So Much Confusion
This article couldn’t have come out at a better time. While no one has begun dieting yet, everyone is starting to think more and more about warm weather. Where there is warm weather there is less clothing and less chance to hide all that “muscle” you added during your previous bulk, which lasted from September to March. It seems the majority of the population gets fat loss crazy at the same time every year. Everyone wants to drop fat to show off their mid-section – people want abs. Unfortunately this article doesn’t apply to those people.
While the majority of people would be happy with some abdominal definition, this article is written for the male at 10% and the female at 12-15% who want to get even lower. The problem exists that the large percentage of nutrition and weight loss articles and books out there are written for the majority of the population. This isn’t; this is the article that will take you from looking “lean” to “ripped”, that will take your glutes from looking “okay” to “sick.”
This article is for those that want to go from lean to ripped
Covering The Basics
The Law of Thermodynamics states that energy in versus energy out dictates our body composition. More or less, if we want to lose weight, we have to make sure we take in fewer calories than we burn off. If we want to get bigger, we need to have more calories in when compared to the energy that we burn. This argument is flawed in so many ways, yet that is how people looking to get super lean still view body fat reduction.
To put it bluntly, decreasing calories sucks. Okay, I know everyone knows that; if it were easy, we’d all be lean and there would be no failed diets. Why are decreasing calories a no-win situation? When calories are restricted, our bodies’ internal thermostat adjusts to the amount of carbohydrates and protein that we ingested (1). By not giving our engine any fuel, less calories and fewer fat are burned.
Think about the metabolic slowdown for a second, it actually makes a lot of sense. Our body realizes a decrease in energy coming in and energy going out. So now our body has to get more mileage out of our stored energy (fat) and ensure that we can keep functioning normally (2,3,4). It is at this point between functioning and not functioning that people begin to fail on their diets and consume whatever foods they feel like eating. Recent research has shown that lipoprotein lipase, a fat storing enzyme, increases greatly when calories are restricted (5,6). While this is happening production of the thyroid hormone (T3) rapidly decreases, which will maintain muscle mass, but also body fat (7,8,9,10,11,12).
The thyroid is the main regulator of overall metabolism. It sets our body temperature rate and adjusts other metabolic processes such as protein synthesis. The main culprit in failed weight loss is the metabolic slowdown caused by a decrease in active thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones adjust to the level of muscle mass that the body possesses. When you lose muscle, the thyroid gland secretes less; hence why doing increased amount of aerobic activity isn’t the smartest thing.
I Swear I Didn’t Lose Any Muscle
So while performing aerobic work to expend more calories seems natural, it just contributes to the muscle mass lose due to caloric restriction. Muscle loss resulting from restrictive dieting results from 20-40% of total weight lost (13,14,15,16). If we want the best body around, we can’t afford to lose any muscle, it is the most metabolically challenging thing that we have. When the dieter resumes normal eating, lipoprotein lipase activity remains elevated while our metabolic rate stays depressed causing us to regain the fat back and maybe even add more (17).
Eating More To Lose More
With the recent work of Dr. John Berardi, more attention has been paid to the concept of eating more to lose more body fat. G-Flux, as Berardi calls it, is a concept of increasing caloric intake to support high levels of activity. This helps to support muscle mass, as well as enhance the quality of workouts, since we are able to maintain a stable insulin base. As previously discussed, restricting calories will slow down our metabolism, consuming more calories will encourage our metabolic rate to operate quicker to use the extra calories (18.19). In addition thyroid activity (20,21), thermogenesis (22,23) and leptin (24) levels will each increase with overfeeding, which is going to create an anabolic environment.
How can eating more benefit you and your attempts to become super lean? Let’s look at a simple progression. Energy comes into the body from what we eat and leaves from what we do, okay that has been established. If we have more calories coming in than we burn, our metabolism has to work harder to use all of those calories, the more calories burned. The more efficiently we train the more muscle tissue needs calories to rebuild. Muscle requires more energy to burn and maintain and doesn’t provide enough energy when it breaks down.
