This page is a collection of answers to the most common nutrition and training questions I have been asked over the years. Things like:
Here are four of the most popular:
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.
Make sure you are tracking your progress in a detailed enough way so that you have data from which to know when and how to make macro adjustments.
Does having a coffee, protein shake, or BCAA ‘break’ my morning fast?
After any calorie consumption, you will no longer be fasting. But the question is, does that matter?
I’d argue not.
Think about why you are fasting in the first place.
If it’s because you believe that skipping breakfast will accelerate fat burn, then that is simply not the case.
1. Sustaining a calorie deficit over time is the only way to lose body fat.
2. Skipping breakfast may help you, but if having a splash of milk or spoon of sugar in your morning coffee makes life better, and you find it easier to sustain your diet, please feel free to do that! I do.
3. If you train in the morning like myself and many clients, make sure you take a whey shake prior. This is better than BCAAs. Sure, you’re not technically fasting anymore, but it’s more important to have amino acids in your bloodstream to minimize muscle breakdown.
Lastly, if you’re fasting for the claimed health benefits, I’d just point out that the most important thing you can do for your health is to un-fatten yourself. So, just make sure you don’t put the cart before the horse!
Should I bulk or cut first?
If you are underweight, you should bulk. If you are overweight, you need to cut; however, the less training experience you have, the more likely it is that you will gain muscle simultaneously as you lean out (though you’ll lose weight overall).
I’ve explained the distinctions so you know what you can expect to achieve in this guide: Should I Bulk vs Cut (or Recomp)?
Do your guides apply to women? Is there anything you would change?
The client examples are all men, and I write with the male reader in mind because that is the population I coach. But without going into dietary minutiae, the principles are just as relevant for women, and there is nothing that jumps out to me as needing to change.
Make sure you compare weight and measurement data points at the same time of your menstrual cycle when looking to assess progress, due to the weight fluctuations that the hormonal changes bring.
I'm doing *X*. Thoughts?
I can’t offer to give general thoughts on what you are doing. To do so is to ask for a consultation, which is not something I can offer.
You’ll find my thoughts in my articles, which you can access from the menu. And if you have a specific question relating to any point, I’m happy to answer if you can post it in the comments of a related article so others can benefit from reading the answer.
What do you think of *link*?
I appreciate you valuing my opinion highly enough to ask, but I can’t offer to read external links and give general thoughts. If you have a specific question relating to a topic I have covered, please feel free to ask in the comments on that article.
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.)
How do I make meals to fit my macros?
Here’s my guide to building meals out of your macros.
What do you think of ketogenic diets?
Overhyped, overly restrictive and hard to sustain for most people. Anything that is hard to sustain is a no-no.
They cause 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.
I’ve written more about this here: The Problem With Keto.
However, 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 for that 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.
More on this in my nutrient timing guide.
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.
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.
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.)
So make sure you’re always hydrated, but don’t take this to any extreme like those people who carry enormous water bottles around with them all day. You don’t burn more fat or get greater performance benefits from drinking more, you just win more bathroom visits.
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.
I’m a vegan, 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.
You’ll want to be mindful of your fat intake and you will need to supplement with vitamin B12 and probably others as a precautionary measure against micronutrient deficiencies as well. I’ve written more on this here: How To Minimize Performance and Muscle Growth Compromises When Following a Vegan Diet.
Can eating 'too much' protein be bad for you?
If you are in good health, you have nothing to worry about from following the protein intake guidelines I have on the site. I can’t speak for extremes (double) as there isn’t research on this, but if you’re doing anything extreme, you probably want to stop that.
If you have kidney function issues then you may need to control your protein intake and it may be prudent to gradually increase protein intake to higher levels rather than upping it immediately, but there I couldn’t find 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.
For the liver, there is no evidence to suggest it is harmful when habitually consumed, but there is some preliminary evidence that very high protein refeeding after prolonged fasting (>48 hours) may cause acute injuries to the liver.
What about the blood acidity thing I have read about?
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 healthy individuals.
How can I hit my macro targets if I fall short on any given day?
I have an article on this here.
I'm having hunger issues, what can I do?
Toughen the fuck up!
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.
- Choose more calorie dense foods. Think, cereal vs. salad for example. Both contain carbohydrate but the difference is extreme.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Why is sleep important?
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.
Why do you say stress can effect 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.
