Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Deal With Water Retention: Part Two

In part one of this article series I covered the basics of water retention.

This time I'll list a few effective tricks that will help you deal with it when and if it occurs. Don't worry, you won't be sweating it out in a sauna and sucking on ice cubes. I'll offer simple and non-intimidating strategies that don't require a whole lot of thinking. They can be used in isolation or in combination.

Reduce sodium

The most common reason people hold water is due to shifts in sodium balance. Going from a low baseline intake of sodium to sudden and high intakes can have dramatic effects on your visual appearance (which any bodybuilding-competitor can attest to). Conversely, reducing sodium can have the opposite effect and cause water loss. This is all about relative and not absolute numbers; it's not high sodium per se that cause water retention/water loss, but deviations from the habitual intake. The solution therefore is to reduce sodium to a level below baseline. So for a day or two...

* Ditch all canned or pre-packaged foods since they tend to contain a lot of sodium. A paleo approach to food choices is a pretty good model to use for your diet during these days since it's relatively low in sodium.

* Reduce spices and table salt - make a conscious effort to use less than you're used to. An easy way to reduce sodium without feeling deprived is to use a salt substitute, which contains only half of the sodium chloride found in regular salt.

* Drink a ton of water. Aim for 6-8 liters. You should be pissing like a race horse.

* It's claimed that some foods have a diuretic effect and they're often referenced as natural remedies to combat water retention - asparagus, celery, cucumber and watermelon, for example. I've yet to find some scientific backing for these claims, so take it for what it's worth. I suspect that the proposed diuretic properties of these foods is related to their high water content rather than some other magical mechanism.

Get cortisol back to normal

Elevated levels of cortisol can cause water retention, potentially due to interfering with aldosteron (a hormone that regulates fluid balance). Excessive cardio, particularly of the more intense variety (HIIT), and low calorie intakes increases cortisol.

* Only do low intensity steady state cardio, such as walking or similar activities with a low perceived rate of effort.

* Increase calorie intake to a level that is no less than 500 kcal below maintenance (i.e if your maintenance intake is 2700 kcal, you should eat no less than 2200 kcal these days).

Have a drink

Alcohol has a quite profound diuretic effect, so drink a a large glass of wine (7 ounces/2 dl) or a large shot of vodka (2 ounces/6 cl) shortly before going to sleep. Caffeine-rich beverages are often said to have a diuretic effect as well, but this is actually a myth. Studies show that the fluids ingested with the caffeine more than makes up for the diuretic effect of caffeine itself. In order for caffeine to have a diuretic effect, take caffeine pills.

Look over your fiber intake

In my experience, both high and low fiber intake can cause water retention and a feeling of bloatedness. Look over your diet and it should be clear what the problem is.

Do a refeed

Do a carb-refeed, preferably after having depleted muscle glycogen. A full-body session consisting of 2-4 sets of 12-15 reps per body part will get the job done. Carb choices should consist primarily of starches such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread. Keep fiber low, potassium high. The exact amount of carbs to be ingested depends on several factors, but I suggest playing it safe and not going overboard.

* 4-6 g of carbs per kilo lean body mass is a good starting point, preferably on the low end of that if you're inexperienced with carb-refeeds and how you react to them.

* If you do it right, this will have the effect of pulling water outside the muscle cell into the muscle cell. Along with increased muscle glycogen, this will give you a lean and full appearance the next day - ideally also causing a "whoosh" over night.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Deal With Water Retention: Part One

In an ideal world, weight loss would be perfectly linear.

You'd lose weight in a predictable manner, seeing small but consistent changes each passing day. But this is rarely the case, which my experience has proven me many times over.

If you've ever been on a diet and tracked your progress with the scale or the mirror, you're probably familiar with water retention and long weight loss plateaus. Even though your diet is on point, nothing seems to be happening.

Stalling at the same scale weight for weeks is not unheard of - I've experienced it myself. Fortunately, these phases are followed by rapid weight loss seemingly over night. This delayed weight loss is often referred to as the "whoosh"-effect. Nothing for weeks...and then whoosh, 2-4 lbs lost over night. What triggers a whoosh? No one knows, but Lyle McDonald offered a hypothesis based on something his old exercise physiology professor said.

So what's the big deal here? The issue with water retention is the frustration it brings while waiting for the whoosh.

Waking up every morning to see no progress on the scale can have profound effects on your motivation to maintain your diet and training regimen. Why put in all this effort when nothing is happening? Doubt creeps up. Maybe you're eating too much? Maybe you're not doing enough cardio, maybe your carb intake is too high? So you cut calories and increase cardio in the hopes that it will get the scale moving down again. If we're talking water retention (and not an actual stall), this has the potential to actually worsen the situation. Dumbfounded you watch as your weight creeps up even higher despite your ambitious attempts to set things right.