My clients typically report uncontrolled hunger on my programs and that is intentional. If I am trying to get them lean, I want them to eat. Some of the fitness/figure competitors that I have worked with in the past go into contests eating more. Madness? If every other competitor is going into the contest in a state of caloric restriction, how much muscle is he or she building? Being anabolic means that you are building muscle AND losing fat. I want my clients to go into contests growing. The more you eat the more weight you gain right? Research has shown that a direct linear relationship between eating more and weight gain simply doesn’t exist (25,26).
Creating The Anabolic Environment
“Insulin sensitivity and adding muscle mass while leaning out are all extremely correlated.” – Jimmy Smith
So we’ve talked about it before. We need to decrease calories to burn fat and increase calories to stimulate new tissue. The problem is without a high metabolism we cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Everything is different when we are attempting to maximize both lean muscle and body fat reduction. Our main goal should be to control our insulin, not eliminate insulin resistance, as most people have claimed. Every time we eat we essentially give ourselves a shot of insulin, the degree of the shot depends on what we eat. The majority of the U.S. population is insulin resistant at the skeletal muscle level (keep in mind you can be insulin resistant elsewhere as well), which attributes to numerous factors such as:
- High trans/saturated fat diet
- Low fat diet
- Decreased essential fatty acid intake (fish oil)
- Increased carbohydrate diet
- Decreased intake of vegetables
- Increased stress
- Decreased sleep
- Increased sugar intake
Someone who has a high degree of insulin sensitivity means that a minimal amount of insulin will generate a large response, while being insulin resistant means that more insulin is needed to have the same effects. The issue with insulin is that it controls every other major hormone in our body. You can put it anyway you’d like, but when we have fast insulin fluctuations we raise our cortisol, which in turn lowers are androgens (testosterone, DHEA and growth hormone). Abdominal obesity is correlated with low growth hormone (27) and we know that GH and insulin are antagonists (28). If you further look at the hormonal downfall, we’ll see that rapid changes in insulin levels not only make us age faster, but also raise our cortisol even more. We’ll add more body fat, which will increase the estrogen in both males and females as well.
Looking deeper into the difference between chunky/lean and super lean individuals we also must mention cortisol. This highly catabolic hormone is released in response to stress. When people decide to really get lean, they perform high amounts of aerobic work, decrease calories rapidly and train more. The effect on the body is increased stress production. Increased stress combined with falling blood sugar levels causes the body to react to what it deems as a dramatic event and release cortisol (29,30). Cortisol will effect the T4-T3 conversion, as well as destroy muscle, promote insulin resistance and suppress the immune system.
Have you had a diet fail because you got sick a week or two into it? That is likely due to the suppressed immune system that is caused by the declining blood sugar level and increased cortisol level. Now again, insulin resistance and increased stress decreases our androgens. What was all the research around the supplement glutamine when it first became popular? It was that glutamine helps immune system function. Now I can’t find any studies on my next statement so if you need a study to validate everything then close your eyes, but I strongly believe that immune system function highly effects the anabolic environment of the body.
Now imagine we continually stay on a caloric restricted meal. Even if we are eating multiple meals throughout the day, we not only have a depressed thyroid, but our growth hormone and testosterone output is also decreased. What do you think this does to the semi-successful dieter? It throws them into the negative downfall even more. By periodically shifting our eating habits to a higher energy intake we can change all of this in a hurry. We have now shifted back into an anabolic environment.
The following table summarizes why it is important to eat more and have a higher metabolism to build muscle and lose fat:
What’s the Plan?
