Journal Entry 264 – Challenge Week 1

This is the first week of the company gym challenge. I have gone to the gym as normal every day of the week so far. I have also busted some plateaus on bench this week, which felt really good. I finally moved up to 200lbs on bench press after hitting 195lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps on Thursday. Very satisfying feeling. My pull workout also saw increases of reps across the board on all exercises. I added a high rep / recovery / isolation day after each push/pull workout. In other words, I do a push workout, next day is pull, next day is recovery, then repeat. The point of this recovery day is to do all the exercises I don’t have time to do on my push/ pull days. I also really liked it. The moves are 3 sets of 12-15 reps and no heavy lifting. Its main goal is to squeeze in some isolations and really just get rid of soreness. It was also really effective at reducing my soreness, because for some reason this week, I was feeling DOMS pretty d*mn bad. Cardio has been done 4 out of the 5 work days this week.

My diet this week has been around 2300 calories a day.  High protein, moderate to high carbs and low to moderate fat. Nothing special in terms of macros, but mainly just making sure I eat enough to fuel my workouts. If you are running in the morning and lifting in the afternoon and don’t eat enough, trust me you ain’t going to be feeling too hot. 😉

Workout Summary:

  • Monday – Cardio and Push
  • Tuesday – Cardio and Pull
  • Wednesday – Cardio and Recovery isolation day
  • Thursday – No Cardio  and Push (same as Monday) – PR achieved
  • Friday – Cardio and Pull (same as Tuesday)
  • Saturday – Recovery Isolation day
  • Sunday – Cardio only

Journal Entry 244 -Running On

Another week of a relatively sporadic exercise schedule in terms of organization, but consistent in terms of hitting something everyday. I lifted about 4 days this week and ran the other three.

Cardio has become sort of a sanctuary for me recently. I can be completely alone, zoned out, decrease my anxiety, increase energy and positivity and it takes a whopping 10-30 minutes a day to achieve this. It has become almost a sort of meditation for me. I love it.  I plan to keep in at least 3 dedicated cardio only days in my plan. When I say “alone” my gym as become sort of overcrowded here recently and sometimes its hard to hit the “zone” when you have so many people in the way. When I go running I’m the only one on the treadmill, so I can hit this meditation without fail. I would like to hit a 3 day split so I can have at least 4 cardio days.

I am on the fence between two routines at the moment. One is a 3 day full body setup. The other is a 4 day split routine. I have noticed heavy lifting too many days in a row saps me of energy. Which is why I will either to 3 days of every other day lifting (strongly leaning towards this) or a 2 on 1 off 1 on 1 off type approach. That way a rest day (or cardio only day) will be inserted in between heavy lifting sessions. The 4 day routine will be a basic bodybuilder split of chest/tri, back/bis, legs/abs, shoulders/arms. The 3 day full body workout will have 4 moves a major push, pull, legs and a compound – isolation move at the end:

  • Example – (each day is different in terms of exercises but the same in terms of layout)
  • Trapbar Deadlift – Legs
  • DB Inc Press – Push
  • Chinups – Pull
  • Dips – Compound Isolation
  • 4 x 8 reps with a single weight. If  30-32 reps are achieved increase weight next workout.
  • Easy enough. Always a big fan of simplicity.

On lifting days, I will do 10 minutes of running and the other days will be 30-60 minutes of straight cardio at 6 mph on a treadmill. May not sound like fun, but I have come to love it.

Diet wise has been roughly 2300 calories a day. Roughly 200 carbs / 200 protein and 50 fat and some alcohol :). This is a very loose estimate as well. Probably was a bit higher than this to be honest.

Journal Entry 232

New setup coming up. My schedule is going to be 1pm-12am from Monday – Thursday with a 3 day weekend. I plan to start a push/pull/legs/push/pull split with 2 days of working out during the week and 3 days over the weekend.

Each workout will have one power move at 3x 4-6 reps. Two more compounds at 3x 6-8 reps and 3 isolation’s for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Also one abs move at the end of each workout. Let me briefly explain this rep range in case you dont understand this. EX – This means I select one weight and I strive for 3 sets of 8 reps before moving up in weight. If I  get 3 sets of 6 reps for my rep range of 3 sets of 6-8 reps you do not move up in weight and implies that the weight is too heavy. Only when you hit 3 sets of 8 reps with good form should you move up. Also if the start slipping down in 5 or 4 reps when the goal is 6-8 reps then you may want to lower the weight.

Diet wise I’m shooting for around or a little under 2000 calories averaged over the week. High protein, moderate carb, moderate to low fat. I haven’t really been adding a bunch of fat to my diet recently, its been pretty passive/tag along depending on what I eat. My maintenance is likely to go up now that I’m adding two gym days. I should mention though that I’m not a freak over tracking anymore. I track don’t get me wrong but the numbers below are approximations not exacts. I don’t have the time, nor the will to track these things with such precision anymore. Sometimes if I feel I’m getting too loose I will throw in a very low calorie day of 1000-1200 calories to balance things out. I usually skip lunch and eat breakfast and dinner. I also sometimes throw these in when I have a scale plateau, but never more than twice a week and never on a training day.

My macros for last week 170 protein / 160 carbs / 50 fat – 1800 calories on average. I’m also ditching readily available food in my fridge. I noticed things like hummus would be sitting there and every time I open my fridge I would have some, which would throw of my totals at other meals. I want to get in the habit of when I want to eat I eat and not snacking so much. I also plan to stick with just one protein bar a day at around 200 calories and save more room for whole food.