So at times like these, it's no wonder that people are likely to say "screw this shit" and go off their diet for a day. Or two. Or a week. In the worst case it triggers a binge that sets them back several days or weeks. Not good.

Given the negative impact of water retention on your morale, knowing the causes for water retention, and how to deal with it, can be very useful when you find yourself in this situation.

Water retention - what is it?

Water retention (or edema which is the term used by the medical establishment) is a common, concrete phenomenon that occurs during calorie restriction. It's not just some trivial vanity issue unique to the fitness crowd.

The magnitude of water retention varies; most often it's mild, but enough to obscure your fat loss results on a short-term basis. Sometimes it's more prominent, giving you the impression that nothing is happening for weeks. More severe types of water retention are a common characteristic of malnutrition and life-threatening starvation; it can be so extreme that people will appear to lose no weight at all, as greater amounts of fluids accumulate under the skin. Jewish doctors often observed this phenomenon in the Warsaw ghettos during World War 2.

Water retention can take many forms, such as swollen watery tissue or as an accumulation of fluids in the stomach, chest, lower body and in between joints. You might notice it in the form of fat that feels "squishy" or in the form of red strech marks when waking up in the morning. You can also notice it on your ankles when taking your socks off in the evening; the pressure from the socks leaves an indentation, which might be barely noticeable (no water retention) or big enough to fit half of your thumb in (an extreme example as told to me by a competitor after three days of post-competition binging and gaining 35 lbs). The latter is called pitting edema.

During starvation, inadequate nutrition depresses the pumping mechanisms within the cell that keeps excess salt and water out. The cell deteriorates and the distinction between in and out is lost. However, for the average Joe out there, water retention is more often related to daily shifts in water and salt intake.

Lessons from The Minnesota Experiment

In the Minnesota Experiment during World War 2, men willingly embarked on a semi-starvation-like regimen designed by Dr Ancel Keys. Yes, that's the same Keys who "discovered" a connection between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease - a controversial figure. But I digress. The objective of this study was to observe the effects of semi-starvation and to establish guidelines for properly refeeding war prisoners (this is critical, since refeeding victims of starvation can lead to cardiac arrest due to massive mineral and electrolyte fluctuations). His findings were later published in two books: The Biology of Human Starvation: Volume I
and The Biology of Human Starvation: Volume II

A lot can be written about this fascinating experiment, but at this point I want to highlight some curious happenings related to the topic at hand. First of all, this wasn't quite starvation per se. The men were getting 1500-1800 kcal per day, while engaging in moderate amounts of daily activity, and that's not too far off from the usual diet fare today. The main difference being that this was done in a controlled setting lasting six months, which is longer than most people would endure a dieting stint.

At the start of the study, the men were losing weight linearly, dropping about 2 lbs per week. However, after some time the weight loss became erratic and unpredictable. No longer was it linear, but rather it occurred in "bursts" with long periods of plateaus. The researchers overseeing the experiment noted that water retention was noticeable in most men and in some cases quite severe.

Half-way through the study the men were allowed a relief dinner to celebrate their progress. One big meal of 2300 kcal was served; roasted chicken, potatoes, gravy and strawberry shortcake. That night everyone got up more often than usual to urinate. The next day they discovered that they had each lost several pounds.

This was not a one-time occurrence. When the experiment was over and the refeeding phase began, the men continued to drop weight at an accelerated rate until calories were increased substantially.

What I want you to take away from this is the following:

* Refeeding can cause rapid weight loss, a whoosh. This seems counter intuitive, but it's a phenomenon observed in the scientific literature and retold by many dieters. My clients experience this, and so do people embarking on diet regimens where planned carb refeeds are integral parts of the plan (for example, The Ultimate Diet 2.0).

* In my experience, the more severe and rigorous the diet, the higher the likelihood of retaining water. In simple terms, higher calorie deficits usually result in more erratic, non-linear weight loss. This is not a proven fact, but rather a hypothesis based on what I have observed throughout the years - and it has some backing if we look at the weight loss curve observed in starvation and studies like The Minnesota Experiment.

* The hypothesis has credibility if we look at the hormonal response to starvation diets. "Starvation diets" in this context simply mean any diet approach that results in a very high weekly caloric deficit created through diet and/or exercise. This is perceived as a significant stress to the body, to which it responds with chronically raised levels of cortisol. Some cortisol is great, but too much of it is very bad; and studies suggest that cortisol increases in a dose-dependent manner related to the calorie deficit. Prolonged elevations of cortisol can lead to massive water retention. If you've ever been treated with hydrocortisone, a pharmaceutical form of cortisol, you know what I mean.

