- At let’s say 700 calories per day into deficit, progress stalls.
- For one of my clients who comes to me in this circumstance, I’d actually do some maths, predict what level of energy intake I’d expect to produce best results, and work with the client on a strategy to increase towards that amount.
- I don’t do maths based on “calculating a deficit” but for argument’s sake let’s say we’re going to increase until we’re only 150 calories per day in deficit.
- Higher TEF, RMR & NEAT no longer compromised, resources actually available to recover & benefit from training. We will see better results.
For the sake of hopefully avoiding controversy, I’m going to begin with the conclusion. As with many questions, the actual answer is “maybe, it depends”. People tend to prefer black & white, yes & no, good or bad, blanket statement type answers… *shrug* sorrynotsorry if you’re disappointed.
The quality of advice should really be assessed on the basis of the quality of the advice, rather than the description of the person it comes from. Any specific individual trainer, bodybuilder, nutritionist, dietitian, or other person may give good advice or bad advice. We may observe that generally speaking, one profession is more or less likely to give solid, factual, reasonable and helpful advice than another… regardless, advice is good or bad based on how solid, factual, reasonable and helpful it is, not based on who it comes from.
Diplomatic enough for you? Everyone still happy so far? No one’s feelings hurt? Good. Let’s continue.
Now then. Let’s agree that it makes sense to assume we’re talking about people with a weight loss &/or fat loss goal. Who knows more about how to maintain lean mass and shed fat than a bodybuilder? Few if any.
Or so it would seem. Someone may have done a body building contest and achieved a lean condition under the instruction of their coach. Does that necessarily mean they understand how to assess another person’s requirements, understand their circumstances and coach them to a satisfactory outcome? Hardly. This is unfortunately a common, and problematic phenomenon especially related to instagrammers who get lean for a show or a photo shoot, and then start charging for “clean eating” meal plans and so forth. I would avoid anything of the sort like the plague.
So, let’s consider that particular variation of the question resolved. Should you follow dietary advice from a person on the sole basis that they’ve competed in a bodybuilding show, or are otherwise in impressive & athletic shape? Absolutely not.
What about bodybuilding coaches though? As with anything, it’s a mixed bag but I personally know a few who I’m confident are knowledgeable, competent, and usually have a few tricks up their sleeve that are more than merely starving and burning calories.
With that said, I’ll start my list of red flags with the following:
Do they understand that there’s a difference between “contest prep” and appropriate, sustainable eating habits & advice suitable for fat loss and more athletic condition in a normal person?
What might be necessary for and reasonably expected of people in the final stages of contest prep bares little resemblance to what’s reasonable or helpful advice for the rest of us who are looking for sustainable results towards a more athletic condition while actually enjoying the rest of our lives as well. If your coach doesn’t understand this, you’re in for a bad time.
Are they on the gear?
A lot of the times people will present their own physique or that of their clients as evidence to support their views on nutrition and the superiority of their understanding of science. That’s fair enough, but if they’re using steroids then all bets are off. I’d argue that differences in results between enhanced athletes are far more likely to be down to differences in dosage or choice of drugs than due to which carbs they feel are “clean” enough to eat. And if they’re on gear and talking about “discipline” and how people should want to do it the hard way rather than “cheating” with enjoyable foods on an IIFYM style approach, they can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned.
Bottom Line On Nutritional Advice
I’d ignore any advice from anyone that comes with the suggestion that adrenal fatigue or leaky gut are a concern you should have in mind with your dietary choices. I’d ignore any advice of the “calories aren’t equal” or “carbs are not equal” variety as well. Advice of the “this is what I did and it worked for me” nature is next to useless, and for advice of the “this is what everyone should be doing, even though it’s not actually working for me” variety it almost goes without saying.
Hmm what are some other red flags? “Sugar is addictive”, “fruit has too much sugar”, “artificial sweeteners will make you fat”, and any reference to Gary Taubes, Sarah Wilson, David Gillespie, or the various gluten fear mongers.
The best advice is based on the understanding that people have varying requirements, and unique circumstances, tastes, and idiosyncrasies which will determine what is reasonable to expect them to adhere to. Being expected to have the “willpower” or “discipline” to adhere to something that does not suit the individual is entirely unreasonable, and advice that fails to take this into account is inherently poor.
