To Be A Beast

By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, CSCS, HFS, USAW Club Coach

The funny thing about nutrition is that it’s both really complicated and really simple all at the same time. The interactions of different nutritional parameters can be very complex depending on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. On the other hand, losing body fat or gaining muscle mass isn’t that difficult of a task really, provided your brain is in normal working order.

What seems to be happening all too frequently in our strength training niche’ is that people are getting spun out on the details of nutrition or radical protocols and missing the forest from the trees. What follows is a no-nonsense guide to setting up your own nutritional template. I’ll cover what I’ve learned to be important variables when it comes to improving one’s physical development. I’ll also include three case studies that represent the most common situations with regards to training and nutrition. On the other hand, I won’t be providing peer-reviewed literature to substantiate my claims, nor will I rely only on broscience and anecdotal evidence. Rather, I’m pulling from my personal and professional experience, research, and formal education to put this together. As an aside, I’m a raw powerlifter currently weighing around 181 at a bodyfat somewhere south of 10%. My competition best lifts are a 440 squat, 308 bench press, and 540 deadlift. Anyone wishing to know more about me, my background, lifts, etc. can post a comment or contact me directly through the forum.

Nutrition: Back to Basics

There are only a handful of nutritional parameters that actually matter when it comes to physical development. Primarily, these are caloric load and macronutrient totals. Slightly less important in the nutritional game but perhaps useful for optimizing a person’s nutrition are the secondary nutritional parameters, which include: meal timing, meal frequency, and food quality. There are, unfortunately, many experts and gurus out there who would have you believe that calories don’t matter, carbohydrates are bad, that you have to eat a certain amount of times per day, or not eat for a certain period of time during the day. These claims, while helpful to some, do not take the individual into account. I could go through each of these claims and debunk them both scientifically and anecdotally, but instead I’ll refrain and simply say this:

“Your individual goals, training, genetics, history, and compliance will determine exactly what you need to do to get where you want to go.”

Calories do matter, as any bodybuilder or weight class athlete will attest to, and so do macronutrient levels, as any coach worth their pay has witnessed. Many people have gotten good results from manipulating meal timing, frequency, and food quality as well. The common thread in every popular nutritional protocol out there is that it somehow boosts your compliance in order to hit a desired macronutrient or caloric level, irrespective of whether a specific caloric or macronutrient value is ever explicitly stated. Paleo, carbohydrate cycling, intermittent fasting, Atkins, cyclic ketogenic, Zone, low-fat, low-carb, and all the other various diets are simply providing the user with a set of tools designed to increase compliance to their diet. The problem is that this is not precise enough for a hard-training lifter who really wants to see performance gains or improvements in bodyfat/other metrics.

A good coach doesn’t just tell his or her new lifter to go squat after teaching him or her the lift, as this would be irresponsible. The coach works with the lifter to determine the proper loading, set, and rep scheme that is appropriate. From this point, systematic modifications are made to the training. In the novice program a lifter simply adds weight to the bar workout to workout. After a few weeks however, the coach may introduce the glute-ham raise to replace one of the deadlift training sessions and relegate heavy pulls to a frequency of once per week. Sets, reps, loads, and exercises are all recorded and tracked by the lifter and the coach to ensure progress. We can all agree that this is a recipe for training success, but why is this style of nutritional programming dismissed or frowned upon?

Counting calories, tracking macronutrients, weighing and measuring foods, and recording all of this data as it correlates to weight, body composition, and performance information seems like a good idea to optimize one’s nutritional program with respect to their own training and goals. While this may add a layer of complexity to one’s daily life, if a person desires a high level of performance and physical development this is the easiest way to do so. Moreover, this rewards a person willing to engage in these acts with invaluable information on how their body responds to different levels of macronutrients, calorie totals, meal frequencies, and timings.

Opponents of this method would rather have you eyeball your portions or simply eat a little less/more, however this is still measuring, just a less accurate method of doing so. While this can work in the short term, there will come a time when more precise measures are needed to help people eat their way through sticking points or lose a bit of body fat while increasing/maintaining strength.