* The above makes me wonder if the myth of "starvation mode" is actually perpetuated by extreme dieters who find themselves not losing any weight on starvation-level caloric intake (due to severe water retention obscuring weight loss). While some metabolic slowdown occurs during any diet, it's never so profound that it completely negates a substantial calorie deficit. For example, during The Minnesota Experiment the researchers noted a 15-20% reduction in basal metabolic rate at the end of the study (it was actually 40% compared to the start of the study, but this was due to a higher body weight; a large percentage of the drop could be explained by the simple fact that they weighed less and not due to any hormonal impact).

Now you know a little bit about the erratic nature of water retention and the impact it can have on your body weight and diet adherence. In part two I will get a little more practical and tell you about some effective strategies that can help you deal with it if it rears it's ugly head.

Also, feel free to comment, e-mail me or share your own strategies if you have found something that works for you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The State of The Fitness Industry Today

This clip reminded me of the state of the fitness industry today. An industry brimming over with charlatanry and wishful thinking bordering on pure superstition.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Marshmallow Test

People will often feel inclined to explain to you why the numerous constraints in their lives have prevented them to achieve the their goal.

They have so much else going on in their lives. A job, a girlfriend, social events to attend. Time-consuming hobbies. A car that needs fixing or some other project of critical importance. Those are the reasons why they're out of shape or have attained only mediocre results.

For them, the idea of losing body fat or attaining muscle is about time. The notion that you have to spend hours in the gym and meticulously plan your diet every day is accepted as a truism. They think that if they could just find enough time, they'd easily get a physique comparable to a front-cover fitness model. But life gets in the way.

When a conversation reaches that point, and in my experience it often does, I try to terminate the discussion or switch to another topic. I have a very low tolerance for such drivel.

Some of my most successful clients are very busy people. They get in excellent shape, despite managing a business, family and many other obligations. In fact, I'm convinced that having too much free time is counterproductive. Surely it would be logical to assume that unlimited time for cardio, training and cooking would equal better results and make fat loss a walk in the park? Not so. How can this paradox be explained?

The Marshmallow Test

In the early 1970s, a psychologist named Walter Mischel conducted an experiment involving four-year-olds. He placed each child in a room, where they sat down at a table. In front of them, a marshmallow. Mischel then made each child an offer. He could eat the marshmallow right away or wait for a few more minutes and receive another one. Almost everyone decided to wait. Mischel then left the room for twenty minutes.

While a few of the four-year-olds were able to resist the temptation for up to fifteen minutes, many lasted less than one minute. Others just ate the marshmallow as soon as Mischel left the room.

This was a test of self-control. If the child wanted to achieve the goal of receiving another marshmallow, then he needed to temporarily ignore his feelings and delay gratification for a few more minutes. What this study showed was that some children at the early age of four were much better at this than others.

What I found interesting are the strategies the successful children employed in order to endure the experiment. They kept themselves distracted. Covered their eyes, played with their hands or just entered a trance-like state where it seemed they were lost in their thoughts. Their attention was elsewhere.

The failed strategy of the unsuccessful children was the complete opposite of that; in essence, they fixated on the marshmallow almost as if attempting to stare it down, actively fighting the temptation.

How does this translate to the various strategies used by the fitness crowd?

When some people are dieting, they are DIETING. They treat it like a full-time job and they're in the gym every day, sometimes twice a day. Their spartan diet is meticulously planned and carefully dispensed throughout the day. They are the ones that fixate on the marshmallow.

Others take a more balanced approach. Diet and training is part of their life, but it blends in beautifully. They are the ones that tries to forget about the marshmallow. It's background noise to them.

I'll give you a concrete example to show you what I mean. Some people schedule a weekly cheat day, which usually involves a day on the weekend when they can eat what they want. In practical terms, this often means that they pig out and end up on the couch in a torpor-like state. This day becomes the high point of their week. They restrict calories severely throughout the week in order to allow themselves the cheat day. Their training typically includes hours of cardio. On Thursday they start planning their shopping list for Saturday and on Friday they lie sleepless in giddy anticipation of the forthcoming food fest. They are fixating on the marshmallow, making it the center of the world.

I could give you a similar example when it comes to training. The overly enthusiastic young guy embarking on a 6-day-split that ends up overtraining and sick or hurt. He too was fixating on the marshmallow.

The solution then is to stay distracted.

You shouldn't buy into the myth of what it takes to achieve your goals. Don't get me wrong, it takes dedication. Sweat, yes. But that needs to be maintained as a regular, long-term commitment. And that's impossible to do if you're constantly thinking about it. It needs to be part of your daily routine, but it needs to blend in. Again, background noise and balanced. Or else you won't last.