The approach and the selection of foods that best empowers and facilitates consistent adherence in meeting but not exceeding an appropriate provision of total energy from a suitable ratio of macronutrients is always what is best. Whatever approach that may be for each individual.
Whoever you go to for nutritional advice had best understand this, and ideally have both knowledge and experience in successfully coaching others to draw upon when issuing that advice.
I think it is important to discuss and consider the concept of level of activity being different to merely the amount of activity someone engages in.
In assessing level of activity, I suggest you must consider all of the following:
- Amount of time spent active.
- Frequency and consistency of attendance and participation in training.
- Quality and efficacy of training strategy.
- Intensity of effort.
- Proficiency and prowess at training.
- Activity levels outside of training.
It stands to reason that a more active person has a higher energy intake requirement than a less active person. A more advanced athlete will have a higher energy intake requirement than a beginner. An athlete who turns up to training regularly and puts in her best effort will have a greater energy requirement than one who turns up less often and drags her feet a little, lacking in enthusiasm.
Activity levels outside of training should be considered as well. It is possible to still have a high level of activity despite working a desk job or being otherwise less active outside of training. Moving around a lot throughout the day will contribute to a higher energy requirement than being inactive, and strenuous activity at a physically demanding job will increase them further still.
A higher level of activity should produce better results in terms of a more lean and athletic physical condition, provided energy requirements are being met. Best results will come when meeting a higher requirement, rather than being further into deficit of it.
It should be noted that while an increase in level of activity should be conducive to improved results, this does not necessarily mean more time spent at exercise or adding extra sessions. First ensure that your training strategy is effective and productive.
It is important to consider quality of activity as important, as well as amount. A high amount of low quality activity will not be conducive to best results, and adding more of the same will not improve the situation, especially if level of energy intake is not appropriate.
It is after all my official business site. I’m a lot more active on my facebook page and I’m trying to do a bit more on instagram too.
Speaking of instagram, here’s about where I’m at and what I’m up to right now with my own training and fueling goals.
A fresh batch of my world famous, high fibre, high protein, choc & coconut cupmuffins.
Astute followers may recall I saw my best results pushing 3200 cals per day last year and actually dropped approx 2kg in the process of pushing that maximum usable level of intake.
This year so far i’ve been a lot less consistent, more erratic and sub optimal in my levels of fueling. Although I’m V happy with my gains in the shoulders, arms, chest & lower body (in that order)… I’m a bit fatter around the waist atm and I intend to address that over the spring.
This stuff will mess with your head as the natural instinct or impulse is to cut calories… But what I know I actually need to do is get back UP towards that consistent optimal 3200 plus or minus whatever my saturday night pizza brings me to.
From there I’ll be well positioned to cut to a strategic level of deficit in the summer for my leanest condition up hopefully 3 or 4kg from the start of the year.
Real talk though you lot.
I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how crucial a STRATEGY is, and that’s legit. I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how beneficial it is to have STRUCTURED habits, particularly eating habits to ensure that you meet your fueling requirements across the course of the day. That is legit.
Big or small, just about anything you want to achieve in life is going to be a hell of a lot easier with a strategy, and with a structured approach. Those words are practically synonyms in this context.
A strategy! Not just random actions. A strategy and a structured approach rather than an erratic and inconsistent one. Just saying “well here’s what I’m trying to achieve, and here’s what I hope is going to happen… so like… uhh… some things, I guess?” isn’t really a very good bet. It’s pretty much what most people are doing though, isn’t it?
You need a strategy. What’s even more important though is to have an attitude that has you looking for ways to MAKE THINGS WORK rather than reasons why you’re screwed and might as well quit before you even get started. Right? Am I making sense? Of course I am.
Let’s recap though:
- You need to be looking for ways to make things work.
- You need… actually scratch number 2.
“a way to make things work” is what a strategy is anyway.
OK, now PAY ATTENTION HERE because I’m about to hit you with your free strategy and all you gotta do is DO IT, right? Just do this stuff I’m about to tell you, exactly the way that I tell you to do it. That’ll work. Right?
NO. Well… yes, but not in the way you might be expecting.
Here’s why “just tell me what to do and what to eat” doesn’t work.
Imagine that I tell you “eat a small meal every 2 hours” or some such nonsense. However, you can’t do that because you have a job where you actually have to do work and can’t just vanish whenever you feel like it to warm something up and cram it into your face… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.
