Testosterone and Muscle Growth

Testosterone and muscle growth

Testosterone, often touted the king of all male hormones – and rightfully so. Research shows testosterone has a function in regulating:

In this article, we’ll focus on the effects of testosterone on muscle growth. With all the “T-boosters” and “anabolic diets” we see on the internet every day, it’s important to understand how great the effects of testosterone on muscle growth really are.

Without any further ado, let’s jump straight in!

More Testosterone = More Muscle?

It’s widely accepted that the normal range of testosterone for males is around 250-950 ng/dl. Without any drug use, it’s impossible to go way beyond this “normal range.” In science, testosterone levels beyond the normal range are referred to as “supraphysiological levels of testosterone.”

Through research, we know that supraphysiologic levels of testosterone allow tremendous muscle growth to occur. In one study, volunteers who injected supraphysiological doses of testosterone were able to gain muscle without any form of exercise.

That’s part of the reason why professional bodybuilders are able to become so big, their testosterone levels are through the roof due to the large amounts of testosterone they inject (which can be very dangerous).

Testosterone and muscle growth

Because supraphysiological levels of testosterone have great effects on muscle growth, it’s often believed that every small and/or temporary increase in testosterone will help grow more muscle. But that’s not always the case.

Like Dr. Stu Philips once stated, naturally occurring levels of testosterone do not significantly influence the rate of muscle protein synthesis (the process in which muscles grow). Muscle growth only increases when anabolic hormone levels drastically increase for an extended period of time, which is not possible naturally.

Basically, those who squat every day and/or maintain very short rest periods to achieve a greater hormonal response, do not benefit from it in terms of muscle growth.

Researchers actually went out and studied this too. A study by the University of McMaster found that maximizing the post-workout hormonal response, by manipulating training variables, does not result in more overall muscle growth. Again, this is because the testosterone levels of the volunteers stayed within a normal range.

When To Increase Testosterone

As you just read, healthy individuals with testosterone levels in a normal range do not benefit from slightly more testosterone in terms of muscle growth.

But we know through research that testosterone levels tend to decrease as someone gets older. Eventually, this can result in testosterone levels below the healthy range. Also, some people have poor nutrition, don’t sleep well, and are very stressed. This also causes a significant drop in testosterone, which can put a person below the healthy testosterone range.

The condition in which the human body does not produce enough testosterone is known as “Hypogonadism.”

testosterone and muscle growth

When someone does not produce enough testosterone, even a relatively small increase in testosterone levels can be beneficial. Not just for muscle growth, by the way, but also for overall health.

Naturally Increasing Testosterone Levels

So, now we know that individuals with low testosterone levels benefit from increasing testosterone. Often, low testosterone levels are caused by poor health habits. That’s why it’s no surprise many studies suggest that changing a few of these poor health habits will naturally increase testosterone.

Let’s look at a few natural ways to increase testosterone.

1. Consume sufficient micronutrients

Micronutrient (vitamins & minerals) deficiencies have been shown to significantly decrease testosterone production. Several studies show that getting rid of these deficiencies has a positive effect on your testosterone levels and can put you back in a healthy range.

There’s evidence showing that many US citizens are deficient in several micronutrients. So, consuming more nutrient-dense meals and taking a good multivitamin can help many people with increasing testosterone.

2. Get rid of excess body fat

Fat cells contain an enzyme called aromatase. As you accumulate excess body fat, aromatase levels increase.  Aromatase has been shown to convert testosterone to estrogen and, therefore, negatively affects testosterone levels. This helps explain why observational studies link obesity to lower testosterone.

testosterone and muscle growth

Having that said, getting too lean is not beneficial. Something like a bodybuilding contest prep can be detrimental to your testosterone levels.

3. Get enough sleep

Poor sleep is a no-go for active individuals. Next to suppressing testosterone production, it also slows down fat loss and decreases muscle growth.

One study on older males shows that the difference between 4 and 8 hours of sleep a day can mean the difference between testosterone levels below and testosterone levels within a healthy range. Yeah, kind of a big deal!

Final Words on Testosterone

Testosterone is very important for basic human function and, of course, muscle growth. To optimally gain muscle as a natural lifter, you need to make sure your testosterone levels stay within a healthy range.

But slightly boosting your testosterone by manipulating training variables, for example, won’t make you gain more muscle. If you are a healthy individual who trains hard, sleeps properly, eats nutrient-dense meals, and is not constantly stressed out, boosting your “T-levels” should not concern you.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the one and only key to healthy testosterone levels. Yes, even for older men.

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Should You Do Cardio? An Evidence-Based Answer

Should you do cardio

Cardiovascular exercise refers to any type of exercise that keeps your heart rate elevated for a continuous length of time. Like any form of physical activity, cardiovascular exercise provides plenty of health benefits. There are studies showing cardio can improve heart health, bone health, brain function, and sleep.

But is it really necessary for individuals that want to burn fat? Also, does cardio impair muscle growth? In this article, I’ll give you an evidence-based answer to these questions.

Cardio and Fat Loss

Several scientific studies show that regularly doing cardio, without any form of caloric restriction, does not result in much fat loss. There’s also evidence showing you can gain fat if you just do cardio without considering any other variables. This is not because cardio is “fattening” or “harmful”, but because it often does not burn enough calories to put you in an “energy deficit.”

Fat loss is nothing more than an adaptation to an energy deficit. If you consume fewer calories than your body expends, your body has no choice but to burn fat. This is dictated by the ”Energy Balance”, which is supported by the law of thermodynamics.