If you're too fixated on the marshmallow, you'll eat it sooner or later. In this context it means you'll screw up your diet and/or training, burn out and lose all motivation. The more physical and mental energy you invest in your training and diet, the more likely you are to fail.

And that's why some of the busiest people are the most successful ones when it comes to reaching their physique goals. They have other things to think about.

Guidelines and attitudes to live by

* Spend too much time focusing on your goal and you will end up sabotaging yourself. This may not hold much ground in other areas of life where, in order to be successful, focus and time investment is of critical importance; such as building a business, managing a large corporation or becoming a highly-competitive elite athlete. But it's definitely one that applies to diet and strength training for the average Joe. Stay distracted. Have hobbies. Have a life. If diet and training become the sole focus of your daily routine, the road to your goals will feel like a very long road indeed.

* Commitment and dedication dispensed over a longer time period is superior to more focused efforts. The latter has a higher rate of failure and greater chance of backfiring on you and is why people fall off the wagon. This is my personal experience, but it's also backed up by studies. A good example of this are the numerous reformed health enthusiasts that pop up after New Year's Eve. They go at it hard for a few weeks, but are often back into their old patterns of sporadic training and a sub par diet by February. Another example is the rebound that many competitors experience after contest dieting. Avoid this with a balanced approach without extremes.

* Most people will not benefit from more than four training sessions per week when attempting to gain muscle mass.

* The great majority shouldn't be in the gym more than three times per week when cutting. You don't need the gym for cardio. Go outside.

* Use checkpoints to help you focus on long-term and not short-term progress

* Never attempt to train yourself into a caloric deficit. Don't spend hours on the treadmill. Diet comes first, cardio second. The dumbest fat loss strategy ever devised is used by people that wake up early in the morning before going to work to do cardio and follow that up with "recovery shake." Congratulations, you just wasted two hours of your life. Cardio is good for cardiovascular health, but most people use cardio as a fat loss tool - and force themselves through regimens that aren't very conducive to their daily routine (or mental sanity). Next time, skip the shake and the cardio. Sleep two hours longer, but skip breakfast and fast until lunch time. This way you can create the same caloric deficit with the added bonus of feeling more rested and having saved more time. You'll be much better off.

* Intermittent fasting is an easy way to create a calorie deficit. Your "cardio" is to stay productive during the fast and work. If you don't have a job, work on projects that are important to you. Learn. Read books. Write. Don't sit around and brood about your diet or what you have in the fridge.

Final note: I first learned about the marshmallow test in
How We Decide
by Jonah Lehrer. A good read if you're interested in human behavior and psychology. It's interesting to note that the marshmallow test predicted future success in many other areas of life. When a follow-up study on each child was done twenty years later, it was found that children who waited longer also had better academic success and less behavioral problems than the ones who ate the treat sooner.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Short Interview

Here's a short interview I did for last week.


Q: How did you get started with bodybuilding?

A: Think I was around 16. Always wanted to be lean and strong. Started going to the gym with my buddies, using some haphazard Flex-magazine-inspired bullshit-routine. But it was fun and I enjoyed it.

Q: Where does your motivation come from?

A: First of all, I was fat as hell and I thought bodybuilding was going to magically unfatten me (which it didn’t). Second of all, I was fascinated by strength. Lifting big things just sounded very appealing to me. I wanted to be strong. A friend of the family was a lumberjack. Never went to the gym a day in his life, but was strong as an ox and there where various stories floating around about him. How he once lifted a log two guys were struggling with to get off the ground, stuff like that. I recall thinking I wanted to be like that one day. The one people told stories about.

Q: When trying to cut down do you prefer to use HIIT or just normal cardio?

A: Normal cardio mostly. Brisk walking. For some clients, I use a mix of the two.

Q: What is your diet like?

A: My diet approach is called intermittent fasting. That means I fast 16 hours daily and eat three meals during an 8 hour feeding window. I make sure to get the great majority of my daily calorie intake post-workout. Diet is cyclical. More carbs, less fat on training days, vice versa for rest days. Protein stays relatively high.

Q: What is your supplementation like?

A: Fish oil, multivitamin and Vitamin D. Extra calcium if I’m going low on dairy. BCAA pre-workout if I train fasted. The occasional protein powder from time to time.

Q: Future plans?

A: Finishing my book and continue helping people get great results with intermittent fasting.

Q: Favorite quote?

A: “I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” By William Blake.

Interview conducted by: Bob Kupniewski

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Supplements You Might Actually Find Useful

I get a lot of questions about supplements even though I'm not a big proponent of them.

That being said, there are some supplements that you may find useful depending on your goals.

The first four on this list are supplements most people could benefit from. I'm not a great cook and once I find a few meals I like, I'll go for long periods just eating the same foods in various combinations - a pattern that is quite common among my peers as well. Adding these supplements is an easy way to safeguard against any potential shortcomings of a monotonous diet.