When designing a template for someone it helps to have information on what they’ve been eating previously. People’s metabolic rates vary wildly and the influence of dietary habits cannot be overstated. In the absence of pathology, people who don’t regularly weigh and measure their food tend to ingest an amount that maintains their body weight over a period of time. Daily fluctuations are normal, but deviations upwards or downwards from week to week or month to month are often the result of a concerted effort to alter one’s weight. So by knowing what someone has been taking in previously I can start to get a clearer picture of where I’ll have him or her start calorie and macronutrient wise.

It’s no secret that in order to gain weight you need to take in more calories than you expend. How much more and from what exactly are topics that can only be answered retrospectively for each individual. I’d like to present this working theory I have about weight changes and nutrition. There exists a certain threshold that you must either exceed (to gain) or be under (to lose) to alter your weight. This threshold represents the normal fluctuations of one’s metabolic rate that is, of course, influenced by dietary intake and vice versa. What I aim to do is find this threshold, wherever it is, and go slightly above or below it, then push the hell out of it until it just won’t go anymore. So a person who is looking to add mass needs to eat above this threshold. A previously untrained person likely needs to increase their intake quite a bit to gain weight once they begin training, because we can’t forget to take into account what training does to metabolic rate both acutely (during the training session) and chronically through things like EPOC and the metabolic requirements of recovery and remodeling muscle tissue. Dr. Jeff Volek has found this increase to be about 100kCal/day.

On the other hand, weight loss, or more specifically bodyfat loss, can prove to be more difficult. Occasionally people will present with metabolisms that are in the dumps, eating disorders, or symptoms of overtraining that will preclude them from reaching their body composition goals until they take the time to undo all this previous damage. Just to clarify, I’ve never found it necessary to take anyone under 1500kCal (male or female), do 2 hours of cardio everyday, or eliminate all the starchy carbohydrates from the diet. It’s feasible that this might happen one day when prepping a female with extremely stubborn bodyfat for a figure show or similar, but it just hasn’t happened yet. What I like to do is take 2-3 weeks with recomposition and fat loss clients to get them acclimated to my initial nutritional plan, then adjust from there. Honestly, a lot of people underreport their calories, have crazy cheat meals and not tell me about them, or don’t do their conditioning as prescribed. These types of things force me to make more extreme recommendations as I’m led to believe they’re actually doing the program even when they’re not. I’d like to just say YNDTP, but since they’re actually paying me I’ve got to do some handholding.

In both types of clients I start out by estimating their initial calories based on their goals, bodyweight, sex, training, and activity. Then I go about figuring their initial macronutrient levels using the same criteria. Finally I have some standard nutritional tips that I include. Each individual varies based on all of the things I’ve talked about so far but here is a rough guide to where I’m starting things off at:

Sex

Goal

Calories (kCal/lb)

Protein (g/lb)

Carbohydrates (g/lb)

Fat (g/lb)

Male

Recomposition

13-17

1.2-1.35

0.9-1.3

0.25-0.35

Male

Muscle Gain

20-25

1.5-2.0

3.0-4.0

0.5-0.7

Female

Recomposition

11-13

1.1-1.3

0.8-1.0

0.2-0.3

Female

Muscle Gain

14-16

1.4-1.7

1.25-1.5

0.4-0.5

These represent average numbers of calories and macronutrients that I like to see over the course of a week for starters. I may employ some type of carbohydrate cycling in certain populations. This is discussed in greater detail in case study #2. I generally like to see people eating 4-5 times a day with a minimum of 3 hours and a maximum time of 5 hours between meals. I also like to have the majority of the carbohydrates, like 25-35% of total carbohydrates, come in the meals directly before and directly after training. I also like these periworkout meals to be a little skinny on the fat content, if possible.

I like to make much smaller modifications in the macronutrients and calories and honestly, I don’t typically add or subtract calories explicitly. Instead I reduce or increase the energy substrate(s), carbohydrates and/or fat, for the desired increase or decrease in calories. Remember the threshold I was talking about earlier? Instead of jumping the gun and adjusting calories by 500kCal+ increments I prefer a much more gradual approach along the lines of 10-30g of carbohydrates and 4-10g of fat. Changes are made based on progression of training, waist measurements, photographs, and weight changes. These are addressed more explicitly in case study #3.

The following three case studies allow for an expansion on what I’ve previously laid out. I believe in weighing, measuring, counting, and adjusting for all but the rank novice. There comes a time when eyeballing food is no longer appropriate and depending on a lifter’s level of commitment to physical development, it may be necessary to begin these tasks.

