What You Should Know About Intermittent Fasting

In fitness circles, the concept of intermittent fasting (IF) is catching like wildfire, and it’s no surprise as to why. There is some intriguing new published research showing that IF may offer a host of health and body composition benefits. Additionally, a small but growing group of IF experimenters are swearing by these relatively new fat-loss techniques, techniques that include skipping meals and sometimes going entire days without eating!

I know, I know…the idea of fasting for a few extra hours every day seems to fly in the face of conventional nutrition wisdom, and many of you probably think that going entire days without eating is sheer lunacy–I get it. As a long-time proponent of grazing (eating smaller meals more frequently), I was a little skeptical of the concept too. Would I get moody? Experience blood sugar drop? Have muscle proteins dissolve and burned for energy? It’s enough to make any weightlifter run screaming from the room.

But here’s the funny thing. If you do intermittent fasting right, none of that actually happens.

How do I know? Well, first, there’s the research. In fasting-related studies, muscle isn’t lost like you’d expect, unless there’s a huge energy deficit and there’s no weight training involved. However, I’ll be honest…I don’t always believe the research. Even though I spent eleven years in higher education and earned a research-based PhD, I know how poorly research can be conducted. Furthermore, how many actual bodybuilders end up in research studies? Very few.

My Experiments with Intermittent Fasting

I do have some additional evidence, however: I myself have spent the last eight months experimenting with intermittent fasting. Indeed, I turned myself into a human guinea pig and tested dozens of different fasting-related protocols. Throughout the process, I meticulously recorded everything from body composition to blood values to lifestyle factors, all in an attempt to figure out whether intermittent fasting is a new and potentially valuable paradigm shift in the nutrition world or just another fad diet.

(For those who are interested, I published my findings in a free E-book called “Experiments with Intermittent Fasting,” which you can download here.)

In the end, some of the experiments were a huge success, leading to improvements in my body composition, health, and performance. Others were disastrous, causing me to drop muscle mass and develop food obsessions. Yet at the end of the day, I was able to accomplish most of my goals. I lost about 20 pounds of fat while preserving most of my lean mass, strength, and power. According to my Intelametrix device (a validated ultrasound-based form of body composition testing), I went from a fairly lean 10% body fat to a very lean 4%.

Here are some progress photos:



Of course, not everyone is interested in getting leaner. So what about muscle gain?

Well, another one of my clients (a guy with different goals than me) gained 20 pounds of quality weight in the last few months while also experimenting with intermittent fasting. He also improved his aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance at the same time. His protocols were obviously different than mine, but his results also show that intermittent fasting can assist with either fat loss or muscle gain as long the protocols are a good fit are and are followed correctly.

Different Fasting Styles
For those of you who don’t even know what I’m talking about here, quite simply, intermittent fasting is not eating for a short while, and although I know that some of you bodybuilders are afraid of that very thing, the truth is that you already do intermittent fasting.

That’s right; every night, from the time you eat your dinner to the time you eat your breakfast, you’re fasting, and believe it or not, that fasting brings some unique benefits. So before you freak out and summarily dismiss the concept, understand that you’re naturally already doing some form of IF.

Of course, the type of intermittent fasting I’m talking about here extends out a little longer than overnight. The most extreme version is one in which you simply eat every other day, fasting on the days in between. It’s called alternate day fasting, and this one’s probably not for people who train regularly and want to be strong, muscular, and lean.

There are other versions, of course. The most flexible option simply recommends a single day of fasting as little as once per month or as often as once per week. This is the type of fasting the client I referred to above followed. He cycled his calories during the week, eating high calories and carbs on strength training days and moderate calories and carbs on conditioning days. Then, every Sunday, he followed one of my full-day fasting protocols. These include avoiding food for 24 hours but drinking lots of water and green tea and supplementing with 5g BCAA, 3g fish oil, and ½ serving of a green food product like greens+ every few hours.

Another interesting version doesn’t involve whole days of fasting. Rather, it extends the daily fast from the typical 10-12 hours to a longer 16-20 hours. You would also train at the end of this fast using 10-15g of BCAA during your workout, and then you’d eat all your calories during a 4-8 hour post-workout window. I extensively tested this form of fasting personally and found that it can be very physique- and performance-friendly. However, you have to do it right; if you don’t, then trouble awaits.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Many of you are probably wondering why I did these fasting experiments in the first place.
Well, a lot of it is curiosity…I’m what you’d call a ‘professional dieter’. In other words, I’ve tried nearly every diet or nutritional protocol that’s around in order to test its efficacy.

In addition, I’ve been pursuing a new goal: track and field. When you’re running competitively, every pound has got to earn its rent, so I wanted to test drive this new way to drop fat and get extremely lean while staying strong and powerful. Finally, the proposed benefits of IF are quite interesting and extensive. They include:

• blood lipids (including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
• blood pressure (perhaps through changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity)
• markers of inflammation (including CRP, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
• oxidative stress (using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage)
• risk of cancer (through a host of proposed mechanisms; we’ll save them for another review)

• cellular turnover and repair (called autophagocytosis)
• fat burning (increase in fatty acid oxidation later in the fast)
• growth hormone release later in the fast (hormonally mediated)
• metabolic rate later in the fast (stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release)

• appetite control (perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin)
• blood sugar control (by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity)
• cardiovascular function (by offering protection against ischemic injury to the heart)
• effectiveness of chemotherapy (by allowing for higher doses more frequently)
• neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (by offering protection against neurotoxins)

To be frank, most of the research to date has been done in animal models with pretty limited data collection in humans. While the human studies that have been done show some promise, we’re probably a good 5-7 years away from knowing exactly what IF does in humans and why, and 10-12 years from knowing which IF protocols are “best.” That’s another reason why I’ve been putting IF to the test.

Frequent Meals and Intermittent Fasting
Of course, people have been getting in shape for a very long time without using the intermittent fasting ideas I outline above. In fact, the dominant nutrition paradigm suggests that we should be eating smaller meals every few hours…so doesn’t intermittent fasting just fly in the face of everything we’ve been told to do?

Not really. The rules of good nutrition haven’t changed. You still need to eat good foods. Calorie balance still applies. Peri-workout nutrition is still important. The only real difference between more traditional bodybuilding-style eating and intermittent-fasting style eating is how you distribute your calories between days or meals.

This means that for most people, as long as we eat the right foods in the right amounts, meal frequency is a matter of personal preference. You can eat lots of small meals (every few hours) or you can eat a few big meals (with bigger time gaps between them). You can even go an entire day without eating, once in a while.

But what about speeding up the metabolism, controlling appetite, and controlling blood sugar?
New data have been published showing that eating more frequently doesn’t necessarily speed up the metabolism, and although grazing is supposed to enable better appetite and blood sugar control, that effect isn’t reliable. For some people, eating more frequently does help to control both. For other people, the opposite is true; eating less frequently gives them an appetite and blood sugar advantage. This means that your decision to eat small meals more frequently or larger meals less frequently should be based on what works best for your schedule, your mood, your appetite, and how you prefer to spend your time, and that flexibility is pretty cool.

In the end, we shouldn’t totally abandon the grazing concept. Instead, we should recognize that we don’t have to graze. It’s not a must; rather, in most cases, it’s a choice.

A growing number of experts claim that short fasts can accelerate fat loss and make you healthier. As a result, I spent the last eight months testing the most popular Intermittent Fasting (IF) protocols for myself. During this time, I dropped twenty pounds of weight (from 190 pounds to 170 pounds) and reduced my body fat from 10% to 4% while maintaining most of my lean muscle mass. I also helped others lose fat and gain muscle using a host of different intermittent fasting strategies.

Of course, the full details of my experiments are beyond the scope of this article. However, if you’d like to learn more, you can check out my free e-book called “Experiments with Intermittent Fasting.” In the book I cover everything I did, including details of my training programs and my exact eating plans for all of the IF protocols I tried. There’s also measurement data (including blood work) and a host of other cool features you won’t want to miss. The best part? It’s 100% hosted online so anyone interested in more can pop over to the site and read the entire thing right now, for free, without having to enter an email address or anything.

As a result of my experiments, I learned that IF is a helpful tool and one I’ll continue to use periodically, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of nutrition or fitness. People have been getting in awesome shape (and staying in awesome shape) for decades without the use of intermittent fasting. Simply put, when people control their calories, eat good quality food and train regularly, they get in shape. The rest is a matter of personal preference, lifestyle, and individual difference.

About The Author

John Berardi received his PhD in Exercise Physiology and Nutrient Biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He’s currently an Adjunct Professor at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Texas.

As an elite nutrition coach and exercise physiologist, Dr. Berardi has coached hundreds of elite amateur and professional athletes. In fact, in the last two Winter Olympics alone, his athletes collected over 25 medals, 12 of them gold. He’s also a high performance consultant with Nike.

Further, for the last four years, Dr. Berardi has acted as the director of the world’s largest body transformation project. This one-of-a-kind fat-loss coaching program has produced more total weight loss than all eleven seasons of The Biggest Loser combined.

A Man’s Guide to Getting His Woman In Shape

Guys, let’s face the facts. If you plan on spending the better part of your life banging away at the iron, you’re going to want your woman to join in on the fun.

Sure, you might not always want her as a training partner. But you’ll definitely want her paying some attention to her health and her body composition. And that’s not just because you want a hot chick on your arm. I’m guessing you’ll also enjoy the benefits that come along with fitness, including increased self-esteem, increased self-efficacy, and a generally more positive outlook.

So, you’ve got two choices in life. Either choose a mate that already works out and is fit – in which case, you should probably start chasing women on one of a host of health and fitness forums.

Or you can choose your woman based on some other criterion. And then, if she’s open to your assistance, show her how to get in awesome shape by exercising and eating right. Of course, in this article, I’ll focus on the latter, sharing some strategies for helping your woman get into the best shape of her life.

The Exercise

One quote I love is this one:

“Movement is medicine for changing a person’s physical, emotional, and mental state.”

Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that exercise is more effective in treating depression than antidepressant medications! Beyond that, we all know that exercise helps us lose weight and build lean muscle. Hummm…exercise helps reshape the body, brighten the spirits, and sharpen the mind. I’m sold!

The biggest question I get with respect to exercise is this one “what type of exercise is best for my woman?” Well, for starters, any exercise is better than none. So the best exercise is the kind of exercise she’ll do. But truthfully, if she wants to really reshape her body, she’ll need to do mostly high intensity exercise.

Two types of high intensity exercise work best.

  1. Strength training
  2. High intensity interval/conditioning training

Strength Training

Now, while most women think of strength training as something reserved for the bodybuilders and strongmen, nothing can be farther from the truth. While strength training can be done in the gym with weights, it also can be done with dumbbells, sandbags, old tractor tires, exercise bands, or even your own body weight. And all of this can be done at home, at a local park, or at a community center. The real key is challenging her body through six key movement patterns:

  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Twisting
  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Lunging

Here’s an example strength training program that would be great for most women – regardless of their level.

Workout 1

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
1A Barbell corner press 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
1B Barbell corner row 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
2A Standing seesaw press 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
2B Pullups* or assisted pullups 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side 5 x 5/side 6 x 4/side
3A Machine flyes 2 x 10 2 x 8 2 x 6 3 x 5
3B Seated cable row 2 x 10 2 x 8 2 x 6 3 x 5

*With weight if possible

Warm up

Corner press

Corner row

Seesaw press


Machine flyes

Seated cable row

Workout 2

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
Tri-angle lunges 3 x 9/leg 3 x 12/leg 4 x 9/leg 4 x 12/leg
Single-leg dumbbell deadlift 3 x 12/side 4 x 9/side 6 x 6/side 9 x 4/side
Pistol squat 2 x AMAP* 3 x AMAP 4 x AMAP 5 x AMAP
Ab rollout (Swiss ball) 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP 3 x AMAP
Weighted plank 3 x ALAP** 3 x ALAP 3 x ALAP 3 x ALAP

*AMAP = As many as possible  **ALAP = As long as possible


Tri-angle lunge

Single-leg dumbbell deadlift

Pistol squat

Ab rollout

Weighted plank

Workout 3

Warm-Up – 2 minutes of rowing

Exercises Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps sets x reps
1A Dumbbell snatch 4 x 3/side 4 x 4/side 4 x 5/side 5 x 3/side
1B Dumbbell vertical thruster 4 x 6 4 x 7 4 x 8 5 x 4
1C Dumbbell iron cross 4 x 8 4 x 10 4 x 12 5 x 6
2A Renegade row 3 x 6/side 3 x 7/side 3 x 8/side 4 x 6/side
2B Dumbbell T-pushups 3 x 4/side 3 x 5/side 3 x 6/side 4 x 4/side

Warm up

Dumbbell snatch

Dumbbell vertical thrust

Dumbbell iron cross

Dumbbell Renegade row

Dumbbell T-pushup

Conditioning work

In addition to strength exercise, your woman should also include some conditioning exercise, often referred to as cardio. Now, although most people think of long jogs, bike rides, or the Stairmaster, this type of exercise is not all that effective. Indeed, high intensity interval exercise, in which you work really hard for 20-90 seconds, rest, work hard again, rest again, has been shown to be the most effective form of conditioning work.

Here are two videos demonstrating one of my favourite forms of conditioning exercise, interval circuits.

Circuit #1

Circuit #2

Circuit #3

Although in these videos our model Amanda is doing 10s of work and 10s of rest, this is only for illustrative purposes. Typically, she does 30 seconds of work and then takes 30 seconds of rest for the first and last circuits. And she does 40 seconds of work and then takes 40 seconds of rest for the second circuit. She’ll also do between 6 and 12 rounds, depending on work:rest time.

So the workout might look like this:

  • Tire flip – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ball toss – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ball smash – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • KB swing – 40s
  • Rest – 40s
  • Ring pull ups – 40s
  • Rest – 40s

That’s 1 round and takes about 6 minutes or so. She’d repeat this about 6 times, for a 36 minute workout.

Here’s another awesome form of conditioning work: 20:10 sprints.