The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed or created, only transformed. So, a surplus of energy has to be stored (fat gain) and an energy deficit needs to be “compensated” by internal reserves (fat loss).

You can choose to create an energy deficit by solely performing more cardio, but it’s nearly impossible to burn an extra 500-1000 calories a day without, basically, burning yourself out. That’s why caloric restriction is required during a fat loss phase.

should you do cardio

That said, this does not mean cardio is useless for fat loss. Substantially lowering caloric intake may be a huge transition for some and it’ll leave them with very little calories to work with. This is especially true for people that already have a low “maintenance level.” If this is you, you are the type of person that benefits from cardio significantly.

Increasing your total energy expenditure by performing cardio regularly will allow you to consume more food while still being able to maintain an energy deficit for fat loss.

Later in this article, I’ll give you a free example cardio routine that will help you maximize the number of calories you burn during your cardio sessions.

Cardio and Muscle Growth

Like resistance training, cardio is a stress. Your body can only take on a certain amount of stress before it becomes chronic and starts interfering with recovery and muscle growth.

This brings us to what is known in Exercise Science as the “interference effect.” Combining cardio with resistance training can interfere with your muscle and strength gains and, therefore, hold you back from maximizing your muscular potential.

If you think about it, the interference effect is quite logical. You can’t experience optimal adaptations in 2 very different types of physical activity.

“You can’t be the world’s best sprinter and marathon runner at the same time.” – Menno Henselmans

So, one could argue that the more cardio you do, the less muscle and strength you will be able to gain. However, a cardio session or two is not detrimental to your gains. You will still be able to get away with some cardio without significantly impairing muscle and strength gains, as long as you do not perform cardio before your weightlifting sessions. A good rule of thumb is to not exceed 3 cardio sessions per week in a fat loss phase.

SHOULD YOU DO CARDIO

What Kind of Cardio?

Generally, we can distinct cardio into three categories.

  • Low-intensity (think walking)
  • Moderate-intensity (think jogging)
  • High-intensity (think sprinting)

Considering we just want to increase energy expenditure, all types of cardio are effective. But some types are more time-efficient than others. As you can imagine, the higher the intensity, the more calories you burn per minute. Of course, you will have to put in more effort, but it’s worth it if you are looking to save time.

Also, the higher the intensity, the greater the effect on “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC). EPOC refers to the amount of oxygen required to bring your body back to its normal resting state. The higher EPOC is, the more calories you burn post-workout. Calories burned due to EPOC can be up to 37% of the total calories burned in your cardio session.

Based on the information provided above, my preferred way of doing cardio is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It’s tough, but it takes very little time. In just 15 minutes you will be able to burn hundreds of calories.

At the end of this article, you will be able to download a free 15-minute HIIT routine. It’s worth to note that HIIT routines can be very taxing. So, it’s not something you should be doing every day.

Your Evidence-Based Answer

Should you do cardio?

Like many things in fitness, it depends.

Cardio in and of itself does not cause fat loss. If fat loss is your goal, cardio is not necessary. That said, increasing energy expenditure through cardio will allow you to consume more food while staying in an energy deficit. So, cardio definitely is helpful.

Perform 1-3 cardio sessions per week if you want to increase energy expenditure so you can consume more calories.

If creating an energy deficit solely through lowering caloric intake is more enjoyable for you, that’s great too.

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The Art & Science of Muscle Growth is now available!

The art and science of muscle growth

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth is now available!

There’s plenty of confusion around muscle growth. The Art & Science of Muscle Growth will get rid of all this confusion by teaching you what the currently available scientific data shows about training and nutrition for muscular growth.

After reading this eBook, you will know exactly how to change your diet and training regimen to achieve greater results.

        Click here to purchase this eBook!

The Top 4 Fat Loss Mistakes – Prevent Plateaus

fat loss mistakes

If you are having trouble with shedding body-fat, this article is for you. You will be reading all about the 4 biggest fat loss mistakes, which I see people make everyday. I will show you how to prevent making these mistakes, so you can keep burning fat at a rapid pace.

I recommend you to read through this article carefully, since it is easy to think that you are doing everything right (I’m guilty of this too). Being critical about the way you set up your diet and training, will tremendously help improve your overall fitness.

Mistake #1: Focus on eating ”clean”, instead of eating less

The first thing many people do when they want burn fat, is start consuming more nutritious meals. This is great, but your body does not burn fat based on how healthy your meals are.

Fat loss is a natural reaction to an ”energy deficit”. If the amount of calories consumed are lower than the amount of calories burned, your body has no choice but to burn fat. If you are familiar with my work, you know that this is dictated by something called the ”Energy Balance”, which is supported by the law of thermodynamics.

The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed or created, only transformed. So a surplus of energy has to be stored (fat gain) and an energy deficit needs to be ”compensated” by internal reserves (fat loss).

So regardless of how ”clean” your meals are, you always need an energy deficit to burn fat. Goji berries, chia seeds, brown rice etc. won’t make you burn fat if you consume more calories than your body requires.

Does this mean that I can eat whatever I want?

fat loss mistakes

You could eat mainly junk food all day and still burn fat. A professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas University State, Dr. Mark Haub, did it to prove this point. After all, snacks do not make you fat, overeating on snacks does.

But just because you can burn fat while consuming mainly junk food, does not mean you should. Research shows that you still need sufficient vitamins and minerals for basic human function and health.

Fitness is not just about burning the maximum amount of fat in a short period of time, but about feeling your absolute best in the long-term.

