Now that MFF is offering nutritional coaching services for its members, I figured it would be a great time for our in-house nutrition gurus to drop some knowledge bombs all over your face. All. Over. Your face.
Ladies and gentleman, sit back with a protein shake as Kyle “The Beast” Langworthy and Staci “Miss Jackson” share some of the mistakes that may be standing in the way of your healthiest, hottest self!
Yo! Miss Jackson! What are the three biggest mistakes you see when someone is looking to lose bodyfat?
1) EATING FIVE TO SIX MEALS A DAY:
We so often hear on the internet and popular magazines that the key to fat loss is eating five to six small meals. They claim that this keeps our metabolism going throughout the day. While some people might find this approach helpful, it is not the end all-be all, “golden ticket” to fat loss, and does not provide the advantage of burning more calories. When it comes to fat loss, it basically boils down to the big rock of calories in and calories out. So if you would prefer to eat five to six small meals a day, feel free! (With the caveat that you stay within your allotted calories for the day.) But you may find more success eating a few larger meals.
2) FAD DIETS THAT FOCUS SOLELY ON CUTTING OUT FAT OR CARBS:
Fat and carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years. Many magazines and diets have encouraged us to drastically reduce or remove one or the other completely from our meals and by doing so, we can eat as much of everything else as we damn well please. Severely reducing or completely removing either carbs or fat from our food intake does not give us a free pass because in the end it always comes down to calories. Calories always win over macronutrient (protein/fat/carbs) intake. Total caloric intake is the factor that plays the biggest role in fat loss. Besides, if we cut out fats and carbs from our diet, we automatically reduce the diversity of the food we are eating. This could result in a missing out on foods that provide important micronutrients our bodies need to stay healthy and function properly.
3) NO FOOD AFTER 7:00 pm:
Claims have been made that if we want to lose weight, one should not eat any food, especially carbs, late at night and never right bed. This is simply not true! Again (by now this should be no surprise), it comes down to that basic principle of calories in versus calories out. I am sure you can see the pattern and true “key” to weight loss. If you stay within your allotted calories for the day, eat whenever the heck you feel like it! So that late night snack is fair game as long as it does not put you over your calories. (Though of course for your long term health, you’re best off focusing on minimally-processed, whole food choices.)
Yo! Beast! What are the three biggest mistakes you see when someone is looking to add muscle to their physique?
1) GOTTA EAT MORE CALORIES AND HIT THOSE MACROS!
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with trainees is their inability to find consistency between hitting their macronutrients and eating so many calories day in and day out (for both muscle gain AND fat loss). When looking for an answer on how to remedy this problem, it can be very tricky, as the answer is usually going to depend on the psychological, physiological, and social variations between each client and how each of these things affect his or her lifestyle.
Unfortunately when dealing with a multitude of influences on mind and body, there is no easy prescription for eating more…except eating more. “But it’s hard as fuck to eat THAT MUCH FOOD!” Truuuuust me. I TOTALLY get it. I know firsthand how hard it is to eat 3-4,000 calories on many days of a said week. Not to mention the 2-300 grams of protein and upwards of 4-500g of Carbs that come with it!
BUT, it doesn’t have to be so painfully difficult. Yes, it’s going to take a certain level of commitment and hard work (in conjunction with one of the awesome strength training programs that I would be writing you), but it’s not anywhere close to impossible. There are strategies and tactics to make these seemingly unfeasible goals much more attainable. And that, my friends, is where nutrition coaching comes in!
2) NOT STAYING THE COURSE and THE 1ST YEAR MISTAKE:
Due to bodybuilding magazines and the inclusion of steroidal “assistance” for the past half of a decade, there is a false perception as to what the maximal genetic potential of muscle gain may be for any beginning strength trainee in his/her first year of training, and at what rate of speed that muscle may be attained. This has very much influenced what I like to term the “1st year mistake.”
For anyone that intends to put on a significant amount of muscle in his or her lifetime, I invite you to throw away the notion that muscle gain happens quickly. I hate to break the bubble here, but point blank, it simply takes time; and it takes a lot of it. Like most things in life that are of significant value, building lean muscle is a cumulative process. You MUST stay the course to see the results you ultimately desire. Sometimes, that may take months depending on your goals. For others, such as myself, it has taken years and years of stuffing my face with chicken breast after chicken breast (and there are more years of chicken eating to come).