20:10 treadmill sprints

  1. First, Amanda does a 5 minute warm up.
  2. Next, she sets her treadmill at an incline of 15% and a speed of 8 mph.
  3. Then she runs for 20 seconds.
  4. Next, she recovers for 10 seconds (jumping off while the treadmill is still going along).
  5. Again, 20 seconds of running.
  6. And 10 seconds of recovery.

She typically continues this for 5 total minutes.  Then, she takes a 5 minute rest. And does it all over again. In total, it’s a 15-minute workout. And believe it or not, this workout is way more effective at burning fat and improving her conditioning than 45-60 minutes of walking or jogging!

Thus, my recommendation: in addition to the 3 weight training workouts per week, add in 1 circuit workout and 1 sprint workout, at least at first. Eventually, if she’s interested in getting really lean, she can add more. But for now, this should get it done.

Other exercise

You probably think of your exercise time in terms of single workouts, e.g. “60 minutes three times per week”. I encourage you to think of it in terms of total time per week.

Research I’ve done in conjunction with the University of Wyoming has demonstrated that 5 hours per week is the magic number. Anything less fails to produce results while 5 hours or more of exercise produces great results.

So far, we’ve compiled about 3 and ¼ hours of exercise with the three 45 min weight training sessions, one 45 min circuit session, and one 15 min sprint session. To reach the 5 hour threshold, and to help your lady recover from this high intensity work, have her finish her week with some very low intensity cardio work: Walk around the block.  Go for a bike ride. That’s the sort of stuff I mean. Lower intensity yoga counts too. 30 minutes 3x per week should do the trick.

The total program might look something like this:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Day 4
Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
45 min Walk
30 min
45 min
Rest Weights
45 min Walk 30 min
15 min
Weights 45 min Walk 30 min Rest


Just as exercise is medicine, so is food. And just as it’s possible to dig your grave with your own knife and fork, it’s also possible to prevent and treat disease as well as improve your body with your utensils.

Unfortunately, most people are never very honest about what their knives and forks are doing. In fact, a speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil approach is usually taken. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard one of these lines, I’d be a very wealthy guy.

“I eat really well…”


“…I’m still 20lbs overweight.”

“My diet is perfect…”


“…I often feel sluggish and my energy is low.”

“I make good nutritional choices…”


“…I’ve got high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type II diabetes.”

Obviously these are all lies. If you ate really well, your diet was perfect, or you made good nutritional choices, these would not be problems. So, the best way for your lady to get started in improving her diet is to follow these five rules:

1. Eat about 4 – 5x a day and don’t wait so long between meals.

Research has demonstrated that those people who eat more frequently tend to have better blood sugar control, lower stress hormone production, lower body fat, and more lean muscle. But their food has to be the right stuff.

2. Include lean, complete protein at every meal and snack.

The ideal amount of protein per day for an exercising individual is 1 gram per pound of body weight. For a 140 lb woman, that’d be 140 g of protein. To make this easier, every time your woman snacks or eats a meal, she should include some protein.

3. Include veggies at every meal and snack.

The ideal amount of veggies each day is about 8 servings. Now, the every meal thing isn’t necessary. But it’s quite tough to get all these servings if you don’t include some cooked, raw, juiced, or blended veggies with each meal.

4. Include a variety of healthy fats.

Our food supply today contains a fat balance that’s out of whack. To get our fat intake back to where it should be, we need to include things like olive oil, avocados, flax oil, fish oil, raw nuts, etc. each day.

5. Consume carbohydrate-rich foods only after exercise.

Carbs aren’t the enemy. But they should be controlled — especially for women — since it’s easy to over eat them. The best strategy to control carbs is to eat mostly whole grain carbohydrates (like amaranth, quinoa, whole grain oats, etc.) and to save them until after exercise. Since exercise increases our body’s ability to effectively utilize carbohydrates, the ideal time to eat some whole grains is within the first few hours post exercise.

These “rules” are a great start. But they won’t get the job done alone. In fact, there are two other secrets to helping your woman build a great physique.

Other Food Ideas

The first is a lesson we can take from the Okinawans, called hara hachi bu. In Okinawa, heart disease and stroke rates are lower than in North America. So are cholesterol, homocysteine, and blood pressure measures. Rates of cancer are lower — especially breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Hip fractures are lower and dementia is rare. Plus the Okinawans tend to live longer.

What’s their secret? Hara hachi bu. Roughly translated this means eating only until you’re 80% full. And no more. Now, this isn’t a dietary suggestion. Rather, it’s part of their culture. Anyone who stuffs themselves is considered a glutton. In the end, many experts believe that this cultural practice, in conjunction with the Okinawan diet rich in fruits and veggies, fish, and legumes is the secret of their success.

The other thing that’ll help your lady look her best? Making sure that your portion sizes don’t impact hers. Here’s something few guys think of: If you and your woman live together and dine together, chances are she automatically overeats simply because you two are chowing together.

Think about dinners out. You’re served the same portions. Yet you’re likely not the same size. Do you really think that your lady needs to eat the same amount as you? Only if she wants to weigh the same as you, I guess. And the same goes for meals at home. I bet you serve meals on the same size plate for both of you. That’s another recipe for overeating.

To help prevent your portions from influencing hers, there are a few strategies you should adopt immediately.

First, when at restaurants, ask if they’ll accommodate small potion sizes. You get the normal size, she gets the smaller one. And if that doesn’t work, here’s something my lady does. She orders what she wants. Then she tells the server to split it into two, boxing up one half for later. This way she gets two meals for the price of one.

Next, at home, make sure you have two different size plates: One large one for you. And one small one for her. Then you can fill both plates, neither looks sad and empty, and each of you eats an appropriate portion.


Many experts suggest that supplements aren’t necessary when the diet is complete. Unfortunately in North America, the diet is pretty much never complete. Can you believe that 68% of the population is deficient in calcium, 90% in chromium, 75% in magnesium, 80% in vitamin B6, and 95% in omega-3 fats?

In fact, in a recent study, even athlete diets didn’t measure up. In this project, the diets of 70 athletes were analyzed for vitamin and mineral intake and not a single one met the recommended daily amount. All of them were deficient in between 3 and 15 nutrients.

Beyond this, other research has shown the following:

  • Less than 3% of men and 5% of women get the minimum number of fruits and veggies per day (3-5 servings).
  • On average, women get only 80 g of protein per day (when their needs are closer to 120-140 g) and men get only 120 g of protein per day (when their needs are closer to 170-190 g).

I’m definitely not one to heavily promote nutritional supplements. However, with the deficiencies above, folks have to either improve their food intake tremendously or they have to start supplementing their diets with things like:

1. Protein supplements: 1-2 scoops a day works well for women (check out Nitrean Protein)

2. Fish oil supplements: 4-6 capsules a day is typical for my female clients (check out AtLarge Nutrition’s Fish Oil Capsule)

3. A good, broad spectrum multi-vitamin: 1-3 capsules depending on the potency (check out Multi-Plus)

Also, for women, I recommend the following

4. Branched chain amino acids:I prefer my female clients sip a BCAA drink during exercise to help promote high performance and more complete recovery.

5. Sleep enhancement: Although this isn’t a requirement, I find that many women who start training hard have a hard time falling asleep and/or sleeping through the night. Phosphatidylserine can help quite a bit depending on the circumstances.

These are some of my top strategies for helping you get your woman into awesome shape. Trust me, these strategies work fantastically if they’re consistently applied.

However, don’t be one of those a-hole boyfriends or husbands that’s chronically pestering your partner to make unwanted lifestyle changes. Only introduce these if she’s actually interested in making a change.

And for more on the nutrition and supplement side of things,  Precision Nutrition V3 has everything you need to know.  You can get yourself a copy, at a special discounted price, right here.

Written by John Berardi

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time. 

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A Man’s Guide to Getting His Woman In Shape discussion thread.

Nutrition for Wrestlers & Fighters – A Telesminar with Dr John Berardi and Michael Fry

If you’re a hard training combat or grappling athlete, you’ve simply gotta read this article

It comes to us from Dr John Berardi and Michael Fry, co-authors of The Grappler’s Guide to Sports Nutrition, a new book detailing exactly how wrestlers and grapplers of all types should be eating and supplementing to opttimize their body weight during both training and competition.

And not only do we like the book. The Brazilian Top team uses and endorses Dr Berardi and Mike’s ideas. Grapplers fighting in Pride, UFC, and Real Pro Wrestling use them. And a number of grappling coaches across the world have embraced their ideas as the very best way to prepare for grappling competition.

Mike Fry with the Brazillian Top Team
(In case you couldn’t tell, Mike’s the bald, pale guy standing up in the middle)

Seriously, these guys are no joke!

So, without much further adieu, let’s get into the article…

Mike Fry:
Tonight we’re going to talk about a whole host of topics, from the best foods to eat, to the best methods of weight loss for grapplers and wrestlers. It’s going to be a huge, exciting, and useful call. Dr Berardi?

Dr Berardi:
I agree, it’s also going to be a fun call! We’ve got a huge audience listening in on the phone and likely millions more will be listening to this one the web! So why not take the bull by the horns and get right down to debunking some of the common and really negative grappling preparation strategies?

Now, you and I both know that there are some “time approved” methods of cutting weight that grapplers use that aren’t what I would call “physiologically approved.” In other words, the body doesn’t like them at all.
And, as a result, grapplers lose strength and power – heck, some have even lost their lives.

Mike Fry:
You’re right. So let’s get into that right now. The No. 1 topic I want to address is weight loss methods used by grapplers. And the reason I want to bring this up is because a majority of them are based on either excessive exercise or voluntary dehydration.

Now, a recent survey demonstrated that:

  • 73% of grapplers used running/jogging to lose weight
  • 59% used other devices such as exercise bikes, ropes for jumping, and climbing ropes
  • 34% used rubber suits or nylon tops as a method of weight loss
  • 14 % used the sauna
  • 8% used throwing up as a means to lose weight
  • 5% used spitting, trying to get rid of excess saliva
  • 2% used diuretics

The reason I want to bring this up is that nearly every one of these methods is a problem! The exercise used (slow cardio) actually impairs muscle strength and power development. And the other methods dehydrate the body – and without adequate re-hydration strategies, huge problems could result.

The worst part is that none of the strategies were centered on the use of proper nutrition!

It’s amazing how in other sports, athletes are taught the right nutritional strategies to reach their ideal body weight yet in grappling/wrestling, it’s all about the wrong type of exercise, the sauna, and sweat. So what we’re going to try to do here today is, as Dr.Berardi has said, come up with different methods and teach grapplers and parents and coaches that there are alternatives out there for this type of weight loss.

Teague Moore – Real Pro Wrestler who uses the Grappler’s Guide

Dr Berardi:
I wanted to chime in on this one because I really want to emphasize just how crazy those stats are, Mike!

I mean, the real number one controlling factor for an athlete’s body composition and body weight is their nutritional intake. Yet, the fact that these athletes are doing the wrong exercise, using rubber suits, saunas, vomiting, spitting, fat burners, and diuretics tells us just how far off the mark the grappling community really is.

Seriously, let’s start with the exercise. Long, slow, cardio-type exercise causes muscle fibers to become more “slow twitch” – a characteristic of endurance athletes. These fibers contract more slowly and they have lower strength and power capacity. So, as grappling is based on explosive speed and power, the last thing you want to do is do low intensity exercise that will ultimately make you slower, less powerful, and weaker!

Here’s an example of this very thing in action.

I started working with a female national level bobsled athlete. Before working with me, she was overfat and needed to lose weight for her sport. She was training hard, trying to “train her way into shape, yet the weight wasn’t coming off. So, after going to her original dietitian, she was told to eat less and to do the Stair Master a couple days a week to lose the extra body weight. Well, guess what happened? She lost a bit of weight – yet she also got worse at her sport.

And that’s what 73 percent of the wrestlers in the particular survey were doing!

It just pisses me off when I hear this advice! Grappling/wrestling is not an aerobic sport. So grapplers should not be training aerobically. Not at any level. Not to condition, not to drop weight, never! It’s just stupid. Especially when grapplers can get into even better condition focusing on interval and power work as well as eating properly!

Mike Fry:
I agree 100%. Let’s get into the dehydration part too!

A lot of people don’t understand this, but dehydration by only 3 percent of your body weight can cause you to lose 10 percent of your muscle strength and 8 percent of your speed. So, unfortunately, while we’re out there trying to lose weight, we’re actually losing the things that we need the most, which are speed and strength.

Dr Berardi:
You know, we just talked about one foolish way to lose weight for wrestling, and grappling – going out and doing a bunch of exercise that doesn’t specifically help you with your sport.

The second foolish way we’re talking about now is the dehydration method. Now, Mike mentioned some figures. A 3 percent loss of body water causes a 10 percent loss of strength and an 8 percent loss of speed. However, even a 1 percent reduction in body water causes a reduction in performance!

But, before this gets too numbers-based, let’s put this into perspective. Take a 155lb grappler. For that individual, a 2 percent loss of body water or body mass is about 3 pounds.

So, if any of you are sitting out there thinking “how much weight do I need to lose before I see my performance start to suffer?” – it’s 3 lbs for a 155lb guy. For a 200lb grappler it’s 4lbs.

Drop that small amount of water too quickly, not getting it back before your event, and you’re already seeing drops in performance. Most grapplers try to lose much more then this, don’t they?

Mike Fry:
Yea, they do. And unfortunately, when you break the numbers down, that’s a huge problem! I mean, you can lose four or five pounds at practice without even trying. Even a single practice can put you at that state of dehydration to where your performance is starting to suffer.

Dr Berardi:
So, truth be told, there are really two primary methods that most grapplers would use to lose weight – and neither is optimal. First, they go exercise in a way that doesn’t actually support their own training for grappling. And secondly, they lose a bunch of water weight quickly before an event, five, eight pounds, whatever the case may be, through dehydration.

Mike Fry:
People often wonder why we and other experts harp on this dehydration thing and my answer is that it’s because it’s that important!