Mistake #2: Taking it ”slow and steady”

You now know that you need a ”calorie deficit” to burn fat. It’s often thought that maintaining a small calorie deficit will help preserve muscle during a fat loss phase. The issue with this is that you lose fat very slowly and often need to extend your fat loss phase to achieve your goal body-fat percentage.

This is unfavorable, because the longer you are in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down and the less muscle you build. That’s why you should try to keep your fat loss phase as short as possible.

This said, crash-dieting is also not the answer.

Crash-diets basically make you feel like crap. An experiment by the University of Minnesota, shows that starvation-based diets negatively affect mental health. The volunteers of this study could not stop thinking about food. Some were unable to handle the restrictive diet and eventually binged on snacks.

Crash-diets can also cause muscle loss. Since we want to improve our overall body composition (more muscle and less fat), it is not smart to implement a crash-diet.

So instead, opt for an aggressive calorie deficit that allows you to burn 1-2 lbs. of fat per week. A research review shows that this rate of fat loss is probably most effective for those who want to preserve and potentially build muscle during a fat loss phase.

Losing 1-2 lbs. of fat per week can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%. At the end of this post, you will be able to download a free fat loss plan, that will show you exactly how to implement this.

Mistake #3: Not consuming enough protein

When food is scarce, the human body primarily taps into two internal energy sources: Body-Fat and Muscle Proteins. So muscle breakdown increases when dieting (don’t worry, this does not have to result into muscle loss).

Plenty of studies show that a high-protein intake during a fat loss phase, decreases muscle breakdown. So protein plays a vital role in muscle preservation during a fat loss phase.

fat loss mistakes

Since a high-protein intake decreases muscle breakdown while dieting, your body will need to find energy from other sources. The most obvious alternative to turn to, is even more body-fat.

That’s why a research review by the University of Birmingham shows that a high-protein intake doesn’t just decrease muscle breakdown, but also increases fat loss.

Several studies show that a protein intake of 0.8-1 gram per lb. of bodyweight is sufficient.

You can find out more about macronutrient requirements in the free fat loss plan below.

Mistake #4: Being too strict

Research is clear on this: Flexible dieters burn fat and keep it off, whereas those who are very strict, burn fat and gain it back quickly. This can differ per person of course, but implementing a flexible diet increases your chance of success.

Don’t get me wrong, flexible dieting does not mean ”Eat whatever you want and get to 6% body-fat!”. Flexible dieting refers to consuming plenty of nutritious meals that you enjoy and not being overly obsessed with caloric and macronutrient tracking.

Tracking food intake should not cost you more than 5-10 minutes a day

fat loss mistakes

We are not good in estimating how much food we need to consume. A well-designed study shows that those who go off on hunger and eat till satisfied, often consume too many calories. That why’s tracking food intake is necessary. This way you ensure that you are near your caloric and macronutrient requirements.

But trying to be 100% accurate when tracking calories and macros is not realistic. The FDA allows a 20% variance on nutritional values. So a meal that is listed as 600 calories, is allowed to be 720 or 480 calories.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that research shows that most nutritional values, found online and on packages, are not precise and have an average variance of 20%. This means that we can’t precisely track food intake, because there are no 100% accurate nutritional values available. So a lenient approach to tracking calories and macros will do just fine.

Final words + Free fat loss plan

There you have it, the top 4 fat loss mistakes. Preventing these 4 mistakes will improve fat loss tremendously.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment below!

Free fat loss plan

If you are planning on performing a fat loss phase soon, I highly recommend you check out my free ”Maximizing Fat Loss Plan”. You can download it by filling in the form below!

The TRUTH About Meal Frequency

meal-frequency
We all know someone that is super strict about how many meals he/she eats a day, but has no idea about how many calories those meals contain. This is a classic case of “missing the forest for the trees”. In this article, I will show you why meal frequency does not deserve much attention and what to focus on instead.

Meal frequency, Energy Balance and Fat Loss

The energy balance describes the relationship between “energy in” (calories consumed) and “energy out” (calories burned).

  • If the amount of calories consumed are higher than the amount of calories burned, you gain fat (positive energy balance).
  • If the amount of calories consumed are lower than the amount of calories burned, you burn fat (negative energy balance).

The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed, only transformed. So a surplus of energy has to be stored (fat gain) and an energy deficit needs to be ”compensated” by internal reserves (fat loss).

This is relevant, because no matter how many meals you consume a day, the energy balance eventually dictates whether you will lose or gain fat. Research is very clear on this:

  • A study by the University of Ottawa compared consuming 3 meals a day with 6 meals a day, while matching total caloric and macronutrient intake. They found no difference in terms of fat loss.
  • An extensive research review done by French scientists, found no significant difference in consuming 1 to up to 17(!) meals a day, when matching total food intake.

As you can see, meal frequency doesn’t seem to affect fat loss whatsoever.

meal frequency

How about metabolism?

Contrary to common belief, consuming multiple small meals a day does not boost your metabolism, and consuming a couple of big meals a day does not harm it. Multiple studies show that meal frequency has no significant effect on your metabolism and total daily energy expenditure.

Also, not eating for a while won’t make you go into ”survival mode”. Research shows that your metabolism starts slowing down after approximately 60 hours of fasting. I don’t think anyone reading this will ever fast for 60 hours straight.

Meal Frequency, Intermittent Fasting and Muscle Growth

For decades, bodybuilders have been telling us to spread protein requirements equally throughout the day. To do this, you will need to consume multiple smaller meals (typically 6). This claim is understandable, since muscle protein synthesis requires plenty of nutrients, especially protein. Muscle protein synthesis basically is the ”muscle-building process”.