Having knowledge is one thing and putting knowledge to use to get results is a completely separate action. We’ve covered the hormonal aspects of dieting and made it pretty clear why we need to ingest more food to lose fat and add muscle. I know the question in your head is, “How can I consistently eat more and lose body fat?” The answer is you can’t, you are going to have a caloric deficit at some point and you are going to have a caloric surplus as well. This is going to be accomplished with a cycling approach that aims to maximize the hormonal advantages of overeating and minimizes the damage of under-eating.
Cycling diets have become extremely popular in recent years and with good reason. They are the closest things we are going to get to diet perfection – we can eat some of the foods we love and we avoid all of negative characteristics associated with dieting. This type of eating allows us to use a mix of low carb and carb dominant days depending on what our training looks like for that particular day.
It is important to note that not all workouts are followed with a protein-carbohydrate meal. I understand the science and theory behind nutrient timing, which states that at certain points during the day our body can handle carbohydrates better than other times. Those “good” times being when we first rise in the morning and immediately after and within 60 minutes post exercise. Our body is more insulin sensitive at those times regardless of how we fare the rest of the day so we are primed for muscle growth, since carbohydrate plus protein will create a better insulin response, which at this time is a good thing, hence faster protein synthesis and glucose restoration.
Hypertrophy and strength aren’t going to be affected when carbohydrate intake is limited; it is affected when energy intake is too low. I’m not saying that a protein only post workout meal is better or that a protein and carbohydrate meal isn’t good. I’m simply stating that in a cycling approach we can have some days where we have a carb less protein meal. I’ve found this to be extremely effective with individuals who are already relatively lean. I prefer to use a post workout shake that contains the following:
- 20 to 40 grams of whey/casein protein
- 10 to 20 grams of glycine
- 5 to 10 grams of branch chained amino acids
- 5 grams of leucine
Is this out of fear of wrecking our fat loss efforts? No – the majority of our sessions aren’t glycogen-depleting workouts unless that is the point of the session. We are also cycling our carbohydrate approach so that we’ll likely have enough glycogen to get us through a few workouts without ingesting any carbohydrates. Another issue that I have with ingesting large amounts of carbs post workout is that not every workout can be demanding enough to warrant consistent high carbohydrate post workout meals. If we could have these demanding workouts every session, we’d likely be causing more stress than our body can handle.
While the theory of nutrient timing is great, when we are attempting to get leaner than we have been, we must do something different. We can fix our insulin sensitivity, but still manage to have a high amount of insulin secretion from the carbs we ingest. If we consume a moderate to large carb meal post workout and find that we have a stable energy level, then we have normal or low levels of insulin secretion from the carbs we have consumed. But if we quickly get hungry or tired, then we over secrete insulin, which will also cause our blood pressure to crash. Remember we are trying to limit those peaks and valleys.
Now the nutrient timing approach can be very beneficial as well. If we are performing body part splits, then we will ingest carbs post workout on the days that we train the muscle we want to improve. If we are performing full body workouts, then we will pick the workout in which we ingest the post workout carbs. In any case, here is what the post workout meal will look like.
- 20 to 30 grams of whey protein
- 60 to 90 grams of carbs
- 10 grams of glycine
- 5 to 10 grams of branched chain amino acids
- 5 grams of leucine
Making the Fire Burn
A big component of this cycling approach is that our training must be smarter and harder. Does it make sense to train as much when we are consuming less and more? No – so we must train according to the energy that we have coming in. On our low carb days we will focus on weight training. On our higher carb days, we’re going to consume additional aerobic work following our training session. Just as we cycle our nutrients, we also need to cycle our energy expenditure. It makes little to no sense to consistently perform more and more work. After all, that is what the majority of people do to lose weight and we can tell it really doesn’t work. By performing more work as we ingest more, we ensure that those extra nutrients will be shuttled to the muscle.
I want to briefly touch on supplementation for fat loss. It is my firm belief that any supplement that helps us improve our insulin sensitivity will also help us to grow. While I use a wide range of supplements and dosages, here are some of the main ones.