Or I tell you “these foods, not those foods” but you hate all the stuff I’m trying to force you to eat… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.
Or I tell you “fasted training at 5am before breakfast” but you work nights and can’t get up at that time or maybe you are just not a morning person. Morning person? Hell I’m barely a person at all that early in the morning. So anyway, that’s that & you just can’t do it.
Here’s what I’m driving at.
People out there… people who are a little lacking in imagination or empathy are always going to be like “why can’t you just do this? why can’t you just do that?”… and a lot of the time they’re a little judgmental and a little dismissive about it, as well. Well, this may be a revelation for them, but it’s a lot like Blaze Bayley said; “they don’t understand my life, or yours”.
When people start giving you generic sort of advice similar to the examples I gave above, really what they’re doing is suggesting options. They may actually be suggesting non-options, depending on your circumstances… but either way… these are suggestions of options that you might consider as a part of a strategy. However, they’re not “the one and only” much less “the morally superior” way to get it done, the way people tend to infer when they start helpfully letting you know all the things you should be doing.
Let’s wind this up. It’s not about doing what someone else did, or someone else hasn’t actually done but figures you ought to be doing. It’s about you, not them. It’s about your unique personal circumstances, and about taking you from where you’re at now to somewhere closer to where you’d like to end up.
Sounds horribly complicated right? Well fortunately, it really isn’t at all.
One: Start with what you can do.
Look at this as a balance between what you could potentially do, and what you’re actually prepared to do. Again, something inconvenient that you can only force yourself to stick to for a couple days until it just gets annoying is no use to you.
Here’s an example, very simply.
“Well… I could have three meals, six hours apart and a snack half way in between. Breakfast as soon as i get up before work, lunch at noon, and dinner after training in the evening.”
That’s something you could do. Maybe you’re someone who hates eating breakfast as soon as you get up though, and you’d rather train first thing in the morning. That’s fine too. Set the structure that best suits you though, and don’t be in the habit of putting off eating until you’re famished.
Two: Schedule it around what you have to do.
Obviously, right? No point scheduling things when you can’t actually take a break from work or some other time you’re unlikely to actually be able to do it. Take advantage of the most suitable opportunities, like someone who is looking for a way to be successful would do.
Three: Including what you’re likely to do whether you make it part of the plan or not.
Be honest with yourself. If you know you’re going to end up having those two chocolate biscuits at supper time with your cup of tea no matter what, don’t kid yourself. That’s the next thing you work into your strategy.
According to conventional wisdom, this is the stuff you’re supposed to be cutting out. The stuff you’re not supposed to want. The stuff you’re supposed to see as a problem that you need to overcome. Why though? Something is a problem if you make it a problem. We’re here as people who are looking to make things work, not looking for problems to get tripped up on.
Four: Take all that and shape it into something that will get the job done.
You’ve set the structure and the schedule to be the best fit of what you’re able to do, around the other things you have to do, and incorporating some things you were probably going to do anyway, but we’re seeing them as a part of the strategy that will be more conducive to good adherence, rather than making a problem of them unnecessarily.
Now we need to look at the specifics. We have a target range for an appropriate total energy intake that we need to work to, we need to meet an adequate amount of protein, our minimum recommended 2 pieces of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, and I recommend 30 grams of nuts as well assuming you like nuts. Choose the foods you enjoy the most, in amounts to meet those requirements, at the times of the day that best suit your schedule.
That’s what flexible dieting is. It’s quite a simple concept, and there’s no good reason why it should be done any other way. Why would there be? To prove something to other people who want to see you doing it the hard way and not getting anywhere? Fuck those people if they’re not happy to see you happier and making progress towards your goals.
Well, maybe not your coach. Hopefully your coach is great. Maybe I’m your coach or someone I’m friends with is.
There are a few good ones out there, but for the most part I see a lot of people appointing themselves coaches and entirely butchering the concept of IIFYM.
The difference between how I do things with my Flexible Fueling strategy vs how most people seem to do things with what they think is an “If It Fits Your Macros” strategy is as follows:
Most people are calculating a DEFICIT and working to that, while I am interested in calculating a target for best performance and condition.
When people are focused on calculating a deficit, the question is “a deficit from what?” and also for that matter “a deficit of how much?”.
