Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve answered over 23,000 questions in the site comments over the last six years. Here you’ll find detailed answers to the most frequently asked ones.

NUTRITION QUESTIONS

Top questions:

Regarding food specifics:

Hunger and Timing related:

Supplements:

Technical:

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

The macros I calculated using your guides are different from what I have currently 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 get a negative number for my carb intake on the rest days. 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.

What’s the difference between your ‘Leangains Guide’ and ‘Complete Set-up Guide’?

The Leangains guide is for people that just want a well structured system to follow, without having to think any deeper about the fundamentals of why it works. The Complete Nutrition Set-up Guide will teach you the principles of diet set-up and training, so you can understand the true order of importance for the different factors that make up solid nutrition and training programs, adjust things for yourself, and become truly independent. They are not mutually exclusive, the latter explains why the former works, but just removes the nutrient timing limitations by giving you the broader principles.

How do I make meals once I have calculated macros?

See this guide. It’s one of the most popular on the site: Macro Counting 101: The Comprehensive, No Nonsense Guide

TIMING vs MACROS vs CALORIES vs SUPPLEMENTS: What’s most important?

The hierarchy of importance for success is as follows:

 

What this 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.

Do I need to supplement with BCAAs if doing fasted cardio?

No. The risk of muscle catabolism with fasted cardio is minimal, there is no need to take BCAAs.

 

Why is this site free?

1. I earn a living from book sales and online coaching fees. 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 fraction of those that do is more than enough.

2. If I keep my knowledge to myself I’ll constantly be selling people on what I know. However, 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 for the last six years I have had a waiting list of people seeking to work with me. I choose those who are most matched to my coaching style and decline the rest.

3. 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.

THE TOP 17 NUTRITION MYTHS perpetuated by the media in 2017.

The truth doesn’t sell well. Throw in a 24-hour news cycle, difficult-to-understand studies, and media companies scramble for the latest viral hit, and it’s no surprise that misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Myth 1: Bread/Carbs are bad for you. Gluten-free is awesome.
Myth 2: Eggs (especially egg yolks) are bad for you.
Myth 3: Red Meat causes cancer.
Myth 4: Saturated Fat is bad for you.
Myth 5: Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.
Myth 6: Whole-grain bread/pasta is better than white.
Myth 7: High fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar.
Myth 8: Too much protein can cause bone and kidney damage.
Myth 9: Vitamins from food are better than supplemented vitamins.
Myth 10: Eating small meals throughout the day stokes your metabolic fire.

For the rest and details debunking all of the above head over to Examine.com – excellent website, run by great people. Highly recommended.

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

“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. For strict vegan diets, a case can be made for supplementing with extra essential amino acids, if you are not willing to kick protein up & your main goal is to maximize muscle growth.” – Alan Aragon

 

 

 

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

Short answer: 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.

Longer Answer from my friend, sports nutritionist Alan Aragon.

Bro A: “A carb is a carb.”
Bro B: “No, it’s not. Haven’t you heard of the glycemic index?”

This is a very common argument. But unless both ‘bros’ specify the context in which their claims are based, that’s a messy, dead-end discussion. Here are some contexts that need to be specified before this argument can even begin:

HEALTH: Within the context of properly set macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and fiber, the glycemic index (GI) of the carb sources within the diet has no meaningful impact, especially when the diet is comprised predominantly of whole and minimally refined foods.

Carb sources vary in their GI rating, but there are many examples of higher-GI foods that are more nutritious than lower-GI foods, and vice versa. The current research evidence largely shows an advantage to lower-GI diets in terms of improving glycemic control and blood lipid profile. However, a common thread among these diet comparisons is the failure to match macronutrition and fiber. The low-GI condition almost always is comprised of a greater proportion of whole & minimally refined foods, which defaults it to more protein, more fiber, greater micronutrient density, and greater satiating capacity.

Sidenote: this does not mean that refined/nutrient-sparse foods have no place in the diet. They certainly CAN be a part of a healthy diet — if the individual chooses to consume them judiciously. Forcing an all-or-nothing approach to dieting is associated with not just greater failure at weight control, but also a higher tendency toward disordered eating. The level of “cleanness” of a healthy diet has more wiggle room than people realize. Some folks have a preference for “cleaner” diets, others have a preference for “dirtier” diets, both can be healthy and sustainable as long as the “cleanness” isn’t forced (like a self-inflicted sentencing that eventually sabotages itself), and as long as the “dirtiness” is kept within reasonable limits. I’d also throw in another wrinkle that, for certain competitive endurance sport applications, refined carbs during & around training can actually be superior for a number of reasons.

BODY COMPOSITION: Once again, within the context of properly set macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and fiber, the GI of the carb sources within the diet is practically meaningless. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in controlled interventions. In almost all cases where lower-GI has an advantage, it’s due to more favorable macronutrient composition (more protein, in particular). A prime example of the counterproductivity of focusing on GI is the white potato, which has a high GI, but also the greatest satiating capacity of any food ever tested. Choose your carb sources according to personal preference if you want to give yourself the most important advantage, which is adherence to the diet.

