Is Low Carb The Answer?

Everything Sounds Great Before Your Start

Do you start every new training program or diet with the conviction that THIS IS IT?  Do you believe that every change is the answer to the riddle.  This is what will take you over the top.  This is the missing link and the system that will make all the difference.  If not, you should.  After all, why would you do anything if you were not sure it would work?  Its human nature to think that way.

However, there is another approach.  The approach is to look on each change as an experiment without expectation.   To try something new in order to learn something.  Discovering what doesn’t work is as important as discovering what does.

  • Decide on a change you want to make
  • Decide on one change you want to make
  • Determine how you will measure the impact (weight gain, weight loss, strength gains, etc)
  • Establish a start and end date of for the experiment
  • Make the change
  • Measure and make a decision – yay or nay

 The January Diet

I dropped six lbs in January following the holiday eating binge.  Half of it was fat and I felt pretty good about that because my bodyfat % came down.  That’s a good thing.

Then I started doing some research and came across this quote:

“some hapless individuals will lose as much as one pound of muscle for every 2-3 pounds of fat that they lose when they diet”

That comes from Lyle McDonald.  Lyle is a nutrition guru that used to write for Hardgainer and Cyberpump.  He wrote a book called “The Ketogenic Diet”.   Lyle is a person that I used to follow regularly and I respect what he has to say.

Before I read that, I thought of January as a success.  Now I’m questioning that.  Is it possible to do better?

The overall theme of the particular article referenced above is that the body will tend to gain or lose in the same percentages.  In other words, if I were to gain six lb of muscle, I can expect roughly to be muscle.  As a result you wind up where you started.

In May 2015 I weight 164 lbs at 12.4% body fat.  Today I weigh 164.2 at 12.7% body fat.  In between I went as high as 172.  My gains were slightly more fat than muscle and my losses were roughly 50-50.

The approach works in terms of gaining and losing.  But it does not work in achieving the larger goal of changing the ratio of fat to lean muscle.

How do we do that?


Embrace The Constraints

55 – 30 – 15.

That’s the ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fat that works.  I worked for me in the past.  My most successful diet was 2011 and that was the breakdown.

I can’t do that now for two reasons.

The first is that today I prefer to go supplement-free.  What do supplements have to do with it?  Its not easy to get to 55% protein without using powders and meal replacements.  I try hard to watch what I put into my body.  Unprocessed food is my goal.  Is there is anything more processed than supplements?

There’s a constraint.  Personal choice.

“So why not just eat more animal proteins?  Its possible to get to 55% with real food.”

True, but that brings me to the second reason.  My gut won’t let me do that ratio with real food.  It would take a whole lot of animal protein to get over the hump and it would just not go well.  Conventional wisdom says that the body can comfortably digest approximately 40 grams of protein per meal.  In my experience, this figure is accurate.

Could I eat more frequently.  Not without getting up in the middle of the night to eat.  I’ve done it, I don’t recommend it.

There’s two more constraints.  A physical limitation that I can’t do much about and the number of hours in a day.

Let’s summarize what we have so far.  The identified constraints are:

  1. Choices
  2. Physical
  3. Time

These three are common.  Some bodybuilders are vegetarian, some are allergic, some work two or three jobs.  Everyone has an excuse to explain their lack of success.  Stop seeing them as excuses and start seeing them as constraints.

Embrace your constraints.  Don’t look at them as limits but parameters.

Diet is a problem for lots of people.  How much should you eat?  Here’s how I use the constraints to figure it out.

By avoiding the unprocessed foods, many options available to the average person are off the menu.  Even pasta is something I prefer to avoid.  Instead, my list is pretty simple:

  • vegetables – lots of them
  • steak, chicken and fish
  • milk, cottage cheese and eggs
  • beans
  • nuts and nut butters
  • oatmeal and rice
  • fruit

The constraint sets the menu.