Often it’s a deficit from “however much you’re currently getting, on average”. So, you track your intake for a few days, work out how many calories it is, average it out… there’s your “maintenance”. Subtract some amount (it might be 500 cals for example) and there’s your new target to be in deficit.
If you’re not working to any targets to begin with, your current intake is just some random amount. Subtracting an arbitrary number from this random amount and assuming the result will in some way resemble an appropriate (forget “optimal”) target for performance, recovery and adaptation to training is … :\ … I was going to say “overly optimistic” but it is actually just flat out illogical.
That’s not IIFYM, it is just calorie counting and calorie restriction based on the conditioned assumption that you’re eating too much to begin with and the entirely illogical premise that you can best build a lean, strong and healthy body by depriving it of the energy and resources that it requires. It’s still just an attempt to starve weight off although people feel like they’re being more scientific because they’ve done some poorly applied mathematics first.
The thing with calorie counting and restriction is that… like we discussed in my popular rant on facebook yesterday, you’re just training your body to run on less fuel and still somehow get through training and get through your day. Regardless though, if it is not restricting to a dangerous level you may still see results BUT the reality is that most people (myself included) don’t really have it in them to dial in strict adherence indefinitely. At best people will be motivated to dial it in hard and tight for a few a months… individual mileage will vary but let’s say 12 weeks is a reasonable amount of time before someone will either start to become a little complacent even if they’ve had good results or say “this is bullshit and I quit” if they have not had good results.
Now this won’t be half as bad as compared to someone who has done some of the more common very low calories + restricted food choices “clean eating” type nonsense but STILL… if you’ve trained your body to get by on an inadequate level of fueling, when you get complacent and drift back towards less structured eating habits it’s likely to be a greater energy intake than you’re used to getting, and I don’t have to tell you what happens to that energy that you’ve trained your body not to require.
Rather than that, consider this.
Twelve weeks building up towards higher, optimal, maximum usable energy and macronutrient targets to facilitate best performance at training, best recovery from training, and promotion of lean mass at the expense of fat stores as an adaptation to training.
Now, for the people who want to clutch at straws and try to pull me up on semantics; YES, obviously “the most you can put to use” is less than an amount at which you would not draw on fat stores due to energy intake being beyond your requirements. So indeed we are still “in deficit” but there is very real difference in the results of calculating our energy and macro targets intelligently with a focus on “how much we can put to good use for best results” vs “how far into deficit”.
You require a certain amount of energy just to be alive, to run your organs and regenerate skin cells and all manner of functions you’re not even really aware that you’re doing. Then you require a certain amount to get through your day able to tolerate… I mean, to interact with others and perform your job at work or at study. We burn a certain amount at training although the real value of training is not the energy that we expend but in how we adapt, and we require a certain amount further to all these other requirements to facilitate this recovery and adaptation to training.
Being at a strategic deficit can be advantageous as we will tap further into fat stores to make up for the shortfall in energy provision vs energy requirements. However, being too far into deficit simply means not providing the necessary resources to do all of those good things we talked about in the paragraph above, and running yourself into the ground while actually hampering fat loss at the expense of lean mass. The opposite of what you are actually trying to achieve.
So let’s wind this up.
Let’s say similarly to what we discussed earlier, 12 weeks of building up towards optimal, maximum useable, sports nutrition targets for best performance, recovery and adaptation to training. During that 12 weeks the challenge will be in eating enough to meet your requirements even when you’re not feeling hungry. Beyond that 12 weeks, depending on the individual you might find some people decide “this is bloody great and I can keep this up as long as feel like it and keep driving towards better and better performance and results”, which is great.
Other people are likely to think “that was great but I think I have a pretty good handle on this now and can just make good choices to eat when I’m hungry, confident that I’ll be getting it close enough most of the time” aka “intuitive eating” and that is also great.
My observation of that latter option is that intuitive eating after a period of working towards maximal targets will come in at a slight deficit due to no longer doing the “eat even if you’re not hungry” part. What happens when we’re at a slight, strategic deficit? As discussed a couple of paragraphs earlier, we tap even further into fat stores to make up the balance.
ALRIGHT SERIOUS TALK.
If you TRAIN in pursuit of any specific or not-so-specific performance or condition result, start thinking of yourself more like an athlete.
More like an athlete, less like “someone on a diet”.