Case # 1- The Skinny Novice: Unmeasured

Johnny, a 23-year-old male who is 5’10” tall and weighs 160lbs, is starting his novice progression and needs some quick advice as to what to eat. The advice to do GOMAD is appropriate for him to use for the initial 6-8 weeks while he’s on the program. If he does whole milk he’s getting 128g protein, 192g carbohydrates, and 128g of fat per 16-cups/1 gallon. Johnny is currently underweight and most likely was only averaging about 2000 calories per day throughout the week; otherwise he’d weigh more or less. By adding the gallon of whole milk his intake will be somewhere around 4400kCal per day, which is just slightly above the 25kCal/lb recommendation.

His macros may or may not work out to fit within the constraints of an optimal template, but at this point we just need to make sure he’s gaining weight appropriately before the weight starts getting heavy. In addition to the GOMAD recommendation, I’d have Johnny do three solid meals a day consisting of a palm-sized portion of meat/8 eggs (~50g protein), a fist-sized portion of starchy carbs (~50g carbohydrates), along with vegetables and/or fruit as desired. On top of this, I’d add three protein shakes in between meals consisting of two scoops of whey (~50g protein) mixed with milk. Before the milk, this puts him around 300g protein, 150g carbohydrates, and 25g fat. When the milk is layered on top these numbers jump to 428g protein, 350g carbohydrates, 150g fat, and over 4400 calories from high quality food.

While the macros and calories may not be optimal for Johnny, he should be gaining weight during his initial 6-8 weeks while not turning into a slob. After this time we can reassess his training progress, body composition, and weight to fine-tune his nutritional approach. This is the appropriate time to start measuring and tracking intake and adjusting per the previously mentioned methods. If he is not gaining weight or stops gaining weight while being compliant with the diet, then I would add a “layer” of calories in the form of a couple tablespoons of peanut or almond butter with one or all of the protein shakes, depending on when this occurs and his current progress. This represents a bump in caloric load of anywhere between 200 and 600+ calories.

Fat gain should be limited during this time period, as the new stress of training and recovery exert a profound effect on a previously untrained person’s partitioning of nutrients. The accumulation of fat, at this point, is not a problem because as his training progresses both the stresses imparted on his body from increased loading and his refined nutritional approach allows him to noninvasively alter his body composition Simply put, it is necessary for a rank novice like Johnny to put on 20lbs in two months while his squat goes up 130+ pounds. A failure to do so will result in missing reps and weights prematurely and leave him weak and small. Really, what’s 6-8 weeks of gaining a little fat while you massively increase your strength and muscle mass? When the mass gaining process becomes inefficient, i.e. when significantly more fat is added than muscle, we’ll alter the nutrition incrementally to allow continued progress in training while dealing with the pesky body fat.

Case # 2- The Skinny Novice: Measured

Our hypothetical novice, Johnny, is now 180lbs and squatting 255 x 5 x 3. He’s hovering around 20% bodyfat and he’s getting awfully squirrelly about having lost his abs. Marty Gallagher and his associates would likely say Johnny should weigh at least 220lbs (more like 242-275) to maximize his levers in powerlifting, but since Johnny is only 180lbs and his body fat is creeping up to the point where he’s about to do something stupid like go on a “cut”, start CrossFitting 4 times a week, or start running everyday, we need to reign in his nutrition a bit.

Previously, Johnny has been taking in 4200-4800kCal a day with macronutrients averaging 400/400/150 over the course of a week. Johnny is still needs to be gaining, but in a more efficient manner. I’d now have him weigh, measure, and record his calories and macros, which would look something like 350/350/130 for protein, carbohydrates, and fats, respectively. This works out to right under 4000kCal a day and should provide enough of a decrease in calories to start more efficiently adding mass and reigning in the bodyfat. Johnny is also sick of the milk and wants to omit it for a while, which is understandable. So what does this look like in real food?