If you take two wrestlers, and put them on a mat together – both dehydrated – and maybe the disadvantages will cancel each other out. However what if we can put a wrestler on the mat that isn’t dehydrated against one who is? All of a sudden, you have a different event.

Dr Berardi:
That’s right – the point is to figure out how to get grapplers into the ring or on the mat without a huge amount of dehydration, with full body strength and power, and with a low body fat percentage.

You see grapplers all the time who try to drop 10 lbs of water for an event when they should have been focusing all along on losing the extra 10 lbs of non-contractile body fat they don’t need. So, again, focusing on water is such a mistake because if you can learn the principles of good nutrition, you can get rid of body fat instead of body water. Coming in at your ideal weight is then a lot easier.

Mike Fry:
Well, that’s a fantastic point and that leads us into our next section.

The reason for the call is proper nutrition for grapplers. But before we get into the food, I have to sound off about something related to young athletes. It always drives me nuts when I see 9,10,15-year-old kids trying to cut weight while their overweight coaches and parents push them to go out there and run and spit and do everything that they can do to lose weight! All the while the booths at the games and tournaments just breed poor nutrition with concessions full of junk food.

So our young athletes start out with the wrong messages from parents, coaches, and their environment.

And make no mistake; this is carried throughout their lives.

Truly, for sport and sport nutrition to improve, parents, coaches, and even organizers out there need to start learning this stuff too so that the next generation of athletes get better information than what the typical North American gets – which is just garbage.

Dr Berardi:
Yep, young athletes develop a history of poor eating habits and this starts at young ages. And these habits are carried with them into their adult years. Of course, in a single article or teleseminar it’s tough to teach all the principles of good nutrition. We all have lifetimes of experience and education in eating a specific way – the North American diet. And the North American diet isn’t so good.

None of us are immune. We learn through our parents. We learn through our culture and our media. Unfortunately, beyond even the fast food and junk food, the sports nutrition messages aren’t that good either. Here’s an example. Mike, what do most athletes think they have to eat a lot of?

Mike Fry:
Well, for strength athletes, protein.

For other athletes, carbs.

Dr Berardi: Right! These are conventional media-type messages. You’ve got to eat a lot of this or that.

Well, here’s the problem – what is a protein?

If you’re a young athlete or not educated in nutrition, you’ve gotta go figure out what a protein is – what that means. Or a carb, etc.

And even if they do know what carbs are, you find them shoveling down pasta and rice and bagels and stuff like that because they think it’s going to give them energy. The problem – the foundation of a good nutrition plan is less about eating lots of any particular food. And it’s less about certain foods being good or bad. It’s really about 3 things:

The first is how much you’re going to be eating. You’ve got to figure out how many calories to eat every day to improve your body composition and your performance. The second thing is what you’re going to be eating. In other words, you’ve got to focus on making better food selections, getting more of the good foods in ya.

Finally, it’s about when you’re going to be eating. That’s a concept I call nutrient timing.

I will tell you this – it’s not about eating as much carbs as you can, or eating as much protein as you can, or about good vs. bad foods. But again, like I said, the real challenge at stake here is that every single one of us on this call, every single one of us in North America, is influenced the most by culture.

We watch the news, we read the papers, and we read web sites. But these snippets of information only serve to confuse us. So we need a comprehensive re-education. And I’ll tell you how I deal with my athletes. The first thing I do if an elite Grappler contacts me is to send him a copy of the Grappler’s Guide.

But that’s only the first step.

After they check it out and they begin their “re-education”, after they start to learn things like the 10 Habits, after they learn tips for managing body weight, after they start to lean how to cut weight quickly, safely, and effectively, I fly in and do some private teaching with them.

This begins the re-education process. Now they can really talk about fine-tuning their nutrition, with my help, of course.

Pride Fighter and Top Team member Paulo Filho lovin’ the Grappler’s Guide

Mike Fry:
So, to truly get athletes eating right, it’s about re-education and learning a new lifestyle – not just focusing on protein or carbs.

Dr Berardi:

Mike Fry:
Good stuff!

Now I have a question. How much different are the needs of the competitive athlete vs. a non-athlete?

Dr Berardi:
This all plays back, Mike, into the whole idea of the how much to eat, what to eat and the when to eat it.

First, athletes do need more calories. They need more total energy intake to support their high intensity training. But, we can’t simply just tell athletes to go out and eat more calories, because if we’re not telling them what the right foods are to eat, then they’ll eat more of the wrong stuff. By saying eat more; we’re prescribing about 1,000 different diets. Athlete No. 1 may be eating a bunch of empty calories. You might say, “Go eat more calories”, and all they end up with is more sugar and junk. You take another athlete and you say, “Go eat more calories”, and they might triple their protein intake, but not increase their good fat intake or good carbohydrates.

So obviously, athletes do need more, but they need more of the good stuff.

Another difference is nutrient timing. For the average person who doesn’t exercise, their body pretty much responds to food similarly throughout the day. However, if you take someone who’s training hard, their exercise changes their ability to tolerate and use certain nutrients. Let me give you an example.

Okay, let’s say I wake up in the morning and I either go to work or go to school. Then, after work or school, I train. Well, the way that my body handles nutrition up until my workout is very different from how it handles nutrition during and after my workout. During and after the workout, some of you may have heard it called the window of opportunity or post-workout window, the body preferentially burns fat and it stores carbohydrates and protein in the muscle.

So you end up a powerful recovery mechanism built into the exercise period and post-exercise period. Your body just wants great nutrition at this time but also nutrition that’s quickly digested and sent to the muscles.

Now, the rest of the day, the same types of things aren’t happening. So, throughout most of the day, you want to focus on eating a specific way – namely slower digested foods. While during and after exercise you want to focus on faster digested foods.

So those are two important “athlete vs. non-athlete” differences. Athletes typically need more calories and more good nutrition (and that includes vitamins, minerals, everything else) and better nutrient timing.

Mike Fry:
And speaking of nutrient timing, a lot of people wonder about when to time meals before, during, and after exercise. How does that work?

Dr Berardi:
Well, let’s start with before exercise. It’s likely no surprise that exercise at high intensity can make you feel like dropping your lunch.

However, different people can tolerate different things. Some of my athletes can eat 30min before training and others have to eat 2 hours before. It also has a lot to do with what you’re eating. Fast digested stuff can be eaten closer to exercise without as much difficulty.

Yet, in the end, this is a comfort thing, not a “good nutrition” thing per se. The real good nutrition practices focus on what you’re eating every meal of every day. To be honest, there is no magical food and no magical time period in which eating will lead to your best workouts. The key to having consistently good workouts is eating well all the time. And the only thing you can do during the exercise to make sure you don’t bonk is to make sure 2 things don’t happen. First, you need to make sure your blood sugar doesn’t crash. That’s what makes you feel light-headed and out of energy. The second is not eating something that bugs your stomach.

To maintain blood sugar, you need to slowly sip a carbohydrate or carbohydrate/protein drink during exercise. To avoid feeling sick to your stomach, experiment with eating different times prior to exercise. Even if you eat 2 hours prior, you won’t bonk as long as you sip the carb or carb/protein drink during training.

Mike Fry:
Great stuff!

A lot of times I see people, especially at tournaments, trying to shove down food to make it to the next match. Or they won’t eat at all out of fear. Then they’re flat come the end of the day. So I think it’s a very good point that you brought up, that you just kind of have to feel yourself out and just try and understand what your time line is for the best plan for you.

Now, you mentioned protein and carbohydrate drinks. There’s always the question of how to make them. Do you have any recommendations on the best way to go about doing that?

Dr Berardi:

There are a few ways to do it. First, when I was a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario, my lab and I developed a product, a recovery drink, called Biotest Surge.

Surge is something we developed that contains protein carbohydrates in ratios that we found to be good for recovery in both strength/power athletes and aerobic athletes. I suggest finding some and giving it a try. I describe how to use it in the Grappler’s Guide. However, keep in mind, Surge is awesome but it’s no magic bullet. It works great in conjunction with a comprehensive nutrition plan, not instead of one!

Mike Fry:

So John, let’s talk about some guidelines for a great, comprehensive nutrition plan.

Dr Berardi:
Sure, Mike. I believe all great sports nutrition plans should be based on the 10 Habits we outline in the book.

I’ll talk about the first 5 here.

The first habit is to eat every two to three hours, no matter what. If you’re not doing that, you don’t have any right to ask me questions about creatine, magic supplements, etc. Eat every two to three hours no matter what – get that down, and then ask about supplements.

The second habit is to eat lean protein with each feeding. Every time you feed, I’m not just talking about breakfast, lunch and dinner, but every time – you need to have a lean, complete protein source. If you’re confused on what’s a protein, we cover that in the book.

The third habit is to eat fruits and veggies with every feeding. This one is difficult for some to get their heads around so I’ll emphasize it again. I mean every time! So if you’re eating every two to three hours, you can see how you’re building your meal. So, the first thing you do when it’s time to eat is to grab some lean protein. Then you’ll next find fruits and veggies.

The fourth habit deals with carbohydrate intake. Now if you really want to maximize nutrient timing, the bulk of your non-fruit and veggie carbs should come during and after exercise. So what might that look like? Do you feel like having some pasta, some bread, some rice, or some potatoes? Save them for after your training session and the rest of the day stick to fruits, veggies good proteins, and good fats.

The fifth habit deals with dietary fat. It’s important not to avoid dietary fat as the balance of fat in your diet can improve performance, improve body composition, improve injury healing, and more. Most people don’t even think about supplementing with good fats like olive oil, fish oil, and flax seed oil. Yet all these things should be in your diet.

So, let’s review those first 5 habits really quickly.

  • Eat every two to three hours. Are you doing that?
  • Each time you eat, every two to three hours, eat some protein.
  • Each time you eat, every two to three hours, eat some fruits and veggies.
  • If you’ve just worked out, it’s great time to have some starchy carbohydrates like pasta, things like that. If you haven’t, you should probably eat less of them in favor of the fruits and veggies.
  • Balance out your fats, supplementing things like olive oil, flax seeds, flax oil, fish oil, etc.

These are the fundamentals. So, what I want every single one of you reading this article to try to achieve these first 5 goals. I’ll teach you the next 5 in the Grappler’s Guide.

Make sure you’re doing these things before you ever look for recovery drinks, creatine, fat burners, diuretics, etc. Get this stuff together as you’ll find that your body will quickly reshape itself with less body fat, more lean mass, and you’ll also find that weight control is going to be easy.

You’ll be able to train consistently hard and effectively, and your competition performances are going to be stable.

If you don’t follow this advice and obsess about the creatines and the other little things that don’t make as much of a difference, you’re not going to see the benefits that we’re talking about.
I’ve done this for long enough to know that most people focus on the wrong things, ignoring the important things. I really want to shift your focus toward the most important stuff.

Mike Fry:
I think that’s a very good point John because my email’s being pounded with questions about post-workout nutrition drinks and I’m glad that you went over those tips.

One thing in regard to that though, is that grapplers, wrestlers in particular, might get scared off with the every 2-3 hour thing because of school or work or whatever. They might think they can’t eat all this food. And they might also think it’s too much food.

Dr Berardi:
Right. Well, you know, Mike, it’s a great point and it leads me back into what I was saying earlier. You’ve gotta choose the right foods. If you sit down to a lunch of cheese fries, cheese steak hoagies, and soda, and then have a dinner like that, and in between eat equally crappy food, eating every 3 hours might not work for ya. But neither will the 3 crappy meals anyway so you’re screwed!

The point is to eat the right things every few hours, which includes nutrient dense foods. I can’t get into them all here but in the Grappler’s Guide, I list the 21 Super Foods that every grappler should be eating daily.

These foods and the ideas in the book will help grapplers boost their metabolic rates so that they’ll lose more weight eating every 2-3 hours than they would starving for a week before an event.

Also, with respect to the time constraints on the student athlete, I understand how challenging it can be. But it’s possible – in fact, all my high school athletes do it. It just takes some planning, some pre-made meals stowed away in the schoolbags, in the lockers, etc. Eating every three hours is a lifestyle for my athletes and they all find ways.

One great way is to make your own healthy bars and snacks at home. In my Gourmet Nutrition book (which people can pick up along with the Grappler’s Guide at www.grapplersnutrition.com, I outline all sorts of healthy snacks that athletes can prepare at home and bring with them.

Mike Fry:
I want to now move ahead a bit. I want to bring some questions about Saturday morning. We’ve general nutrition but now I’d like to talk prep for competition, making weight, etc.

There are still a lot of guys out there doing some of the harmful, performance reducing, “old school” methods of starvation and dehydration. In the book, you’ve outlined some strategies for making weight that I’d never heard about before. Now, I’ve been involved in the sport of grappling and wrestling in general for about 25 years and thought I’d seen it all.

Yet you’ve got some stuff that’s crazy effective and safe, too.

Dr Berardi:
Yep, the material I outline in the book to drop 10-15lbs, if necessary, safely and effectively leading up to an event is based on my work with both bodybuilders and grapplers. There are certain supplements, foods, and water manipulation strategies that really maximize the body’s ability to drop weight quickly as well as re-hydrate quickly.

I won’t spill all the info here as I want everyone reading this to pick up the book and to apply these strategies. They work better than you’d imagine.

Mike Fry:
What about re-hydration? For those who don’t pick up the book yet continue to do their stupid weight-loss strategies, how can we help them?

Dr Berardi:
Well, let’s say that our athlete is dehydrated and has 2 hours to replenish their water or else suffer performance losses.

Studies have shown that you can maximally re-hydrate the body by about a liter per hour. So, theoretically, in two hours, you can get 2L (4.4 pounds of body water) back. So, if you only lose 2-4lbs to make weight, re-hydration is fairly easy. If you dehydrate more, you likely won’t get it all back.

The best way to re-hydrate is to sip a re-hydration beverage slowly leading up to your event. Your impulse is to gulp. Don’t do it. Sip! Also, the best re-hydration drinks contain water, carbohydrate, and some sodium. Pedialyte is a good choice. Gatorade with an extra tsp of sea salt is a good choice. You can even use the Biotest Surge product mentioned earlier with some extra sea salt.