If you buy the idea that the body can only use 40 or so grams of protein at a sitting, that will dictate your portion size.  Another constraint working in our favor.  Its an advantage because it removes the guesswork.  You’re limited by what you can handle.

Next step, the ratio of protein / carbs / fat.

40 grams of protein * 4 calories per gram – 160 calories.

Let’s say that we aim for 40 – 40 – 20.

I need 160 calories of carbs (40 grams) and 80 calories of fats (approx 9 grams) per meal to round out my ratio.

Total calories per meal = 400.

I have time to eat six meals per day.  I can max out at 2,400 calories per day if I do everything else right.

Let the constraints work in you favor.  They are there to set the guidlines, not to prevent you from succeeding.

Bodybuilding Meal Preparation

I’m not one for the mainstream or the popular approach to bodybuilding.  That goes for the majority of material available on the internet in general and YouTube in particular.  However, nutrition is one subject where it pays to see what other people do.

This week I’m interested in meal planning.  One of the major reasons for diet failure is poor planning.  Without a supply of readily available, healthy food that tastes good you are screwed.

Here are a few videos that I found helpful:

  • How to Prepare Meals for Bodybuilding by Hahnchampion

  • Bodybuilding Food Preparation by Matty Fusaro
  • Bodybuilding Lunch For The Whole Week by Brosisfitness Emma and James

  •  Weekly Meal Prep Example by Barthelfitness

    The approaches might differ slightly but the basic ideas are the same:

    Batch the task.  By doing all of the prep for the week at one time you will save time later.  In other words, cooking every day for four days takes a lot longer than cooking one day for the next four.

    Planning your meals avoids decision fatigue.  Humans can only make so many decisions in a day.  Decide today what you want to eat this week and set up your food groups.  It goes protein, vegetable, starch.  Not complicated and all decided in advance.

    Use spices, not condiments.  Condiments add calories.

    A few of these videos show food scales, poultry shears, etc.  If you have this stuff, great.  Those tools are helpful, not essential.  Do the best you can with the tools you have.

    For example, let’s say I buy a 4 lb package of chicken cutlets.  I know how many ounces I want to eat in one meal (4 oz) and one day (12 oz).  Armed with that knowledge, I know how to divide the chicken after its cooked.  Since I figure it loses at least 25% of its weight in the cooking, 4 lbs is 4 days of meals for me.  Split it into four equal portions.  Eyeball it.  Minor fluctuations are not a big deal.

    The same goes for rice.  I want 1/4 cup per day.  If I cook a full cup I have 4 days worth of rice.

    By the way, I do not own a rice cooker.  I’m sure it works better than the old “pot on the stove” method but the later works fine.

    As far as shears go, I don’t own those either.  I use a knife.  It might take a bit longer but who cares.  The end result is what matters.

    Follow up:

    This meal tastes very good and keeps well in the fridge and freezes well.  I am very happy with the early returns.

    Mid week cooking will prove a bit more challenging.  I may have to cut corners and roast the cutlets without cutting them up first.

How To Gain Muscle

Train hard and eat slightly more than you need to maintain your current body weight.  That’s the Mike Mentzer approach and though he did not spend a lot of time discussing nutrition with his readers, he did break it down to a simple approach.

Simple answers are always a bit of a let down but this one is correct.  The hard part is figuring out how much you need to “maintain”.

First, weigh yourself as soon as you wake up tomorrow morning.  Then, track your diet for the next five days.  You need the following information for each day:

  • How many calories?
  • How many grams of protein?
  • How many grams of carbs?
  • How many grams of fat?
  • How many meals per day?

Write everything down.  Don’t leave anything out.  While that might sound like a terrible inconvenience, there are things you can do to make it easier.  One is consistency.  Eating the same things for the next five days will make it easy.    Most people have no problem doing that for breakfast and lunch at the very least.

On the morning of the sixth day, weigh yourself again.  Then take the daily average of the above numbers.  Did you gain, lose or stay the same?  If you stayed the same, you now have a pretty good estimate of what maintenance is.  Eat slightly more than that and you will gain.  (NOTE:  “Slightly” means 300 calories).