Breakfast: 7 XL eggs (3 whites, 4 whole), 0.75-cup Oats, 100g strawberries

(61g protein, 48g carbohydrates – 8g fiber, 25g fat)

Late Morning Snack: 2 scoops whey protein, 0.75-cup oats, 2 servings (56g almonds)

(67g protein, 54g carbohydrates-10g fiber, 42g fat)

Lunch: 7oz chicken breast, 3 medium sweet potatoes (390g), asparagus, 2 tbsp. almond butter

(58g protein, 85g carbohydrates -15g fiber, 20g fat)

Late afternoon/Pre Workout Snack: 2 scoop whey protein, 1.25-cups oatmeal

(59g protein, 75g carbohydrates- 7g fiber, 9g fat)

Dinner/Post Workout: 9oz lean beef, 2.5 cups (cooked measure) white rice, broccoli

(57g protein, 90g carbohydrates, 9g fat)

Before Bed Snack: 2 scoops whey, 2 tbsp. peanut butter

(54g protein, 6g carbohydrates -2g fiber, 20g fat)

This works out really close to our original numbers (+/- 5g), which is an allowable standard deviation when weighing and measuring food. I don’t particularly care where the macros come from as long as the numbers add up. Additionally, I am a proponent of starting out on the higher side of carbohydrates. I’ve found from both my own experience as well as clients’ experiences that omitting carbohydrates from the diet has a deleterious effect on muscle and strength gain. I was a low-carb Paleo guys for 2 years and found it difficult to recover well, put on muscle, and was generally flat all the time. I’ve seen similar things with people I’ve worked with. Conversely, it’s entirely possible to hit your desired macros within a Paleo-type framework. If this makes you feel better and/or perform better then go for it! Just make sure you’re actually getting the appropriate calories and macros in. With respect to carbohydrate sources, I do recognize that wheat and gluten-containing products most likely represent a significant threat to gut health, optimal metabolic function, and inflammatory processes, so I do recommend that starchy carbohydrate sources be limited to vegetables, fruits, tubers, rice, dextrose or similar recovery formulations, and oats (if tolerable). I’ve also found it easier to manipulate nutrition variables when carbohydrate intake is initially higher, which allows some wiggle room to bring carbohydrates down. Low-carb diets certainly work, but I find that using them for punctuated periods of time along with strategically-placed carbohydrate refeeds tend to produce better results with respect to leaning out, retaining strength, or dropping weight. In short, I want the higher carbohydrate intake to provide ample energy for the workout itself, the subsequent recovery, and protein assimilation in muscles. If body weight starts to be put on in an inefficient manner, i.e. more fat is accruing as compared to lean muscle tissue, then I now have something to adjust.

The protein issue is a complex one, to say the least. The common question is, “How much protein do I need?” This implies that someone wants to know how much protein someone has to ingest to not be deficient in the macronutrient when what he or she really wants to know is, “How much protein is optimal for me?” These are two different questions that are, at the time of this writing, unanswerable. What we do know is that super high levels of protein do not, in fact, cause kidney pathologies in otherwise normal functioning kidneys. We also know that it is possible to cause some damage to certain tissues with ammonia toxicity from chronically high (this is a relative term) protein levels. Be that as it may, athletes seem to benefit from increased dietary intake of protein. Moreover, protein sources that are leucine rich like whey, chicken, beef, and free-form BCAAs tend in increase protein synthesis quite nicely. While many may claim, “You need to be in a net positive nitrogen balance,” to argue that high doses of protein are required, because nitrogen is cleaved off the protein during digestive and metabolic processes, these people do not understand that being in a net positive nitrogen balance actually tells us nothing about whether more muscle is being assimilated or broken down. Conversely, we would like to know if protein synthesis is greater or lesser based on nutritional interventions. The gold standard for this kind of data is a tracer study where constituents of a protein is labeled and then data is collected based on whether or not it is incorporated into tissue, protein synthesis, or not. At any rate, with the potential risk from ammonia toxicity plain as day, it is inadvisable and unnecessary for me to currently recommend larger protein intakes.

Another thing people might inquire about is the timing of meals and the macronutrient total in each specific meal. I basically like to see the macros evenly spread out across all the meals. The only deviations from this are the pre and post workout meals, which are a both skinny on fat content and high in carbohydrates. This prevents slowed digestion of the meals and the decreased transit time through the gut that occurs with higher fat content in meals. In this periworkout window I like to feed the athlete with some carbohydrates beforehand to fuel the workout and to replenish the muscles/initiate protein remodeling afterwards. Anything preventing the uptake of the digested proteins and carbohydrates, amino acids and glucose, respectively, does not aid in this goal.

