Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Questions & Answers

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I haven't updated in a while, so here's another Q&A to let you know I'm still alive and kicking. This is compiled from recent e-mails and forum posts. Click here to see all Q&A's.


Salt

This client brought up the topic of salt and water retention -

Q: "..I'm guessing salt at this point isn't the end of the world, but will cause water retention as I proceed a few weeks down the road."

A: Don't do anything with salt. Don't try to reduce it, don't try to increase it. It's shifts in salt/sodium intake that cause water retention, not high intake per se.

For example, if you go higher relative to habitual intake, you can count on some water retention. Go lower, relative to habitual intake, you might find yourself dropping some water weight. This only works in the very short term however - your body will soon adapt to the new 'baseline' intake and adjust water balance accordingly. This has to do with aldosterone, vasopressin and other hormones involved in water regulation.

This is also part of why I think the typical two week bodybuilding pre-competition prep (gradully reducing sodium and ending up consuming trace sodium on the final days) is stupid, as the same effects can be had in just a few days.


HIIT for fat loss

Someone linked me a site and wanted to know if the claims made were legit. I only clicked to see the heading - How To Boost Your Metabolism Using Interval Training - before I closed it down and told him what I thought about HIIT.

Quick summary -

1. There is no doubt that HIIT is superior to steady state cardio when it comes to improving metabolic conditioning when looking at effect/time invested.

2. Extremely overrated for fat burning. EPOC is minimal and certainly not as significant andf radical as some gurus/nutjobs/pranksters make it out to be. Choosing HIIT before lower intensity, steady state cardio solely for caloric burn is dumb as hell. Here's an example for you:

Let's use a fairly typical 10 min HIIT session as an example, in this case 15 s all out sprints followed by brisk walking for 45 s. 185 lbs male.

Sprints 2.5 min total = counting 25 kcal/min = 62,5

EPOC = 62,5 x 0,15* = 9,5

EPOC is approx 15%

Total for sprints = 62,5 + 9,5 = 72 kcal

Brisk walking 7.5 min total = counting 5 kcal/min = 38 kcal

Total calorie expenditure for a 10 min HIIT session = 110 kcal

...or the equivalent to 22 min brisk walking.

3. That last poit is very important. Even though you burn more calories in less than half the amount of time compared to, for example, brisk walking, HIIT is very draining on the central nervous system. In stark contrast to lower intensity cardio, which you can do for a much longer time, with much greater frequency. For someone interested in fat loss and strength maintenance, and not metabolic conditioning primarily, including HIIT too frequently is playing with fire.

So in conclusion, HIIT is great if conditioning is high on your list. And no, you can't have fat loss, optimal strength maintenance and conditioning all high on your list. Something has to give. Since most people, at least the clients I deal with, are interested in fat loss, HIIT is vastly overrated and the frequency to which it has to be integrated in order to create a substantial caloric deficit will cause most people to crash, and their lifts to plummet. Which is why I rarely recommend HIIT for someone that just wants to get lean, while keeping their strength up in the gym. If you aren't concerned with getting your resting heart rate low, and just want to look good naked, think twice before jumping on the HIIT bandwagon.


The fasted state is not an on/off switch

I often encounter questions that goes a little something like this

"...can I use milk/cream in my coffee during the fast?"

"...will I break the fat if I have a 1/2 cucumber during the fast?"

"...I accidentally drank a mouthful of regular Pepsi during the fast, is this considered a fast breaker?"

A: The fasted state is not an on/off switch that immediately gets turned off once you have a tiny amount of calories, like a lot of people seem to believe. The research is not clear on exactly what it is with fasting that causes the positive effects seen in the clinical trials, but some of the hypotheses revolve around

a) letting insulin levels drop below a certain threshold, rather than a semi-elevated state (which would be the case with a higher meal frequency approach)

b) creating an acute energy deficit (which you enter during the fast)

Note that I'm really dumbing this down to get my point across.

So, it's a question of a dose-response effect. Can you have some milk in your coffee? Sure, I wouldn't worry about it and I have it myself. Life would just be too damn boring with only black coffee, especially if you're used to having some milk with it. How much milk/cream? I would put the limit at 50 kcal total used throughout the fast. That's about 1 deciliter or 1/2 cup 2% milk.

Can you eat half a cucumber during the fast? Sure, I wouldn't worry about it, though I don't see the reason as to why you would do so. A cucumber won't fill you up, and eating something, anything, may actually stimulate hunger during the fast in some people. Not to mention the fairly strong hunger suppressive effects of fasting, which makes the need for eating something quite pointless.