There’s research showing that consuming protein frequently is more effective than just having protein in a few meals. The issue with this particular study is that total protein intake is not matched between the two groups. The group that consumed protein more frequently, also consumed more total protein.

That’s why the high-frequency group gained more muscle. Up to a certain point, higher protein intakes simply make you gain more muscle.

A recent meta-analysis led by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld shows that how much protein you consume, is far more important than when you consume it. Here’s a quote out of this study:

Perceived hypertrophic benefits seen in protein timing studies appear to be the result of an increased consumption of protein as opposed to temporal factors. In our reduced model, the amount of protein consumed was highly and significantly associated with hypertrophic gains. (Schoenfeld et al. 2013)

meal frequency

Research regarding intermittent fasting also shows that high meal frequency is not necessary to build muscle. Individuals who do intermittent fasting, eat nothing for the bigger part of the day and consume their total caloric needs in 4-10 hours.

Not eating for 14-20 hours may sound horrible for muscle growth, but there’s evidence showing that it’s no different than eating regularly throughout the day. As long as total caloric and macronutrient intake is matched of course.

What about fasted training?

Muscle breakdown increases during fasted training. The fact that you get a great anabolic response after breaking your fast, may offset the increased breakdown during training. This would help explain why intermittent fasting has been shown to preserve muscle as effectively as eating regularly throughout the day.

As far as workout performance goes, it depends per person. There’s research showing that fasted training has no significant effect on workout performance, but your personal experience may be different.

The Bottom Line on Meal Frequency

This post has made it clear that meal frequency has an negligible effect on fat loss, metabolic adaptations and muscle growth. As long as you consume your daily caloric, macronutrient and micronutrient requirements for a given day, you can’t go wrong with meal frequency.

Therefore, how many meals you should consume per day, depends on your personal preference. Pick a meal frequency that is most enjoyable for you and stick with it.

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4 Reasons Why You Are Not Gaining Muscle

not gaining muscle
During the initial phases of your lifting career, it seems like almost everything works. As long as you train, muscles will grow. Unfortunately, this does not last. As you get more advanced, muscle growth slows down and may even come to a halt.

I learned this the hard way. When I just started off with fitness, I used to train 5 times a week. All I did was isolation exercises with a few compound movements and a drop-set after every single set. I did gain some muscle, but this did not last very long.

In this post, I will be showing you 4 mistakes (which I all made) that could be holding you back as an intermediate or advanced trainee. Preventing these 4 mistakes will help you make better use of your muscular potential. But first, I will be explaining why beginners seem to build muscle faster.

Why ”Newbie-Gains” are real

Muscle growth is not something that just comes along with training hard and eating right. It’s an adaptation to a ”stress”. This stress is provided by resistance training. Someone who is new to the gym, is not used to the stress which resistance training puts on his or her muscles. So these muscles will react very well to the stress by adapting to it.

How do muscles adapt, you ask?

Muscles adapt by becoming bigger and stronger than before, so they can handle future stresses more efficiently.

As you get more advanced though, your body has already adapted quite a bit to stresses from resistance training. Therefore it does not see the need to keep increasing muscular strength and size at the same pace.

That’s why multiple studies show that novice lifters (also called ”beginners”) gain muscle quicker than experienced lifters.

For muscles to keep growing, a need for adaptation is critical. That’s why research shows that progressive overload is essential for muscle growth. Progressively putting more tension on your muscles causes a need for adaptation.

not gaining muscle
Without further ado, here are the top 4 reasons why most intermediate and advanced trainees are not gaining muscle.

Reason #1: You are doing too much

Since childhood, we’ve been told that if we want something, we will have to work hard for it. This somewhat does apply to fitness, a certain level of dedication is required to achieve a great physique. But there definitely is a point where ”more becomes less”.

Increasing volume (more sets and reps) is directly linked to more muscle growth, but this relation is only linear up to a certain point. An extensive research review shows that exceeding a certain amount of volume will actually decrease muscle growth. Other studies show the same exact thing for muscular strength.

The effect of doing more than necessary is often underrated. I used to perform 6 exercises with 4 sets each on chest day, followed with 3 exercises for triceps. I used to think that I was absolutely killing it. But I was doing way too much, and that’s why I plateaued as I got more advanced.

The earlier cited extensive research review, shows that performing 40-70 reps per muscle group 2-3x per week is enough to achieve optimal growth. Sticking to this and adjusting when necessary, will ensure you don’t perform too little or too much volume.

Reason #2: You are relying on ”fancy training tricks” and isolation exercises

Training for muscle growth is actually quite simple and we should keep it that way. The new ”revolutionary” ways of training, which supposedly give you pumps like Arnold and abs like Frank Zane, do not work better than traditional training methods.

not gaining muscle
Training tools such as drop-sets and supersets cause great fatigue and a good pump. But if achieving a pump is your main goal when training, then you are missing the bigger picture. Achieving overload by progressively putting more stress on the muscle, should be your goal every time you step foot in the gym.

Performing big compound movements and getting stronger will always be the best way to build muscle.

But a stronger muscle isn’t always a bigger one, right?

That’s true, research shows that your body recognizes movement patterns and becomes more efficient in them after performing them consistently. This enables you to lift more weight (get stronger) without actually having bigger muscles. This is called: neuromuscular adaptation.

That said, after mastering a movement your muscles will have no choice but to grow, if you progress. The increased strength will have to come from a bigger and stronger muscle.

Reason #3: You are not eating enough

Building muscle and losing fat at the same time, is possible. But to lose fat, you will need to consume fewer calories than your body burns (energy deficit). This energy deficit somewhat inhibits muscle growth, because it decreases protein synthesis rates and increases protein breakdown rates.