Mike Fry:
Great stuff!

Dr Berardi:
The important lesson is this. If you need to make weight and you’re four, five days out from an event, you need to make sure you’re as close as three pounds away from your competition weight. This way you won’t even consider going doing some crazy exercise, you won’t have to put a stupid rubber suit on, and you won’t have to do much more than a slight dehydration the last three days.

And, of course, we teach you how to do that nutritionally in the book. Then, all you have to do is just re-hydrate in that next hour, get the two to three pounds of fluid back, and then go kick ass. But again, the lesson is this. If you have eight pounds to lose, you blew it, buddy. However, we’ve still got tricks for that in the book.

I want you to learn not to make a habit of being 10+lb. over before the event! And how can you learn that – it’s in the book. You have to make sure you’re getting rid of body fat rather than water weight. This is definitely possible if you get control over your nutrition.

Don’t take care of the body fat and you’re just hoping and praying that you’re not overweight when it’s time to weigh in. And that’s not a good way to live. What we’re trying to do with this book is to put people at the driver’s seat of their body weight and composition.

Mike Fry:
John, this is some great information you’re sharing here! I’m pretty confident that everyone reading this will want to pick up the Grappler’s Guide right away. Heck, this info goes beyond grapplers alone. Any athlete who needs to cut weight including jockeys, bodybuilders, gymnasts, etc would benefit from this. Heck, even parents who are going to a reunion or a wedding and want to look good in a certain dress can benefit. Even they starve themselves to try to lose weight. What a mistake! Especially when info like what you’ve included in the book is out there, Dr Berardi.

This is the end of the interview excerpt. If you want to learn more, pop over to www.grapplersnutrition.com.

Written by Dr Berardi and Michael Fry

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Nutrition for Wrestlers & Fighters discussion thread.

About the Authors:

Dr Berardi

Dr Berardi has been around the block so many times he makes the mailman look like a slacker. A nutrition consultant to everyone from hockey players to soccer moms, when this guy talks sports nutrition – you’d better listen. Need more convincing? Well, how’s this work for ya?

Dr. Berardi is currently the director of performance nutrition for the Canadian National Cross Country Ski and Alpine Teams as well as the Canadian National Canoe/Kayak teams. He also consults with a number of elite level individual athletes, sports teams, and Olympic training centers including:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs
  • The US Bobsled Team
  • The Canadian National Speed Skating Team
  • The Calgary Sports Centre/Olympic Oval (Calgary, Alberta)
  • The Manitoba Sports Centre (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
  • The University of Texas Women’s Track and Field Team

Some have called him “the greatest sports nutrition mind in the world today,” and as such, athletes in nearly every sport including professional football (NFL and CFL), professional hockey (NHL and AHL), professional baseball (MLB), and professional basketball (NBA) hire Dr. Berardi to get the absolute best results.

He is also the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by Dr. John Berardi’s personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time. 

Michael Fry

Michael Fry is the owner of Grapplers Gym and www.grapplersgym.com. Grapplers Gym is the home for advanced fitness and conditioning for today’s combat athletes. Some of the best grapplers in the world turn to Michael and Grappler’s gym when looking to take their game to the next level.

Michael has worked with combat athletes from around the world that include members of The Brazilian Top team, fighters from Pride, UFC, and also Olympic team members. If you’re a combat athlete you owe it to yourself to get in touch with Michael and the team at Grapplers Gym today…

It’s important to understand that this article comes as an excerpt from an actual tele-seminar the Dr Berardi and Mike have recorded and provided FOR FREE, in its entirety, at www.grapplersnutrition.com. So, if you like what you read, get over to their site and download the full, FREE tele-seminar right away.

The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part II

First published at www.t-mag.com, Apr 9 2004.

Note – You can read part 1 here – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part I

Nutrient Timing – The Growth Phase

After protein and carbohydrate have been provided during the Energy and Anabolic Phases, the net protein balance of the body shifted toward the positive; muscle glycogen restored, catabolism blunted and anabolism increased, it’s time to consider how to keep the growth process moving forward. After all, the damage has been done, the acute phase response is now activated to clean up the mess (see Lonnie Lowery’s Muscle Masochism for more on this process), and your metabolism is going to be racing until tomorrow. It’s definitely time to feed!

However, even though the body is under construction, it’s moving quickly back toward normal physiological functioning during this Growth Phase. In other words, the growth window is closing and this means bye-bye to improved insulin sensitivity. You can also sit back and watch your Testosterone and growth hormone concentrations fall. And muscle protein turnover is slowing down, reaching a rate just above normal.

With this slow return to “normalcy”, it’s important to ditch the high glycemic carbohydrates and rapidly digested proteins. That’s right, while these foods were the anabolic superstars of the Energy and Anabolic phases, you’ll have to thank them and send them on their merry way during the Growth Phase and the “Rest of the Day” Phase. Kickin’ insulin is great during and after exercise, but elevate the insulin all day and your reward will be chub.

The When, What and How Much of the Growth Phase

While the exact when of the Growth Phase is a bit ambiguous, studies from my laboratory at the University of Western Ontario have recently demonstrated that unless muscle glycogen concentrations are severely reduced (greater than 70% depletion), carbohydrate and protein meals can help restore much of the depleted muscle glycogen in less than 6 hours. So, for simplicity sake, I consider the Growth Phase to last 6 hours after training.

During the Growth Phase, it’s important to continue to feed some carbohydrate and protein but definitely begin to reduce the total amount of carbohydrates ingested per meal while increasing the amount of protein ingested per meal. While a 2: 1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein was suggested for the Energy and Anabolic Phases, a ratio closer to 1: 1 might be optimal now.

Also, you’re going to start chewing real food rather than slurping down drinks. If we assume you’ll be drinking a postexercise drink immediately after training and you train in the morning or early evening, you’ll have time for about two food meals consisting of slower digesting proteins (meats, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc) and low glycemic carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, beans, ancient grains like quinoa, etc). If you train late in the evening, you’re screwed — just kidding.

Actually, if you train late in the evening you can simply ingest one meal as specified and either have a midnight shake (a Grow! and some oatmeal might make a good choice) or simply skip the second Growth Phase meal.

Again, how much to eat depends on your goals. Once you’ve calculated your daily energy needs (you can do this by visiting the Massive Eating Calculator), simply factor these meals into your total daily energy intake such that they are contributing toward your total intake. Remember, the Growth Phase, like the Energy and Anabolic Phases, is still marked by increased fat oxidation (even in the presence of some dietary carbohydrate) and increased glycogen synthesis (especially in the presence of some dietary carbohydrate). So take advantage of this by ingesting most of your daily carbs during these three phases.

Nutrient Timing – The Rest of The Day Phase

For those of you keeping score, the Energy, Anabolic, and Growth Phases cover about 7 or 8 hours of your training day. During these 7 — 8 hours, you’ll be ingesting about 4 total meals. Assuming you sleep about 8 hours per day, that leaves 8 — 9 hours and 3 meals to go. It’s these 8 — 9 hours and 3 meals that I consider “the rest of the day.”

Since the Rest of the Day is marked by normal physiology, the food you eat during this phase should be adapted to what you know about your tolerance to carbohydrates and fats in the diet. For example, some of you may have relatively poor carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. As a result, you should be eating mostly protein and a blend of fats during Rest of the Day. Others of you might do better on a higher carbohydrate diet. As a result, you should be eating more protein and carbohydrates during the Rest of the Day (as long as you don’t neglect getting your dietary fat, especially your essential fats).

In my experience, most trainees interested in carrying a low body fat percentage will benefit from simply eating protein and fats (with veggies) during the 3 Rest of the Day meals; carbohydrates and protein in a 2: 1 ratio during the 2 Energy and Anabolic meals; and carbohydrates and protein in a 1:1 ratio (some healthy fats can even be thrown in there) during the 2 Growth meals.

The When, What and How Much of the Rest of the Day Phase

As discussed, the Rest of the Day Phase is what’s left after your exercise and the 6 hours postexercise. During this time, it’s important to use what you know about your body to determine what to eat and your goals to determine how much to eat. Some of you can get away with a few carbohydrate and protein meals with some good fats thrown in. Others will have to go protein and fat meals with some veggies thrown it.

However, either way, you can rest assured that muscle glycogen concentrations have been maximized during your Energy, Anabolic and Growth Phases and that you’ve done everything in your power to stimulate the growth and recovery process.

One interesting way of looking at your food consumption during a “nutrient timing day” is that you’re eating like Atkins Diet proponents might recommend during 3 of your meals (Rest of the Day Phase); like Zone Diet proponents might recommend during 2 of your meals (Growth Phase); and like the American Dietetics Association might recommend during 2 more of your meals (Energy and Anabolic Phases).

Of course, this system wasn’t designed solely to reconcile the three big dietary movements but rather to use what we currently know about exercise metabolism to meet your daily energy needs in order to optimize growth, adaptation, performance and body composition. However, it’s certainly interesting to consider that the most effective nutritional strategy for athletes (nutrient timing) actually takes the best from each of the three most popular nutritional movements and finds a happy medium among them.

With the science of nutrient timing gradually producing more and more practical information, isn’t it about time you started using this information to support your training? If maximal muscularity, improved athletic performance, positive shifts in body composition, and marked improvements in recovery are your goal (uh, did I miss anyone), I encourage you to give the principles of nutrient timing a try. These principles form the foundation of my 7 Habits and Massive Eating Reloaded (Part I and Part II) and will influence the field of sports nutrition for years to come.

Written by Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D.

Note – You can read part 1 here – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part I

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part II discussion thread.

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time.

Bedtime Story – Consumer Report

Do you remember back when your momma read bedtime stories to you? You know, illustrated children’s books spinning tales of old Gepetto and Pinnochio, Jack and his Beanstalk, and Raskolnikov and his Crime and his Punishment. What’s that? No one ever read Crime and Punishment to you? Okay, just kidding about that one, but in all seriousness, one of the themes that makes a great children’s story is the clear delineation between good and evil. When you’re a kid, you know whom to love and you know whom to hate.

Thinking back, one of my favorite stories was the legend of Robin Hood. This story told of a daring outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. In my youth I was enamored with his cunning and his loyalty to his friends. It was always satisfying when his quick wit allowed him to make a fool of the powerful Sheriff of Knottingham.

On one occasion, Robin and his men were able to sneak into an archery contest and win the first prize, a golden arrow. Although this contest was a trap set by Knottingham, Robin and his merry men had good on their side and were able to win the arrow and escape capture. I’ve liked the underdog ever since.

Unfortunately in today’s supplement market, a modern day Sherwood Forest if you will, a story is being told that’s the antithesis of the Robin Hood story. You see, in this bedtime tale, the rich Knottinghams of the industry are robbing from the consumer, and they’re doing so with promises of golden arrows. So, true to my love of the underdog, you know where this article is headed. Just call me Robin Hood (and no, I don’t wear tights!).

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

Weight lifters today are more informed about training and nutrition than they were a decade ago. But as often is the case, a little information can be dangerous. Unfortunately, you and your wallet are the ones in danger in this case.

Take the phenomenon of overnight catabolism, for example. First, you learn what the word catabolic means. It’s the opposite of anabolic and has to do with muscle wasting. Then you learn that you become catabolic during sleep at night. As a result, you make it your goal to prevent this catabolism at any cost.

Now here comes the dangerous part. The big bad Knottinghams of the supplement world realize your unnecessary desperation and begin to use this information against you, spinning scientific-sounding tales based on spurious assumptions and false promises. They come as a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing and, unlike the fairy tales of our youth, it becomes difficult to distinguish the heroes from the villains.

Keeping with the overnight catabolism theme, Knottingham’s new golden arrow is his so-called “nighttime anti-catabolic protein formula.” He’s been trying to convince would-be supplement consumers that his super expensive, slow-released protein blends are the only way to prevent wasting away to nothing overnight. 

Using fancy words and a couple of inappropriate references, he claims that the conventional protein powders on the market today are useless for overnight consumption and that only his special high-tech blend will make you huge.

With furrowed brow, I unsheath my arrow.

What Happens When the Lights Go Out

When tucking into bed at night, you’re about to embark on a six to eight hour journey of rest and repair. After all, it’s been a long day in the forest. However, during this time you aren’t feeding the body. We call this the post-absorptive period. If you haven’t heard of this post-absorptive period before, let me explain.

Throughout the day, the first hour or two after eating is referred to as the post-prandial period. During this time, the body digests and absorbs nutrients. When you eat and even during the post-prandial period, the body’s maintenance needs for blood glucose and energy are met. At this time it begins to synthesize proteins and glycogen in the liver and muscle.

Once this period is over, the post-absorptive period sets in. After the absorption of the nutrients from your last meal is complete and the nutrients in the blood have been delivered, the body begins using those stored nutrients for energy. Then, in order to maintain blood glucose and tissue metabolism, the liver and muscle start metabolizing and sending glucose and amino acids out into the blood.

If you’re eating frequently during the day, the overnight period is your longest post-absorptive period. It should be no surprise that after an overnight fast and a long post-absorptive period, some of the muscle glycogen and muscle protein will have been depleted. In fact, research has verified this hypothesis and shown specifically that after the overnight fast, muscle protein breakdown exceeds muscle protein synthesis. Interestingly, the opposite is true in the splanchnic region (gut, liver, etc) because in these tissues, synthesis exceeds breakdown. Therefore during the night, muscle is broken down to feed the gut/liver/etc and presumably other tissues as well (1).

Feeding For Increased Muscle Mass – Nuts and Berries of the Forest Won’t Do It

Understanding what happens after an overnight fast, I’m sure you’re now wondering how you might keep out of the post absorptive period and prevent overnight muscle losses. Well, the secret is in understanding how the body handles protein and amino acids under normal conditions. Remember, net muscle-protein status (anabolism or catabolism) is determined by a simple equation: protein synthesis minus protein breakdown.