In conclusion, use common sense and understand that the fasted state and the positive effects that may result from it isn't an on/off switch, or an 'all-or-nothing' kind of deal.

It's the same thing with the pre-workout meal I recommend for fasted training. For clients doing AM sessions, I recommend something along these lines

pre-wo meal of 10 g BCAA 5-15 min prior to session

Training at 8-9 AM

Break fast with pwo meal at 10 AM or as soon as you're done training: the 8-10 hr feeding window starts now (and not with the pre-wo BCAA's).

Some might argue that "oh, well the BCAA's are insulinogenic/they provide calories and that will take you out of the fasted state" etc. Yeah sure, but then again exercise has the effect of dropping insulin levels. And coupled with what is known from research on pre-workout protein and the effects on protein synthesis, the pro's of the 'fasted' pre-wo meal certainly outweighs whatever miniscule effect it has on insulin or the tiny amount of calories they provide.


Social drinking

Q: "Social life in London basically revolves around drinking. I have no problem cutting back, but cutting out completely will render me a social leper quickly. I intend to cut back on calories on days I intend to drink in the evening, but I was wondering what should I cut back on? I assumed that I should try to restrict carbs on the days I know I'll be having beer in the evening, but I don't really know what the closest analogue for alcohol calories is. Any suggestions?"


A: I get these type of questions a lot, in the context of dieting, i.e how to do damage control on days where you know you'll be drinking alcohol and eating out.

My rule is simple; go high protein, low everything else on such days, up until the occasion. Think lean meat and veggies, or similar, and then go for the lowest calorie option when eating out. This way you can still be in a calorie deficit, despite liberal alcohol intake.

On an intermittent fasting setup, break the fast with a big meal a bit later in the day and you'll have an even greater calorie sink. Have a meal before going out for drinks/beers/food, and then another one before going to bed. Two high protein meals and one bout of drinks, and you'll still be in a calorie deficit even if you get blasted at the social event.

But stay away from the junk, this is key. It's never the alcohol in itself that cause people to take a step backwards in their fat loss efforts, it's all the shit that tends to go with it - the snacking, the late night hamburger and fries at BK after the club and so forth. As long as you make an effort to stay away from the junk, you'll be golden. In fact, calories from alcohol does not seem to inhibit fat loss, or contribute to weight gain, in a way that can be predicted from the added calories alone (and there are studies to support this). However, it does loosen up inhibitions and weakens willpower enough for some people to make a night out an excuse to go off their diet and mess upp their progress.


Creatine on a diet

Q: What are your thoughts on using creatine during dieting?

A: Creatine is one of the few supplements that actually works and provides a noticeable boost in performance (for most people - 10% are non-responders). However, some people will retain water on it - how much depends, but enough to mask fat loss during dieting if you're unlucky. This might be frustrating and mess with your head. For this reason, it might be unwise to start creatine supplementation during a dieting phase - or at least be aware of the fact that water retention may occur, and not freak out because of it.

I should note that for most people, water retention isn't a big deal, and usually results in an initial weight spike after which body weight starts dropping again if you're dieting.

If you’re already taking it, I would advise continuing usage and see how, and if, it affects weight loss on the scale and mirror. It will likely not have a great impact, but if it does, and you feel it is discouraging, consider discontinuing usage (and be aware that some strength loss usually occurs when you stop taking it).


Maltodexshit

Q: What are your thoughts on maltodextrin/protein shakes post-workout? I usually have 40g protein and 100 g of carbs (maltodextrin) in my post-workout shake. Can I still have this?

A: Like protein shakes, maltodextrin is unnecessary, and in the end counterproductive during dieting. Maltodextrin is far worse than protein shakes.

The only benefit maltodextrin has in comparison to a lower GI whole food carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, rice etc) is in the form of faster glycogen replenishment, when muscle glycogen is measured at the 8-12th hour mark. And this is completely irrelevant unless you plan on training the same muscle group in the morning. Which you won’t. Doesn't enhance muscle growth or improve recovery, it just shuttles carbs for storage a little bit faster. Relevant for elite athletes doing multiple sessions a day, completely useless for someone working out 3-4x/week.

In the end maltodextrin is just a shitty high GI carb that tastes like shit and won't fill you up for shit. Stay the hell away from it if you wan’t to get lean and stay full and satisfied during the diet. Why would you want to gulf down such a perverse amount of calories when they can be eaten instead?

That being said, yes, you can have it. Just like it says in the plan, you may swap foods in whatever fashion you like, as long as you stick to the calorie and macrocomposition guidelines for the day (and stick fairly close to the ones given for the meals).