It would be nice to know just how someone responds to a certain nutritional protocol’s calories, macronutrient composition, frequency, and timing, BEFORE they did it, but unfortunately we just need to use some simple trial and error to get the air/fuel mixture right. This is where some data collection becomes invaluable, yet it is often recommended against vehemently. By tracking calories, macros, meal frequency, and timing we can begin to piece the puzzle together, anything else is just an educated guess and does not help this novice trainee get a feel for their own nutritional requirements. We record and log our workouts’ exercises, reps, sets, and loads, yet recording nutritional parameters are somehow inappropriate? So step one, start writing down a daily log of your nutrition. Macronutrient totals will suffice on a meal-by-meal basis and then you can figure calories at the end of each day. There are many smartphone apps that will do this and store your data for long periods of time, but writing it down works well too.

What if Johnny does this exact protocol for a whole week, yet gained two pounds? Similarly, what if he lost a pound? Subsequent macronutrient and caloric manipulation will vary depending on the individual, obviously, but a good place to start would be by adding or subtracting a bit of energy substrate first. Again, I like to make much smaller changes to one’s diet, on the order of 15-25g carbohydrates and 4-10g fat, rather than larger adjustments like “add 500 calories from ______”. While adding or subtracting 500 calories at a time may, in fact, cause the desired change to start happening, where do you go from here when it stops working? 500kCal represents about 13% of Johnny’s baseline diet. When the nutritional protocol is modified on this large of a scale it is easy to miss how to optimize one’s nutritional strategy to most efficiently add muscle. Most likely, someone will haphazardly increase their calories by 500 or even 1000kCal for a week or two and then start to put on more fat than they want to. Granted, this is okay because we can surely take it off later, but if this precludes someone from continuing to eat enough to gain strength and size, i.e. they stop doing the program training and nutrition-wise, then the athlete is setup to stall, fail, and quit. Again, I prefer a slow and steady approach that involves consistently hitting your macros (within +/- 5g) day in and day out, modifying from that baseline as needed, and generally just being in it for the long haul. How many people do you know never actually got as muscular or as strong as they wanted because they thought they were getting fat so they quit? On the other hand, how many people do you know that never gained enough weight and stalled on the program so now they’re into being lean and conditioned? This stuff really isn’t that hard if you take an intelligent approach and get some data to work with. It’s exactly like the squat. You didn’t just load the bar with 405 on day one and try to squat it (and fail), then do it again on Wednesday (and fail), and then do it again on Friday (and fail), ad nauseam. Nope, you went in on day 1, figured out where you were and progressively titrated up from there. Maybe Rip should write a Starting Eating: Basic Fork and Knife Training so people will start taking the same approach to food.

In Johnny’s case, I’d add 20g of carbohydrates and 10g of fat if he lost more than a pound. If he gained 2 pounds, I’d have him hold steady and keep the same macros and calories and then reassess next week. If he continued to climb up I’d wait until this number started to decrease before bumping the nutrition up (20g carbs & 10g fat). I like to keep protein levels between 25-35% of the diet most of the time when talking about gaining weight. I’m starting Johnny off right at 35% of total calories coming from protein. When this percentage gets close to that lower end I’d bump up his protein by 25g increments and on that week and leave the fat alone (not add an additional 10g of fat). This is so simple it will never work, some say. Well, all those skinny guys who are “hard gainers” and eat 5000+ calories a day SHOW ME the calories! I have failed to see these people actually eat this many calories day-in and day-out for extended periods of time. Sure they will crush a pizza one night and their calories for that day will be huge, but the next day they’ll eat less, or the day after that, you get the picture. Just like training, you can’t just haphazardly train and expect to get really strong and you can’t eat haphazardly and expect to get really big and beastly.

If Johnny keeps a good log of his training and nutrition, in 3 months’ time he’ll have amassed a greater knowledge of how his body responds to particular nutritional parameters and he’ll likely be weighing north of 190 with a good body composition while squatting 300+ for reps. He’ll likely also be closing in on the end of his novice progression and thus, he’ll be able to decide just exactly he wants to do. If he wants to be involved in a barbell sport he’ll likely have to push his weight up towards at least the 198lb class for powerlifting or 94kg for Olympic lifting. To maximize his levers without better living through chemistry though, he’d probably have to be a 220lb powerlifter or 105kg Olympic lifter.