For beginners, it is important to realize that most of one’s appreciable gains in lean mass are going to come within the 1st year of strength training (up to 15-20lbs of lean muscle), so consistency with nutrition and diet is super KEY right from the very beginning!
3) WELCOME TO CARBOHOLICS AWESOMENESS:
Carbs and sugar are bad for physique-related goals, right? Won’t we just get fat if we eat carbs? My answer: The idea that carbs are bad for us is downright silly. Carbs can be very beneficial and of utmost importance in building a lean, muscly body if certain principles are followed. And while there are hormonal influences at work when eating any type of macronutrient, you most likely won’t get fat from eating too many carbs—-you’ll get fat from consistently eating too many calories.
The amount of carbs one can tolerate does change with each individual and his or her physiological make-up, but I have seen some clients gain awesome amounts of muscle with extreme carbohydrate intakes of up to 3-4x of their bodyweights! Remember, for physique-related goals, the total amount of calories and macronutrients reign supreme. After that, more specific protocols can be adhered to. Thus, the kinds of carbs that are being eaten and WHEN they’re being eaten in relation to one’s strength training program are important.
A majority of the most progressive minds in the industry would most likely agree that it is probably best to have a majority of one’s carbs during their post-workout window (up to 1-2 hours after training) and sometime later in the day (mostly before bed- WTF!? Before bed!? Yuuuup—-I said it and I can back that shit up with massive amounts of research). Also, one of the benefits of carbs is that they’re easy to take down! For some of the “hard-gainers” out there that struggle to eat a bajillion calories in one day, carbs are YOUR BEST FRIEND. In essence, carbs make it a little easier to hit your total calorie number for any given day, and you can use them advantageously to help fuel more muscle growth.
There you have it kids! Whether you’re brand new to nutritional coaching, want help mastering the fine points of more advanced strategies, or just want someone to keep you accountable, the MFF team has your back. If you’re interested in signing up for some nutritional coaching love, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org to get signed up!
As Simple As Possible, But Not Any Simpler
“Everything should be made as simple as possible but not any simpler.” – Albert Einstein
At MFF, we utilize this dictum to guide us as we teach folks the most effective techniques to attain a life of optimal health and hotness.
Many fitness professionals love training. They fucking LOOOOVE training. And that’s great! If you don’t have a genuine passion for this field, it’s hard to read clinical textbooks. Or spend a ton of money and give up your weekend to go to a seminar. Or have epic conversations about the relative minutiae of the position of the scapulae in overhead press. (See… you’re bored already, admit it.)
We do our best to steer our beloved Ninjas to focus on the “big rocks” that will lead to the most efficient results. We recognize for most folks, training and nutrition are merely a means to an end. By all means, I’m always happy to geek out about energy systems or debate the relative merits of low vs. high volume training for hypertrophy, but I’m pretty sure you probably don’t give a fuck. We want you to get in, get out, and go back to the bar to show off your hot new ass.
But while many fitness folks sometimes get a little too wrapped up in the details, it can be just as detrimental to make things overly simple.
The reality is that the processes of the human body are often anything but simple. One of the anxieties of modernity is a seemingly never-ending progression to ever-deepening levels of complexity in virtually all realms of the human experience. It seems to me, on some level, most of us ache for a simpler time. So it makes perfect sense that we long for a reductionistic approach to our fitness goals.
To my mind, there’s no realm more susceptible to this oversimplification than nutrition. The science itself is complicated and full of mysteries we still don’t understand. With an obesity epidemic and a host of nutrition-related diseases playing a leading role in human suffering in Western society, I understand the desire for a magic bullet.
One look at the bewildering variety of mainstream books available on nutrition will leave most any lay reader confused. Many of these books (and authors) claim to have found the source of mankind’s nutritional woes. The only problem is they all conflict with each other. Based on what you read, the problem could be meat, dairy, casein protein, gluten, carbs, sugar, too much fruit, “broccoli carbs”… you name it. If there’s a food you can eat, there’s probably someone out there selling a book about why you should avoid it, complete with compelling logic and cherry-picked research to support their pet nutritional villain.