The other ones are supplements that may help with fat loss, performance or just makes life easier some days. They are not essential by any means.

I've linked to some products. These are either ones I can vouch for personally or the cheapest ones in their category. For the sake of transparency, I should also note that these are affiliate links, which means I get a 5-10% commision if you buy anything from the links. If you think this makes my recommendations any less credible, do not buy anything from this list. And why would you? Supplements are certainly not critical to your success and you may in fact do just as well without them. A balanced whole foods diet goes a very long way.

Swedish visitors should order from Svenskt Kosttillskott if they want the cheapest and fastest delivery.

European and UK visitors may also find Predator Nutrition a highly attractive and reliable alternative. They ship all across Europe, so that's great. Their rates are very competitive and it may interest some of you that they have some banned/discontinued supplements in stock. Enter code: "leangains" to get 5% off your order.

Fish Oil

Unless you've been living under a rock the last decade, you don't need me to give you any long-winded explanation for this one. Maintaining a good omega-3:omega-6-ratio is important and we get too much of the latter. Take 2 g EPA and 1.5 g DHA per day.

Read: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Muscle Growth: Promising Potential."

Recommended: NutraSea Original Liquid (liquid) or Ultra Omega-3 (softgels).


Calcium increases fat excretion and boosts testosterone.
That's great stuff and we obviously want our calcium intake in the optimal range. Adding a 500-750 mg tablet to your daily diet wíll usually do the trick. If you get enough calcium through your diet, there's no need to supplement it.

Recommended: NOW Calcium & Magnesium

Vitamin D

Emerging scientific evidence suggests that people don't get enough vitamin D to function optimally. The newfound interest for this vitamin and it's potential benefits was actually featured in New York Time's Top Ten List of medical breakthroughs in 2007. Here's a good (and free) full-text paper on vitamin D's role in health and disease. Moreover, vitamin D may boost strength and athletic performance. 2000 IU/day is a conservative and safe dosage, but some people use considerably higher doses without any negative implications.

Recommended: NOW Vitamin D-3 

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

I use BCAA pre-workout whenever I train fasted. You can read more on why here and here. I prefer Purple Wraath by Controlled Labs. It contains beta-alanine as well, which gives me a nice little tingle and also seems to aid a bit with intra-set recovery and muscle endurance in the higher rep ranges. Take 10 g pre-workout if you train fasted.

Recommended: I've been using Xtend by Scivation for my fasted training sessions ever since stores around here ran out of Purple Wraath a few months ago. Taste and effects wise, it's pretty much a toss-up between Xtend and Wraath. Price wise, Xtend can't be beaten. Flavor wise, Xtend is very agreeable and I prefer "Refreshing Watermelon".


Creatine is the only legal supplement with numerous scientific studies to support it's effectiveness. It's so far ahead of the competition that it's the only supplement I can place in this category with a straight face. Besides elevating muscle creatine contents for a direct performance boost, creatine may boost muscle growth through effects on satellite cell proliferation, myogenic transcription factors and insulin-like growth factor-1 signalling (if that sounds like greek to you, let's just say all of this is "good stuff").

Recommended: Optimum Nutrition Micronised Creatine 


I get beta-alanine through my BCAA-supplement, but this amino acid is also availabe as a stand-alone supplement; and as such has shown to boost exercise performance. As I noted before, the effect is only noticeable in the higher rep ranges (12 reps and above). The study summarizes the effect as "beta-alanine...have demonstrated improvements in performance during multiple bouts of high-intensity exercise and in single bouts of exercise lasting more than 60 s." So it won't improve your maximal strength, but anaerobic threshold and time to exhaustion will be enhanced. This may be particularily useful for CrossFit-practitioners and those training with kettle bells.

Recommended: NOW Beta-Alanine

Whey protein

Ideal use is pre-and post-workout. Optimum 100% Whey is the top selling product at I would venture to guess that's due much to the innovative tastes available. I've tried Caramel Toffee Fudge and Extreme Milk Chocolate and both are very tasty.

Casein protein

Ideal use is pre-bedtime, but it could be used at any other time during the day as well. Casein protein is slow releasing and provides more satiety than whey protein in general.

For the best tasting casein protein, check out this post.


While I've been lucky enough to never find any use for this supplement personally, clients claim to have used it successfully for relieving joint pain. Studies support such notions and state that glucosamine seems to be a safe and effective supplement for relieving pain and stiffness in joints.

Recommended: NOW Glucosamine

For fat loss

Note that intermittent fasting potentiates the effect of stimulants. Any stimulant ingested during the fasted phase will have a greater effect compared to it's ingestion during the fed state. Some caution should therefore be exercised for those not familiar with the use of stimulants.


