINING QUESTIONS

How do I break a training plateau in my [bench/squat/deadlift]?

I have you covered in this article: How to Break Training Plateaus.


What home gym set-up would you recommend?

Adjustable dumbbells, bench, pull-up bar, bands, barbell, weight plates, and a squat rack.

Check out this excellent tutorial video by my friend Mike Vacanti.


Does strength loss or gain correlate to muscle mass loss or gain?

Not necessarily.

  1. For beginners, there are gains in strength that will occur from neurological adaptation.
  2. For experienced trainees, strength increases or decreases do roughly correlate to gains or losses of muscle mass respectively. However, there is a mechanical inefficiency of being leaner that needs to be considered. Meaning, the leaner you are, the harder lift becomes because of that. Thus, the amount you can bench may drop while cutting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have lost muscle, just that the bar is traveling further.
  3. A period of time away from lifting will lead to strength losses. In most cases, strength is regained quickly.

Can I use a Smith machine instead of a free barbell squat?

You could, but it is not a proper squat as it completely removes the stabilization aspect. A smith machine looks like a barbell on rails. You don’t ride a bike with trainer wheels, and to get the right training effect you don’t want to squat with a smith machine either if you can help it.


How should I warm up?

See this article: How to Warm Up for Strength Training.


What should I do if my strength drops suddenly?

It’s probably fine, just a bad training session. Here is a guide and checklist.


How do I progress with chin ups?

I’ve written a full chin-up progression guide here.

 

I missed a training session, what should I do?

Do it the next day, if you can. If not, don’t worry about it. For your diet, remember, the total calorie intake level is what matters for the week. So, if you already ate training day macros on this day and you did not work out, eat rest day macros the next, even if you train. It is not a big deal.


Should I do cardio?

In the context of fat loss, dietary control should come first. I rarely use cardio with clients. More nuance on this in my article: How Much Cardio Should You Do When Cutting?


How does endurance training affect strength and muscle gain?

Serious endurance training can compromise strength and muscle gain. However, if you are just a recreational trainee looking to add some cardio into your weekly schedule because you enjoy it, or want to reap the cardiovascular benefits, you can do that. In the vast majority of cases as long as you increase your calorie intake to account for the activity, the way you structure your strength training can remain the same.


I don’t feel sore the next day, should I do more?

No, don’t train for pain, train for progress in your workouts.


What should I do if I feel some pain or get injured?

If you find that an exercise causes pain:

  1. Check to see that your form is correct.
  2. Try a different angle.
  3. Try a different range of motion.
  4. Try a different exercise.
  5. If you still have issues, seek the advice of a specialist sports doctor or physiotherapist so that you can find out what the underlying issue is and work on fixing it.

If you are injured, avoid training that body part. If that means staying out of the gym and resting, rest. If this does not fix the issue, see a specialist.


Should training vary depending on body type?

  • Some people respond to strength training better than others
  • Some people respond better to different training that others
  • Some people have a harder time dieting than others
  • Some people gain less fat when bulking than others.

This is the genetic lottery. It’s something to be aware of, but it is not a reason to separate training and diet plans based on body type. That is just clever (but empty) marketing.


Should I train with a belt?

There is never a need for a belt, but belts can be helpful to a lifter as they help to increase intra-abdominal pressure which will help manage heavier loads, train the abs harder, and thus aid more growth overall.

If a belt is used too early on it can just mask poor form which can lead to injuries as the loads increase. Thus, I recommend that beginners stay away from belts, as it forces them to train with good form.

And, as no one except rank beginners identify themselves as beginners, I’ll throw ‘advanced beginners’ in that category too. ????

A full breakdown on belts is covered in this article by my colleague Greg Nuckols, ‘The Belt Bible‘.


Why do you prefer weight training over bodyweight workouts?

Bodyweight workouts can be effective, but in general, there are too many ways for the untrained & unguided beginner to do them wrong.

You can cheat yourself out of a good training effect on a lot of exercises, but not barbell work.

Let’s take pushups for example – potentially a brilliant chest as well as shoulder stability exercise, but the way most people perform and progress with them renders them (almost) useless. – The rep range goes up rather than the intensity increasing, the neck creeps forward and rep range shorter, the reps quicken, back arches… sound familiar? I’ve done it, we’ve nearly all done it.

This is why, if you are new to training, and don’t have someone to show you how to do them effectively, I strongly suggest you consider barbells.


Do you have an example of a bodyweight workout for when I’m away without gym access?

Is it possible to get an effective workout exclusively from bodyweight work? Yes absolutely, and when you’re away without gym access I would definitely suggest it. However, when it comes to an effective training program there needs to be progressive overload, and that can quickly become difficult as one becomes stronger, especially for the back and legs. So in the following example I’ve assumed you won’t mind buying a few cheap pieces of equipment as you get stronger.

Example Home Workout:

  • Warm up
  • Chin-ups – 3×6-10 Resistance bands to help, a belt and weight added in future to add resistance.
  • Push-ups – 3×8-12 Slow and controlled. 2 seconds up, 2 seconds down. Adjust the foot height to help or progress intensity accordingly.
  • Goblet Style Squats 3×12 With a dumbbell or weight plate or sandbag clutched to the chest.
  • One leg pistol squats 3xX* – Work into these slowly and only if you are strong enough. The Goblet squats will help build strength. Rep target is whatever you can get but no more than 8 per leg and stay well away from form failure to keep your knee ligaments safe.
  • Dips 3×8-12 – Perhaps between two very study chairs. Again, a belt and weight added in future to add resistance.
  • Kettlebell / Dumbbell swings – 10-12kg (~25lbs) is probably a good starting point.