Strength was good in the gym yesterday and I picked up 3-4 reps spread across my lifts. Last week however I increased DB Rows and BB squats to 115lbs and 235lbs for 6 reps. My shoulder/upper chest day will be done on Tuesday next week and the second pull day I’m going to add will start with Pullups. I also plan to add two bicep moves to every pull day for a total of 4 exercises over the week. (Recently only been doing one)

I also plan on starting a daily meal prep by cooking all my food in the morning before work. Diet will look like this:

3 scoops of protein powder, 1 cup of berries, 1 TBS of Peanut Butter – 600 calories

2 lbs of vegetables – 200 calories

1 lbs of some type of lean meat – 500 calories

1 quest bar – 200 caloies

Sauce – 50-100 calories

Extras – 200 calories (Random additions)

Protein powder will be eaten at morning and at night. Lunch and dinner will be the same each day and split into two meals. Simple and easy and right around the calories I’m shooting for.

Journal Entry 178 – Minimalism

Log:

IMG_1969 - Copy

Week 23

3/14 – 177.6lbs – 2500 calories – 8500 steps – 4.22 miles

3/15 – 176.2lbs – 2300 calories – 10000 steps – 5 miles

3/16 – 176.4lbs – 2000 calories – 12500 steps – 6 miles

3/17 – 176.2lbs – 2400 calories – 11000 steps – 5 miles

3/18 – 177lbs – 2300 calories – 12000 steps – 6 miles

3/19 – 176.2lbs – 2350 calories – 8500 steps – 4 miles

3/20 – 176.6 lbs – 2300 calories – 10400 steps – 5 miles

Average Weight – 176.6lbs Average Calorie Intake – 2300 calories

Training

This was my first full week on my new split. I really enjoyed it and even though each workout was only 5 moves, it took about an hour to complete. I lifted more than I have in a long time on my key exercises.

  • Bench Press – 1st workout – 195×5 reps – 2nd workout 200×5 reps
  • Standing Shoulder Press – 1st workout – 105×4 reps – 2nd workout 105×6 reps
  • Chinups – 1st workout – 35×5 reps – 2nd workout 40×5 reps
  • Hang Cleans – 1st workout 95×6 reps – 2nd workout 110×6 reps
  • BB Squats – 1st workout 235×4 reps
  • DB Lunges – 65s x 5 reps

So 3 different workouts, with each workout focusing on two main moves. I also added an hypertrophy move right after I do the first two main moves. I have this move structured so that you use the same weight each week for 3 sets of 6-10 reps. Once you can do 3 sets of 10 total reps, you can increase the weight. For example, if I’m doing DB rows for 3 sets of 6-10 and I get 3×10,9,8, I would use the same weight next week and aim for 3×10,10,10. If I dont achieve 10 reps on ALL 3 sets then I continue using the same weight until you do.

I really like the simplicity / minimalism of this type of workout. It eliminates the unnecessary exercises that may even be working against you. I also achieve a really good pump since I feel like the quality of my form has improved since I dont feel like I need to save strength for later movements.

Every day this week, except for days I train Push muscles, I have done at least 100 pushups a day. I started with sets of 15 reps, but not I’m knocking out 20 reps a set. As long as I get 100 it doesnt really matter how many sets it takes. I knocked out 40 in a row yesterday and my form has gotten much better overall on pushups then in the past. Its also a really good way to get a good pump.

By focusing on the essentials, I’m hoping to slowly walk my lifts up a good 2.5-5lbs up each workout. By reducing the unnecessary volume and decreasing the days I was lifting from 6 to 4 days, and also hitting each muscle group at least every 4-5 days (except legs), I expect my strength levels to respond favorably. I also noticed increased enjoyment during my lift days, by cutting back to 4 days. I feel refreshed and ready to go instead of the drag type feeling I experience on some days when I try to do 6 days.

Here are goals I hope to achieve by the end of the year:

  • Bench Press 225×5 reps
  • Standing BB Press 125×5 reps
  • Chinups 60×5 reps
  • Hang Cleans 135×5 reps
  • BB Squats 250×5 reps
  • DB Lunges 75×5 reps

Bench Press is the most important to me. I really want to get that going. Also standing BB press as well because usually when that goes up, it means your core is getting much stronger as well. I forgot to mention I do Abs on Leg Days and usually add one move for 3 sets of 6-10 reps at the end of at least one other workout during the week. Usually a heavy cable crunch.

Here are my workout notes starting from last Thursday.

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Nutrition

Nothing special in nutrition this week. Added an extra 200 calories (averaged out over the week) to my baseline to hit around 2300 calories. Average weight stayed about the same.

  • Protein usually around 180-210 grams
  • Fat usually 75-90 grams (usually mid 80’s)
  • Carbs usually 90-150 grams

I also usually carb up on Saturday. I dont really do a carb refeed, but mainly just eat more starches than usual starting at lunch time. Protein is a bit higher than necessary, but again I just like eating a lot of protein with each meal and prefer the taste over carbs. I’m sure some of the excess protein converts to carbs, but it doesnt bother me. I like eating this way and only plan to mess with it if my lifts start to stall. I do think adding an additional 50grams of carbs to workout days is a good idea though. This week I consumed it as oatmeal right before bed, but I may get some roasted potatoes from trader joes and eat it with dinner. I like buying premade potatoes though, because they are a huge pain to fix and cook raw haha. Oatmeal is much easier to prepare than potatoes, because I dont heat it. I use the low sugar instant oats mix it with a little protein powder and almond milk and eat it like that. Tastes incredible.