The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins constantly. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the amount of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle. So eating at an energy deficit, simply results into less muscle growth.

not gaining muscle
When you consume slightly more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you are ensuring that you are not in a state of breakdown. This way you can make full use of your muscular potential. Maintaining an energy surplus of 200-300 calories is sufficient for optimal growth.

Want to learn more about the proper way of bulking? Read this article.

Reason #4: You are underestimating your potential

Believe it or not, your perception of what is naturally possible has a great effect on your results. Those who think that everyone with a bit of muscle is on steroids, are often very skinny.

They have ”accepted” that they will never be able to achieve great muscular development, without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Clearly, this is not the case.

Having an optimistic mindset and truly believing in your body’s abilities goes a long way.

A very interesting (and kind of funny) study by the Manchester Metropolitan University, shows that a different mindset has great effect on your physical abilities. The volunteers in this study were all powerlifters. The powerlifters received a pill before training, which was presented as a ”fast-acting steroid”. The pill was filled with saccharine, an artificial sweetener.

Basically, they tricked the powerlifters into believing that they were taking steroids. The result? The powerlifters broke their PR’s by an average of 5% in just 1 training session. Considering these were high-level powerlifters, a 5% increase in total weight is ridiculously high. Normally such an increase in weight would take about 6 months of periodized training.

This all just because they truly believed that their body was capable of more. So don’t underestimate your capabilities, as this directly influences your actions.

Final words

There you have it, the 4 biggest reasons why some are not gaining muscle. I hope you enjoyed this article and have gotten plenty of insights. If you have any questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to comment below. I will gladly help you out.

If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

Is A Low-Carb Diet Most Effective For Fat Loss?

low-carb

Low-carb diets have gained huge popularity in the last several years. Even though I’m skeptical about any diet that has the word ”low” in it, many have achieved great results from this way of eating. So it seems like low-carb dieting really works.

That said, hundreds of diets work. The question is, whether it’s superior to other forms of dieting or not. Giving up carbs is not easy for many of us. So if we all decide to go low-carb, then there needs to be an additional benefit.

By using the current scientific data, we will form an objective conclusion about whether or not low-carb dieting is the most effective way to burn fat.

Insulin, your worst nightmare?

Low-carb diets supposedly work better for fat loss, because you are keeping your insulin levels low at all times.

Insulin is a hormone that is released after consuming carbohydrates and protein. Among other things, this hormone is responsible for nutrient partitioning. Meaning, insulin transfers the needed nutrients to the muscles and stores the rest as fat, after food consumption.

Once insulin is released, your body’s ability to burn fat is suppressed and you will most likely gain body-fat.

Before you start throwing out all of your chicken and rice, you need to understand that your body is not in constant “fat-burning” or “fat-gaining” mode. It constantly switches from gaining fat after you feed it, to burning it when it’s needed.

This graph by IntensiveDietaryManagement showcases this quite well.

low-carb

To clear all potential confusion regarding this, here’s a simple example:

You consume 800 calories at 3 PM and it gets absorbed in 4 hours (rough estimate). Your body will gain a part of it as fat, because in those 4 hours your energy needs are not 800 calories, but more around 400 calories (2500/6=417). During periods of fasting (which can be as small as a couple of hours), your body will start burning fat, because at that time there’s no external energy source (food) available.

If throughout the day you burn more fat than you gain, you’ve lost fat (and vice versa of course). This is simply achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit. This forces your body to burn more fat than it gains OVERTIME.

Low-carb diets minimize insulin spikes

During a low-carb diet, you primarily eat fat. Research shows that high-fat food sources don’t trigger a significant insulin response. Since insulin is seen as the only hormone that triggers fat gain by many, it seems logical to think that you won’t be able to gain much fat if you keep carbs and protein low. After all, lower insulin levels equals less fat gain, right?

Not really.

First of all, research shows that your body is very capable of gaining fat when insulin levels are low. If this wasn’t the case, then you could eat unlimited amounts of dietary fat and stay lean. Fat gain due to excess dietary fat is caused by an enzyme called ”Acylation Stimulating Protein”.

Second of all, fat breakdown also gets suppressed after eating dietary fat, just like when you get an insulin spike. In both cases, this happens due to the suppression of the enzyme ”hormone-sensitive lipase”.

low-carb

And last but not least, research by the Scottish Agricultural College shows that higher insulin responses do not have to equal more fat gain overtime. Fat accumulation is not a response to insulin spikes from carbohydrate consumption, it’s a response to systematically eating at a calorie surplus.

So for healthy individuals, insulin is not something you should worry about. Spiking insulin by consuming carbs or protein, will not make you a ”fat-gaining machine”.

Comparing low-carb to its alternatives

In theory, it doesn’t seem like the ”fat-reducing” benefits of low-carb diets stand ground. But what matters most, are the eventual results you achieve from low-carb diets. That’s what we’ll be looking into now.

By looking at low-carb research, we see that many studies find low-carb diets to be most effective for weight loss. This is quite logical, since low-carb diets deplete muscle glycogen (glucose stored in muscles).

This in turn, will make you a few pounds lighter. It’s safe to say that this kind of weight loss is not what you are shooting for. Actually, weight loss in general shouldn’t be your concern.

We all want to improve body composition (less fat and more muscle). So ”more weight loss” doesn’t equal a better end result, more fat loss and muscle preservation does.

low-carb

Why not all studies are useful

We know through many different studies that a high protein intake is crucial during any fat loss phase. This enables you to preserve more muscle and burn more fat overtime. So protein has to be high, regardless of whether you go low- or high-carb. In this article, I show you how much protein you should eat per day.