Now I want to be clear; I think the vast majority of these authors and nutritionists mean well. It’s my belief that humans are generally decent, and most of these folks are passionately motivated by a genuine belief that they have figured it out and they need to let the world know. Unfortunately, with all due respect, I don’t believe their analytical skills or mastery of the science are always totally spot on. (Sorry Gary Taubes.)
I too would feel comforted if I could find one specific nutritional component that was the cause of our society’s ills. But at this point in time, I’m uncomfortable with any single scapegoat. Health (and life) is a multi-factorial affair. Furthermore, each human is a unique physiological system, with its own genetic susceptibilities and predispositions. I’m uncomfortable speaking in absolutes or making any blanket statements as to any particular foods that are “evil” or need to be avoided at all costs.
Now that’s not to say that I have no opinion. I think most people are better off including animal protein in their diet. While I understand and deeply respect the social and environmental rationale for forgoing it, I still think from a health and hotness perspective it’s a stickier path. I also think the vast majority of people would do better to limit their carbohydrate consumption, particularly if they’re looking to lose weight in a simple way. Carbs aren’t inherently the devil, but you don’t lose a whole lot by cutting out pasta. Sugar isn’t necessarily going to be the end of the world, I also think most people get too much sugar and would benefit by eliminating or reducing added sugars in their diet. And lastly, I think the more folks avoid processed, faux foods and chemical additions to their food choices, the better off they’ll be from a health perspective.
That said, I’m no zealot. I don’t think occasional indulgences are going to be a problem, and being overly obsessive about “clean eating” (whatever the fuck that means, read THIS for epic Alan Aragon knowledge bombs) is probably going to cause more harm than having a cupcake once in a while.
As always, I’m a strong supporter of humans following their guts and doing their own research. And while I may not believe in “good” or “bad” choices in life, I do believe choices have consequences. And yes, I’m not just talking about food here.
Obligatory photo of fruits and veggies
So if you decide vegan is the way to go, that’s your prerogative, but you should be aware you may have to do some more work to avoid nutritional deficiencies. If you decide carbs are in fact the devil, I bet you can still have a full and happy life (though I do hope you eat cake at least once in a while; life is short, you know?). Let’s just be honest and admit we’re not nailing our health and hotness goals because when we go to McDonald’s we eat our Double Quarter Pounder without the bun.
I think of myself first and foremost as a consumer advocate and an educator. I’m going to do my best to continue to relentlessly scour every bit of info I can find on health and hotness. I can’t say I’ll never change my mind about the above if the evidence mounts and conclusively proves that (FILL IN “EVIL” FOOD OF THE DAY) is in fact the devil. But it’s my perspective that one of the least useful paths to health and hotness success is to oversimplify the complexity of what human beings eat. Food is more than just fuel. It has cultural, social, psychological, and emotional contexts that very probably affect what happens in your body after you eat.
My “simple as possible but not any simpler” advice: eat as wide a variety of foods possible that are minimally processed and your grandparents would have recognized as food as children. Avoid food-like substances and eat actual food. If you’re looking to lose fat, maintain body weight, or gain muscle, eat the correct amount of healthful foods for your goals. Listen to your body, as if you’re sensitive to how it’s reacting, it can lead you to your ideal food choices. Don’t be afraid to have a slice of pizza once in a while. Keep your mind open, but don’t let your brain fall out of your head.
Yep. It’s scary out here. Complexity can be daunting. But at the end of the day, making sense of a messy world by leaning into the discomfort of the unknown is the only useful path on the journey to mastery. Don’t worry. We’ll do it together. I’ll say funny shit to lighten the mood. We can totally hold hands as we walk…
Keep It Simple Sexy
Let’s keep this simple.
Summer’s coming. You didn’t lose your holiday weight yet. What should you do? Well I could melt your brain with details about what’s optimal. And of course individual context (body type, lifestyle, exercise preferences) needs to play a part. But generally speaking, here are your big rocks:
1) Eat less calories than you need to survive. We call this a caloric deficit. If you fail to eat less than your body needs to maintain its current weight… you can’t lose fat. Science always wins.
2) Focus on protein, moderate amounts of fat, and fruits and veggies. Longtime readers know I don’t think there’s any magic to low carb diets. And I’ve been openly critical of those who believe that carbs are inherently fattening. BUT. The reality is, it’s an easy way to cut calories without getting all OCD. Focus on foods that are high in protein, and get some healthy fats, and eat tons of veggies and some fruit.