Large increases in blood amino acid levels (100-200% above the fasted baseline) are necessary for increasing protein synthesis. Therefore a protein meal containing at least 20-30 grams of fast-digesting protein (like whey) can accomplish such a goal.

Interestingly, to inhibit protein breakdown we only need small increases in blood amino-acid levels (25-50% above fasted baseline). However, these small increases must be prolonged (4-5 hours) in order to realize this inhibition of protein breakdown. In this situation, a slow-digesting protein like casein is necessary.

So, at this point you might be asking why you can’t simply consume whey protein every few hours in order to maintain super-high levels of blood amino acids. It makes sense that this would keep amino acid levels high for a very long period of time, thus stimulating protein synthesis and preventing protein breakdown, right? Well, not so fast, Little John.

Unfortunately, when large increases in blood amino acid levels (+100%) are achieved via intravenous infusion for a prolonged period of six hours, protein synthesis only increases from the 30 minute to the two-hour mark. After two hours, protein synthesis rates almost immediately return to baseline. Unbelievably, protein synthesis rates remain at baseline levels from the two hour to the six hour marks, even with the same level of hyperaminoacidemia (2).

So it’s clear that keeping amino acid levels elevated all day won’t keep protein synthesis rates racing along. It’s my guess that if you were to try to do this, breakdown would simply balance synthesis and you wouldn’t get any bigger. It’s my theory that you need those phasic bursts in amino-acid levels to stimulate protein synthesis.

If you’re keeping up, this presents a confusing picture as to how to time your meals for optimal protein growth. In my opinion, large bursts of hyperaminoacidemia every four hours or so (to stimulate synthesis in a phasic manner), coupled with a prolonged low-level hyperaminoacidemia (to chronically inhibit breakdown) may be the best way to coerce the muscles into getting huge. So how can you accomplish this? That’s easy, at least when you’re awake.

Consider the “pros” and “cons” of the bodybuilder’s two main sources of protein:

Whey protein intake (30g) produces large transient hyperaminoacidemia. After an hour, blood amino acids are elevated by about 300%. After two hours, about 92%. After four hours, you’re back to baseline. This is ideal for increased protein synthesis but does nothing for protein breakdown (3,4).

Casein protein intake (30g) produces moderate but prolonged hyperaminoacidemia. After two hours, blood amino acids are elevated by about 32% and after four hours by about 35%. After seven hours, blood amino acids are still elevated. This is ideal for prevention of protein breakdown but does nothing for protein synthesis (3,4).

The next question is, where the heck are you gonna find whey and casein protein in Sherwood Forest? Well, if you can find a cow or a goat, you’re in luck.

Milk protein is composed of 80% casein and 20% whey. Milk is interesting in that, believe it or not, the whey and casein fractions are absorbed separately. In one study, subjects consumed skimmed milk and were evaluated over the course of eight hours. With milk-protein ingestion, there’s a rapid rise in blood amino acids within one hour (probably as a result of the whey fraction), a plateau from one to three hours (a combination of simultaneous whey and casein absorption), and then there’s a progressive decline over the course of the next eight hours. However, blood amino acids are still elevated at the eight hour point as a result of the casein fraction. (5).

While this discussion has only dealt with milk proteins, it may be safe to say that most animal proteins are probably similar to casein in their slow digestion and absorption profiles. So, during the day, eating a combination of fast digesting and slow-digesting proteins every four hours or so is probably the best way to maintain a highly positive daily protein status. Again, this can be done with milk proteins alone or with a combination of whey or milk protein and animal protein at each meal.

In the end, though, don’t get too obsessed with seeking out your favorite cow every four hours. Research has shown that eating animal protein alone does a nice job of increasing post-prandial protein synthesis, too.

Don’t Let The Sheriff’s Men Steal Your Muscles Overnight

All these recommendations are interesting for the waking hours while you’re robbing from the rich, but what about at night when bedding down with the lovely Maid Marian?

Well, if I had an ideal nighttime protein shake to set by the bed, it would include a combination of ingredients that promotes two large bursts of hyperaminoacidemia every four hours (leading to two bursts of synthesis – one at bedtime and one four hours later) and a prolonged low-level hyperaminoacidemia (to inhibit breakdown). Now, part of this can be accomplished with a milk-isolate blend taken immediately before bed. There are many such blends on the market.

At this point, you might be asking yourself why I simply don’t recommend milk. Well, I’m hesitate to suggest milk as a result of the recent data showing that unfermented, intact milk (skim or whole) may not be all that great for you. The high incidence of milk allergies and lactose intolerance coupled with a huge insulin index makes me hesitant to give my endorsement to the moo juice. However, milk products like cottage cheese behave differently than milk and are another solid choice. The whey content of cottage cheese could use some beefing up though, so don’t be afraid to throw in some whey or milk isolates.

Although quite effective, unfortunately this route doesn’t allow for the second burst of fast protein and hyperaminoacidemia that we want about four hours into our slumber. So the simplest way to do this would be to make a big shake/meal before bed, consume half at bedtime and the other half in the middle of the night.

The Golden Arrows

You can certainly wake up in the middle of the night to provide the body with some protein nutrition, but some people believe doing so will disturb sleep patterns and in the long run, you’ll be worse for the waking. So why not formulate a special high-tech protein powder that will accomplish our goal of two large bursts of hyperaminoacidemia every four hours (two bursts of synthesis – one at bedtime and one four hours later) and a prolonged low-level hyperaminoacidemia (to inhibit breakdown) without having to wake up to get it?

Such a formula might contain 15g of regular whey protein, 30g of casein, and 15g of time-released, encapsulated whey protein that sits around in the gut for four hours and is magically released during one big digestive burst at that time. With such a formula, the 60g protein dose would definitely keep you covered for the overnight fast and might help you pack on a little extra muscle.

Excited yet? Well, don’t fall for the trap. I’m sorry to tell you that such a formula is probably impossible to make. First of all, I’m not aware of any technology that will allow such a precision release of protein at a predetermined time. Secondly, if there were a way to do this, the costs would certainly be prohibitive.

But what about the current crop of overnight protein formulas popping up in magazine ads? What are they supposed to do? Well, unfortunately they don’t even claim to accomplish the goals I set out above. All they claim to do is provide you with a slow released protein that keeps blood levels of amino acids low and stable all night, thus minimizing protein breakdown. Considering that plain old cottage cheese can accomplish this goal, these formulations aren’t so revolutionary.

In fact, either milk protein blends or homemade whey/casein combinations may even be superior to slow digesting proteins alone, as indicated above. The combination of fast and slow may be best for both increasing muscle protein synthesis and preventing muscle protein breakdown. So why the need for fancy overnight protein products? At a price of four to seven bucks per 50g of protein (based on the brands I’ve looked at), I can’t see one. All I can see is the rich robbing from the misinformed poor.

A Happy Ending

To summarize this little bedtime story:

  • About halfway through the night your body runs out of muscle-building fuel and leaves you in a catabolic state. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to get some protein before bed. 
  • The so-called “nighttime anti-catabolic protein formulas” hitting the market are overpriced, overhyped, and aren’t even ideal for battling catabolism.
  • A better and more-affordable choice is plain old cottage cheese and/or a blend of proteins like those found in Low-Carb Grow! (Milk itself isn’t a good choice however.)

Armed with these arrows of information, I’ll now let you go do battle with catabolism and all those unscrupulous Sheriff of Knottinghams out there. Now, where’d that little muffin Maid Marian run off to?

Written by Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D.

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time. 

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Bedtime Story – Consumer Report discussion thread.

The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part I

First published at www.t-mag.com, Apr 4 2004.

Note – You can read part 2 here – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part II

James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise believed that space was the “final frontier,” an undiscovered territory full of strange new worlds, new life, and new civilizations. So they set out to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Following the lead of Kirk and his crew, a new crop of nutrition and exercise scientists has begun an exploration of their own, set against the backdrop of human physiology. Here on earth, nutrition and exercise scientists have suggested that the “final frontier” of the muscle-building realm is “nutrient timing.” And while the science of “nutrient timing” is nowhere near as exciting as beaming Mudd’s women aboard your vessel, put it to good use and your physique might just land you a few sultry females from this galaxy.

What Is Nutrient Timing?

With respect to manipulating body composition and athletic performance, traditional nutritionists have spent much of their time figuring out how much to eat and to a smaller extent, what to eat. Of course, both of these approaches have immense value. Although a myriad of factors affect energy balance (more than can be understood by a simple appraisal of how much you eat and how much you exercise; see Hungry, Hungry Hormones Part I for a more complete picture), the laws or thermodynamics are the most important determinants of weight gain and weight loss. Therefore, how much we eat is critical in altering our body composition (and, indirectly, our performance).

But conventional thermodynamic approaches tell just a portion of the story. After all, very few people would benefit from focusing exclusively on weight gain or weight loss. Rather, the focus should be on the composition of the gain or loss. If you’re losing equal amounts of fat and muscle when in “negative energy balance” or gaining equal amounts of fat and muscle when in “positive energy balance,” you’re probably not taking advantage of the full spectrum of nutrition and exercise information available.

Although this might be a bit of an oversimplification of a very complex topic, in some ways the thermodynamic approach of measuring calories in vs. calories out may simply maintain the body shape status quo. If you’ve got the right genetics, the calorie in vs. calorie out approach will probably be all you need to look good nekid at any body size (bigger or smaller). But, if not, simply counting calories will probably just make you a bigger or smaller version of your former self (and if you’re unhappy with that shape, you wont necessarily like it at a bigger or smaller size).

To address some of these limitations of the thermodynamic or “calorie balance” approaches, scientists recognized the value of studying the effects of food selection on body composition changes (for more on this concept, see Lean Eatin’ 1 and Lean Eatin’ 2). While this line of investigation is in its relative infancy, it’s becoming clear that there’s something to this whole food-type thing. Despite what naysayers claim, once energy balance is accounted for, some carbohydrates are better than others. Likewise, some proteins are better than others and some fats better than others.

Therefore, by choosing your food wisely, even if you’re eating the same number of calories each day, you can upregulate your metabolism, shift your hormonal profile, and alter the composition of your weight gain and weight loss (not to mention reap the health benefits of a better diet composition).

As you can see, the science of what to eat has added to the how much to eat picture and advanced our understanding of body composition manipulation. By recognizing the laws of thermodynamics and eating accordingly we can set the stage for weight loss or weight gain. And by choosing our foods wisely, we wield the power to take control of what types of gains and losses we’ll see. In some respects, the science of what to eat has given us the power to transcend some of our genetic “inclinations” (i.e. overall body shape).

While the how much to eat and what to eat approaches offer a ton of great nutrition information, one newly emerging area of research, “nutrient timing,” has begun to demonstrate that manipulating the time dimension can further assist in taking control of our body composition and athletic performance. In this way, nutrient timing, or the science of when to eat, is becoming an important part of nutritional planning.

What’s So Special About When We Eat?

To the average person who’s not exercising, the principles of nutrient timing aren’t very important. Sure, glucose tolerance/insulin sensitivity is altered during the course of a day but these changes probably aren’t critical to determining one’s dietary needs. For these individuals, what and how much they eat is the most important thing. While nutrient timing isn’t critical to the average person, its importance must not be underestimated in the athlete (including team sport athletes, endurance athletes, and weight trainers).

In the book, “Nutrient Timing” (a book I also contributed to), Drs. John Ivy and Robert Portman make a great comment about the current state of sports nutrition practice. In this book they highlight the fact that as scientists began to learn about the nutritional needs of athletes/weightlifters (i.e. higher energy needs and the benefits of additional protein ingestion), a “bulk nutrition” concept was adopted in which athletes began to believe things like “if protein is good, then more protein must be better.” (You don’t know anyone like that, do you?) In other words, when many athletes find out that something is “good,” they try to get lots of it. And when many athletes find out that something is “bad,” they try to avoid it at all costs.

Unfortunately this is nothing more than a combination of the how much to eat and what to eat approaches discussed above. Combine that with a very naive good vs. bad approach to food and you’ve got a recipe for sub-optimal nutritional intake. After all, very few foods are always good or always bad (well, I can think of a few…). This is certainly unfortunate for two reasons. First, much of the current science is pointing to the fact that if you train regularly, the body is primed for fat gain or fat loss just as it’s primed for muscle gain or muscle loss during specific times of the day. Add in the wrong foods at the wrong times and you’re sabotaging your efforts in the gym. Add the right foods and your efforts are given a giant boost. Secondly, although some foods are not optimal during certain times of the day (i.e. sugar), some of these same foods can actually be very beneficial during other times of the day (such as the post workout period).

Throwing aside the oversimplification inherent in the bulk nutrition concept, let’s now get down to the nuts and bolts of optimal nutrient timing. Since I was a consultant in the development of the book, I’m going to go ahead and take the liberty of borrowing from some of Drs. Ivy and Portman’s nomenclature. In the book, the authors refer to three critical times of the day in which nutrient timing takes on a greater importance. These times are known as the Energy Phase, The Anabolic Phase, and The Growth Phase. Since I like these distinctions, I’ll use them here. However, I’ll add another phase that I call, somewhat in jest, The Rest of The Day Phase

Nutrient Timing — The Energy Phase

The Energy Phase is called this because this phase occurs during the workout when energy demands are highest. As you probably know, the energy used by skeletal muscle is ATP. This ATP is formed and re synthesized by macronutrients from the diet so carbs, proteins, and fats contribute indirectly to the energy of muscle contraction. Therefore, the high rates of energy demand during exercise are met by ingested nutrients and/or stored nutrients (the ratio depends on your feeding schedule). This breakdown of nutrients, while completely necessary, is, by definition, catabolic. As such, the workout period, as I’ve addressed in the past (see Precision Nutrition), is marked by a number of anabolic and catabolic effects.