If you're not a regular coffee drinker, you're really missing out by not adding caffeine to your diet when the going gets tough. It's cheap, suppressses appetite and has thermogenic properties.

Recommended: AllMax Nutrition Caffeine (200 mg)


This stuff is nasty as hell. On the plus side, it has a quite potent stimulatory effect and works very well as an appetite suppressant.

Not available any longer. :/

VPX Meltdown

If you can't stand the horrid taste of Clenbutrx, VPX Meltdown is a great alternative. This one actually has legit scientific backing, which is a true rarity when it comes to fat loss products. You can read both (free full text) studies on Meltdown here and here. Note the effect on resting energy expenditure. Not bad.

The original version is not available any longer. :/

Yohimbine HCL

This herb may be particularily useful for those trying to get rid of stubborn body fat - such as the fat covering lower abs and back in lean men and thighs and hips in lean women. Hokey as that may sound, there is a valid explanation for how this occurs. Lyle McDonald explains this in great detail in The Stubborn Body Fat Solution. In short, yohimbine inhibits alpha-2-receptors (and lower abs/back has a high density of a2-receptors) which aids with blood flow and fat mobilization from stubborn fat areas.

Yohimbine is another fat loss product that has been proven effective in clinical trials and this is perhaps the most widely cited study on the effects of yohimbine on body composition.

Recommended: PrimaForce Yohimbine HCI


Pure yohimbine may lead to feelings of anxiety and even panic attacks in predisposed individuals. A better alternative can be found in Alpha Burn, and other supplements containing rauwolscine, which is a stereoisomer of yohimbine. Reg from Predator Nutrition recently sent me a box of these and I can vouch for it's psychoactive effects not being as rough as pure yohimbine. While it won't make you as jumpy and jittery as yohimbine, it seems to have a pretty potent appetite suppressive effect.

The original version is not available any longer. :/


L-tyrosine is a precursor ("building block") to the catecholamines dopamine and norepinephrine. For this reason, it has been studied in the context of performance enhancement among other things. Although studies show mixed results, empirical evidence suggests that tyrosine has it's use as a pre-workout stimulant when combined with other substances such as caffeine. It seems to enhance the effect of other stimulatory substances, which has been my experience as well. Tyrosine has also shown promise in alleviating the decrements in cognitive performance associated with stress and fatigue. For this reason, it might be useful for keeping your mind sharp during intense stints of dieting.

Recommended: NOW L-Tyrosine

Jack3d Review (Pre-workout/Fat loss)

I've been trying a wide range of pre-workout supplements but I've never found something worth recommending. Some like the extra pump from NO Xplode and similar nitric oxide based supps, I just don't any use for it.

I was pleasantly surprised by Jack3d. Besides the usual ingredients present in many pre-workout supplements, such as caffeine, creatine, arginine and beta-alanine, it contains 1,3-Dimethylamylamine also known as geranamine. This is a potent stimulant (as far as legal alternatives goes) and this is what provides the oomph in this product. Apparently Geranamine is used as recreational drug in some circles and banned in a few countries. I wouldn't be surprised if we'll see more countries banning it soon as everything that is mildly effective seems to get a ban sooner or later. Shortly after I wrote the supplements guide, Meltdown and Clenbutrx both got banned in Sweden.

Anyway, being somewhat resistant to stims, I started off with the maximum recommended dosage the first time (three scoops). After 5-10 minutes, I could tell that it was working as I got an intense urge to do the dishes. During training, I didn't notice anything out of the norm besides a somewhat uncomfortable back pump after squatting. After training, I had to wait two hours before my appetite returned. I never have problems eating after training, especially not after fasted training, but the thought of food made me queasy. I also noticed some slightly panicky feelings at that point, the kind where you want to crawl out of your own skin. Nothing serious, but for those sensitive to CNS stimulants or prone to anxiety attacks, I would not recommend starting off with the highest dose like I did. However, it seems tolerance develops and within a few days I could use the maximum recommended dosage without any side-effects. Unfortunately, the stimulant effect is also lessened.

In my experience, Jack3d is quite effective, but less so for the purpose it's advertised. I see it's use mainly as an appetite surpressant or stimulant, much like ephedrine. The mechanism by which Jack3d exerts its effect is also similar to ephedrine in that it increases epinephrine/adrenaline, which in turn boosts lipolysis and leads to that "focused" feeling. Or that urge to do something, anything.

Either way you want to use it, for a pre-workout or motivational boost, or appetite surpression, Jack3d works, which is why it ends up on my list of recommended, but certainly not essential, list of supplements.