Fish Oil – Without going into too much detail, omega-3 fish oils do everything – get used to it and take them. While I have seen some people recommend up to 20 grams and others recommend 3-5 grams, I have found very good success with taking 9 grams per day. Be sure to check the label, as each brand tends to dose their oil differently.
R-ALA – This has become a very controversial supplement and I am not going to get into that here. What I will say is that there is still some very good research on it and even if you do not believe that research, what we cannot argue with is that dieting tends to cause our body to release more toxins as we lose body fat. These toxins have a very high pro-inflammatory response and R-ALA is very anti-inflammatory.
Sesame Oil – This has become extremely popular recently and with good reason. Sesame Oil has been shown to increase fatty oxidation, as well as decrease inflammation, which again is a big plus during dieting.
Where do the cheat meals go? I have played with both a full day reefed and 3-4 individual cheat meals during the week. I find that the multiple cheat meal option works better for two reasons. First, it is very hard to psychologically recover from a full day of eating anything you want. I also feel we will do more damage to our insulin sensitivity by not paying attention to our diet for one day than we will if we have four cheat meals. Secondly, by having a few cheat meals during the week, we are able to recover better, since that cheat meal is between two “good” meals. The trick here is to consistently follow your eating times. Don’t eat a whole pizza and then not eat for 4 hours.
If you are confused by any of the information above, it is going to get very clear. I want to make a quick note before I get into the template. This template is for a full body-training schedule. If you should be performing a body part split program, then make sure to not have your high carb days back to back, space them out.
- Sunday: Moderate carb diet with carbs being eliminated at 4 o’clock (cheat meal included).
- Monday: Low-no carb diet
- Tuesday: Low-no carb diet
- Wednesday: Moderate carb diet
- Thursday: Low carb diet
- Friday: High carb diet (cheat meal included)
- Saturday: Low carb in the morning, moderate carb from noon on (cheat meal included)
- Sunday: No workout
- Monday: Regular workout
- Tuesday: Depletion workouts w/cardio
- Wednesday: No workout
- Thursday: Regular workout
- Friday: Depletion workout w/cardio
- Saturday: Regular workout
We are going to focus on two different types of training methods while we are attempting to get lean while adding muscle. The first is termed a “Regular Workout”, which consists of both a neural and a mechanical stimulus. We can definitely get stronger as we get leaner, but at the same time we also need mechanical tension for muscle growth. Why do I combine both low reps and high reps in a workout? The lower rep-high set work is going to use very little glucose; the primary energy system is going to be ATP and creatine phosphate. Since our energy stores aren’t going to deplete, the majority of the rebuilding is going to be for new contractile proteins.
We will also be performing our regular workouts after our higher carb days so that we can take advantage of glycogen super compensation, which will increase strength through mechanical efforts. The higher rep work will place both optimal growth stimulus and stress on the muscle, but will also serve to deplete glycogen as well.
So a “Regular Workout” would look like the following:
Depletion workouts will set us up for glycogen super compensation which will increase insulin sensitivity, glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis. Glycogen depletion also increases fat utilization by the muscle and causes a high increase in lactate, which will increase growth hormone secretion. The problem with traditional pump training is that it is used with body part splits. Glycogen super compensation is only going to occur in the muscles trained so we must utilize full body workouts.
Here’s an example:
I’d like to touch briefly on cardio as well. While for the majority of the population I am a fan of high intensity work, I do feel that slow steady state work can be very beneficial for those who are trying to go from lean to super lean. We cannot ignore the fat oxidation that occurs from lower intensity work, as well as the effect of this type of work on stubborn body fat. In addition on a diet like this it may be extremely hard to perform high intensity aerobic work while also performing strength work.
The Final Word
You have just been given all the tools to achieve the best body that you have ever had. It is just a matter of following the plan and putting in the work. If you do, I promise you’ll turn heads on the beach this summer.
Written by Jimmy Smith
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 – Advanced Cutting Strategies discussion thread.
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