I also aim to consume at least 3 whole eggs a day. Usually 1 in the morning with my vitamins and 2 in my lunch. My vegetable intake is high as always with lots of broccoli and spinach. My fruit intake is always at least 1 cup of berries a day and sometimes I eat a banana. Been eating a lot of avocado recently too, but these things are a pain. You have to wait until they ripen and then eat them at least within 2 days. So you almost feel forced to eat it or else its going to go bad. I still like cheese and eggs as my main fat sources, because they dont go bad nearly as fast. Also tried some Trader Joe’s Bolognese sauce and it was incredible. Very thick texture and almost tasted like a cream based sauce. It has a higher fat content than most, but less sugar so its fine with me. Been eating Kim-Chi before my vitamins each morning too. Food Lion has a good brand for about $4, which is much less than most places sell it for.

Some Pics from the week:

Shrimp and Vegatbles 1 whole egg 1 crab rangoon
Shrimp and Vegatbles
1 whole egg
1 crab rangoon
Meat and Veggies
Meat and Veggies
Meat and Vegetables with Special K chips
Meat and Vegetables with Special K chips
Dessert Oatmeal 3 low sugar great value packets 3/4 scoop of protein powder - vanilla berries on top
Dessert Oatmeal
3 low sugar great value packets
3/4 scoop of protein powder – vanilla
berries on top
Meat and Veggies 1 whole egg Cheese
Meat and Veggies
1 whole egg
Cheese
2 whole eggs 5.5oz of lean meat 1oz of cheese Veggies
2 whole eggs
5.5oz of lean meat
1oz of cheese
Veggies
Lean meat Turkey Pepperoni 1/2 cup of bolognese sauce Cheese
Lean meat
Turkey Pepperoni
1/2 cup of bolognese sauce
Cheese

Week 8 of The Lean Down – Journal Entry 154

Log:

IMG_1278

Week 8

12/6- 177.8lbs – CE – 2800 calories – 8777 steps – 4.3 miles – Push

12/7 – 177.2lbs – 1950 calories eaten – 9500 steps – 4.7 miles

12/8 – 178.8lbs – 1865 calorie eaten – 11500 steps – 5.4miles

12/9 – 177.4lbs – 1880 calories eaten – 11700 steps – 5.5 miles

12/10 – 176.6lbs – 1920 calories eaten – 16000 steps – 7.6 miles

12/11 – 177lbs – 1875 calories eaten – 12000 steps – 5.8 miles

12/12 – 176.4lbs – 2100 calories eaten – 11200 steps – 5.3 miles

Average Weight – 177.3lbs – 2000 calories eaten average

This is the eighth week of my lean down phase in which I hope to land around 8% bodyfat or so. I started this right after a Dallas trip in October. I weighed about 183lbs when I got there and after four days of eating like an obese person, I probably weighed in at around 185lbs. If I had to estimate my bodyfat percentage at the start it was probably around 15%. If there is one thing I learned its that most people (including myself) are fatter than they think. Diets are a very humbling experience, if you do it right.  What I mean is I thought I was around 11-13% bodyfat around Dallas, after tracking these past 8 weeks with good precision, I’ve noticed that I was closer to 15% at Dallas and I am now around 11% bodyfat after weeks of dieting. After doing the math I have dropped a good 8-10lbs of fat. That means I had to drop about 8lbs to get down to 11%, so before I was much higher, even though I thought I was leaner than that.

My average weight this week was thrown off my one measurement, so I feel the results are kind of skewed. This morning after a night out for drinks, I had weighed in at 174.8lbs, which is the lightest I’ve been in a long time. That’s one good thing about a few drinks, is that is completely depletes your water weight and can tell you your true weight.  The only problem though, is you always put on extra weight that days after because of aldosterone and sodium fluctuations. Not a big deal though. I feel much better since I’ve been leaning down though. I feel more mobile and flexible and when it comes to pullups and pushups they feel a lot easier. Clothes fit and look better, muscles are more defined and face is leaner. Once I get down to where I want to be I plan on staying there. Not sure if I will reverse diet or just start a carb cycle style diet. Reverse diets are good, but weight can sometimes creep back up on you slowly, without you even noticing. Carb cycles allow you to always be building muscle some days and burning fat others, without creeping up too high in weight. It also builds discipline to always include “diet days” in your diet. These days keeps you lean and sensitive to food. Eating a lot everyday can’t be good for you, just like undereating everyday is not. Both of these can also become mentally draining at some point. The cycle approach keeps things interesting and also allows you stay at your lean base. Strength is also very close to the same as it was when I started; better on a few exercises and worse on others.

For every 2lbs of fat that you drop you lose roughly one percent bodyfat. I estimate it may take me another 8 weeks to hit my goal. Especially now that I’m leaner, my fat loss is most likely going to slow down, because the leaner you get the harder it is to mobilize bodyfat. Once you get below 10%, your lucky to burn a pound of fat a week and you may have to accept 1/2 – 2/3s of a pound, which is mentally hard to do, because you can’t even tell its gone by the naked eye.

I’m going to introduce some carb cycling into my diet. My overall calorie deficit isn’t really going to change, but I’m going to add in 1-2 carb refeeds per week at slightly over maintenance. This is too boost certain hormones that may get diminished during dieting. The only way to really upregulate these hormones is to overeat and store a bit of fat. Storing a bit of at, lets the brain know food is plentiful and there’s no need to hold on too fat anymore. In essence refeeds are planned overfeeding, to increase you fat burning. (don’t mind if I do) Refeeds serve a lot of benefits that I have wrote about before, but the biggest benefit for me has to be the relaxation of just taking a day off.  The extra carbs will also max out my glycogen stores and keep me training hard. I may start with one this week and add another next week. But I like the idea of a mid week spike in carbs. Sometimes I can feel a bit rundown around midweek when dieting and a high day may alleviate this problem. On my two rest days (Monday and Wednesday) I’m going to walk an extra 3 miles and drop my calories down to around 1500 calories instead of my usual 1900 calories. I’m doing this to balance out that high day and to hopefully attack fat harder on certain days, when no weight training is being done. Basically just going to eat protein and vegetables with no additional starch. The high days will be Saturday and maybe Tuesday and the low days (moderate calories and carbs) will be right at 1900 calories. These are days I lift weights, so I need the extra carbs to combat high cortisol levels.