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: There is a subset of competitive endurance athletes for whom GI can make a difference. Those who train a muscle group to glycogen depletion, and then must compete with those same glycogen-depleted muscles within the same day (or more specifically, within ~8 hrs or less) can indeed benefit from consuming high-GI carbs in order to expedite glycogen resynthesis for maximizing endurance performance in the subsequent bout. For those involved with programs that allow a full 24 hours (or more) between exhaustive bouts for a given muscle group, the speed of glycogen replenishment (and thus GI of your post-exercise carbs – or all of your carbs for that matter) has no bearing on the goal as long as the daily carb total is met.

For those interested, Alan went into more depth about this in the November 2015 issue of his research review.

FROZEN VEGETABLES: Are they ok?

Fine. They’re not as good as fresh veggies as they lose their nutrients over time but much better than not eating them at all (as is the way with most single men) and trying to rely on a multivitamin & mineral. Most people use frozen veg as it’s easy to prepare. However if you get a little steamer for the microwave then fresh vegetables can be cooked in just minutes also so consider that.

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.

 

WATER: How much should I be drinking?

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.)

DIET SODA: I fast in the mornings. Can I drink it during a morning fast? What about tea or coffee?

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. Try and keep the total calories under 50kCal.

If you are concerned about the media hype surrounding sweeteners/aspartame etc. and health issues. Research reviewer and sports nutritionist Alan Aragon had this to say:

“I personally could not find any research showing a causal relationship between artificially sweetened soft drinks and weight gain, let alone research indicating a thyroid-mediated mechanism for this phenomenon. Among the research that does exist, the majority of studies lasting beyond the acute phase have demonstrated the superior effectiveness of artificially sweetened beverages to sugar-sweetened ones for weight loss. Therefore, the claim that diet soft drinks cause weight gain is nothing but a false alarm.”  – Alan Aragon, from his monthly Research Review.

ALCOHOL: Is it banned on this diet?

No, but as alcohol has calories it has the potential to screw everything up. Why? Dietary fat can be easily stored if you go over your calorie budget for the day. I’ve written a guide to drinking alcohol on a diet here.

 

SALT: 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.

PROTEIN POWDER: Is it 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.

  • Casein, being absorbed slowest, is best with the last meal of the day.
  • Whey, being absorbed quickest, is better taken at other times

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

 

WEIGHING FOOD: Do I need to weigh everything?

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.

 

SNACKING – Can I eat between meals?

Snacking won’t make a difference to your diet as you make it fit your macros. However, it’s probably better not to as it threatens diet adherence because generally snacking just makes hunger more persistent. Hunger pangs will come and go when dieting. Keeping busy will certainly help.

 

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.

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 PROBLEMS: Is there anything I can 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 haven’t been already dieting for a long time (and are thus due a diet break), then the most common culprit is inappropriate food choices. Tips in order they should be tried and implemented:

  • 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 fibrous green vegetables before bed.
  • Switch from refined carbohydrates, to foods like potatoes or pasta for your carb sources. 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.

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 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 adjust the fasting window?

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.

 

IRREGULAR SCHEDULE: How do I go about setting up meal timing and training?

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Training can be at any time as long as you can have time for one meal in the interval between finishing training and bed.
  5. 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 thats’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?

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.

EATING OUT: Any tips?

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.

FEEL WEAK: 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.

COUNTING MACROS: Any tips?

Sure, see my guide, ‘How to count macros – a more flexible approach.’

 

CHEAT DAYS: Do you recommend them?

“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.

 

Why aren’t you a fan of MACRO CALCULATORS?

Macro calculators are a good start for people, but I believe most of them do people a disservice by not explaining that the calculations they spit out are a simply a start point for which to adjust from (reasons covered above.) You can get access to my own macro calculator here, but be sure to read the guide that comes with it.

 

What is the best MACRO RATIO?

There isn’t one.

How quickly can I expect RESULTS?

See this article series.

Should I CUT or SLOW-BULK?

This is a good question. Let’s assume that your end goal is to get ripped abs; do you have enough muscle mass currently so that if you cut off the fat you’ll have the physique you desire? Have a look at this comparison picture of Christian Bale at a similar body fat level but a very different base level of muscle mass to see what I mean.

If you haven’t lifted before then your best bet is probably to focus on gaining strength to build your base. You’ll get a fat burning effect as well as build muscle. For those with lifting experience that are on the fence about what to do, check out this three part guide.

 

PALEO: I follow the Paleo diet. What should I do about carb sources?

Whatever your guru tells you is ‘safe.’

 

FIBER: How Much 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

Further Reading: Fiber – Nature’s Broom by Lyle McDonald. Wikipedia, “Dietary Fiber”

Why do sudden changes in weight happen?

I’ve covered this in a special section here.

