HUNGER AND MEAL TIMING
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.
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:
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.)
This guide is one of the most popular on the site: Macro Counting 101: The Comprehensive, No Nonsense Guide.
Overhyped. They aren’t any better than a more balanced diet for fat loss, the majority of people will find them harder to sustain, serious lifters often find that their training quality suffers, and it isn’t something I recommend for the majority of people.
There’s more nuance in my article: How to Know if Keto Is Right for You.
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.
No. The risk of muscle catabolism with fasted cardio is minimal, there is no need to take BCAAs.
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.
1. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Here’s a quick summary of the research findings I could find:
Protein and the kidneys
Protein and the liver
What about blood acidity?
Source and further details/references: Can eating too much protein be bad for you? – Examine.com
I have an article on this here.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Other things to consider
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.
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.
Absolutely. This is covered in my complete set-up guide, in the fourth section.
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.
We do the best we can. First it’s important to understand a few fundamental points:
So when we put this together for the person that has a varied schedule, what have we got?
Supplements are covered in section 5 of my complete diet set-up guide.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
This is discussed in: Should I Cut or Bulk? — The Definitive Guide.
Whatever your guru tells you is ‘safe’.
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:
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.
I’ve covered this in a special section here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have you covered in this article: How to Break Training Plateaus
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.
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.
See this article: How to Warm Up for Strength Training.
It’s probably fine, just a bad training session. Here is a guide and check list.
I’ve written a full chin-up progression guide here.
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.
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?
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.
No, don’t train for pain, train for progress in your workouts.
If you find that an exercise causes pain:
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.
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.
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‘.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Pretty much exactly the same as men.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.