By the way, I haven't found any studies to back the effectiveness of 1,3-dimethylamylamine for fat loss. If anyone knows of any human trials regarding its use for weight loss or improving cognition, alertness, or anything else for that matter, let me know. I always try to find some scientifical backing for the supplements I recommend but I'm at a loss for this one.

The original version is not available any longer. :/

Adipoxil Review

Adipoxil is a strange beast. It's different from all other fat burners reviewed here in the sense that it has no stimulatory properties. At the same time, it's a very potent appetite suppressant - at least as far as legal alternatives goes. I suspect this might be explained by the synephrine and the "lipolytic oxidation protocol," which contains cayenne pepper and various other thermorgenic compounds. Synephrine and cayenne pepper are both known to suppress appetite.

There's also a peculiar side-effect that's noticeable shortly after ingesting the tabs; it alters taste, and specifically it made coffee undrinkable. I'm not sure how to describe it. I'm a coffee-fiend but that hot cup of goodness turned wretched after I downed the tabs. Also, be careful with the dosing and don't go for double dose the first time you try it. I experienced nausea with two tabs and it wasn't very pleasant.

Anyway, Adipoxil might be a good alternative for those looking for a supplement without pronounced stimulatory properties. I need to add a big disclaimer here however; Adipoxil does contain Yohimbine and caffeine, and should provide a stimulatory effect. I might just be a weird outlier to not have noticed anything. If you do try it, let me know in comments if you felt anything. I should also note that I only tried this three days in a row, so I'm not sure about tolerance issues. For the short time I ran it, it worked very well.

I also tried another supplement from iForce Nutrition, the makers of Adipoxil: a pre-workout supplement called "Maximize V2". This was nothing special - pretty much the same as Jack3d, but less potent.

Remember that you can enter "leangains" as code when ordering from Predator Nutrition and get 5% off your order. I receive no commissions; instead you get cheaper supplements.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dirty vs. Clean Dieting: Roundtable

I participated in a roundtable on Jamie Hale's site a while ago.

The topic was whether it mattered much if people ate clean (non-processed whole foods) or dirty (refined foods) during a diet assuming a caloric deficit was in place. Here's my input:


"From a purely physiological standpoint, it probably doesn't matter if you're including foods in your diet that may be labeled unclean by the generic bodybuilder. As long as protein remains a constant, there won’t be any measurable differences in fat loss in the short term when comparing two diets where the rest would be made up by either “clean” or “unclean foods.”

There might be some long-term effects on body composition on a diet where fat and carbohydrate food choices are the worst possible (think trans fats and high fructose corn syrup), but these extremes aren’t relevant to the discussion in this context. I don't think any competing bodybuilder subsists on such foods to a significant degree pre-contest.

I do think one should opt for food choices that have satiating and nutritive properties in relation to their caloric content. These foods will in most cases be made up with foods that are traditionally labeled “clean.” However, I do think having cheat meals or “unclean” foods at least once a week has benefits in terms of adherence and sanity during the pre-contest diet (or any other diet for that matter)."


I wrote this a few years ago and it was originally published in Hale's book, I think. Can't say I've changed my stance that much since then. Judging from discussion this doesn't appear to be a polarizing topic by any means. Seems like everyone was in agreement. More or less.

I was generalizing quite a bit though. With "from a purely physiological standpoint" I alluded to a clinical point of view. In real life, food choices matter greatly. Food choices and macrocomposition affects mood, hunger and appetite. It's an important factor to consider when designing diets and meal plans for clients.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How To Look Awesome Every Day

Shortly before and after New Year's Eve, there's always a slew of articles and blog posts about how to train and burn off the holiday pounds.

They mostly preach the same message about taking it easy and not overdoing it. It's such a tired and boring topic, so I'll spare you that. Last year around this time I wrote an article about how people fail their New Year's resolutions. You might want to check that out if you need some general advice about how not to approach your training and diet in 2010. This time I'll talk about something different.


I never feel the need to do any post-holiday dieting. I prefer to look awesome every day and not just three months of the year like many people I know. One of my secrets to staying in shape at all times of the year is a little concept I call "checkpoints". A checkpoint is a pre-determined day during which I note all my relevant stats: my body weight and my strength in four key movements. For each checkpoint, I try to beat the results of the previous checkpoint.

Each year I have six checkpoints interspersed by eight weeks. I usually place them on holidays; placing checkpoints on days of festivities is like having a carrot in front of yourself. For example, my last checkpoint was on Christmas Eve, my next checkpoint is on my birthday (22nd Feb) and my next checkpoint is on my mother's birthday in late April. Next checkpoint after that is on Midsummer's Eve in late June. Each checkpoint is celebrated by plenty of cheesecake, red wine and/or other indecent behavior.

If your goal is to slowly improve your body composition, this is a great way to measure long term progress. Another big advantage of a checkpoint is the competitive spirit it brings. If you constantly compete against yourself and know you'll have to answer for your sins every so often, checkpoints bring all the motivation you need.