3) Workout. Duh. Weight training time and again shows better fat loss results than traditional “cardio,” so it’s my recommendation you spend your first two to three hours of exercise having fun with weights (or bands or bodyweight exercise or whatever). Not only is it better for fat loss, it’ll help you maintain your lean muscle tissue. If you have more time, then do more traditional forms of cardio.
4) Sleep. Yep. Get in your sleep. It’s crucial for fat loss for several reasons. At least 7 hours, preferably 8 to 9.
5) Drink a lot of water. Get 96 oz.
BOOM. I just made you hot. You’re welcome.
As I always tell my clients, for most people, fat loss is simple. And while simple is not the same as easy, it’s better than being hard AND complicated. And if you want more details or would like some help in applying these principles to your specific situation, you know where to find me!
“But I Wanna Get Rid Of These Lovehandles!!!”
Let us consider this term: spot specific reduction. Spot specific reduction means burning fat on a specific site of the body. Here’s the thing; it doesn’t exist. Wah wah.
When you are burning more calories than you are taking in, your body will pull the fat stores from where ever it likes in order to access the energy it needs. In fact, of particular bummerness, you know those “stubborn” areas? Usually back fat and low abs for men and hips and thighs for women? They tend to be the last place the body wants to burn fat for a bunch of science-y reasons beyond the scope of this article.
Consequently doing exercises that work the muscle underlying the unwanted body fat but burn minimal calories is NOT a great way to get rid of the fat (ie weighted side bends for love handles, crunches for lower abdominal fat, etc.). You’re way better off doing multi-joint, big bang movements like squats, pullups, deadlifts, and the like because they are going to burn more total calories.
BIG BANG MOVEMENTS = HOT
To add insult to injury, if you’re reeeeally getting crazy and doing high volume (lots of sets) and frequency because you are DEADSET on burning the fat overlying the muscle group you’re targeting, you may actually thicken the area. Just what you wanted! A THICKER WAIST, HOORAY!!! Now I tend to think this is going to be unlikely for most people (again, its hard to “accidentally” grow bigger muscles), but even so since the benefit is pretty much nil for fat loss it’s not gonna be a great use of your time.
Now there can be a place for those isolation movements if you’re looking to add some muscle to specific areas in order to make desirable aesthetic changes (or strengthen a weak link that’s holding back your performance on the big bang movements), they’re just not your friends when it comes to burning calories in a time efficient manner.
So the takeaway here is this; if you want to burn fat, you have take in less calories than you’re burning and consequently exercises that burn few calories are not of much value.
It’s also worth noting that when trying to burn fat a combination of training and nutritional strategies will serve you best. If you’re just cleaning up your diet with no training, you may not hold onto your muscle (and shapely sexiness). And you really can’t out train your diet, so if you’re rocking the old “I deserve this 7 pound hamburger! I DID SPIN CLASS TODAY!!!” philosophy, you are blunting and probably totally thwarting your fat loss goals altogether.
“I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER?”
Monavie: Superfood or Super Rip-Off?
Monavie! Delicious antioxidants! Monavie, for those who may not have heard of it, is a “premier acai blend.” Oooooh… fruits are good! The more exotic the better! C’mon its got bilberry!! And camu camu!!! Don’t forget NASHI!!!!! But is it worth $40 bucks for a bottle of juice? What does the science say about the health benefits? If only we had someone around who was a Research Samurai… Hey! Its our friend Alan Aragon; The Bro Slayer! Hi Alan! What does the research say buddy?: “The primary selling point of MonaVie is the antioxidant capacity of its acai berry content. The overhyped importance of antioxidant products is a separate topic altogether. Here, we’ll focus on how strong the antioxidant claim is. On MonaVie’s website, they cite a 2006 study showing that a freeze-dried acai powder has the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of any food tested to date . Since ORAC is a measure of antioxidant effect, MonaVie proponents use this research to support the claim that the acai berry is the king of the antioxidants. Here’s what a lot of people miss: ORAC is not the only way to assess antioxidant capacity. A subsequent study using a more comprehensive assessment panel on 10 commonly consumed polyphenol-rich drinks yielded some interesting results . In addition to ORAC, 3 other antioxidant tests were administered: trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), free radical scavenging capacity by 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), and ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP). In addition to the 4 antioxidant capacity tests, they measured inhibition of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, and total polyphenol content by gallic acid equivalents (GAEs). Each of the 6 tests was equally factored into determining overall antioxidant potency. Here’s how the beverages ranked:* *Caution is advised against the tendency to judge foods based on a single parameter such as antioxidation. Many people will automatically perceive the above list as a good-to-bad continuum. Don’t fall into