Other than that progress has been good so far. I’m enjoying this process and I think carb cycling will keep things very interesting and hopefully help me accelerate progress. The diet is enjoyable, but I feel like mixing days (high, low, no) will keep my diet and food choices a little different which is good from a mental perspective. Eating the exact same thing over and over for weeks does work, but can get very old after a while. My weight log is most likely not going to be consistent anymore due to the high day spikes in weight, but as long as the weight is going down overall it doesn’t bother me at all.

My overall goal is to be right around 170lbs at 8% bodyfat. Currently I’m around 177lbs at 11%, meaning I’ll have to drop another 5lbs of pure fat to hit my goal. Hopefull everything goes as planned.

Workouts

My weight logs for the week; the second Pull workout is listed twice:

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I started a new scheme for strength. Its a pyramid set that counts down from 5/4/3/2/1. You use the same weight the entire time and increase by a small amount each week. I really like this scheme, because 5 sets of 5 reps burns me out and by the time I get to rest of my workout my lifts greatly suffer. That doesnt happen with this since the volume is much lower. I also used another rep scheme for hypertrophy, which is 12/11/10/9/8 reps. It his all the “muscle size” rep ranges over 5 sets. You pick a weight you can do 12 times keep that weight that whole time and do one less rep each set.

Here’s a few of my key lifts:

DB Bench 90lb Db’s for 6,5,4 reps

DB Row 115lb Db’s for 4,4,4 reps

Barbell Bench 195×6

Pullups bodyweight + 30lbs for 5,4,3,2,2

Squats 205×5,4,3,2,1 (better than last week, but still much less than I used too do)

Nutrition

Dropped my protein intake down a bit to 1 gram per pound of LBM at right around 165 grams. Fat dropped down to 40-50 gram range and I did this, because carbs give me more energy during a calorie deficit. Carbs went from 100-120 grams up to right around 150-180 grams.

Here are some pics from the week:

6oz of meat 2 cups of mixed greens 2 potatoes Crackers on the side
6oz of meat
2 cups of mixed greens
2 potatoes
Crackers on the side
Lunch 5-6oz of meat and 2-3 cups of vegetables  1 whole egg Eat this everyday
Lunch
5-6oz of meat and 2-3 cups of vegetables
1 whole egg
Eat this everyday
6oz of meat 1 cup of jasmine rice 1 cup of greens
6oz of meat
1 cup of jasmine rice
1 cup of greens
Oven baked sweet potato with fat free redi whip on top (dear god these tasted good)
Oven baked sweet potato with fat free redi whip on top (dear god these tasted good)
Seafood mix rice and veggies
Seafood mix rice and veggies

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Protein pudding with a sweet potato for desser
Protein pudding with a sweet potato for desser
Seafood mix with veggies and crackers on the side
Seafood mix with veggies and crackers on the side
2-3 glasses of Dark Horse Wine - Red Blend
2-3 glasses of Dark Horse Wine – Red Blend
Winter time at Williamsville
Winter time at Williamsville

P.S. Sorry about the ugly formatting. Sometimes the editor becomes too text heavy and doesnt space out my paragraphs like it should.

Setting Carbs on a Diet and Carb Refeeding

Carb refeeding has always interested me. Almost every successful diet that comes out today, has some manner of carb refeeding or overfeeding to prevent and reverse so of the many negatives that comes from prolonged calorie and carb cutting. But there’s so much information, it becomes hard to know what to do and also how to to plan it in order to get results. I’m going to try and wade through the information and explain it the best I can and how you should implement a refeed based on where you are with your body fat level, appetite and motivation.

Chocolate Oatmeal with bananas, berries and pancake toppings
Chocolate Oatmeal with bananas, berries and pancake toppings

The first time I came upon carb refeeding was when I was very naive in my old dieting habits. I would cut calories and carbs too hard in order to get very low body fat. My strength in the gym was terrible, my motivation and determination was fading fast from where it started before the diet and I was starting to obsess about food. I was also in the middle of the “low carb era” which I really despise thinking back on. Way too many experts that were jumping on each others bandwagons and proclaiming  insulin to be this fat storing nightmare, when in reality they were just dead wrong. It wasn’t till after many people started experiencing severe problems on low carbs (thyroid issues, low body temperature, no motivation, low libido, terrible gym performance) that some people finally admitted they were wrong. Sadly many will still not admit this. Anyway the point is, to have a successful diet you always want to keep a decent amount of carbs in the diet. I set the minimum at 120 grams a day. 120 grams a day is enough to maintain thyroid, liver glycogen (which regulates blood sugar), brain glucose (concentration and thinking straight) and Central Nervous System (regulates fatigue). These are just a few benefits, but leaving this amount of carbs also helps keep cortisol levels from becoming excessive, prevents adrenal fatigue (excessive fat burning hormones and adrenaline), higher leptin levels (fat regulator), various fat burning hormones higher and libido intact (libido takes a nose dive when liver glycogen gets depleted).