Application

For the above you’ll need a chin-up bar (which you can attach between a door frame), a lifting belt that you can add weight to, weight plates, and a dumbbell / kettlebell. – Not too expensive overall, especially if you get second-hand weight plates.

Hypertrophy can be achieved with a wide variety of rep ranges, however anything below five reps has more focus on strength, anything above 15 reps trains more endurance and becomes increasingly painful to perform. So, try to keep within the 5-15 range.

When traveling you won’t have your weight plates/belt available. Increase the intensity in this situation by slowing down the rep speed or adding a pause at the end of the eccentric portion of the movement.

Clearly the above is not an exhaustive list. There are a huge variety of bodyweight exercises that can be performed and with their variations they number in the hundreds. Apply the principles above and you’ll be fine.


How high should the bar be for a deadlift?

The bar should be around 8.5″/21cm off the floor. This is the standard height when loaded with 45lb/20kg plates, this will make 135lbs/60kg total.

Beginners will likely need to use less weight for the first few workouts. This means smaller plates and a lower bar height (unless olympic plates are available). Beginners are also more likely to round their backs and have flexibility issues when starting, so make sure that you adjust the height by either putting padding or other weight plates under either side, until you can lift 135lbs/60kg.


How should women train?

Pretty much exactly the same as men.


What tempo should I lift with?

If you lift a sufficiently heavy load in the right way, the tempo takes care of itself.

Perform the concentric action (lifting the weight or pushing it) as explosively as you can while maintaining good form. Do the opposite action (the eccentric action) under control.

  • With the Deadlift: pick the bar up with as much force as you can, then lower it quickly but under control.
  • With the Bench: lower the bar under control, then explode up, making sure to not let the momentum of the bar pull your scapula out of position at the top. (Generally not an issue with heavy weights but something to be aware of.)
  • With the Squat: lower yourself slowly and with good form, and then when you reach depth and feel that pull in the hamstrings, explode up.

Again, this is all with good form.

Though the feeling you want to lift with is ‘exploding’ or ‘pushing the bar with all your might’, the bar won’t actually move that fast with a heavy load. Tempo and lifting cadences thus take care of themselves.

The beginner just wants to think about lifting the weight with good form and doesn’t need to worry about any of this for now. They will naturally make the transition to the above way of doing things as you push to lift more and more weight.


What did you change in the new (updated January 2019) training programs?

This refers to the four sample programs I have on the site which are from my Muscle and Strength Pyramid training book. (The Novice Bodybuilding Program, The Novice Powerlifting Program, The Intermediate Bodybuilding Program, The Intermediate Powerlifting Program can all be found here.)

Sharp readers of our Training book may have noticed that the programs have changed a little since the first edition.

There are two key reasons:

  1. Because newer meta-analyses have been released about training volume, and there were instances where we decided to reduce it as the first edition programs had volume that was too high based on current evidence.
  2. We wanted to clarify the RPE guidelines, which tell you the appropriate intensity of effort, to avoid confusion.
Why We Made the Volume Changes

This comes from my co-author Eric directly:

“The weight of the evidence suggests 10–20 hard sets per muscle/group or movement is an appropriate volume to prescribe when no foreknowledge of individual needs/tolerance/genetics exist.

Previously, the first edition programs were based on a 12-year old systematic review (Wernbom 2007) that looked at reps per body part, per week vs. the current meta-analyses we have today, based on ‘hard sets’ per body part/movement per week. Thus, in the present programs, there were instances where we decided to reduce the volume as the first edition programs had volume that was too high based on current evidence.

We have brought volume in line such that the novice programs provide a number of sets per movement/muscle group towards the low end of 10–20, intermediate towards the middle, and advanced towards the upper end.

This may or may not be less volume than what you are already doing, what you like to do, what ‘feels’ right or compared to other popular programs or what your favorite athlete or influencer does or suggests. But, unless you are an experienced lifter who knows from well-recorded observations over years what your specific volume needs are, I’d advise at least trying to progress using similar volumes to what we recommend first, before deciding it’s too low.

If you don’t make progress and it’s too easy… fantastic, just do more volume and now you know more about your body’s needs. But in my experience as a coach, it’s just as likely (if not more likely) that you could progress just as well, if not faster, with a lower volume. If that ends up being what happens for you, you also just learned something very valuable; and when you do stall moving forward, you know you’ll easily be able to handle a volume increase to keep progress going as it was an amount you used to (unnecessarily) perform.”

Why We Changed the RPE Guidelines

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) based on Reps in Reserve (RIR) is a relatively popular way of measuring the intensity of effort. It can be used to set how close to failure you get at the conclusion of your sets.

In the first edition of the books we had written a range for the first set RPE in the Novice and Intermediate programs, but this confused people as they thought all sets were supposed to fall within the RPE range provided. (In honesty, this was my own thought at first also, which I am guilty of passing on to some others at first.) So, to be clearer and simpler we provide a single, first set RPE value in the second editions.

You’ll notice the RPE values for the novice programs are always “1st set RPE 8”. Meaning, you should be able to do all the prescribed sets for the day by sticking with your initial set’s load if it matched up correctly with the target RPE (close to an 8 RPE). If you “miss reps” on subsequent sets at the same load as the RPE climbs past 10, you either started too heavy, didn’t rest long enough, or perhaps made a technical fault; all of which are learning experiences for your next session.

Links to the four sample programs from our book are here.

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