that trap; all foods have unique nutritional benefits aside from their antioxidant effects. (his italics, my bold; this is IMPORTANT) When acai juice was put through a more thorough battery of testing, it ended up with a humble ranking at #6, while red wine came dangerously close to the top spot held by pomegranate juice. As this study indicates, the claim that acai berry is unquestionably the most potent antioxidant is false. For those itching to cry “foul” because MonaVie wasn’t used in this study, I’ll quote the researchers who were already a step ahead of that concern: Thanks Alan! Well there you have it. Is there health value in Monavie? Sure! Is it worth 40 bucks a bottle? Um… not to me. In fact, in the blog post the above excerpt is taken from, Aragon goes on to make the point that since red wine ranks higher for antioxidant potency, you’d do better going the Two Buck Chuck route. Though I can think of one reason that may get tricky… Another loyal reader of my blog I think the big take away here is that its probably unwise to obsess (and spend tons of money) on any particular “superfood” or micronutrient (see the passage in bold above). In the interest of keeping things simple, your winning nutritional strategy is this: Eat a wide variety of mainly unprocessed foods that your great grandparents could have recognized as children. Then tailor the actual total calorie amount to your goal. Voila! Like all fruits Acai has health giving properties; I just don’t think there’s any justification for the expense of Monavie. Just my two cents (or your $40 as the case may be).
“…the acai juices in Figure 1 and Tables 1 and 2 did not include Mona Vie, the premier acai blend, because it is a blend of acai and 18 other fruit juices. The Mona Vie data show the polyphenol and antioxidant index to be in the same range as for the acai juices reported or in the midrange for all beverages analyzed in this study.”
Monavie! Delicious antioxidants! Monavie, for those who may not have heard of it, is a “premier acai blend.” Oooooh… fruits are good! The more exotic the better! C’mon its got bilberry!! And camu camu!!! Don’t forget NASHI!!!!!
But is it worth $40 bucks for a bottle of juice? What does the science say about the health benefits? If only we had someone around who was a Research Samurai…
Hey! Its our friend Alan Aragon; The Bro Slayer! Hi Alan! What does the research say buddy?:
“The primary selling point of MonaVie is the antioxidant capacity of its acai berry content. The overhyped importance of antioxidant products is a separate topic altogether. Here, we’ll focus on how strong the antioxidant claim is. On MonaVie’s website, they cite a 2006 study showing that a freeze-dried acai powder has the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of any food tested to date . Since ORAC is a measure of antioxidant effect, MonaVie proponents use this research to support the claim that the acai berry is the king of the antioxidants.
Here’s what a lot of people miss: ORAC is not the only way to assess antioxidant capacity.
A subsequent study using a more comprehensive assessment panel on 10 commonly consumed polyphenol-rich drinks yielded some interesting results . In addition to ORAC, 3 other antioxidant tests were administered: trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), free radical scavenging capacity by 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), and ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP). In addition to the 4 antioxidant capacity tests, they measured inhibition of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, and total polyphenol content by gallic acid equivalents (GAEs). Each of the 6 tests was equally factored into determining overall antioxidant potency. Here’s how the beverages ranked:*
*Caution is advised against the tendency to judge foods based on a single parameter such as antioxidation. Many people will automatically perceive the above list as a good-to-bad continuum. Don’t fall into that trap; all foods have unique nutritional benefits aside from their antioxidant effects. (his italics, my bold; this is IMPORTANT)
When acai juice was put through a more thorough battery of testing, it ended up with a humble ranking at #6, while red wine came dangerously close to the top spot held by pomegranate juice. As this study indicates, the claim that acai berry is unquestionably the most potent antioxidant is false. For those itching to cry “foul” because MonaVie wasn’t used in this study, I’ll quote the researchers who were already a step ahead of that concern:
Thanks Alan! Well there you have it. Is there health value in Monavie? Sure! Is it worth 40 bucks a bottle? Um… not to me. In fact, in the blog post the above excerpt is taken from, Aragon goes on to make the point that since red wine ranks higher for antioxidant potency, you’d do better going the Two Buck Chuck route. Though I can think of one reason that may get tricky…
Another loyal reader of my blog
I think the big take away here is that its probably unwise to obsess (and spend tons of money) on any particular “superfood” or micronutrient (see the passage in bold above). In the interest of keeping things simple, your winning nutritional strategy is this: Eat a wide variety of mainly unprocessed foods that your great grandparents could have recognized as children. Then tailor the actual total calorie amount to your goal. Voila! Like all fruits Acai has health giving properties; I just don’t think there’s any justification for the expense of Monavie. Just my two cents (or your $40 as the case may be).