The studies that indicate the ”supremacy” of low-carb diets, didn’t take the importance of protein intake into consideration. In this study, a high-fat, high-protein and low-carb diet was compared to a low-fat, low-protein and high-carb diet. The low-carb group did better, but was this because of the low-carb or the high-protein intake?

For more clarity, we need to turn to studies that kept protein intake relatively equal in all groups.

After searching for a few hours, I’ve found three studies that compared low-carb with moderate/high-carb dieting, while volunteers maintained the same (high) protein intake.

Let’s see the results of these studies:

  1. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health, found no significant difference between low, moderate and high-carb diets.
  2. Research by the University of Arizona, found no significant difference between a low- and high-carb diet.
  3. Research by the Arizona State University, also found no significant difference between a low- and high-carb diet.

Basically, this shows that it doesn’t matter whether you go low- or high-carb. These diets deliver similar results, when protein and caloric intake is matched.

When low-carb dieting can be more effective

While writing this article, I have assumed that you are in relatively good health, train often and are not severely obese. If that’s true, then it’s highly unlikely that you will achieve inferior results by eating carbs.

But some people genuinely find it easier to get lean, by using a low-carb approach. If you are one of them, then there is no reason for you to switch to a high-carb diet. There will always be a group of people that will react different than the rest.

In this study, some volunteers lost more fat with a high-carb approach, whereas some volunteers lost more fat with a low-carb approach. On average, low-carb dieting doesn’t deliver superior or inferior results, but you might find that this is different in your case.

When insulin resistance comes into play

If you’ve been severely overeating on carbs (or in general) for the last couple of years, research shows that there is a great possibility that you are experiencing issues with the metabolization of carbohydrates.

If you can relate to this, then research shows you are probably better off with a low-carb approach. This is because severely obese individuals are often insulin resistant. This means that their cells don’t respond properly to insulin anymore.

This can be fixed by exercising regularly and burning off excess fat. Keep in mind, this only applies to people who have been neglectful of their health.

Final words

Unless you have neglected your health for the last couple of years, a low-carb diet won’t have to burn more fat than a high-carb diet. You will achieve great results with both ways of eating, if you keep your protein intake high.

Since consuming carbs is something many enjoy, it sounds logical to me to maintain a moderate fat/carb and high protein intake. This provides the most enjoyment, while still achieving optimal results.

That is exactly what I teach in my free fat loss guide called: “The Maximizing Fat Loss Plan”. If you haven’t gotten your hands on this guide yet, I suggest you fill in the form below to get a deeper understanding on how fat loss works!

How To Bulk Properly For Lean Muscle Growth

how to bulk properly

Summer is officially over and the cold weather is emerging. For many, this means that they are transitioning into a bulking phase to build more muscle. The issue with traditional bulks is that most people treat this as an excuse to indulge in high-calorie foods and therefore get fat.

In this article, I am going to show you how to bulk properly, so you can build the maximum amount of muscle, while gaining a minimum amount of fat. Believe me, it’s very possible.

Why bulking works

In an earlier article, I’ve shown you that it’s possible to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. But this is not optimal if you’re trying to maximize muscle growth.

To burn fat, you need to be in an energy deficit. This means that you’ll be feeding your body less than it needs, so it will have to break down internal reserves (primarily fat) to balance this out.

Why is this not beneficial for muscle growth?

The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins constantly. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the amount of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle.

When you’re in an energy deficit, research shows that protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. This simply results in less muscle growth and maybe even muscle loss, if your approach is off.

When you’re consuming more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you’re ensuring that you’re not in a state of breakdown and therefore are not sabotaging your muscle-building potential.

how to bulk properly

Muscular potential of natural lifters

Before we go into how many calories you need to eat to gain the max amount of muscle, you need to understand how much muscle you can build as a natural.

Several fitness researchers and top coaches have put together models, which help indicate how much muscle you can build a year as a natural lifter. My favorite model is that of Lyle McDonald, it provides simple and accurate assumptions for muscle-building potential of natural lifters.

Lyle McDonald model:

Years of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
2 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
3 5-6 pounds (0.5 pounds per month)
4+ 2-3 pounds (minimum gains per month)

This is the reality, which you need to accept. You won’t be able to gain 40 pounds of muscle a year, that’s just not going to happen. I often see people shooting for 1 pound of weight gain per week when bulking. As you can see in the model, it’s very unlikely that you’ll build 4 pounds of muscle a month, even if you’re just starting off.

By maintaining a diet that makes you gain an amount of weight that exceeds your muscle-gaining capabilities, you’re simply setting yourself up for unnecessary fat gain.

There’s research supporting this. Research by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciencesdivided 39 trained individuals into two groups. One group maintained a small calorie surplus, whereas the other group maintained a large surplus.

Obviously, the group that ate more calories gained more weight. But the extra weight gain wasn’t more muscle, it was body fat. The group that maintained a small calorie surplus, gained the same amount of muscle as the group that ate 600 calories(!) more a day.

So it’s not logical to gain 4 pounds (or more) of body weight a month, if your body is capable of gaining just 2 pounds of muscle a month at most.

Even if you don’t mind extra fat gain in the short-term, you’re still better of keeping it “lean”. Research shows that the more fat you gain, the easier it is to gain it back after you lose it. This is because of an increase in fat cells, which can’t be lost. Fat cells can only shrink in size.