What do you think about supplements?
Overhyped and unnecessary, though a few may have a small benefit. My guide to supplements is here.
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?
The usual culprits are either stress, poor sleep, or you’ve 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.
Do you recommend cheat days?
No. More on cheat days here.
What is the best macro ratio?
There isn’t one. More on this here Why The Best Macro Ratio Doesn’t Exist.
Why do sudden changes in weight happen?
I’ve covered this in a special section here.
Do the rest interval times between sets matter?
You want to make sure you’re rested enough that you can still perform well, but it’s a good idea to keep the interval consistent so that you can fairly log progress.
The newer you are, the less you’ll lift, so the time for recovery between sets is generally lower. (Same applies for full-body exercises like squats and deadlifts, vs bicep curls and lateral raises.)
Therefore, I can’t give a fixed guide for everyone, but something like the following will be right for most:
Newbies: 2 minutes between large compound movements and 60 seconds for the isolation stuff
Intermediate to Advanced: 3–4 minutes / 90–120 seconds
Elite (I’m thinking mainly of powerlifters here): ~5 minutes isn’t uncommon.
How do I break a training plateau in my bench/squat/deadlift?
I have you covered in this article: How to Break Training Plateaus.
Does strength loss or gain correlate to muscle mass loss or gain?
- For beginners, there are gains in strength that will occur from neurological adaptation.
- 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.
- A period of time away from lifting will lead to strength losses. In most cases, strength is regained quickly.
How should I warm up?
1. Do some light cardio until you break a sweat. Personally, I do 6.5 km/h on a 7 degree inclined treadmill and this takes me ~5 minutes in summer and ~8 minutes in winter. The increase in body temperature will help with blood flow, flexibility, and injury risk.
2. Stretch any tight areas, as necessary to gain a full range of motion. Dynamic, rather than static stretching, is preferable. You may find that you can skip this and performing a few warm-up sets will stretch you sufficiently.
3. Perform as many warm-up sets as is needed so that you’re ready for your main sets but not fatigued in a way that detracts from them. This will typically be 2-4 warm-up sets for the squat, bench, deadlift, and similarly complex compound exercises.
Once a muscle group is warm (already trained that day), typically just the one warm-up set is sufficient, and this will help build the mind-muscle connection. So for example, if you’ve already squatted and your next exercise is the leg press, one warm-up set is likely perfectly sufficient.
For a more detailed explanation, see this article: How to Warm Up for Strength Training.
What should I do if my strength drops suddenly?
Nothing. It was just a bad training session. These will happen from time to time.
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?
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:
- Check to see that your form is correct.
- Try a different angle.
- Try a different range of motion.
- Try a different exercise.
- 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.
Do you have any advice for older trainees?
Funny you should ask… Advice For Older Strength Trainees.
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.
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.
What home gym set-up would you recommend?
If you’re looking to build a home gym, then adjustable dumbbells, bench, pull-up bar, bands, barbell, weight plates, and a squat rack. My friend Mike Vacanti has an excellent tutorial on Youtube about this here.
If you don’t wish to purchase a lot of equipment and just want to know how to train when you can’t get to a gym (due to COVID or when traveling, for example), here’s my guide to training at home.
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.
Why did you change the volume and RPE guidelines for the programs in the second edition of your Training Pyramid book?
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. So we adjusted this.
We made the RPE guidelines, which tell you the appropriate intensity of effort, easier to understand.
Why We Made the Volume Changes
This comes from my co-author, Dr. Eric Helms 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 exists.
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.
ABOUT THE SITE
Why are there no study references in your articles?
I choose to not add references to the site because I want to keep things casual, minimize clutter, and I know that 99% of readers would not use them anyway.
The exception to this are the articles containing sample chapters of my Muscle and Strength Pyramid books. The training book has 158 unique references, the nutrition book 301 unique references. It this interests you, please consider purchasing them.
Why is this site free?
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.
How did you end up living in Japan?
I’m British but I have lived in Japan since 2005. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as I was graduating. Karate was a hobby and I enjoyed my time volunteering in India and backpacking around South-East Asia, so I knew I was comfortable with being away from home for long periods. I thought I would go to Japan for a year to teach English and study karate in its homeland.
I created the site because I was fed up with seeing people get ripped off 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 quit teaching English and started working on this full time in 2011. I bought the .com domain 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.