About The Site

Why was the site “.jp”? / 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 nobody here understood the meaning of “ripped”, so I dropped the Japanese from this site and made Athletebody.jp, which we’ve built into Japan’s most popular fitness site. You can read more about that story here. My personal story of how I came to live in Japan is here.

I bought the .com domain finally in July 2016 after five years of having it as a .jp domain, and changed it over on August 4th 2016.

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

What you read on this site is my interpretation of the evidence base, filtered through my experience working with clients. Experiences between coaches will differ. This doesn’t necessarily make one way of doing things better or worse than another, just different.

I am not here to critique or judge other people’s methods, though I am flattered that many people hold me in high enough regard to ask. It’s simply a game with no end point. Thus, I do not respond to, “Which is better, X or Y?” questions.

I’m here instead to offer action points, solutions, guides, positive steps for people to take. Just be careful of people that try to sell you on complicated methods.

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

MUSCLE LOSS/GAIN: Does strength correlate to muscle mass?

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.

SMITH MACHINE: Can I use it?

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.

 

WARM UP: What should I do?

A warm-up serves to get you ready for the work you’re about to do. You’ll be able to lift more and it reduces your chances of injury. Regardless of the routine, you’ll want to do the minimum that you can to get warm and ready for the top set, without tiring yourself for your main work sets. There is no single way to do it but here are some ideas:

  • A few minutes of foam rolling to loosen up tight places.
  • A few minutes on the treadmill to raise your body temperature if it’s still low.
  • Then a few practice sets of the exercise you’re about to perform to get the mind-muscle connection going.

Perform the warm-up reps as you would your heaviest set. Take it very seriously, you’re preparing your nervous system and motor function for the big set. I usually do 3-4 warm-up sets, but do as many as it takes to feel comfortable. Do a few reps (e.g. 5-6) working up to about 80% of your top-set weight. Then have 3 minutes rest before the top-set.

STRENGTH DROP! What should I do?

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

 

CHIN-UPs: 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.

 

CARDIO: Should I do it?

In the context of fat loss, in the majority of situations the answer is no. See my article, ‘On Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee‘.

 

ENDURANCE TRAINING: How would this affect things?

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 up your calorie intake to account for the activity, the way you structure your strength training can remain the same.

 

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

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

 

INJURY / PAIN: What should I do? What exercises do you recommend?

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.

BODY TYPES: 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 BARBELLS 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.

BODYWEIGHT/ HOME WORKOUT: Got an example?

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.

BAR HEIGHT: 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.

 

FREQUENCY: I’m doing well with 3 days at the gym, surely 6 will double my results?

Unfortunately, no. That’s not how the body works. You need to have an appropriate training volume to allow yourself to progress. The more advanced you get, the more training volume you will need each week, and to get enough quality training work in, you’ll need to increase the number of days that you train each week.

If you are currently progressing on three days of training a week, stick with that, or perhaps experiment with four and see how you do, but don’t jump to the conclusion that double is better.

Do as much as you need to progress, not as much as you possibly can. Have a read of this article: The Core Principles of Effective Training.

LADIES TRAINING: What should I do?

Pretty much exactly the same as men.

 

TEMPO: What tempo should I lift with?

This is not something that we need to worry about. Lift a heavy weight in the right way and 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 weight. 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.

LOADING INCREMENTS: Why don’t you like fixed loading plans?

I’m not a fan of set and fixed incremental loading plans.

As a coach I know very well why they are recommended though (the Stronglifts program is an example) – because if you don’t tell people to go up in slow and steady increments, they get overexcited, make big jumps in the weight they put on the bar, form considerations often go out of the window, connective tissues aren’t given the time they need to grow, and they screw themselves up.

The flip side of this is as follows: When you give people set and fixed increments it’s very arbitrary, and people spend most of their time under-lifting or over-lifting.

By starting very light, there is a long period where people are under-reaching and just kind of wasting time unnecessarily, and a period where people inevitably tend to overreach – they keep wanting to put weight on the bar, “because the program says to put weight on the bar each session” even though they can’t actually lift it with good form.

To be successful in the long term you’re going to have to learn to listen to your body, feel it out, and to be real about what you can and can’t do. That means being flexible with how much you put on the bar. That might be 10lbs, it might be 2.5lbs.

Some days you will feel stronger or weaker than others. When you feel stronger you can take advantage of that and increase the weight on the bar, or do a couple more sets. That’s not really something I recommend for the beginner, cause they just end up hammering themselves, but it’s something to bear in mind for the converse – when you feel weaker some days. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost muscle – it just probably means you have some cumulative fatigue, your sleep was shit cause your stressed about a project at work, and your ability to perform well is hampered on this day. Decreasing the weight or the number or sets performed (instead of 250lbs x 5 x 5, you might do 225lbs x 5 x 5, or 250 x 5 x 3) is necessary in order to keep your form good and stay safe.

GENETIC POTENTIAL: How much muscle can I grow?

I’ve covered this here.

Sick of second-guessing yourself? Get the right answers, for you.

My coaching clients just focus on executing the plan and let me handle the rest.