Women in their late teens or early – mid twenties who are hardworking badasses in the gym, also training for and competing in sport on the weekend, otherwise busy and industrious throughout the day as well… the amount who fit this profile who have come to me over the years, unsatisfied with their condition and how their body is responding to training, and thinking they need to cut carbs, cut total cals, go keto… or any other variation of “going on a diet” in the conventional sense to FORCE the body to tap into those fat stores.
NO. NO. NO. NO!
This goes for anyone at any age, for that matter. If you’re doing all that hard work YOU ARE NOT SOMEONE WHO NEEDS TO GO ON A DIET. You are someone who needs to fuel for performance, recovery, and the creation of a stronger, lean body as an adaptation to training.
Trying to “force” the body to burn fat through massive calorie deficit through restriction and expenditure has the opposite effect. Your body will only prioritise the support of lean mass when conditions are most favourable, AKA you are (at least) adequately fueled. The closer you push to a more maximal, optimal energy provision the higher a percentage of that total will be put into the muscles while the body draws more from fat stores to fuel low intensity / non exercise activity.
The further into deficit you go, the lower that percentage being made available to support lean mass becomes and the body will conserve a higher percentage in fat stores because it thinks it is trying to survive a famine or an ice age or something terrible like that.
You are built for survival and adaptation. Put yourself into arduous circumstances with minimal food & energy intake plus maximum work load and your body will try to find a way to survive BUT IN NO WAY does this equate to “the creation of your goal body condition”.
Not in a million years could it mean that. You are built for survival and adaptation though, so provide as much fuel as you can put to use and then train strategically to do just that. Not to “burn calories” but to utilise energy and resources in creating a strong, lean, healthy and functional body condition just like you want.
Now… even if you’re thinking “ok but that’s for people who are already lean, I have all this weight to lose first so I need to be in deficit and burn more calories”, no. Pay attention.
Even if you are actually overweight. Participating in that amount, that type, and that level of performance in training and sports… whatever amount and level that is, we can run the maths and accurately determine a calorific intake that would fail to see a reduction in body fat due to being in excess of requirements. It would actually be a massive amount.
We can also run the maths and determine what is an adequate, and what is an optimal amount that could be taken up and put to use for the very best performance and condition, and it will still be quite a massive amount, but significantly below that “too much” amount described above.
Best results… no… ANY lasting result can only occur when you are in the habit of consuming somewhere within that “adequate to optimal” range of total energy intake. The more consistently you are within that range and preferably closer to the higher, optimal end, the more consistent and the more dramatic the improvements in both performance and condition will be.
Now… you could achieve that optimal intake via intuition, but most people are so used to the “eat less” message that they’ll fall short of an adequate amount without first having a period where they identify and practice planning to meet those targets. Some people might manage to fluke it via sheer dumb luck and conclude that it has more to do with a certain selection of foods than with energy and macronutrient provision, but they’d be wrong and their advice will be detrimental to most anyone else.
You need to establish the habit of meeting at least an adequate total energy and macronutrient provision, via whatever selection of foods makes this the easiest and most enjoyable for you. Preferably, at least periodically you need to push closer to the maximum, optimal end of that usable energy range.
Also you need to train, productively and strategically for a strong, healthy body.
I happen to have a very good system for determining these requirements, and a protocol for hitting first adequate and then optimal targets for best results ever and no restrictions on food choices. Also right now I have a brand new strength training program for athletes and sports people looking to complement their sports training.
It is all available online. Click through for details.
I shot a video blog in the gym but there was a bit of background noise from the radio and so on so here’s the text version to go along with it.
If you wanted to succeed where others have failed, what would you do? Should you do the same as everyone else, or something different? Do what hasn’t worked out for anyone, or do the opposite?
When it comes to dieting for weight loss, we know the statistics say that 95% of the time diets fail to result in long term, sustained weight loss. Worse than this, the reality of dieting in the conventional sense is that not only do people regain the weight they have lost, but they continue to gain weight and end up more over weight than they were in the first place.
Those are the stats and I might dig up the studies and add links later but really, you know this is true already. It’s a common story from people who’ve done whatever diet and “it was good, I lost 10kg. But then when I stopped I put on 15kg”.