After you have a minimum of 120 grams of carbs you also need to adjust for lifting and exercise. If you are sedentary besides walking, then 120 grams will do well for you. If you lift and run I recommend bumping up the carbs to around 150-170 grams depending on the intensity of your workout. This will cover your exercise needs and your basic physiological requirements for normal glucose. Of course once you have your carbs right you need to make sure your hitting your minimum protein intake (.8 multiplied by bodyweight) and fat intake (at least .2 multiplied by bodyweight) to prevent nutrition deficiencies and muscle loss.

Example

  • Total Weight – 180 lbs
  • Maintenance Calories with exercise – 2400 calories
  • Protein – 144 grams
  • Fat – 45 grams
  • Carbs – 160 grams
  • This comes out to 1621 calories, which is the bare minimum this person needs to lose weight without wrecking his health.

These are minimums for the low days and targets you should make sure to hit everyday. Now comes the part about refeeding. Carb refeeding originated from ketogenic dieting. Keto diets are extremely low carb and the reason high carb refeeds were implemented was too reverse the adaptations and many negative consequences these diets brought. I hate Keto diets and wouldn’t recommend them to anyone, unless they enjoy having health problems and feeling terrible all the time. That being said carb refeeding can still have enormous benefit to all diets. No matter how many carbs you have in your diet, if you don’t eat enough calories every so often your body will catch on and start to slow down metabolism. Refeeding prevents this. Here is how to implement one in your diet:

  • If you are on Ketogenic diet, I would do one AT LEAST every three days. Carbs are short term energy storage in the body and after 3 days the carbs are all depleted. Hit the refeed hard with at least 2-3 bodyweight in carbs.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and our greater than 15% bodyfat, then do a refeed once every 2 weeks. Shoot for double the carbs you normally eat and the calories should hit right around your maintenance.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and have 10-15% bodyfat, do a refeed once a week, preferably on day with no alcohol, because alcohol can inhibit leptin and that’s one of the main hormones you are trying to influence. Shoot for double the amount of carbs you normally eat and calories right around maintenance or slightly over.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and are under 10% bodyfat, do a refeed twice a week, preferably every 3 days or maybe 5 low days in a row and then 2 high days in a row. This will prevent muscle loss that occurs more often for leaner people.
  • If you have been dieting for longer than 12 weeks with no or limited refeeds, take 2 weeks of with double the carbs you normally eat and calories at maintenance level. Then resume normal dieting and implement one of these refeeding strategies.
  • The last strategy might be the most effective. Listen to your body. If you find yourself overly hungry one day for no apparent reason, motivation is starting to fade and the gym seems more like a chore then a joy, do a refeed that day. Refeeds can “float” so to speak, meaning they can vary whenever you need them. I guarantee the day after you refeed, your motivation will be much higher for the entire week and you will be glad to return to your normal diet.

Is carb refeeding absolutely necessary? Not unless your on a Ketogenic diet. As I stated earlier if you eat enough carbs on a daily basis, many of those nasty hormonal functions may never effect you, but refeeds can help give you a boos. I like to think of them as an insurance policy and also a reward for dieting hard the other days of the week. That being said they do serve a physiological benefit and my bet is that you would get better results with them, than without them. Just dont get too carried away with them. Unless you have a very easy time cutting fat, too many refeeds drastically slow down your fat loss results and may even stop it completely if your not careful. Follow the advice above and watch your fat disappear, while your metabolism, strength and muscle remain intact. 😉

PS – High growth hormone, which is popular among low carb experts as a potent fat burner, inhibits leptin. Leptin is the chief hormone you want to spike with refeeds as it signals the body to start burning fat for energy and that your well fed. Only carbs can signal leptin. Further reading … Why You Probably Need Carbs.

Getting Results: The Pillars of Success

Nutrition and exercise is a vast field filled with endless amounts of information. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something comes along that challenges the foundation of your knowledge. I have studied nutrition for a large part of life and have learned a lot, but I know that there is no way I know everything and I don’t pretend to either. I want to remain open minded and after trying out many different things myself, I feel like I have a good grasp on what works and what does not.

In this article, I want to lay down some pillars that I feel are what everyone needs to use to evaluate their progress. These are much more useful than arbitrary instructions that cant possibly apply to everyone. Just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it works for another. I feel like these are good general guidelines that almost anyone can follow to achieve success. Also, these pillars are not in order meaning each pillar is just as important as the other, no matter where they fall in the list.

Pillar 1 – Enhance Fat Mobilization:

Unless your genetically gifted, maintaining a low body fat is going to take some work. People look much better at a low body fat and maintaining this will increase confidence and improve self esteem. Many people know this already, but go about it the wrong way. To burn fat at a healthy and sustainable rate you need to eat around a 10-20% calorie deficit from your total maintenance each day. This is the sweet spot.

Why not go lower? –  Lots of reasons. When the energy balance gets too low, especially once you dip below your BMR (Bodyweight x 10 for most people) negative things start to happen.

  1. Cortisol increases too much leading to decreased testosterone or progesterone and increases stress hormones
  2. Increases cravings
  3. Increases muscle loss
  4. Increases chances of rebound weight gain (yo-yo dieting) (many people guilty of this)
  5. Short term results long term weight gain
  6. Plateaus are likely to occur
  7. Leptin a chief fat burning hormone is lowered after 3-4 days after which your fat burning effectiveness is decreased by 50%
  8. Your body can’t synthesize all energy it needs from bodyfat. This means if you eat zero calories your body and brain needs glucose that it literally cannot get from body fat. So it borrows from your muscles instead. This means that your body can only burn so much fat on any given day, so to prevent muscle loss it literally needs glucose from protein and carbs.
  9. Induces depression
  10. Many, many more…

This is a short list, but many people attempt to get ripped or skinny by starving themselves, because they want results NOW. Unless they are prepared to face all these negatives and live on their low calorie diet for the rest of their life, its not a wise idea.