How much you should eat during a bulk

Consuming more calories than your body needs is not the hard part. A majority of the Western population is already eating at a calorie surplus without even knowing it! Most people go wrong by maintaining a calorie surplus that is way too high.

how to bulk properly

Your weight gain needs to be in line with your ”Potential Rate of Muscle Gain”, as seen in the graph above. Knowing this, you can easily estimate your caloric needs for optimal growth by using the ”3500 calorie rule”.

The 3500 calorie rule indicates that a weekly calorie surplus of 3500 calories makes you gain 1 pound of bodyweight per week. This is definitely not a scientific fact, research has shown this. But it’s still a viable way to estimate caloric demands regarding weight gain/loss rates.

A calorie surplus of 200-300 calories is all you need

If you’re capable of gaining about 2 pounds of muscle a month at most, then you need a weekly calorie surplus of about 1750 to realize this. This is a daily calorie surplus of about 250 calories. Not only is this enough to maximize muscle growth, but it also minimizes fat gain.

This way of bulking, sets you up for gaining lean body mass while maintaining low body fat percentages year-round. Which is seen as ”impossible” by many.

You may not know how many calories your body approximately burns a day, check out the end of this article to find tips about estimating your caloric needs.

Training during a bulk

Like fitness researcher Eric Helms once said:

Nutrition is only permissive, training stimulates muscle growth. – Eric Helms

What Eric means is that resistance training causes the need for muscular adaptation. Solely eating at a calorie surplus, won’t build you any significant muscle. Eating at a surplus just “allows” you to make the most out of your training, by handing your body enough nutrients to realize your muscle-building potential.

The best way to approach your training, is by seeking constant progress in the gym. You will be putting more tension on your muscles over time, which will cause an adaptive reaction (muscle growth).

how to bulk properly

That’s why research shows that the key to muscle growth is progressive overload. This is especially important when you’re bulking. You’re feeding your body a surplus of energy, put this energy to good use by hitting your workouts hard and increasing your lifts.

Learn more in my new eBook

If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

 

Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

Muscle growth doesn’t come quickly to us natural lifters. That’s why we want to cherish every pound of muscle we build. The last thing we want to do is lose a significant amount of muscle during a fat loss phase.

If you approach your fat loss phase incorrectly, this can occur. In this post, I’ll supply you with all the information you need to lose fat without losing muscle during your fat loss phase. So you won’t come out of your fat loss phase skinny, but ripped!

How Fat Loss Affects Muscle Growth

When your body is in an energy deficit, it will have to tap into its energy reserves. The most obvious reserve to turn to is body fat. This is why your body gains fat when you overfeed it, so it can use it in times of scarcity.

Unfortunately, body fat isn’t the only thing that is used to balance out an energy deficit. Research shows that protein breakdown increases when you’re in a calorie deficit.

The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins every day. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the amount of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle.

In a calorie deficit, research shows that protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. This negatively affects the amount of muscle you build and can potentially make you lose muscle if your approach is off.

lose fat without losing muscle

There are 3 main factors that can minimize (or maximize if you do it incorrectly) the negative effect an energy deficit has on muscle growth.

  1. Calorie intake
  2. Protein intake
  3. Resistance training

We’ll discuss how you can use these factors to your advantage, one by one.

Calorie intake

You’re probably thinking that I’m going to tell you to ”maintain a small deficit” or ”keep fat loss very slow”. I’m not, the slower you’re losing fat, the longer it takes to reach your fat loss goal. Why is this not beneficial for muscle growth, you ask?

Well, research shows that the longer you’re underfeeding your body, the more muscle you lose over time. That’s why you don’t want to drag out your fat loss phase.

That said, severe calorie restriction is also not the answer (unless you’re morbidly obese). Research by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences shows that muscle and strength loss is significant when non-obese individuals eat way below their caloric requirements.

So how many calories should you eat to maximize muscle preservation while still losing fat rapidly?

The answer is found in a scientific review, which has reviewed almost all the scientific data on calorie restriction.

They found that losing 0.5-1% of total bodyweight per week in fat (1-2 lbs of fat per week for many), is most effective when wanting to improve body composition. This can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%. Like in this study, in which athletes lost an average of 1.2 lbs per week by maintaining a deficit of 24%.

Protein intake

The role of protein during a fat loss phase is very simple: it increases muscle preservation. That’s why you need a slightly higher protein intake during your fat loss phase.

lose fat without losing muscle

Most people take this the wrong way. Because a higher protein intake is beneficial, they stuff themselves with protein every 2-3 hours. Let me tell you something, you don’t need 300 grams of protein to achieve all the benefits!

These two studies indicate that a protein intake of about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, ensures you’re consuming enough protein to support muscle preservation.

Resistance training

The human body is the smartest machine available. It’s able to survive in extreme circumstances, due to its adaptive capabilities and efficiency.

It won’t hold on to muscle tissue that is not used for an extended period of time. It sees this as unnecessary extra weight, which costs energy to preserve. For the same reason, it won’t just build muscle.

You need to give your body a reason (stimulus) to preserve and eventually build muscle. You provide this stimulus simply by training your muscles. That’s why research by the Washington University shows that weight training increases muscle preservation in calorie restriced individuals.

lose fat without losing muscle

To maximize muscle preservation and perhaps even build muscle during your fat loss phase (depending on how close you are to you are to your genetic limit), you need to train for progressive overload.

Muscle growth is an adaptation to resistance training. Research shows that increasing the tension you put on your muscles over time, has the biggest impact on how great this adaptation is. You increase tension on your muscles, by progressing in the gym.