Anabolic Effects Of Acute Exercise

  • Increased Skeletal Muscle Blood Flow
  • Increased Anabolic Hormone Release
  • (GH, Testosterone, IGF-1)
  • Acute Phase Response Resolution

Catabolic Effects Of Acute Exercise

  • Glycogen Depletion
  • Decreased Net Protein Balance
  • Increased Cortisol Concentrations
  • Decreased Insulin Concentrations
  • Acute Phase Response Breakdown
    Increased Metabolic Rate
    Dehydration (Endurance or Intermittent Exercise in Heat)

While these phenomena are nothing new and have been shown to occur during most types of exercise/training, what is new is the idea that targeted nutritional intake can actually shift the anabolic/catabolic balance during exercise, enhancing some of the anabolic effects while minimizing some of the catabolic effects (1; 4; 10; 11; 17).

To give you an example, a protein/carbohydrate supplement (like Opticen) ingested immediately prior to exercise (or sipped during exercise) can actually increase skeletal muscle blood flow. Since this drink not only enhances blood flow but stocks that blood up with amino acids and glucose, the protein balance of the muscle will be shifted toward the positive and glycogen depletion will be significantly reduced. In addition, those amino acids and glucose units, independent of their effects on muscle protein and glycogen status, can also lead to a decrease in cortisol concentrations and improve the overall immune response (part of the acute phase response listed above and described in detail in the Precision Nutrition article).

Of course, if the aforementioned supplement is in a liquid form and is sipped during the exercise bout (as recommended), dehydration, a potent performance killer in both strength and endurance athletes, can be staved off as well. That’s not too shabby for a little ol’ protein/carbohydrate drink, eh?

The When, What and How Much of the Energy Phase

When examining the science of nutrient timing in detail, it becomes clear that one of the key “when to eat” times of the day is during the Energy Phase or during the workout. Of course, in focusing on when to eat, I’m in no way suggesting we should neglect considering what and how much to eat. In fact, they’re probably your next two questions so let’s get to them right away.

As indicated above, during the Energy Phase it’s important to ingest some protein and carbohydrate. In my experience the easiest way to do this is to drink an easily digested liquid carbohydrate and protein drink. This drink should probably consist of a well-diluted (a 6-10% solution — meaning 60-100g of powder for every 1L of water) combination of glucose, maltodextrin, and whey protein/hydrolyzed whey protein. Dilution is important, especially if you are an endurance athlete or if you’re training in a hot environment. If you don’t dilute your drink appropriately, you may not replenish your body’s water stores at an optimal rate (9; 12).

Now that we know when to eat and what to eat, let’s figure out how much. Unfortunately this isn’t as easy to answer. How much to eat really has a lot to do with how much energy you’re expending during the exercise bout, how much you’re eating the rest of the day, whether your primary interest is gaining muscle mass or losing fat mass, and a number of other factors. For a simple answer, however, I suggest starting out by sipping 0.8g of carbohydrate/kg and 0.4g of protein/kg diluted in somewhere around 1L of water (5; 17-20). For you 220lb guys, that means 80g of carbohydrate and 40g of protein during training. This, of course, is the nutrient make-up of Surge.

Nutrient Timing – The Anabolic Phase

The Anabolic Phase occurs immediately after the workout and lasts about an hour or two. This phase is titled “anabolic” because it’s during this time that the muscle cells are primed for muscle building. Interestingly, although the cells are primed for muscle building, in the absence of a good nutritional strategy, this phase can remain catabolic.

Without adequate nutrition, the period immediately after strength and endurance training is marked by a net muscle catabolism; that’s right, after exercise muscles continue to break down. Now, if you’re asking yourself how this can be, you’re asking the right question. After all, training (especially weight training) makes you bigger, not smaller. And even if you’re an endurance athlete, your muscles don’t exactly break down either. So how can exercise be so catabolic?

Well, for starters, as I’ve written before, while the few hours after exercise induce a net catabolic state (although protein synthesis does increase after exercise, so does breakdown), it’s later in the recovery cycle that the body begins to shift toward anabolism (8; 14). So we typically break down for some time after the workout and then start to build back up later (whether that “build up” is in muscle size or in muscle quality).

However, with this said, there are new data showing that with the right nutritional intervention (protein and carbohydrate supplementation), we can actually repair and improve muscle size or quality during and immediately after exercise (16; 17). And the best part is that if we do the nutrition thing right, not only do we start repairing muscle during and after exercise, we continue to alter muscle size and/or quality later on as well (16). For more on what happens during the postexercise period, check out my articles Solving the Post-Workout Puzzle 1 and Solving the Post Workout Puzzle 2.

The When, What and How Much of the Anabolic Phase

From now on, when planning your nutritional intake, you’d better consider both the Energy and Anabolic phases as two of the key “whens” of nutrient timing. Therefore, to maximize your muscle gain and recovery, you’ll be feeding both during and immediately after exercise. Again we come to what and how much.

As indicated above, during the Anabolic Phase it’s important to ingest some protein and carbohydrate. Just like with the Energy Phase, in my experience the easiest way to do this is to drink an easily digested liquid carbohydrate and protein drink. This drink should probably consist of a well-diluted (a 6-10% solution — meaning 60-100g of powder for every 1L of water) combination of glucose, maltodextrin, and whey protein/hydrolyzed whey protein. While dilution, in this case, isn’t as important for rehydration because you’ve stopped exercising and presumably, sweating, you’re now diluting to prevent gastrointestinal distress. I won’t go to far into detail here — just take my word for it. You must dilute.

Now that we know when to eat and what to eat, let’s figure out how much. Just like with the Energy Phase, how much to eat really has a lot to do with how much energy you’re expending during the exercise bout, how much you’re eating the rest of the day, whether your primary interest is gaining muscle mass or losing fat mass, and a number of other factors. However, just like with the Energy Phase, a simple suggestion is to start out by sipping another serving of 0.8g of carbohydrate/kg and 0.4g of protein/kg diluted in somewhere around 1L of water (5; 17-20).

If you add up the basic suggestions from the Energy Phase and the Anabolic Phase, you’ll find that I’ve recommended about 1.6g of carbohydrate/kg and 0.8g of protein/kg in total. For a 220lb guy, that’s a total of 160g carbohydrate and 80g of protein during and immediately after training. Based on your preconceived notions of what constitutes “a lot” of carbs, this may seem like a lot or not much at all.

Regardless, it’s important to understand that during and after training, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance is very good (2; 3; 13; 15; 21). Even if you’ve self-diagnosed poor carbohydrate tolerance (which too many people do unnecessarily) during and after the post exercise period, your carbohydrate tolerance will be much better.

And if you consider that most carbohydrate ingested during and immediately after exercise will either be oxidized for fuel or sent to the muscle and liver for glycogen re synthesis and that even in the presence of increased insulin concentrations, the post exercise period is marked by a dramatic increase in fat metabolism (6; 7), it should be clear that even a whopping carbohydrate and protein drink will not directly lead to fat gain. Just be sure to account for this increase in carbohydrate intake by decreasing your carbohydrate intake during other times of the day when carbohydrate re synthesis isn’t so efficient and booming insulin isn’t so benign.

From this discussion it should be clear that, using the principles of nutrient timing, one can load up on carbs during and after the workout while reducing them for the remainder of the day. In using this strategy, carbs are fed when they’ll best be converted into muscle glycogen and when they’ll best stimulate muscle growth and/or repair. If muscle gain is your goal, you’ll get more muscle per gram of carbohydrate ingested. If fat loss is your goal, you’ll get more muscle glycogen and a pronounced muscle sparing effect with fewer daily carbs ingested. And if athletic performance/recovery is your goal, your recovery will improve dramatically.

So before we move on, it’s important to understand that the 960kcal I recommended (for 220lb men) would be better utilized during and after the workout than during any other time of the day and herein lies the gist of nutrient timing. Nutrients ingested during the Energy and Anabolic Phases can better contribute to muscle gain, repair, and recovery when compared to the same nutrients ingested during other times of the day.

Now that I’ve covered what to eat during the Energy and Anabolic Phases, I’ll be back next week with some recommendations for what to eat during the final two phases of the nutrient timing cycle.

Written by Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D.

Note – You can read part 2 here – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part II

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Science of Nutrient Timing, Part I discussion thread.

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time.

Massive Eating – Part II – Meal Combinations and Individual Differences

First published at www.t-mag.com, Mar 9 2001.

Note: See Part 1 here: Massive Eating Part I – Calorie Calculations

Now that I know how much to eat, what’s next?

Eating to get massive is a juggling act between three important concepts. As I stated in Part I, energy balance is only one. In focusing only on energy balance, individuals are ignoring the acute effects of eating on hormones, metabolism, and energy storage. So someone who argues that calorie balance is the only determinant in changing body composition is making the situation too simplistic.

One of the goals of eating to grow should be to maximize the muscle gain to fat gain ratio. Basically you want to pack on the most muscle with the least amount of fat gain. To do this you need to understand which meal combos to pursue and which to avoid. The foundations of my recommendations in this area are based on the avoidance of a nasty scenario. The worst case scenario for someone trying to pack on muscle while minimizing fat gain is to have high blood levels of carbs, fat, and insulin at the same time.

This is nasty because chronic elevation of insulin can increase the rate of transport of fats and carbs into fat cells. Although initially insulin shuttles nutrients into muscle cells, chronic insulin elevation will cause the muscles to become insulin resistant and refuse to take up nutrients. The adipose tissues, however, are greedy little pieces of cellular machinery and continue to take up nutrients at a rapid rate. So if you always have high levels of blood fats and carbs in the presence of insulin (the kind your body makes, not the kind that comes in a syringe), your muscles will slow their uptake of nutrients and all that fat and carbs will feed the fat cells. Can you say Shamu?

Before you make a rash decision and try to eliminate insulin, I’ve got to let you know that insulin is very anabolic. It’s responsible for carb and amino acid delivery to the muscles for recovery and growth. So you need insulin, but you need to control it. And when you eat to promote insulin surges, you’ve got to be sure that you have the ideal profile of macronutrients in your blood to ensure that this insulin surge leads to muscle gain and not fat gain. This is where meal combinations come into play.

Let’s start with some meal combinations to avoid.

Avoid meals containing fats and carbs

Unfortunately, this is the typical meal of the Western diet. As a result, it’s no wonder that obesity is an epidemic. Meals with a high carbohydrate content in combination with high-fat meals can actually promote a synergistic insulin release when compared to the two alone. High fat with high-carb meals represent the worst possible case scenario.

Now, some people have argued that fat lowers the glycemic index of foods and should therefore be included in carb meals. But remember, the glycemic index only gives a measure of glucose response to a meal, not insulin response. And sometimes the glucose responses to a meal and the insulin responses to a meal aren’t well correlated. So although you might be slowing the rate of glucose absorption into the blood by adding fat to your meals, you’ll promote high blood levels of fats, carbs, and insulin. And that’s a no-no!

Avoid meals high in carbs alone

Ironically, since the liver converts excess carbohydrates into fats, a very high carbohydrate meal can actually lead to a blood profile that looks like you just ate a high carb and high-fat meal! That’s why high-carb diets don’t work any better than ones rich in fats and carbs. High carb meals easily promote high blood levels of fats, carbs, and insulin, too.

Okay, so now that we know which meal combinations are evil. Let’s be proactive and talk about what meal combinations to concentrate on.

Eat meals containing protein and carbs (with minimal fat)

It’s well known in the research world that eating carbs and protein together also creates a synergistic insulin release (much like the fat and carb meals above). But in this scenario, that insulin release is just what we want. By having a few meals per day that cause high blood levels of insulin, carbs, and amino acids (as long you don’t have chronic high blood levels of insulin all day long), the body tends to become very anabolic, taking up all those carbs and amino acids into the muscle cells for protein and glycogen synthesis. And since there’s no excess fat for the fat cells, fat gain is minimized.

Obviously this combination is beneficial during the post-workout period, but in addition you might want one or two additional insulin spikes per day to promote anabolism during a mass phase. Again, as long as you aren’t elevating insulin all day long, you won’t become insulin resistant.

At this point some may argue that although this scenario might not promote fat gain, those high insulin levels will prevent fat breakdown (lipolysis). And they’re completely correct! But you have to understand that most meals (unless they contain only certain types of protein) will elevate insulin levels to the point that lipolysis is prevented. So you can’t escape that unless you eat a ketogenic diet with only specific types of low insulin releasing proteins. But since ketogenic diets don’t put on muscle mass and there are all sorts of problems associated with them, I think they should be avoided. Since muscle gain is the goal, two or three meals per day of anabolism are necessary to get bigger and that means protein plus carbs with minimal to no fat.

Eat meals containing protein and fat (with minimal carbs)

Although it’s desirable to eat some meals each day that release lots of insulin, upregulate protein synthesis, and fill up carb stores, it’s advisable to avoid too many such meals. I discussed the reasons for this above (reduced insulin sensitivity and prevention of fat burning), but also, since we all know that essential fatty acids are so important to health and favorable body composition, eating protein and carb meals all day will prevent the ingestion of healthy fats. And that’s no good.

In an attempt to balance out your two or three carb plus protein (minimal fat) meals each day, you should be eating an additional two to three meals consisting of protein and fat with minimal carbs. Taking in 30% of each major class of fatty acids (polyunsaturates, monounsaturates, saturates) is a good mass building tip when thinking about which fats to consume.

Taking a step back, the purpose of protein plus fat meals is to provide energy and amino acids without causing large, lipolysis-preventing insulin spikes. In addition, after fatty meals that contain no carbs, the body oxidizes less carbs (more carbs are stored and retained in the muscle as glycogen) and burns more fat for energy. So basically you’ll be burning fat for energy and storing carbs in the muscle after such meals.

I hope that it’s clear now that by properly combining meals, you can use the acute effects of food to your advantage. Eat protein plus fat during some meals and you may be burning fat during certain portions of the day. Eat protein plus carbs for some meals and you may be growing during other portions of the day. Although I know some will think this is blasphemy, this type of eating may actually help you get bigger while reducing your body fat during the same training phase.

Real Meals

Don’t you hate it when you read a diet article only to find yourself asking, “So what exactly do I eat anyway?” Well, here are some examples of typical meals to consume when following this program:

Protein plus carb meals (minimal fat – <5g)

2 scoops of protein powder mixed in with 1 serving of oatmeal
1 sliced banana
1 cup of regular or lactose free skim milk

1 serving Grow!