Moving the feeding window?

Q: I couldn’t eat my last meal until 11 pm yesterday, even though my feeding window is set to 1-9 pm. Does this mean I should fast until 3 pm tomorrow?

A: No, you stick to 1-9 pm as usual. Sometimes life happens and your feeding window will be longer, your fast shorter, or whatever. This is to be expected and you shouldn’t stress or think too much about it. Do not be rigid or neurotic about keeping an 8 hr feeding window and 16 hr fast every single day.

Key point is you stick to your calorie/macros for the day and break the fast at 1 pm as usual the next day. You do not move the feeding window just because you had a meal outside your feeding window.


Fake weight plateaus

Q: a) I haven’t lost any weight this week. Is it time to drop calories?

or

b) I have gained 1 lbs this week and I’m really freaking out! How can I gain weight when I’m dieting?


A: There are some cases where you might find yourself not losing weight linearily – or even gaining, in spite of dieting. I see this all the time, but just because the weight isn’t moving down on the scale, it doesn’t mean that you’re not losing fat.
This is more common the leaner you are, and the longer you’ve been dieting. For example, while having initially lost on average 1 lbs per week the first five weeks, you might lose zero lbs week 6, but 2 lbs week 7. Which is why I am not too quick to change things, and only revamp plans when body weight is unchanged across a 2-week span.

Basically, some weeks might look like this (let's assume the prognosis is set to 1 lbs/week)

Week 5: 185 lbs
Week 6: 185,2 lbs
Week 7: 183 lbs ("catch up" weight loss occurs, also referred to as the "whoosh"-effect).

With women, I have seen this effect extend to three weeks; for example, stalling at 135 lbs week 4-6, then dropping 3 lbs over night in week 7.

Lyle McDonald has written about this phenomenon, though no one knows for sure why it occurs.

“What’s going on? Back during my college days, one of my professors threw out the idea that after fat cells had been emptied of stored triglyceride, they would temporarily refill with water (glycerol attracts water, which might be part of the mechanism). So there would be no immediate change in size, body weight or appearance. Then, after some time frame, the water would get dropped, the fat cells would shrink. A weird way of looking at it might be that the fat loss suddenly becomes ‘apparent’. That is, the fat was emptied and burned off days or weeks ago but until the water is dropped, nothing appears to have happened.
For nearly 20 years I looked for research to support this, I was never sure if it was based on something from the 50’s or he just pulled it out of thin air as an explanation. Recently, one paper did suggest that visceral fat can fill up with water after massive weight loss but that’s about it.”

More here: The Whoosh Effect

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meal Frequency and Mass Gains

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Good article by Lyle.

You can check out the progress I made with 16 hours of fasting and three meals a day here.

I should note that gaining muscle on an intermittent fasting setup is not for everybody. For some people, it's simply burdensome to eat the calories required for growth, in which case splitting meals in a more conventional manner is the better approach.

However, most find they get used to the meal pattern after a few days of adaptation, seen through decreased hunger during the fast and a greater appetite in the post-workout window (where the overfeeding takes place). This adaptation is mediated through the hunger hormone ghrelin, which increases/decreases according to habitual meal patterns.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Four Horsemen

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In a recent podcast, Lyle announced a collaborative book project with me, Alan Aragon and Borge Fagerli.

This book will precede the book I'm working with, but will include a little something on intermittent fasting and bodyrecomposition by yours truly.

For those not familiar with Alan Aragon, he's a nutritional consultant, contributing editor to Men's Health magazine and also maintains the excellent Research Review. I highly encourage anyone with an interest in this field to subscribe to RR, and I do so myself.

Borge Fagerli is a personal trainer and the founder of MyRevolution, a norwegian company which provides their own line of supplements and online based training. An alround smart guy, and creator of "Myo-Reps", a rest-pause style of weight training (google it, there are thorough explanations/guides available).

I'm excited about this project, and it shouldn't be too long before it's out. At least not compared to the book I've been "working on" for two years or so. In reality, I spend more time thinking about writing than doing any actual writing. I've been getting some momentum recently, so I think my book will follow shortly after the collabo. But don't ask me for a specific date.

---

I also urge you to check out the podcast with Lyle, as he brings a lot of good stuff to the table, and even touches on some topics pertaining to the intermittent fasting style of feeding. It's quite long, but it'll be well worth your time.

Highlights

* HIIT and overtraining.

* Cortisol and water retention: why some people "can't lose weight" on 1200 calories and 2 hrs of cardio every day.

* Protein: requirements, digestion and other issues.

Check out my reviews of Lyle's books if you haven't already.




My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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