Why this happens is pretty simple. All diets that result in weight loss do so by restricting energy intake. Either by using meal replacement shakes, low calorie meal plans, excluding certain foods, or whatever. The people selling them might try to tell you there is some other reason to do with the inherent goodness or badness of certain foods… but that’s bullshit. It is about energy intake.
Now the problem here is that these by definition are not sustainable approaches. You temporally reduce energy intake, and temporarily lose some weight. Then what? You go back to your old eating habits and regain the weight. You go back to your old habits either because the diet has a duration built in, or just because you’re fed up with eating things you don’t like and missing out on the things you do like.
So, you return to your previous eating habits, your previous energy intake, and your previous weight. That’s best case scenario. Quite likely you actually over eat and go beyond your “normal” energy intake as a result of having restricted for so long. Worse still though, is that for however long you have been restricting energy intake you have actually been training your body to run on less fuel, to conserve energy, and prioritise the storage of energy within fat stores.
You gain weight, or more specifically you gain fat by habitually consuming an amount of energy that is in excess of your requirements. While dieting, you train your body to get by on less energy. Therefore when you return to your regular eating habits, they are effectively more excessive than they were previously.
I could bore you with the science on this, but do you really need it? You’ve observed this happening enough times already. You know it is what happens.
Now, this applies to people who are in training with an athletic condition goal too.
Active people have a higher energy requirement than less active people. People participating in sport, even more so. People training for a lean body condition need to provide a suitable amount of protein and energy so as to allow the body to priortise fueling the muscle at the expense of body fat.
In my observation over several years, people who are training but not seeing results are usually not over eating. If they are just training and not paying any attention to diet, maybe they are. If they are training and paying some attention to diet, especially with calorie targets or a “clean eating” approach, they are usually not eating enough to provide the energy and resources that they require to facilitate results.
So then. What happens?
Training regularly, not gaining any weight, not losing any weight, not leaning out or seeing any changes in body composition. Usually, people will start to talk about going on a cut. Cutting carbs, eating clean, whatever you call it, whatever method… it’s reducing energy intake just the same as people going “on a diet” would do. However in this case, we’re failing to see results at training due to not being adequately fueled, and we reduce even further.
This may result in some small change in condition, but it will be temporary at best as the level of dietary restriction is unsustainable. Or worse, upon failure to see further changes in condition the athlete may conclude that further restriction is called for.
This can, and frequently does spiral out of control with disastrous consequences.
Let’s cut to the chase here.
Dieting, in the conventional sense serves no purpose other than to train your body to run on less fuel and to conserve whatever it can. The very opposite of what you want you want if you have a long term weight loss goal.
In active people training with a performance or condition goal, your requirements are quite high and you will not see results in terms of improved body composition (aka more muscle, less fat) by slashing further and further below those requirements.
Rather, active people should do the exact opposite. The exact opposite of what most people do. When you want to succeed where others have failed, you do something different.
Therefore. Rather than slash intake for a temporary result, then eventually gravitating back towards your usual habits and usual (or worse) condition, maximise intake towards the uppermost, optimal amount of total energy that you could expect to utilise for performance, recovery, and positive adaptation to training.
Train the body to put more and more energy and resources into lean mass where you want them, enabling greater performance and improved condition. When you return to eating more in accordance to your appetite, you’ll still be at a suitable amount, but less than your body has gotten used to.
Where do you think it is likely to draw energy from to make up the difference?
Dieting trains the body to run on less, and then it doesn’t know what to do with a normal amount. Fueling up trains the body to put more and more to good use.
No, I’m not about to go all “just love yourself the way you already are and you’ll magically transform through the power of positive vibes” like some kind of facebook hippy or something. You should know me better than that by now!
But here’s the deal.
When you see people with an impressive, lean and athletic looking figure or physique such as you may aspire to yourself… YES they do have a low percentage of body fat, but what they also have is more lean mass. That means more muscle. Not just a higher percentage of lean mass, but more lean mass over all.
As a side note this is why BMI classifications don’t really apply to athletes. They’re likely to be heavier because of all that muscle they’re packing on. Even if they’re not BIG they have muscle density, and that equals mass even if it doesn’t necessary equal size.
So for many people especially females who are not really “proper overweight” but not seeing progress towards the lean body condition they are working so hard for… YES you might feel that you need to lose some body fat… but the best way to do that is by giving your body the incentive and the means to facilitate an increase in lean mass.