1 can tuna fish
1 cup of regular or lactose free skim milk
2 pieces of whole grain bread

8 egg whites
1 scoop of protein in 1 serving of oatmeal
1 slice of whole grain bread
1 piece of fat free cheese

2 cups of regular or lactose free skim milk
1 scoop protein
2 pieces of fruit

Here’s a list of good carbs and protein for the protein plus carbohydrate meals:

Carbs: apples, oranges, oatmeal, all bran cereals, vegetables, mueslix, white pasta, flax bread, yams

Protein: chicken, whey, casein, turkey, egg whites, skim milk, tuna, cottage cheese

Protein plus fat meals (minimal carbs- <10g)

1 can salmon
1 scoop protein powder in water
1 tablespoon of concentrated fish oils

8-12 oz lean beef
Fat free cheese
1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 can tuna fish
1 scoop protein powder
1 tablespoon of concentrated fish oils

2 scoops protein powder in water
1 tablespoon flax oil

Here’s a list of good fats and proteins for the protein plus fat meals:

Fats: Concentrated fish oils (PUFA-omega 3), flaxseed oil (PUFA-omega 3 and 6), olive oil (MUFA), canola oil (MUFA and PUFA), fat from nuts (MUFA and PUFA), fat from beef and eggs, animal fat (SFA)

Proteins: beef, salmon, whey, casein, turkey, whole eggs, pork

Individual Differences – Are You Sensitive?

In the last section I recommended splitting six daily meals up into about three protein and carb meals and about three protein and fat meals. This plan works well for most people in terms of maximizing muscle gain while minimizing fat gain when overfeeding. However, just like different training programs are necessary for different individuals, individual responses to nutrition are varied. So rather than telling you that there’s one program for all, I hope to give you some tips so that you can determine which eating plan is best for you.

The factors governing your response to different nutritional intakes are pretty diverse, but one major factor I’ve been focusing on lately is insulin and glucose tolerance. In my mind, insulin sensitivity seems to be the most important factor dictating how the body will handle carbs. For those who have high insulin sensitivity, the body responds to carb intake with small insulin surges. Although the insulin surges are small, the cells are very responsive to that little amount of insulin and do a great job of becoming anabolic. Since lots of insulin can inhibit fat loss, the ideal scenario is to become very insulin sensitive so that only small amounts of insulin are required for anabolism and so that those small amounts of insulin don’t prevent fat loss.

In my experience, individuals who have high insulin sensitivity maximize their muscle to fat ratio on diets that are high in carbs and lower in fat (50% carbs, 35% protein, 15% fat). Those with moderate insulin sensitivity tend to do best on diets that are more isocaloric (30% carbs, 40% protein, 30% fat). And those with poor insulin sensitivity do best on diets that are low in carbs (50% protein, 35% fat, 15% carbs).

So within the framework of this article, if you’re highly insulin sensitive, more than three of your daily meals would be carb plus protein meals. If your insulin sensitivity isn’t so great, more than three of your meals will be protein plus fat.

Insulin Sensitivity – I Want Your Blood

So the next question is how do you know if you’re sensitive or not? Did you cry at the end of Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character sank like a blue Freezer Pop into the North Atlantic? Well, there you go; you’re sensitive. Me? I cried like a baby. Okay, okay, actually there are several methods.
The easiest thing to do is just think about what types of diets you respond to best. If low carb diets work great for you, then you’re probably insulin insensitive. If you can eat a lot of carbs and not get fat then you’re probably insulin sensitive. If you’d like something more concrete than that, read on.

Some experts use very simplistic recommendations for testing insulin sensitivity, methods I disagree with. For example, I’ve heard the statement that if you have an apple-shaped physique or if you get sleepy after a carb meal then you’re insulin resistant (insensitive). In my opinion, these are way too non-specific and tell you very little about your nutrient needs or if you’re making progress.

Instead, I prefer methods that, although more time consuming, are objective. The first is an oral glucose tolerance test. For this you need to go to your local pharmacy and purchase a glucometer, some glucose test strips, and a standard glucose beverage (ask your pharmacist about this because it has to be a specific kind. Pepsi won’t work). Once you’ve got the goods, you’ll plan your test.

After going at least 24 hours without exercise (do this test after a day off from training), you’ll wake up in the morning (fasted at least 12 hours) and you’ll take a blood sample from your finger tip. Write down this number. Then drink your glucose beverage and continue to take blood samples at 15, 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes. Record all the numbers at each time point.

Here’s a little chart of what you should expect:

The second test that I like to recommend for assessing insulin sensitivity is a fasted glucose and insulin test. For this you need to see your doctor. This test is simply a blood draw in the fasted state. It’s easy to do. Just schedule an appointment, the nurse will do a single blood draw, and then the lab will measure the levels of insulin and glucose in your blood at this time. Using one of the following equations, you’ll have both an insulin sensitivity score and a pancreatic responsiveness score:

Insulin Sensitivity =

Fasted Insulin (mU/L) / 22.5 x e ^ -ln(Fasted Glucose (mmol/L))


Fasted Insulin (pmol/L) x (Fasted Glucose (mmol/L) / 135)

Pancreatic Beta Cell Function =

(20 x Fasted Insulin (mU/L)) / (Fasted Glucose (mmol/L)-3.5)


(3.33 x Fasted Insulin (pmol/L) / (Fasted Glucose (mmol/L)-3.5)

If you’re not a math whiz or don’t own a calculator, have your doctor do the math for you. Remember, you have to go to his office to get the test done in the first place. Once you have these values, compare your numbers to the following to see how sensitive you are:

Insulin Sensitivity

Lower score = more sensitive
Normal insulin sensitivity: score should be below 2
Excellent insulin sensitivity: score will be around 0.5

Pancreatic Beta Cell Function

Higher = better pancreatic function and insulin release
Normal pancreatic function: score should be about 100
Excellent pancreatic function: score will be above 200

Once you’ve collected these measures, you’ll have a better indication of what type of diet you need to consume. I recommend doing these tests at least once every few months to see how your diet and training is impacting your insulin sensitivity.

Let’s Get Sensitive!

So let’s assume that you’ve done the tests mentioned above and you weren’t happy with the results. You’re insulin insensitive and, dammit, you don’t like it! Well, instead of resigning yourself to a flabby midsection for the remainder of your days there are some things you can do to increase insulin sensitivity.

Both aerobic and resistance training greatly increase insulin sensitivity through a variety of mechanisms. So include both in your program. I’ve seen tremendous increases in insulin sensitivity with three to four intense weight training sessions per week lasting 1 to 1.5 hours per session. These sessions should be coupled with at least three or four aerobic sessions lasting 30 minutes per session. To really target insulin sensitivity, you’d want to perform weight training and cardio separately.

In addition, supplements like omega 3 fatty acids, fish oils, alpha-lipoic acid, and chromium can increase insulin sensitivity. I typically recommend starting out with 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and concentrated fish oils containing a total of six to ten grams of DHA and EPA (the most active omega 3 fats in fish oils).

On the flip side, stimulants like ephedrine and caffeine can decrease insulin sensitivity due to their effects on metabolism. Furthermore, the low carb, high-fat diets that have become popular can also lead to decreased insulin sensitivity. That’s why my trainees don’t take stimulants or go on no-carb diets (unless they’re dieting down for a show and then they’ll do occasional no-carb diets every few months for a maximum of three weeks at a time).

So if your insulin sensitivity isn’t ideal the first time you measure it, try the approaches I listed above. Then go back after a month or two and re-test. You’ll see that the numbers look much better.

Individual Differences – Experimentation

Even though the last section will help you better define where you stand with the insulin issue, probably the most productive way of determining which eating program is best for you is to experiment on yourself. So for eight weeks, I encourage you to follow a 50% carb, 25% protein, and 15% fat diet that exceeds your energy needs (as determined in Part I of this article). During this time, record your gains in terms of muscle mass and fat mass. This will give you a muscle:fat ratio.

Then go back to your normal eating for eight weeks. After those eight weeks, try a new diet of 30% carbs, 40% protein, and 30% fat for eight more weeks. Again record the muscle:fat ratio.

After these 24 weeks you should know which type of diet is more effective for your body type. I know it seems like quite a bit of time to devote to figuring out your eating needs, but assuming that you’ve been training for years or plan to be training for years to come, 24 weeks is only a small period of time. In addition, the results of your efforts will be applicable for the rest of your life.

Remember, however, that when constructing your eating plan you must realize that just because you’re following a diet with 50% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat or a diet 30% carbs, 40% protein, and 30% fat, that doesn’t mean that each meal is made up of these proportions. In fact, the meals should not all be of these proportions because this will mean undesirable blood levels of fat, carbs, and insulin. So using the techniques I taught you during the meal combination section, design a plan that has different proportions of macronutrients during different meal times but that achieves the optimal proportions of (40-30-30 or 50-25-15) by the end of the day.


Here’s a quick and dirty summary of the Massive Eating plan:

  1. Read Part I and determine your daily caloric needs.
  2. Eat meals consisting of fat and protein together with very little carbs. Also eat protein and carbs together, but with very little fat in those meals. Don’t eat carbs by themselves and don’t eat carbs with fat.
  3. Determine your macronutrient ratios based on your level of insulin sensitivity. You can do this with the tests I explained or you can just try different diets consisting of different rations of protein, carbs and fat. If you’re insulin insensitive you can do something about it by following my suggestions above.

Remember, if you aren’t putting on muscle while following a good weight training program, then it’s probably your diet that’s to blame. With Massive Eating, your problem is solved, so no more excuses! If you ever find yourself making statements about your genetic limitations or your unreasonably fast metabolism, revisit these articles for a wake up call. “Limitations” can become challenges to work through or just weak excuses that keep you down.

Now, shouldn’t you go get something to eat?

Written by John Berardi

Note: See Part 1 here: Massive Eating Part I – Calorie Calculations

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Massive Eating – Part II – Meal Combinations and Individual Differences discussion thread.

About John Berardi:

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time.

Massive Eating Part I – Calorie Calculations

First published at www.t-mag.com, Mar 2 2001.

Note: See Part 2 here: Massive Eating – Part II – Meal Combinations and Individual Differences

Pretend you’re back in high school and mean ol’ Mr. Berardi has just passed out a pop quiz. Luckily, there’s only one question:

Which of the following statements is true?

A) Most people succeed in training well enough to grow, but they fail in eating well enough to grow.

B) Most people eat well enough to grow, but they don’t train well enough to grow.

Pencils down. Okay, which is it? If you said “A,” give yourself a gold star. But don’t feel too badly if you chose “B.” To an extent, both answers are correct. Most people probably train and eat incorrectly! But if I had to pick one answer that was more true than the other, I’d say “A” would be the best choice. If you’re not growing, it’s probably your diet, not your training, that’s holding you back.

With this article I’m throwing down the gauntlet. This is your wake up call if you’ve ever made any of the following statements:

  • “I eat a lot of food. In fact, it feels like I’m eating all day! But I just can’t get any bigger.”
  • “I can’t gain a pound of muscle. My parents are both skinny, so it must be genetic.”
  • “I’ve always had a fast metabolism. That’s why I can stay lean but can’t get any bigger.”
  • “I’m scared to go on a bulking diet because I don’t want to lose my abs.”
  • “I’ve tried mass-building diets before and put on a little muscle, but most of the weight I gained was fat.”

Sound familiar? Then this article is for you, toothpick legs.

What You’re Doing Wrong

Now you may be asking, “If I’m not eating well enough to grow, Mr. Smartypants, what am I doing wrong?”

In my opinion, there are three major things that most people do incorrectly when trying to gain muscle mass:

  • They don’t understand energy balance (calories in vs. calories out).
  • They don’t eat the right foods at the right times (poor meal combinations).
  • They don’t learn their physiological responses to nutrients (insulin sensitivity, carb, and fat tolerance).

Below (and in Part II) I’ll describe practical ways to fine tune all three.

By the end of this series, you should know how much food you need to grow, what combination’s of foods you should eat and when you should eat them, and how to figure out your own personal, individualized macro nutrient needs.

Energy Balance: You might be surprised!

So what is energy balance? Here’s the simple equation:

Energy Balance = Energy Intake – Energy Expenditure

Energy intake is made up of what you eat and drink. Energy expenditure is made up of several factors including resting metabolic rate (RMR), calorie cost of activity, thermic effect of food (TEF), and adaptive thermogenesis (the X factor). The balance of intake and expenditure is an important factor in weight gain or loss. If you have a positive energy balance (intake exceeds expenditure), you gain weight. A negative energy balance (intake is less than expenditure) dictates that you’ll lose weight. Simple enough.

Remember, however, that energy balance is only one factor in getting massive (or getting lean for that matter). And although it’s the most basic and simplest part of understanding your needs for growth, ironically, most people totally screw it up! So let me be your metabolic guide. Below I’ll provide some practical ways to navigate through the harsh jungle of energy balance equations so that you’ll emerge ready to tackle the challenge of muscle growth. Pick up your pencils again, class. Better yet, grab a calculator!

Step #1: Resting Metabolic Rate

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the energy it costs the body to basically keep alive. This doesn’t include the costs of getting your butt out of bed and moving around; those numbers are calculated in later. Although you might not guess it, about 50 to 70 percent of your entire day’s calorie expenditure is a result of the RMR. So, let’s figure out your RMR right now.

Determining RMR:

To start off with, you need to take your body weight in pounds and convert it to kilograms. (International readers, please bear with us silly non-metric Americans for a moment.) This is a simple conversion. Just divide your body weight by 2.2.

Next you take your percent of fat and multiply it by your body weight (which is now in kilograms). This will give you your fat mass (FM) in kilograms. Next simply subtract this number from your total weight in kilograms and you’ll have your fat free mass (FFM) in kilograms.