By eating a small deficit and eating over their BMR, it may take them a bit longer to reach their goal, but they get to keep their results once they reach them. By the time the person that takes their time and does things right reaches their goal, the person that tried to rush things will already be experiencing rebound repercussions and rebound fat gain.

Pillar 2 – Increase Muscle and Decrease Protein Breakdown

This is an overlooked part of a diet. As I just stated there is more to keep in mind than just a drastic cut in calories for health and hormonal reasons. The next step is to increase lean muscle and drastically decrease protein breakdown by eating enough calories and protein.

If protein synthesis is greater than protein breakdown, lean muscle can be built. So yes muscle can be built on a calorie deficit if the deficit is small enough and protein, carbs and calories are high enough.

How to achieve this?

  1. Eat enough protein to match your bodyweight. If you are overweight than eat your goal weight in protein.
  2. Maintain a small deficit under 15% of maintenance, to burn fat while building muscle.
  3. Eat enough carbs to spare the protein and prevent protein breakdown. Eat the same number of carbs as protein.
  4. Eat regular meals with protein to supply a steady stream of amino acids to muscles and prevent blood sugar from getting to low an increasing cravings for fattening food.
  5. Oh and the most important step is to lift weights. 😉 (No matter how much protein you eat, if you dont lift weights you won’t maintain or gain muscle mass)

Pillar 3 – Maintain Metabolic Rate

If I had to pick the most important pillar this would be it. The one thing that everyone ignores when trying to successfully lose fat and keep it off. You have to keep the deficit small enough to allow your body to burn fat while maintaining metabolic rate.

How to do this? (this is going to be a very similar list to the previous two lists)

  1. Eat enough calories and maintain a small deficit (10-20% under maintenance)
  2. Eat enough carbohydrates (you need at least 120 grams a day to maintain brain glucose. Please do not fall victim to low carb information. Every major researcher I see that preaches low carb is overweight and for good reason, because the diet is ineffective and provides only short term results.)
  3. If you feel start to plateau attempt a carb refeed every 1-2 weeks.

Pillar 4 – Hormonal Health

This is another big one people ignore. Constant calorie deficits, especially large in nature hurt hormones.

  1. If your sex drive sucks, then your not eating properly. This is one of the best ways to test whether your dieting a little too hard.
  2. You start to crave and obsess about food. This means cortisol is getting too high and your blood sugar is starting too get low. It also means your body needs food and is sending you that signal.
  3. Thyroid health. Go too low in carbs is the fastest way to tank this. The best way to tell this is getting low is feeling tired all the time, no motivation and start to feel cold in warm conditions.
  4. Fighting your hormones on a diet is like trying to fight Rocky with two hands tied behind your back. You can try, but you will lose. Your much better working with your hormones, not against them.

Pillar 5 – Consistency and Patience

This step took me awhile to master, but is critical to success. Some motivational phrases: Changing your body is a marathon not a sprint; Rome wasn’t built in a day neither was your body;  A 10,000 mile journey starts with a single step. These mean a lot. It shows that achieving something great takes time. Nobody wins a marathon by sprinting from the starting line, these people are usually the ones you see passed out on the side of the road after 4 miles.

By eating a smaller deficit, you are ensuring your body makes slow and consistent progress without negative repercussions. You may not notice changes immediately, but 1-2 months down the road you will look and feel incredible with more energy, less fat and more muscle tone.

This is also a time to learn more about your own body. There are people around my weight and height that eat over 3000 calories to maintain their weight. I maintain on about 2300 calories a day. If I took calorie advice from this person I would gain weight. But after learning my own body, I know what works for me and what does not.

One final thing to note is to master the mirror test. Forget scale weight, focus on the mirror. In a successful body recompostion plan, you should wake up each day looking better than they day before. If you wake up looking bloated and puffy, you ate too much. No need to take drastic measures just eat a bit less to make up for it. On the other hand, if you wake up and look pale, muscles look flat, skin is dry and wake up starving, then you ate too little and need to increase calories to get back to the sweet spot.

The Summary of Getting Results:

  1. Eat at a small calorie deficit (10-20% from total maintenance) to enhance fat mobilization. (Ex – Total calories with exercise = 2500 calories. 2500-500 = 2000 calories to lose fat)
  2. Maintain metabolic rate and muscle mass by eating your bodyweight or goal bodyweight in protein and carbs. (Ex- Bodyweight is 180 lbs = 180 grams of protein and 180 grams of carbs)
  3. Keep hormones in check by maintaining a healthy sex drive and preventing big calorie deficits.
  4. Be patient and consistent with your plan and don’t rush results.
  5. Use the mirror for biofeedback and skip the scale.
  6. If all of these pillars are achieved results should come.

 

The Bro Split

The Bro split is a typical bodybuilder split that has been used for decades to enhance the physiques of many. Today many people claim you shouldn’t do them at all unless you’re on steroids, because they don’t work for the average recreational lifter. Another common complaint is that muscles should be worked twice a week and anything less than this and you’re missing out big time. I actually disagree with some of these statements and I’ll also outline some major benefits that only a “bro split” can offer.

First I want outline what the typical bro split is. The way I set mine up would look like this:

  • Day 1 – Chest
  • Day 2 – Back
  • Day 3 – Legs
  • Day 4 – Shoulders
  • Day 5 – Arms
  • Day 6 and 7 – Cardio or Off (these days can also be scheduled during the week in between sessions)
  • Note – Abs done every other day or 3 days a week

Very simple and easy. The plan allows the lifter to hit one muscle group a day and then not hit that muscle group directly again for another week. (Although some overlap always exists regardless of what split you use.)