Now we’re talking about “an increase in lean mass” and not “a bulk” where we gain weight including some fat gain.
We live in a fat-phobic society so there is definitely a tendency for people to ONLY focus on wanting to drop fat, and usually they are encouraged to do so through more and more restrictive means and greater and greater energy deficit.
As you may have noticed though, it just doesn’t seem to work that way.
For people who are not “proper overweight” and are active and training regularly… the difference between the condition you’re in now and the condition you’d like to be in quite likely has less to do with the amount of fat you are carrying and more to do with the amount of lean mass you are NOT carrying.
Start thinking and behaving more like someone trying to train for maximum lean mass without weight gain… the fat will take care of itself as the body has the incentive and the resources to prioritise creation and maintenance of dense, hard muscle.
People who DO have a more significant amount of weight to lose? Pick a suitable weight range for a person of your height in athletic condition, and train and fuel towards that.
Restricting to lower and lower calorie intake while focusing on burning more and more calories at exercise doesn’t work. You know it doesn’t work. It’s what everyone who isn’t getting anywhere is doing. You know it is.
Your body is stubborn. When you try to FORCE it to burn fat through energy deficit it will resist and fight back. It has to, because it thinks the energy within those fat stores is the only thing keeping it alive since you aint giving it any more. You aint giving it enough, anyway.
I’ve been talking about this a lot recently. When you restrict energy intake not only are you depriving the body of what it requires to recover from training and to adapt with the creation of your goal physique, figure or condition… you actually force it to prioritise the conservation of energy within fat stores. The very opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
When properly fueled and effectively trained, your body will put more and more of those resources into the muscles where you want them, and will see body fat as an obsolete reserve that it does not require any more.
Bottom line: train productively for strength, fitness and function, not just to burn calories. Fuel up for performance, recovery and maintenance of lean mass at the expense of body fat.
Doesn’t it make better sense and sound like a lot more fun than restrictive slash and burn approaches? It sure as hell works a lot better. You’ll see.
Part one of a two part series on The Evolution of IIFYM, through Flexible Dieting and beyond. Part two will focus on best and worst practices in IIFYM Coaching.
If. It. Fits. Your. Macros.
You all know the back story already, I presume?
It all started on body building forums, where questions would be asked to the effect of for example “I’m bored of eating such n such, is it ok if I eat such n such instead while trying to lose fat and gain muscle?”. And the answer would be that it was fine, so long as total energy intake was still appropriate and macronutrient ratios were not negatively impacted. In other words, whatever you have a hankering for is fine, “if it fits your macros”.
They eventually changed it to “flexible dieting” because idiots would make strawman style “so you’re saying vitamins and minerals aren’t important? just macros?” arguments and so forth.
Obviously you do need to meet ALL of your requirements. However, it is neither necessary nor helpful to start obsessing over tracking and basing your food choices on micronutrient content. If you get a good mix of fruit, veg and other choices in accordance with the official Healthy Eating Guidelines you’re unlikely to be deficient in anything.
I don’t think anyone was really ever advocating tracking micronutrients per se, but it was a common argument of a “false dichotomy” nature with the inference that if one pays attention to their energy and macronutrient intake, they must by definition also be going out of their way to neglect their micronutrient requirements. Clearly, a ridiculous argument… although we’ll come back to this point briefly in the next installment.
So, certainly it is still important to ensure appropriate micronutrient provision in accordance with the Healthy Eating Guidelines, as discussed already. Strictly speaking though, for “results from training” including weight loss, total energy and macronutrient ratios are what makes the difference. Not “clean eating” or whatever arbitrary labels you want to slap on to individual food choices that mean they’re “bad” or “good” for weight loss, muscle gain or health in general.
For my own system I changed it one step further, from “flexible dieting” to “Flexible Fueling” because my people aren’t on a damn diet. We are fueling UP for best results and we know that means we have minimum requirements that we need to exceed… rather than trying to restrict to low levels of energy. I really wanted to emphasise the rejection of that “dieting” mentality, because what we do is the opposite.
Now you can do this macronutrient thing by percentage of total energy or by the gram. Most people seem to talk about percentages of total energy and that’s how I used to do it too, but as activity level and level of performance goes up, so too does total energy requirement. As this total energy requirement goes up, it becomes both unrealistic and unnecessary to expect a large percentage of this to come from protein.
