The picture above is of a former client Katsunobu, winning his masters class (50+) bodybuilding competition. It is possible that this means even more to me than it does to him. For me it represents the culmination of three years of effort.
Katsu is the first real bodybuilder to take our Japanese site seriously enough to consider competing with the minimum. I mean 2 meals a day, three days a week training and no cardio. This is in stark contrast to the typical 5-6 meals a day, 5-6 days of training + cardio that pervades here, and is a big win for the science-based crowd and our battle against the industry nonsense here.
It wasn’t a smooth ride. It almost started with an argument and ended up with him on stage a little over a year after our first contact. Here’s the translation of the Japanese article, but with a bit more emotion and background inserted in there. Thank you to those that responded on the Facebook page when I asked, I really had no idea that you’d be so interested.
Katsu came to me in the summer of 2013 hoping for guidance for his summer competition. He had competed for years but said he always struggled to get to a low enough body-fat percentage and it wasn’t going well so far this year either. He had seen from the site that I could get him there, but the blunt fact of it was that he had left it too late. I told him this, stated plainly that he would have to go to extremes to get there in time, it would cost him hard-earned muscle mass and said that I didn’t want a part of that. I suggested that I show him how to cut to shreds anyway without a set date so that he would have the confidence and knowhow to do it himself for the following year’s competition.
In hindsight, it was a mistake to have not set a mock competition date that we needed to get ready by, and he had a few lapses due to the non-urgency. However he felt confident that he knew what he needed to do after our work together, I gave him parting guidance, and aside from a few Facebook interactions didn’t hear from him until I saw the pictures of his win pop up in my Facebook feed. It was an awesome feeling. – I knew that he had all the tools that he needed to do it, but worried that he wouldn’t follow through with it. (It’s often the case that when people are left to themselves, they don’t follow through with what they know simply because they aren’t held accountable to their goals. That’s one of the benefits of coaching.)
[As direct a translation as possible.]
Preparation for my contest in August 2013 wasn’t going to plan. It was June and I was in a panic. Around this time I found Andy’s site (AthleteBody.jp) and, like a drowning man clutching at straws, I decided to apply for some coaching advice. I sent over some photos, the requested details, and said that I’d like to become a client if we could make it for the August competition. I was a little taken aback by the frankness of the reply, “You’re not going to make it in time for that competition, and it’s better that you don’t enter,” rather than the “ok let’s give it a go” that I was expecting. Conversely, because of the detailed reasoning, this gave me an extremely favorable impression and I knew I wanted to follow his suggestions and hire him.
I entered the competition that year anyway but didn’t make the first call out. We continued the training and diet until November which marked the end of our dry-run contest preparation for next year, did a bulk until around February, and then started on a very slow cut until the competition for August.
Before, in my off seasons I gained a fair amount of fat which forced me to lose over 10kg (22lbs) before competing. And my 50-year-old self just couldn’t seem to get the right level of conditioning and fullness for competitions anymore.
This time I was careful to keep the fat gain down, and the total amount of fat necessary to lose eventually was around 6kg. During the whole time, I ate 2 meals a day, using Martin’s Leangains style of dieting (skipping breakfast, more carbs on the training days, less on the rest days, etc.) and left myself with plenty of time to get things right for the competition ensuring that it would be stress-free.
The training was based around the big 3 exercises, but I started to lose strength and so I upped it to four days a week. In the end, despite being in a calorie deficit my lifts came up, 120kg x 5 (265lbs) for the bench, 170kg x 5 (375lbs) for the squat, 180kgx 5 (~400lbs) for the deadlift. [Katsu competes in the 65kg/143lbs class, so he’s a strong guy.]
I felt confident going into the competition and I’m quite satisfied with the condition we achieved. From here I’ll be looking to work on my weak point, my legs, over the following year for next summer’s competition.
Note: You are an individual, your results will vary depending on genetics, adherence, and effort.
My Additional Thoughts
I think the feeling that Katsu had that he was losing strength (thus added in another day of training to counter this) was more of a mental thing than anything physiological. I’ve never had to up a clients training to four days a week to maintain muscle mass when cutting. It’s far more likely that he had a bad string of workouts due to the stress at work and the reaction was unnecessary. That said, it might have worked in his favor*.
Sure, it must be tough when you have everyone else around you training 5 or 6 days a week for two hours a day, probably doing cardio on top of that. However, the ‘everyone else is doing it, therefore it must be right’ mentality, though understandable, is something to be avoided when looking to objectively analyze things.
As an example, I would bet that most of the other guys on stage were eating 4-6 meals a day, mainly because everyone else is doing it, and thus “you do it because that’s what you do” is the logical fallacy.
If training intensity (weight) is kept high, training volume can be cut down to even a third of what it was during the off-season and muscle mass still be maintained. That frees up a lot of recovery capacity to make the cut run smoothly.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that people must slash training by two-thirds, but it opens up options to do so. The biggest challenge is the mental leap of faith that people need to make as standard bro-logic is that you need to increase training when cutting, when in fact, the opposite is true.