Let me tackle the first complaint against these, which is the split only works if you’re on steroids. The reason that people say this is because most steroid using bodybuilders use this split and do incredibly high amounts of volume (sets and reps) that most people can’t recover from. I agree that if you use a ridiculous amount of volume not only would you not gain muscle, your workouts would actually begin to make you smaller. But this example is taken out of context and is an extreme example that people frequently use to make a point. This split will work awesome for an average lifter if the volume is controlled. Here is a perfect example of a good volume to shoot for, for each body part in order to ensure enough volume is used to break down the muscle, but not so much that regression begins to take place:

  • Chest Day (example)
  • Barbell Bench Press 4×6 reps (strength focus)
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 8,10,12 reps (pyramid) (size focus)
  • Dips 3 x 8,10,12 reps (pyramid) (size focus)
  • Cable Flys (isolation movement) 3×15 reps (blood flow and endurance)

Easy, effective, and not excessive. Tell me what exactly is wrong with this rep scheme? … – About 90% of intermediate lifters would progress just fine on this and probably even better than hitting a muscle twice a week, which brings me to my next point.

Hitting a muscle twice a week can be effective if done correctly. For this to be done correctly you have really get you’re volume correct or you really risk over training and not allowing enough recovery. Lets say the lifter lifts on Monday and hits Push muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps). First of all in order to complete this in a single day you would need to drastically reduce the volume for each body part, which if not chosen correctly could lead to under-stimulating each muscle. So the lifter uses two exercises for each body part and lifts with a heavy rep range of 6-8 reps for each exercise. The next day he’s sore the workout went great and he doesn’t have to use these muscle groups again until 2-3 days from now, when most of the damage is healed from the previous workout. So Thursday comes around and its time to hit those muscles again. The lifter doesn’t feel to sore and repeats the Push workout with a very similar workout template, expect today the lifter doesn’t feel nearly as strong and his poundage’s are either the same or worse. What gives? – Well in my experience its due to the muscle not getting enough recovery time. 2-3 days may be correct for most of the damage to be healed from your previous workout, but that’s just it. You’re not only trying to just recover from what your workout did 3 days ago, you’re trying to get bigger and stronger in that muscle. The muscle needs to GROW not just RECOVER. Those are two very different things and if you are constantly bashing your muscle groups without enough rest this growth is unlikely to occur.

Another thing no one tells you with hitting muscle groups twice a week is the fact that you have to have one heavy day (4-8 reps) and one light day (10-15 reps) or you’re doing it wrong. They fail to distinguish that if you lift heavy of the same muscle group twice a week then you’re probably not going to get very far. The light day is more of “recovery day” to stimulate blood flow from your previous heavy day. And to be fair the Bro Split actually does somewhat hit your muscles group more than once a week, but its more indirect. For example Dips on arms day is a heavy chest mover and also close-grip chinups which is as much a back movement as a biceps movement.

And my final favorite criticism is the if you hit your muscles twice a week then you will have 104 workouts per year vs 52 from only hitting a muscle twice a week, which is far better for growth and elevates protein synthesis. Under this logic, you might as well say “just hit all your muscle groups every day so you can fit in 365 workouts a year for maximum growth.” An extreme example, but still more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Also, while elevated protein synthesis is a good thing, its not the only thing needed for a muscle to grow. So it is beneficial, but it doesn’t mean everything.

Those are the main points I wanted to make and that being said I still think hitting muscles twice a week can be used effectively if you program it right, which most people don’t. I also think that if you stay on them too long you will plateau and switching to a “Bro split” may actually increase your muscle growth due to the extra rest you receive.

One thing to caution here is that a Bro split can also be ineffective if you don’t structure your days correctly. Let me give you an example of a terrible split:

  • Day 1 – Arms
  • Day 2 – Shoulders
  • Day 3 – Chest
  • Day 4 – Back
  • Day 5 – Legs

Terrible:

  1. First always structure bigger muscles first in the week and finish with smaller ones.
  2. Second put legs in the middle in order to prevent the upper body from being used too many days in a row
  3. Third separate shoulders away from chest to prevent the muscle from being sore the day you workout
  4. Its wise to stick a rest day in between every 2-3 days of lifting (not absolutely necessary, but helpful)

No I want to outline some of the benefits of the Bro Split or 1 muscle group a day per week split:

  1. Allows the user to dedicate maximum focus and intensity to each target muscle group (try shoulders after heavy bench presses and you’ll see that intensity drops way off)
  2. Allows maximum rest for each muscle group and only hits each muscle directly once a week to allow for the Growth of the muscle not just recovery from the last workout. (if structured properly – see above)
  3. Takes much less time each day and allows user to finished between 30-45 minutes if lifting intensely
  4. Prevents over-training that many plans that attempt to hit two muscle groups a day frequently do.
  5. Its easier to program. Most lifters don’t want to program every last detail. Tell them to hit their chest hard once a week and the let it recover vs tell them to hit their muscles twice a week with a heavy/light scheme and the questions start to pour in.
  6. Its Proven. Take a trip over to Bodybuilding.com and look at some of the transformations people have done, especially in regards to gaining mass. I’d say at least 80% of them used some sort of split routine that hit a muscle once a week vs. a full body or upper/lower split. The results speak for themselves.
  7. Their fun. These splits allow for intensity techniques (drop sets, high rep finishers, rest pause sets) that would be almost impossible to do while training 3 muscle groups in the same day.
  8. Their easier to push your limits. Example – Lifter gets 200 x 6 reps on a barbell bench press the previous Monday. This Monday he shoots for 205 x 6 reps or even 202.5 for 6 reps. Trying increasing like that every 3rd day and I guarantee you it will not happen.
  9. It allows for maximal breakdown of the muscle. This is an important one, but sometimes an annihilation workout to each muscle can actually be very effective from the standpoint of getting in enough volume for growth provided the recovery is there. Sometimes by splitting your volume up twice a week and working multiple muscles per day may leave some muscles under-worked each day and overworked for the week.
  10. Allows for cardio to be done each day. Some may see this as HUGE negative, but cardio is really important for building mass. Insulin sensitivity, more mitochondria of the cells, wakes up the CNS to prepare for heavy lifting, increased blood flow and removal of waste products to name a few. Only 5-15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is needed to stimulate these benefits.
  11. Allows for more lifting days overall. By only going in and hitting one muscle a day it allows the lifter to lift more often (almost every day if programmed correctly) without burning out.
  12. Psychological reasons. This is more of rehash, but sometimes going into a lifting session only having to hit one muscle is far more mentally refreshing than going in having to hit 3 or more muscles in the same day and making sure each is sufficiently worked.
  13. Targeting different areas of the muscle. The shoulder has three heads. While you don’t need a ton of volume to stimulate each, only doing compound shoulder presses and ignoring lateral and rear delt raises is a mistake that could prevent optimal development of that muscle.