If your weight fluctuated you can either estimate what maintenance is or adjust your calories and try again.

Continue to watch the scale, track your diet, watch the mirror and watch your progress in the gym.  The last factor is most important.  If you are not getting stronger you are not gaining muscle.


Bulking – July 2015

Gaining weight is easier said than done. Let me rephrase that, gaining muscle is easier said than done. Novice bodybuilders in the home gyms out there know what I am talking about. At 5′ 11” 165 lbs, the idea of bulking is a no brainer. The problem is the fat that goes with it. Although it comes with the territory of a bulking cycle and is well understood in the beginning, the feeling you get when your clothes start to fit tighter around the waist sucks.

How much fat should you expect to gain during a bulking phase? “None” would be a great answer but that would also be unrealistic. Read a few books or articles on the subject and do some research in the popular bodybuilding forums and you will find estimates of the amount of fat you can expect. Those estimates on muscle/fat gain range from 75%/25% to 50%/50%. Taken in isolation, those numbers sound reasonable. However, its important to think those numbers through and consider the consequences

  • you will gain fat as you gain muscle, and
  • the gaining ratio is probably disproportionate to your current body fat %.

So even if your gains are in line with the optimistic end of the estimates, unless you are 25% bodyfat to begin with, your bodyfat % will go up. That’s the part that is hard to wrap your head around when planning to bulk. Adding a quarter of a pound of fat in exchange for three times as much muscle seems like a great trade off. In reality, it probably is.

In my case I started my most recent bulk at 12% body fat. Five lbs later, that number has climbed to 13%. That’s a gain ratio of a little more than one to one. Not great but a reasonable result and one that is in line with the conventional wisdom. Reality – I had to buy some new clothes. The shorts that fit comfortably last year do not fit as well this year.

My approach to this bulking phase started with a plan for a calorie surplus and a goal of gaining muscle. A better approach would be to get more specific about the acceptable range of weight gain on the basis of muscle to fat ratio. Plan for both the best and worst case scenario and place your expectations in a range of possible results.

Here’s a question – is it even possible for me to do better than 1 to 1. In other words, are we genetically programmed to add weight in a specific ratio. Is it my genes that determine how much fat I gain or do

I have some control over it?

The moral – prepare yourself and go in with your eyes open.

Here’s a great article on bulking –

Avocados Can Save Your Diet – July 2015

Avocados can save your diet.

Before I began eating them on a daily basis it was very difficult to stick to a restricted calorie plan for any significant length of time. Avocados help. The ain’t ice cream, but I like the taste, I like the texture and I like what they do for your body.

Bodybuilding Nutrition Now by Skip Lacour is where I first read about avocados in the context of bodybuilding. Most of the meals he recommends are salad and chicken. Not much of a surprise. Not too interesting.  That’s what you would expect on a diet used by a bodybuilder preparing for a contest.  However, what is interesting about the diet is his use of fats. By adding some avocado to his salads he was able to stimulate additional fat loss and break through a plateau.

I leave it to the reader to follow up on the nutritional aspects of avocado. I did some reading and found all sorts of information regarding carotenoids, heart health, monounsaturated fats and insulin. Good luck sorting through it all. To me, it is irrelevant. As an unprocessed food that tastes good it meets my requirements for adding to my meal plans.

The biggest problem I have with avocados is getting them when they are ripe. If you are planning on making a batch of guacamole you may have to buy them a few days in advance. The reason is that they have to be ripe. A firm avocado is not ready to eat. After it passes the squeeze test it will keep for a while in your refrigerator. Ripe avocados at room temperature will not last long.

Try making a batch of this black bean salad and leave it in the fridge for a few days.

Another tip I found – try them frozen. Check out this article and just ignore the part about chocolate pudding and chocolate chip cookies, at least until your cheat day!