If more folks would use checkpoints, we wouldn't see legions of people suddenly ramping up cardio and going on crash diets shortly after New Year's Eve. Checkpoints is part of the reason I never need to make any New Year's resolutions related to diet and training.

Measuring Progress

I try to better my stats for every checkpoint. Weight is taken first thing in the morning three days consecutively prior to the checkpoint and divided by three. This will give a more representative number than a single reading, since it lessens the chance of the number being skewed due to water retention or dehydration. After that, my latest and best sets of bench presses, squats, deadlifts and weighted chins are recorded and compared against the results of the last checkpoint.

My progress is then quantified in relative strength. For the intermediate or advanced lifter, relative strength is hands down the easiest way to know if your body composition going in the right direction. Beginners are trickier - substantial strength gains don't necessarily mean a proportional amount of muscle mass gain. However, for someone well acquainted with the key movements, the quality of the weight gained, or lost, can be measured by how much your lifts increased (or in the case of weight loss, how well you managed to maintain or gain strength).

Quantifying progress

An extra 10 lbs added to your bench isn't impressive if you also gained 10 lbs of body weight. That's a 1:1 ratio of weight to strength, which is strongly indicative of fat gain. However, assume you added 10 lbs to your bench, but only 3 lbs of body weight. That's a 1:3.3 ratio of weight to strength, which is quite good. Odds are most of those 3 lbs came in the form of muscle and not fat.

Setting up specific guidelines to strive for in terms of weight to strength ratio is hard and has been a pet project of mine for a long time. While some very general guidelines can be set up for the average guy of average height and build, there are differences between body types.

Tall and long-armed individuals, such as myself, will excel in pulling movements while suffering in pressing movements. For them, modest weight increases usually result in a lot more weight on the bar on movements such as the deadlift. Conversely, they will always see lower gains in pressing movements and usually have to gain a substantial amount of weight to get their bench moving. The reverse conditions apply to short and barrel-chested individuals, which excel in pressing movements but suffer in pulling movements.

Another confounding factor is training experience. It's easier to get your bench press from 200 lbs to 250 lbs without gaining a ton of weight, but harder to take it from 250 lbs to 300 lbs.

For the intermediate lifter, a category I think the majority of my readers would fall into, strive for the following weight to strength gain ratios:

Bench Press and Weighted Chins* - 1:3

Squat - 1:4

Deadlift - 1:5

* Example, weighted chins:

Body weight (180 lbs) + 25 lbs x 6 = 205 x 6 to body weight (185) + 35 lbs = 220 x 6 is a 1:3 ratio. 5 lbs weight gained, 15 lbs strength gained.

Additional notes

* I prefer to use bench presses, squats, deadlifts and weighted chins for my checkpoint-lifts. If your strength has increased in these four key movements, it's very likely that you've gained strength in assistance movements as well. That's why I don't care to record my best set of curls, triceps extensions or close-grip chins. Keep your mind set on a few key movements and the rest will follow.

* With strength, muscle follows. Anyone that tries to tell you differently is a fool. For the intermediate and advanced lifter, where strength gains via neural programming or technique improvements are moot issues, modest weight gains followed by substantial strength gains is the best indicator of lean mass gain.

* Your checkpoint-lifts should be performed first in your workout, or under similar conditions. For example, I always do weighted chins after deadlifts, and deadlifts are always done first. Even if your training routine may change in between checkpoints, you should not alter the sequence of checkpoint-lifts in a way that may skew results.

* You may use other lifts as checkpoint-lifts if you for some reason cannot do the aforementioned lifts. Instead of bench presses, weighted dips or dumbbell presses. Instead of squats, front squats or leg presses. Power cleans, romanian or stiff-legged deadlifts can be used as alternatives to deadlift movements. Weighted chins can be substituted for weighted pullups or lat pulldowns.

* How do you measure strength gains if reps are lower or higher compared to the lifts recorded at your last checkpoint? If you increased your 6RM bench press from 200 lbs x 6 to a 4RM of 220 lbs x 4, that doesn't mean you increased it the lift by 20 lbs. For a quick and easy way to figure out how much your 1RM strength increased, use this 1RM-calculator.

* 8 weeks for each checkpoint is a good time frame to judge progress in the intermediate and advanced lifter. For the beginner, 4 weeks can be used due to the rapid progress often seen in new lifters. Very advanced lifters may consider 12 weeks between checkpoints, since progress is very slow. However, having checkpoints interspersed by too many weeks may be detrimental, since it increases the likelihood of slacking off on your diet and training. I've found that 8 weeks is just right for "keeping the eyes on the prize" so to speak.

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

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