As you can see the Bro Split may get made fun of, but has tons of benefits and an impressive track record that speaks for itself. If you have been plateauing on a “new -age split” that has you hitting muscles twice a week a Bro split may be worth a try.

The Difference Between What is Right and What is Easy

After doing this GH Circuits Reloaded, also posted in the goals section, I realized something I have been guilty of for quite awhile. THINKING I KNOW IT ALL.  In reality I know a lot, but in NO WAY do I know everything.

I kind of fell into a rut in my workout and couldn’t decide on what split I wanted to do.  I tried to stick to my favorite lifts all the time and build around those, but even some of my favorite lifts just weren’t doing it for me anymore.

After trying out this GH reloaded workout, it opened my eyes to have effective different workouts could be.  A simple switch from Seated DB shoulder press to Standing Barbell Push Press can work completely different muscles and spur new muscle gains.  Also, dropping rest periods and doing back to back exercises for the same body part is very, very hard and really challenges your muscles.  After doing two of these workouts it rocked my entire body and my muscles were literally shaking due to fatigue.  I always just made substitutions for the exercises I didn’t like for the ones I did, but that leads to a really big plateau.

Also never working on WEAK LINKS in your body is a huge mistake.  If anything ignore your strong points and ONLY focus on your weak links.  For example, elite runners can run all day, but they second they jump in the pool for a swim their done in about 2 minutes.  Another is someone who may be an elite bench presser, but can’t lift 50 lbs over their head to work shoulders.  This leaves the body in an uneven and weak state.

Doing what is EASY is 

  • Doing the same routine over and over and expecting different results
  • Never changing exercises
  • Thinking you know it all and dismissing all others advice
  • Never breaking bad habits
  • Working only on strengths and ignorning weakness

Doing what is RIGHT is

  • Constantly challenging yourself with different exercises
  • Taking advice from others
  • Never getting to a point where you think you know everything (because you don’t)
  • Ending bad habits and starting better ones
  • Focus on bringing up the weak points in balance with the strong points

Also, just because some workouts look “simple” on paper, doesn’t mean they are “easy.”  For example running 20 miles without stopping is a “simple” instruction, but is definitely not an easy one.

PS- I took this quote from Harry Potter.  Awesome Movie. ;).

Building Good Abs

I’ve always had a hard time deciding where to place my Ab workouts.  I never feel like doing them at the end of my workout, because I’m tired from all the heavy lifting and sometimes I go weeks at a time without hitting them.

Many people say that if you lift heavy on certain exercises, then you don’t need to do abs.  I use to believe this, but I’m starting to disagree.  I definitely agree when you deadlift and squat with heavy weights your abs do get hit, but I also feel like you should add more volume to really hit the abs effectively.

Abs are tricky though because the hip flexors can easily overpower the movement.  For example, hanging leg raises are effective if you do them right, but many people don’t.  Basically the hip flexor overpowers the movement and the abs aren’t doing very much work.  Now some people can perform these with very good form, but they usually have very strong abs already.  The reverse crunch would serve many people well due to the angle you perform the movement.

I like using straight sets in the gym, so my plan is to do ab exercises in between sets.  By the end of the workout I would have nailed my abs just by adding them into the time I usually rest between sets.

My favorite ab moves:

  • Bicycle Crunch
  • Reverse Crunch
  • Mason Twist
  • Planks

These all keep a constant tension on the ABS and eliminate the hip flexors from taking over the movement.  I also used to be a fan of weighted abdominal exercises, but had a hard time really “feeling the muscle”, so I’m going to focus on the exercises that really tense up the abs.

Sample Workout:

  • Deadlift
  • Bicycle crunch between sets
  • DB Row
  • Reverse Crunch between sets
  • Lat Pulldown or Pull-ups
  • Mason Twist between sets
  • DB Curl
  • Front Planks between sets
  • Shrugs
  • Side planks between sets

This workout would add a ton of volume to my abs and my workout would basically be finished in the same amount of time, because instead of resting I would just “add in” ab exercises.  Should be interesting to see the results.

PS – Added in two heavy days of abs with two high rep days like the one shown above.  The heavy days are done on an AB machine and an oblique machine.  I must admit I really a ton of tension from the weighted machine exercises that I dont feel on on other weighted ab movements.  I plan on keeping these heavy machine days going strong and hopefully in a couple of months, I resemble Gerard Butler from 300. 😉