In Defense of Food
Alright y’all. Can’t recommend this one enough. So as you all know, my specialty is body recomposition (read: getting you to look smokin’ naked). And because of that, when making general recommendations for food, I tend to focus on the quantitative quality of foods; grams of protein, total calories, etc. This book makes a wonderful companion because Pollan does a great job of explaining how Western society has gone so off course from a health prospective; we’ve lost sight of the QUALITATIVE elements of food. Basically processed pseudo food is not a great long term choice for health. Not rocket science nor particularly surprising, but something about Pollan’s tone really gets the point across without the self righteousness of many in the anti- processed food crowd.
Again, I don’t believe in food discrimination. If you want to eat a Twinkie once in a while (GROSS; not for health reasons, they’re just gross) go nuts. But if you’re habitually consuming foods that come from the center of the grocery store and avoiding the perimeter… you may want to consider reading this book.
Science is a Cruel Mistress
Science. You got to love her. Even though she’s a dirty slut.
Well, ok, not really, she’s rad. (Yes, I know science has no gender, I’m merely carrying on the grand latin tradition of feminizing elements of nature. Yes, I’m seriously as pretentious as I am crass.) But when you have an honest conversation about science, you realize there is only so much we can learn about training and nutrition through traditional means.
As we all learned in elementary school, the scientific method is the process by which we acquire new information. However, the rub here is that when it comes to training and nutrition it’s reeeeeeeal hard to isolate specific variables. Turns out no one is willing to live in a lab and sleep and eat and train exactly the way a scientist needs them to for months on end. Consequently many of the studies we rely on for info are acute in nature and are limited to a specific situation where we can control all the variables. While this isn’t a bad thing and we can still learn a lot, we run into problems when we extrapolate things from an acute study and apply them to real world situations.
A classic example here is nutrient timing (what you eat and when you eat it, in layman’s terms). Yes, if you’re training on an empty stomach, it probably does matter how quickly your body is going to digest the nutrients you get after a workout. This spawned a whole cottage industry of supplements designed to be absorbed quickly: if whey protein digests quickly, wouldn’t it be better to get super fast digesting whey hydrolysates!!! EXTREME!!! HARDCORE!!!
Ooooh… that looks SCIENCE-Y!
Well… not so much. If you train in a fed state like almost all of us do, it’s not really going to matter. At least not to your body. It will matter to the supplement companies’ bottom lines, as now you are not going to be shelling out the extra dough for their EXTREME!!! HARDCORE!!! SUPER FAST DIGESTING PROTEIN!!!
But what about longer term studies? Well sure, scientists do those too, but now we run into the problem of accounting for all the variables that come into play in real world situations. For instance, there are many interesting, longer term studies on the effects of exercise on muscle gain, but when nutrition isn’t tightly controlled (and it almost never is in a long term study) it gets hard to separate the effect of an exercise protocol from the positive and/or negative effects of the participant’s nutritional intake. Not to mention, the ideal study participants are often untrained college students. And since we know almost any style of training will have positive effects in an untrained individual, how can we be sure that study results are relevant to trained populations?
My head hurts…
This isn’t to say that we don’t learn a lot of great things through science, because we certainly do. I know before I really considered how difficult it is to isolate all the variables in a real world situation, I would have thought science was well on its way to telling us everything we needed to know. Turns out, the ads that supplement companies run with doctors in lab coats holding clip boards touting the “university studied” virtues of MEGA EXTREME 2000!!! gave me the wrong impression. And this isn’t even getting into the philosophical argument about science technically being unable to prove anything…
So how do you stay on top of what science does and does not tell us as you pursue a life of health and hotness? For you, maybe it’s subscribing to my newsletter and reading my blog.