Before we go on, why don’t we try this out on me. Since I’m an athlete with a body weight of 200lbs at 5% body fat, I’d take my total body mass and divide it by 2.2:

Total body mass in kilograms = 200lbs / 2.2 = 91 kg

Next I’d multiply this kilogram number (91 kg) by my percent of body fat. Remember, percents are really decimals so 5% equals 0.05, 12% bodyfat will be .12 etc.

Fat Mass = 91kg x 0.05 = 4.55kg FM

Next I subtract this fat mass number (4.55 kg) from my total body mass (91kg):

Fat Free Mass = 91kg – 4.55kg = 86.45kg

Therefore my fat free mass is 86.45 kilograms. From that I can determine my RMR. The formula for RMR is as follows:

Resting Metabolic Rate for Athletes (in calories per day) = 500 + 22 x fat free mass (in kilograms).

Again, for me, I’d multiply 22 times my fat free mass and add 500 to that number as shown below:

RMR= 22 x 86.45 + 500 = 2402

Therefore my resting metabolic rate is about 2400 calories per day. Everyone have their RMR figured out? Good, let’s move on.

Step #2: Cost of Activity

The Cost of Activity represents how many calories are required to move your butt around during the day. This includes the cost of walking out to your car, scraping the ice off the damn thing, driving to work, pinching the secretary’s ass, going to lunch with the boys, and of course, training after work. These factors make up about 20 to 40% of your daily caloric intake based on your activity level. So let’s figure out your costs of activity. I’ll use myself as an example again.

Determining Activity Costs:

Cost of Daily Activity is equal to the RMR you calculated above multiplied by an activity factor that fits your daily routine. I’ve listed some common activity factors below.

Activity Factors:

  • 1.2-1.3 for Very Light (bed rest)
  • 1.5-1.6 for Light (office work/watching TV)
  • 1.6-1.7 for Moderate (some activity during day)
  • 1.9-2.1 for Heavy (labor type work)

Note: Don’t consider your daily workout when choosing a number. We’ll do that later.

With this information we can get back to determining my calorie needs. Since I work at a university, most of my day is pretty sedentary. Even though I run back and forth between the lab and classes, I’ve selected 1.6 as my activity factor. Therefore the amount of calories it takes to breathe and move around during the day is about 3800 calories as shown below:

RMR x Activity Factor = 2400 calories x 1.6 = 3800 calories

Costs of Exercise Activity:

Next, we need to determine how many calories your exercise activity burns so that we can factor this into the totals. Exercise activity can be calculated simply by multiplying your total body mass in kilograms (as calculated above) by the duration of your exercise (in hours). Then you’d multiply that number by the MET value of exercise as listed below. (MET or metabolic equivalent, is simply a way of expressing the rate of energy expenditure from a given physical activity.)

MET values for common activities:

  • high impact aerobics – 7
  • low impact aerobics – 5
  • high intensity cycling – 12
  • low intensity cycling – 3
  • high intensity walking – 6.5
  • low intensity walking – 2.5
  • high intensity running – 18
  • low intensity running – 7
  • circuit-type training – 8
  • intense free weight lifting – 6
  • moderate machine training – 3

So here’s the formula:

Cost of Exercise Activity = Body Mass (in kg) x Duration (in hours) x MET value

And here’s how I calculate it for myself:

Exercise Expenditure for weights = 6 METS X 91kg x 1.5 hours = 819 calories
Exercise Expenditure for cardio = 3 METS X 91 kg x .5 hours = 137 calories

Add these two together and I burn 956 total calories during one of my training sessions.

Since my training includes about 90 minutes of intense free weight training and 30 minutes of low intensity bicycling (four times per week), my exercise energy expenditure might be as high as 1000 calories per training day!
The next step is to add this exercise number to the number you generated when multiplying your RMR by your activity factor (3800 calories per day in my case).

So 3800 calories + about 1000 calories = a whopping 4800 calories per day! And we’re not done yet! (Note: I rounded 956 up to 1000 for the sake of simplicity. If you’re a thin guy trying to gain muscle, it’s better to round up anyway than to round down.)

Step #3: Thermic Effect of Food

TEF is the amount of calories that it takes your body to digest, absorb, and metabolize your ingested food intake. This makes up about 5 to 15% of your total daily calorie expenditure. Since the metabolic rate is elevated via this mechanism 10 to 15% for one to four hours after a meal, the more meals you eat per day, the faster your metabolic rate will be. This is a good thing, though. It’s far better to keep the metabolism high and eat above that level, than to allow the metabolism to slow down by eating infrequently. Protein tends to increase TEF to a rate double that of carbs and almost triple that of fats so that’s one of the reasons why I’m a big fan of protein meals.

Determining the Thermic Effect of Food:

To determine the TEF, you need to multiply your original RMR value (2400 in my case) by 0.10 for a moderate protein diet or 0.15 for a high protein diet. So this is what the formula looks like:

TEF = RMR x 0.10 for moderate protein diet (1 gram per pound of bodyweight)
TEF = RMR x 0.15 for high protein diet (more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight)

Since I eat a very high protein diet (about 350 to 400 grams per day), I use the 0.15 factor and my TEF is about 360 calories per day as displayed by the calculation below:

Thermic Effect of Food = 2400 calories x 0.15 = 360 calories per day

Now add that to your calorie total.

Step #4: Adaptive Thermogenesis

I like to call Adaptive Thermogenesis the “X factor” because we just aren’t sure how much it can contribute to daily caloric needs. Some have predicted that it can either increase daily needs by 10% or even decrease daily needs by 10%. Because it’s still a mystery, we typically don’t factor it into the equation.

Just for interest’s sake, one factor included in the “X factor” is unconscious or spontaneous activity. Some people, when overfed, get hyper and increase their spontaneous activity and even have been known to be “fidgety.” Others just get sleepy when overfed – obviously the fidgeters will be burning more calories that the sleepy ones.

Other factors include hormone responses to feeding, training, and drugs, hormone sensitivity (insulin, thyroid, etc), stress (dramatically increases metabolic rate) or temperature induced metabolic changes (cold weather induces increased metabolic activity and heat production).

With all that said, you don’t need to do any math on this part or fiddle with your calorie total. This is just something to keep in mind.

Step #5: Putting it all together

Okay, so how many damn calories do you need to consume each and every day? Well, adding up RMR plus activity factor (3800 calories in my case), cost of weight training (819 calories), cost of cardio (137 calories), and TEF (360 calories), we get a grand total of about 5116 calories! (Remember, that’s just my total. You’ll get a different number.)

Now that’s a lot of food! And I must eat this each and every day when I want to gain weight. Are you surprised at how many calories I need? Most people are. So the next time you complain that you’re “eating all day and can’t gain a pound” you’d better realistically evaluate how much you’re really eating. If you’re not gaining a pound, then you’re falling short on calories.

The Secret is in the Surplus!

So at this point, the keen T-mag readers that aren’t afraid of massive eating might ask the question, “Since this is technically just your maintenance level, how can you get bigger by eating this amount? Wouldn’t you need more?” The answer is simple. Since I train only four days per week this diet would meet my needs on those four days. But on my three off days per week I’d be in positive calorie balance by about 1,000 calories per day! (That extra thousand calories isn’t being used when training, in other words.) This adds up to a surplus of 3,000 calories per week. And this is where the growth happens!

I especially like this “staggered model” because rather than trying to stagger your calorie intake on a daily basis by eating different amounts of food on different days, I let my training cycle my calories for me. This way I can eat the same thing every day while preventing my body from adapting to that habitual level of intake. Just like we vary our training to prevent adaptation, prevention of dietary adaptation is one of the secrets to changing your body composition.

At this point, I want to stop and give you a week to think about your energy needs. Go do the math if you haven’t already, figure out how many calories you need, and take some time to compose yourself. After you’ve realized that you’ve been grossly under-eating, start thinking about ways to add calories to your diet. In the next installment we’ll discuss how to design an eating program that’s individualized for your own needs. We’ll also get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about what kinds of foods you should and shouldn’t be eating. I’ll meet you back here next week!

Written by John Berardi

Note: See Part 2 here: Massive Eating – Part II – Meal Combinations and Individual Differences

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Massive Eating Part I – Calorie Calculations discussion thread.

About John Berardi:

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs

Take a look around the nutrition world. Confusing, isn’t it?

Conflicting advice is everywhere, and you’re stuck in the middle. You wonder whether anyone out there even knows what they’re talking about, or whether the experts will ever reach a consensus on anything. You start to wonder whether you’ll need a degree in nutritional biochemistry before you can lose that stubborn abdominal fat.

So what’s the deal? Why so much confusion? Why does one expert suggest that high protein is best for everyone, while another expert suggests high carb and yet another expert suggests high fat? Besides, what exactly do high protein, high carb, and high fat really mean? And why are other experts telling us that food choices should be based on our “metabolic type,” our “blood type,” or our “ancestry”?

One expert says to eat like a Neanderthal and another says eat like a Visigoth, or perhaps a Viking. But while searching for nutritional Valhalla, most people just get lost and eat like a Modern American—and end up looking more Sumo than Samurai.

These days, we have a cacophony of expertise: lots of confusing noise from the experts drowning out the signal of truth.

On the surface, it appears as if today’s nutrition technology is quite advanced. After all, we have at our disposal more nutrition information than ever before. More money is being spent on nutrition research than in any time in history. Every day, impressive strides are being made in the field. Dozens of nutrition experts are rising to prominence. Yet simultaneously we’re witnessing a steadily increasing rate of obesity, an increase in nutrition-related illness (Diabetes, CVD, and Syndrome X), and an increase in nutrition-related mortality.

Part of the problem is that much of the information hasn’t reached the people who need it. Part of the problem is that even when it does reach those people, they often don’t use it. And certainly, the problem is multifactorial—there are probably many more reasons than I can list here.

How much more information do we need?

But the curious thing is that many people try to solve the problem by seeking out more information. They know it all and still want more. If there’s one thing of which I am absolutely convinced, it’s that a lack of good nutrition information isn’t what prevents us from reaching our goals. We already know everything we need to know. Sometimes the real problem isn’t too little information but too much.

All the fundamental principles you need to achieve good health and optimal body composition are out there already, and have been for years. Unfortunately, with 500 experts for every fundamental principle, and very little money to be made from repeating other people’s ideas, experts must continually emphasize the small (and often relatively unimportant) differences between their diet/eating plans and the diet/eating plans of all the other experts out there.

In the world of advertising and marketing, this is called “differentiation.” By highlighting the small distinctions and dimming out the large similarities between their program and all the others, they’re jostling for your next nutritional dollar.

Now, and let me be clear on this, I’m not accusing nutrition experts of quackery.

Yes, some programs are utter crap. Those are generally quite easy to pick out and don’t merit discussion here. But most experts do know what they are talking about, can get results, and wholeheartedly believe in what they’re doing. Many of the differences between them are theoretical and not practical, and on the fundamentals they generally agree completely.

It’s all good — sorta

In fact, many of the mainstream programs out there, if not most of them, will work. To what extent they work, and for how long, varies. As long as a program is internally consistent, follows a few basic nutritional tenets, and as long as you adhere to it consistently, without hesitation, and without mixing principles haphazardly taken from other programs, you’ll get some results. It’s that simple, and that hard (as you can see, results depend as much on psychology as on biochemistry).

But if you’re like most people, you’ll first survey all the most often discussed programs before deciding which to follow. And in this appraisal, you’ll get confused, lost, and then do the inevitable. That’s right, you’ll revert back to your old, ineffectual nutrition habits.

Instead of parsing out the similarities between all the successful plans out there, the common principles that affect positive, long-term change, you get thrown off the trail by the stench of the steaming piles of detail.

The Atkins program works for all patients under the direct care of the Atkins team—as long as patients follow it. The Zone program works for all patients under the direct care of the Sears team —as long as they follow it. The Pritkin Diet works for all patients under the care of the Pritkin team— as long as they follow it.

Yet, not all three plans are identical. How, then, can they all get impressive improvements in health and body composition? Well, either each team somehow magically draws the specific patient subpopulations most in need of their plan (doubtful) or each system possesses some basic fundamental principles that are more important than the ratios of protein to carbs to fats.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs

Here’s my take on it. I call these principles, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs,” a shameless and possibly illegal play on Steven Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (Great book, by the way—you should read it sometime.)

These aren’t the newest techniques from the latest cutting-edge plan. Rather, they are simple, time-tested, no nonsense habits that you need to get into when designing a good eating program.

1. Eat every 2-3 hours, no matter what. You should eat between 5-8 meals per day.

2. Eat complete (containing all the essential amino acids), lean protein with each meal.

3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables with each food meal.

4. Ensure that your carbohydrate intake comes from fruits and vegetables. Exception: workout and post-workout drinks and meals.

5. Ensure that 25-35% of your energy intake comes from fat, with your fat intake split equally between saturates (e.g. animal fat), monounsaturates (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturates (e.g. flax oil, salmon oil).

6. Drink only non-calorie containing beverages, the best choices being water and green tea.

7. Eat mostly whole foods (except workout and post-workout drinks).

So what about calories, or macronutrient ratios, or any number of other things that I’ve covered in other articles? The short answer is that if you aren’t already practicing the above-mentioned habits, and by practicing them I mean putting them to use over 90% of the time (i.e., no more than 4 meals out of an average 42 meals per week violate any of those rules), everything else is pretty pointless.

Moreover, many people can achieve the health and the body composition they desire using the 7 habits alone. No kidding! In fact, with some of my clients I spend the first few months just supervising their adherence to these 7 rules—an effective but costly way to learn them.

Of course, if you have specific needs, or if you’ve reached the 90% threshold, you may need a bit more individualization beyond the 7 habits. If so, give me a shout or search around on this site.

Many of these little tricks can be found in my many articles published right here. But before looking for them, before assuming you’re ready for individualization; make sure you’ve truly mastered the 7 habits. Then, while keeping the 7 habits as the consistent foundation, tweak away.

Written by Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D

John Berardi is the author of Precision Nutrition, the nutrition system used by his personal clients and athletes to build lean, muscular, high-performance physiques in record time. 

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – 7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs discussion thread.