Final words

As you just read in this blog post, you do not need to go to any extremes to preserve muscle during a fat loss phase. As long as you eat at an appropriate deficit, consume enough protein and train regularly, you will not lose muscle.

If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

 

The Importance of Diet Breaks

diet breaks

Eating at a calorie deficit takes its toll after a while. You feel hungry all the time, crave high calorie foods and fat loss slows down. When this happens, most people turn to cheat days or cheat meals. But this can actually offset a lot of the progress you’ve made.

In this article, I’ll explain why you should turn to diet breaks when you feel depleted and how this can help prevent plateaus, so you can burn more fat in the long-run.

What happens as you get leaner

When you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re actually underfeeding your body. You give it less energy than it requires, so it will have to start burning body fat for “fuel”. The human body is adaptive, so if you constantly underfeed it, it’s going to adapt to this and start burning less calories. In science this is recognized as ”metabolic adaptation”.

Your metabolism basically starts ”slowing down”, so your body can maintain its current shape while you’re consuming less calories. From a survival point of view, this is great. Your body adapts to the scarcity of food, so it’s able to survive with a lower daily caloric intake.

But when your goal is to burn as much fat as possible, this isn’t favorable. To burn fat you need to consume less calories than your body burns. If you do this but your body starts burning less calories, you’ll be burning less fat overtime.

This is the main reason why it becomes harder to burn fat as you get deeper into your fat loss phase. Your body is adapting to the lower amounts of calories you’re feeding it. A study by the Columbia University found that daily energy expenditure can drop anywhere from 8% to 28% after 5-8 weeks of dieting.

Diet breaks

So in an extreme case, a regular-sized male who burns 2500 calories a day, could be burning just 1800 (2500*0.72) calories a day after 2 months of restricting calories. Such a great adaptation may not be common, but it’s clear that metabolic adaptation has a noticeable effect on how your fat loss phase develops.

How diet breaks can help

If you want to keep fat loss going smoothly without starving yourself, you need to ensure that your metabolic rate doesn’t drastically drop overtime. Or else you will have to lower your calorie intake to such a degree that you won’t be able to enjoy enough food.

So we know that if you’re in a calorie deficit, your body will start burning less calories overtime, this is inevitable. Therefore the only way you can prevent your body from drastically reducing your metabolic rate, is by having periods in which you consume at or slightly above your daily energy expenditure.

Research shows that eating above your calorie requirements actually slightly increases your energy expenditure. Remember, the human body is adaptive, so it also adapts to overeating to a certain degree (don’t get the wrong message, if you eat 10,000 calories a day you’ll get fat).

So basically, you need to plan diet breaks into your fat loss phases.

We can distinguish diet breaks into two types:

  1. Refeed days
  2. Week(s) off from a calorie deficit

Refeed Days

Research shows that the adaptations your body goes through in a calorie deficit are partially regulated by the hormone leptin. The longer you’re in a calorie deficit, the more your leptin levels drop. This in return causes you to feel more hungry throughout the day, burn less calories and basically makes you feel depleted.

Research shows that overeating on carbs (like during a refeed) significantly boosts your leptin levels and therefore can help offset some of the consequences of a calorie deficit.

Diet breaks

But keep in mind, one day of overeating won’t magically ramp up your metabolism. All it does is slow down the adaptations your body is going through. This is how refeed days can help you. It’s not a fat loss secret that will make you burn 2x the amount of fat than usual.

A day not in a calorie deficit, is a day in which no fat loss occurs. That’s why you need to be strategic about how you implement refeed days.

If you’re high in body fat and just starting out with your fat loss phase, metabolic adaptations are less powerful. That’s why as you start your fat loss phase, you’re not in need of many refeeds. A good rule of thumb is to have your first refeed(s) when you notice your workouts start suffering due to low energy levels.

As you’re deeper into your fat loss phase, implementing refeed days more often (once a week or more depending on how lean you are), can be beneficial since metabolic adaptation is greater in this case.

During a refeed day you eat at maintenance level (the amount of calories you burn a day). About 50% of your calories should come from carbs, since overeating on carbs causes the greatest increase in leptin.

Week(s) off from a calorie deficit

I like to keep my fat loss phases short and effective. The longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down, the more muscle you lose and the more stress you put on your body. But if you carry a lot of body fat, it’s nearly impossible to get lean within 12 weeks.

After months of restricting calories, you’ll eventually get to the point where all the metabolic adaptation you’ve gone through adds up and you need to go to extreme measures (decrease calorie intake more and perhaps add extra cardio) to achieve significant fat loss. This is the main reason why people plateau during a fat loss phase.

diet breaks

When this happens (usually after 10-12 weeks), it’s best to take 1-2 weeks off from “dieting” to give your body the chance to return near its former metabolic state.

Slightly overeating increases your metabolic rate, but fat gain is the last thing you want during your fat loss phase. So increasing your calories throughout your 1-2 week break until you’ve reached the amount of calories you were eating before your fat loss phase (former maintenance level) is how you want to approach your ”break” from dieting.

Final words on diet breaks

In this post we’ve mainly covered the physiological benefits from diet breaks. But it’s worth to say that taking a bit time off from trying to lean down can be refreshing mentally too.

That’s why cheat days are so popular, because they provide a small break. Now that you’re almost done reading this article, you know what to do instead if you feel like you need some time off. Unlike ”cheats”, the alternatives we discussed today will actually help you during your fat loss phase.

If you’re planning on performing a fat loss phase soon, I highly recommend you check out my free ”Maximizing Fat Loss Plan”. You can download it by filling in the form below!