For me personally, it’s constant education via books, blogs, webinars, online articles, podcasts, dvds, and seminars. I keep my focus on the 87.5% that the world’s top training and nutrition experts agree on and try not to get too lost in the 12.5% that everyone disagrees about. I check everything against my common sense. I try stuff out in the trenches on myself and my clients and continue to refine my philosophies. And I do my best to keep my mind open and always be willing to listen to a new point of view.
On one level, for someone who’s driven by insatiable curiosity, it’s kind of maddening to accept the limits of what science can tell us. But being a glass is half full kind of guy… I also think it’s kind of beautiful. Mystery is sexy. And most days I’m just so grateful to be alive and run around and play with my friends and have fun and laugh, that I don’t mind at all.
Like Einstein said:
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
And lord knows… I’ll do anything to get a laugh…
Knowledge is power homeys. Keep on learning…
Gratuitous Inspirational Sunset!
The 4 Hour Body
Tim Ferriss, the business expert who wrote the now ubiquitous 4 Hour Workweek, has stepped into the world of health and hotness. As readers of his first work know, this isn’t exactly a wild departure: Ferriss made his millions creating, running, and selling a supplement company.
Feriss’s book is EPIC, clocking in around almost 600 pages. Happily, it’s split up into a number of smaller books addressing common goals like fat loss, muscle gain, and optimal sexy time.
Things I Liked:
-Ferriss is very entertaining writer and it’s a very enjoyable read.
-Ferriss interviewed a LOT of awesome people from the world of training and nutrition: Gray Cook, Brett Jones, Mike Robertson, Dave Tate, Mark Bell, Joe DeFranco, John Berardi… the list goes on.
-He understands the value of the FMS and the beauty and genius of the kettlebell.
-I GENUINELY appreciate his enthusiasm and his willingness to look at VERY outside the box approaches to achieving his goals.
Things I Didn’t Love:
-He doesn’t believe in the law of thermodynamics. Dude. Seriously? Even worse, if you’re not up on the research, he makes a pretty compelling argument for it. (Mark sighs heavily and prepares to explain the calorie in/ calorie out formula to a new batch of humans…)
-While I LOVE that he plugs the FMS, I’m not a fan of self screening. I know that Cook released a book called Athletic Body In Balance which has a self screen in it. I’ve read it, and again, hooray for introducing people to movement quality. However, as Brett Jones said while I studied the FMS under him at my certification, “Self screening is like self surgery.” Nothing replaces a trained, objective, OUTSIDE eye.
-While there is some interesting stuff in here for sure, there’s not going to be much revolutionary for training and nutrition junkies. That said, to be fair, he’s writing for the general population, so this is totally understandable.
-A lot of the chapters start with semi-annoying stories that usually go something like this: “So there I was, finishing off a bottle of (EXPENSIVE FAMOUS WINE) and getting ready to go (EXTREME SPORT) with (NAME OF FAMOUS YOUNG WEALTHY ENTREPRENEUR), the inventor of (NAME OF INTERNET WEBSITE) and the next thing I know… I’m on Richard Branson’s private island.” I’m exaggerating of course… but not by much. I know he’s not trying to brag (…I think), but it got a little bit tedious for me.
All in all?: In spite of myself… I really did enjoy it. And while I personally find no compelling reason to disbelieve the law of thermodynamics and consequently am skeptical about the elements in the book where I have less expertise, I see a little bit of my own ocd “life is a big experiment, what if I tried THIS?” passion in Ferriss. I also appreciate his introducing of a lot of cool training info that the general population may not be hip to (FMS, kettlebells, max strength training… even the Arthur Jones HIT stuff is at least going to expand the horizons of the Flex Magazine crowd). I think if you’re looking for an enjoyable read, this is not a bad book. I do however encourage you to really make sure you don’t buy into everything you read. Then again… I guess I could put that caveat to any book.
Don’t Make “The Perfect” the Enemy of “The Good”
The fitness industry is a magical land. It’s filled with beautiful bodies, science-y words, otherworldly feats of strength… and crazy-ass FOCD people.