As a side note at this point, to talk only about macronutrient percentages without also establishing an appropriate or optimal total energy intake is entirely pointless, as well.
For this reason… well, I decide on a case by case basis but increasingly I am basing my recommendations on a “by the gram” basis for what is an adequate protein provision, although my prediction of what might be optimal may be a higher target based on percentage of total energy. Again… experience and intuition starts to come into this and I wouldn’t say there is a hard rule on how best to interpret the numbers and work them into practical targets in every individual case.
Now here’s the trick though.
It comes down to calories, for the most part. But failing to see progress, fat loss or weight loss does not automatically translate to “not in calorific deficit” aka “still eating too much”.
People with a poor understanding still jump to the seemingly obvious “whatever you’re eating now, slash 500 calories as you’re not in deficit” line whenever someone reports a plateau or lack of progress. That isn’t “IIFYM” though, it is just “calorie counting” and energy restriction, and it is no better than any other form of crash dieting.
What IIFYM should mean and what Flexible Fueling certainly does mean is running the numbers to determine what this particular individual’s requirements are in total energy, protein, fats and carbs respectively to ensure results from training. What should be adequate, and what should be optimal. Cutting below what the maths and good sense tells us is “adequate” is quite literally “less than adequate” and therefore not conducive to ongoing results.
Beyond Calories In / Calories Out.
Don’t get me wrong. CI/CO is a valid rule and no one with a shred of sense should really dispute this. However, the way this rule is often applied in real life leaves a lot to be desired. I would suggest more people move away from the “calorific deficit” model in favour of pushing upper, maximum usable calorie targets for optimal performance, recovery and results from training.
To facilitate improvements in performance at training requires MORE fuel, not less. To recover from more intense, more productive and more effective training sessions requires MORE fuel, not less. To build lean mass and change your body composition requires MORE fuel and in particular, adequate provision of protein. Not less. More.
Now, this is something to be built up to strategically as often referred to as “Reverse Dieting” elsewhere. What people fear when you start talking about increasing towards maximum usable intake is something to the tune of “but don’t I need to be in deficit to lose fat?”, and the answer is… technically yes, but let’s think about it a little differently.
Assuming you have any fat whatsover to lose. It becomes complicated to explain because every situation is different and there will be a time to dial in a more significant but still strategic deficit after having established and maintained maximum usable intake for a suitable duration of time. In this case we’d still be looking at a reasonably high energy intake, suitable for performance and recovery, but it will be somewhat less than we’ve gotten used to, encouraging the body to draw even more from fat stores to make up the difference. Certainly our targets at this stage would still be higher than many other people would be restricting to in similar circumstances with the other approach.
But that all comes later. Assuming we’re still in the “Reverse Dieting” stage though, we are building up towards the maximum, most optimal level of energy we can put to good use in fueling our lifestyle, performing at training, recovering, and adapting with creation and maintenance of lean mass at the expense of body fat. Clearly, however high this amount is, by definition it is still less than the amount it would take to fail to see improvement in condition and reduction in body fat at that level of activity.
Only in surplus, or excessive total energy intake would we fail to lose body fat. Maximum usable intake is by definition not “excessive”, as excessive would mean “more than we have a use for”. So while technically we are in deficit of what would be required to fail to see improvements in body composition, our focus is not on “being in deficit” which usually translates loosely to “under fueled and trying to force the body to burn fat to compensate”.
A note on maintenance calories real quick, too.
A lot of people are under the impression that if for example you are currently maintaining weight and not really seeing any changes in body composition on 2500 calories per day, increasing intake beyond 2500 would result in fat gain due to being “in excess of maintenance calories”. However, this may not be correct.
If 2500 calories per day is a sub-optimal energy provision relative to your needs, increasing towards the optimal amount would mean more energy being made available and being utilised to perform, recover and adapt to training. This should not result in weight gain (unless that was your aim) and should in fact result in more energy being drawn from fat stores to fuel non exercise activity. It is for this reason that it is sometimes possible to actually lose weight after increasing energy intake.
Again, Calories In / Calories out is the rule… but it is about the most appropriate, most optimal energy intake relative to your needs, and not about just slashing calories ever lower to starve weight off.
In tomorrow’s entry we will discuss the best and worst practices in IIFYM & Flexible Dieting Coaching. Stay tuned for that!