*The deficit was very modest as this cut was at a far steadier pace than I would usually recommend (for the psychological relief from the stress that came from the certainty that he would make it in time for this competition, unlike previous years. 1kg/2.2lbs of fat loss per month is in general, too painfully slow for most people to handle and it threatens compliance). However, a modest calorie deficit is a modest recovery deficit, and it could have been this reduced deficit is what allowed for the favorable response (strength gains) to more volume. There is some literature to support the possibility of that, but from experience, this is the exception rather than the norm.
If I were to be my usual picky self, getting leaner would have made his legs look bigger, so if I had been coaching him at that point, that would have been my focus. That guy on the left looks big, but clearly lost too much weight too quickly and his skin suffered. I’m looking forward to seeing what Katsu can achieve over the next year.
Questions from Readers
(Thank you for these.)
Was two meals a day necessary?
No, but it wasn’t detrimental (I’d say it worked very well in fact) and it did prove a point.
Could he have eaten more frequently? Yes of course, as long as it didn’t threaten compliance by adding complication. He was very busy with work, and so two meals was the perfect fit. I encourage people to go with this set up if possible, as two big meals are psychologically satisfying and easy to plan and execute. Whatever hypothetical negatives people may argue against this, I haven’t seen them in the real world. Sachie, for example, has won a whole ton of competitions in California since moving out there earlier this year. But I’m not supposed to talk about the details yet. 😉
Can you put up the link to the Japanese article, please? (Richie Kirwan)
2 meals a day sounds close to starvation?! (Julian Saul)
If it were, we’d have died out as a species thousands of years ago. Try it, a big lunch and big dinner. Same total calories. You might be pleasantly surprised at the ease of it and how full you feel despite dieting. Give yourself time to adjust though. Usually 5-7 days for the morning hunger pangs to subside while your body gets into the new rhythm. If you don’t like it then that’s not an issue, just go with what you prefer. More here.
I think 3 meals is more realistic. I couldn’t stop losing weight while eating two meals a day eating clean foods. (Kervis Caraballo)
The reason for the inability to sustain your weight wasn’t the low meal frequency, it was trying to eat all those calories from ‘clean foods’. Which if you prefer to do so then by all means, please do that and just spread your meals further out around the day and eat more often. However, I think clean eating is an unnecessary restriction on life. There is a good guest article on the site about this, and if you’d like my recommendations, give it a read. -> ‘Is clean eating a scam?‘
I’ve noticed the fasting life isn’t really a ‘thing’ in Japan. I’ve had similar experiences around the Gold’s Gyms in Tokyo when we start talking diet or nutrition. Sure, the Japanese have their own fads. The ‘banana diet’ from around 6 years ago stands out in my mind, I remember not being able to find a single banana in the supermarkets for a time. When the 8-hour diet was looking to take off here we did our best to publicly shut it down because people were talking nonsense – basically saying that it doesn’t matter how much or what you eat as long as it’s within an 8-hour time frame. [The same thing happened again last Sunday evening on TV.] I’m not bothered about spreading IF here per se, I want to spread good evidence-based fitness information and thinking.
Are more frequent meals better for bulking? 3 for example. (John Aspinall)
It depends on the context. If someone trains mid-afternoon for example, then it’ll be three meals, lunch, post-workout, and then dinner that I’d be recommending, even if the one post workout is just a snack. The same is true for cutting, I don’t feel that things change significantly when bulking. Past that point, you’re talking about hypothetical benefits, which will be considered worth the complication to some people and not considered worth it to others.
More interesting I feel is the mental game. If you believe that eating more frequently will help you build more muscle and you restrict yourself to less meals and worry about it, that can be detrimental to gains through a placebo effect – you train with less intensity because you believe you can’t train with as much intensity and that leads to poorer results. My bottom line recommendation is to do what you feel comfortable with as long as:
- It doesn’t go below my bottom line recommendations regarding meal timing & frequency which are dependent on your training time and work schedule.
- It is simple enough to be sustainable, both in terms of meal planning and your social/family commitments.
There is plenty of scope for preference. Fasted training and all manner of set-up examples are covered in that article.
Just note, I am openly biased towards simplicity because simplicity leads to greater consistency, and consistency over time is what leads to results. Too many people split hairs over hypothetical set-up optimization when they don’t have the 95% of things right in the first place. There is a fuller discussion and recommendations and plenty of comment Q&As to read through in this post.
Two meals a day, no cardio, do you take US-based clients? How far out do you start training someone for a competition? (Matt Semegran)
A large portion of clients you’ll see on the results page are from the US. Part of the reason is that you guys are the most accepting of new ideas and open to the idea of hiring external help and getting coaching.
As for how far out, it depends on their current physical condition and diet history up till that point. Then also stress and sleep factors. I’m happy to make a prediction and suggestion for people without obligation and I will tell you straight what I think and whether I feel I have the skill set. You can find out more about the online consultations/coaching that I do here.