Now, I point this out lovingly, since I too once suffered from Fitness Obsessed Compulsive Disorder. When you get reeeeeeally into training, it’s easy to lose sight of the forrest for the trees. In the beginning, an ignorant and blissful newbie can go to the gym and “do the machines” and see some results. But then, results plateau, and said newbie hits the interwebz. The interwebz prove to be a terrifying bounty of conflicting, strongly held opinions. And many of these opinions are based on old wives tales, old research long ago debunked, and of course, “yo, my cousin eats two quarter-pounders every 60 minutes and he’s jacked yo!” anecdotes.
Our newbie (who is now an intermediat-ie in knowledge, if not actual physical development) chokes on paralysis by analysis. Do I do Arthur Jones style High Intensity Training? Or conventional bodypart splits? What about high frequency training? Myo reps? FST-7?! What if I want to lose fat AND build muscle?!?! Should I be taking nitric oxide?!?!?! WHAT IF I LOSE A HALF GRAM OF GLUTAMINE IN MY SHAKER WHEN I’M TAKING MY POST WORKOUT SHAKE!?!?!?!?
Come here newbie. You need a hug. I’m gonna hold you gently but firmly.
My advice is to continue to focus on the “big rocks” that will lead to your best results. Eat soundly. Train hard with a reasonable program. If you’re not sure how to do these things, ask someone who knows what they’re doing for help. (REMINDER: I give everyone an hour of free time. If you ever want to come chat, contact me and we’ll make sure you’re at least headed in the right direction with your training and nutritional strategies.)
The other take away: do not make “the perfect” the enemy of “the good”. My expertise is fat loss. I do personal training for many goals, but bar none, fat loss is what I’m most often hired for. (Turns out increasing their vertical jump is not a high priority for the Manhattan entertainment and financial industry professionals that make up the bulk of my clientele.) Because I have spent a lot time in the trenches and I’ve read (and watched and listened to) so much info on the topic, I’ve come to some strong opinions about what is going to serve most people best most of the time.
However, I am totally aware life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Each person is going to have different psychological (and frankly, physiological) preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. Yes, I prefer resistance training at least twice a week to maintain muscle mass when training for fat loss. You hate resistance training? Great. Do it once a week. Is that optimal? Not in my opinion. Is it better than not doing it all or trying to do it the way I recommend and then giving up because you hate it? Yep. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Yes, if you’re serious about getting as lean as you can and you don’t want to count calories, it’s gonna be hard to make room in your caloric budget for booze. If you don’t know how much is coming in, it gets real hard for us to tweak your diet if you’re not the getting the desired results after a few weeks. But you know counting calories will drive you nuts and having a drink with coworkers a couple of times a week is one of your favorite things in the world? Great. Have fun. Will it blunt your results a little? Maybe. Will we have to reexamine that approach after a couple of weeks? Possibly. Is it better than saying “Screw it, I’m just gonna keep eating the way I want and adding in more elliptical time?” Totally. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Flip Cup does NOT count as cardio.
I don’t like moderate speed running for most people. Honestly, I kinda hate it. For most people, it’s more correctly described as “speed limping” (can’t take credit, not my term; painfully apropos though, right?) and will generally do more structural harm than physique and cardiovascular good. But you absolutely love running for it’s meditative quality? Great. Enjoy. Will I be on you to make sure you’re smart and listen to your body (if your joints hurt when you run, STOP), that you keep the volume sensible, and that you are employing non-sexy restorative modalities to minimize the wear and tear? Sure. But it’s not going to kill you if you’re being responsible. I still prefer circuit resistance training for cardiovascular training but… I shan’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
I’m more than happy to totally geek out and discuss the relative merits of different approaches to optimizing any fitness goal. But at the end of the day, the most important variable is compliance (hat tip to Alan Aragon for that brilliant nugget). If you’re not gonna do it, screw it. As always, one has to use good taste when applying this principle, lest it turn into a justification for refusing to stop doing something that is obviously sabotaging your results (“But dude, I HAVE to be able to get wasted at least three times a week. There’s NO WAY I can live a life of 5 sober nights a week”). Nonetheless, obsessing over meaningless details and/ or trying to employ a strategy that you despise is not a recipe for long term success.
THE TAKEWAY: Stick to the big rocks. Focus on the things that will bring you the best return on your time investment. But remember to not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Make sensible allowances for deleting things you hate and adding things you love. And if you’re not sure what the big rocks are and where you have room to riff, consult a qualified fitness professional.