Case # 3- The Fluffy Novice/Intermediate: Measured

In the case of the lifter whose current body fat is too high, which I consider to be above 20%, we have to be more fastidious in our nutritional regimen. It is important for this lifter to still get adequate nutrition so strength gains are still progressing nicely, but we must also take into account recomposing this lifter’s body for both health and performance goals. No one would argue that all else being equal, a person at 20% bodyfat is healthier than the same person at 30%. While this simple metric has a limited rate of return, i.e. is 10% bodyfat really healthier than 15% bodyfat, it is important for directing how we manipulate the nutrition. Performance tends to be higher relatively with those of a lower body fat at a higher weight because leverage is better. Remember, fat doesn’t flex and when aiming for performance goals we should strive to get our trainee to the top of their weight class with the best body composition. A 242 lifter with 15% bodyfat has a greater muscle cross sectional area than a 242 lifter with 25% bodyfat. All things being equal, the first lifter has a greater potential to produce force with this increased muscle mass available for recruitment.

Our hypothetical lifter, Jim, is 34 years old, 6’0 tall, 240lbs, and 35% bodyfat. He’s starting on the novice program and is wondering what he should be eating to both allow recovery while improving his body’s composition. I would be a little tighter with caloric recommendations, starting out around 15kCal per pound of body weight. This has Jim eating 3600kCal per day. Again, some may say this is low but let’s face it, Jim is considerably older than Johnny and he also has a lot of fat mass that will be available to fuel various metabolic processes in the body.

As far as macros are concerned, I’d like to see Jim start out with 300g protein, 300g carbohydrates, and 130g fat. This macronutrient ratio works out to be 33/33/33, or fairly balanced. After two weeks on this nutrition protocol I will begin to learn whether Jim is sensitive to carbohydrates, fats, etc., but by starting out with a balanced approach I’m not in any danger of screwing the pooch from the get go. Seeing as Jim is 34 years old and likely has an occupation, I’ll assume that he trains at night. Since he’s also carrying a lot of bodyfat I can also assume that he’s not super insulin sensitive either. For this reason I’d like to load 30-40% of the day’s carbohydrates around his training time while also limiting the fat intake in these meals to less than 20g. So his daily nutrition might look like:

Breakfast: 8 XL eggs (4 whites, 4 whole) cooked in 1 tbsp. of coconut oil, 300g strawberries

(68g protein, 23g carbohydrates – 4g fiber, 34g fat)

Lunch: 8oz chicken breast, 2 servings (170g) asparagus, 4 tbsp. almond butter

(64g protein, 17g carbohydrates-5g fiber, 36g fat)

Late afternoon/Pre Workout Snack: 2 scoops whey protein, 2 cups oatmeal

(48g protein, 116g carbohydrates- 12g fiber, 14g fat)

Dinner/Post Workout: 9oz lean beef, 2.5 cups (cooked measure) white rice, 2 servings (170g) broccoli

(58g protein, 120g carbohydrates-4g fiber, 9g fat)

Before Bed Snack: 2 scoops whey, 4 tbsp. peanut butter

(57g protein, 18g carbohydrates -4g fiber, 36g fat)

This puts Jim within +/-5g of his initial macronutrient goals. I would also like to employ one of the following conditioning strategies:

1: HIIT- 5 minute warm up, then 20s on: 140s off x 7 rounds, 10 minute cool down*

*I would prefer this to be done on a prowler or C2 rower as running hills or sprinting would be deleterious to Jim getting strong in my opinion. This could be done on rest days (Tuesday/Saturday) with the carbohydrate percentages we talked about earlier surrounding these training sessions.

2: Fasted LISS cardio- 30 minute walk after a cup of coffee first thing in the AM before breakfast x 5-6 days per week*

*This old-school bodybuilding holdover is a good tool to use for body recomposition if the proper equipment for HIIT is not available or too much recovery ability is being sacrificed. Yes I know you burn more calories doing cardio AFTER eating, but this method has worked for years and offers the advantage of inducing a positive feedback loop mentally. If a person will roll their butt out of bed and go for a walk 5 days a week, he or she will likely also comply with the diet and training.

I personally like HIIT-style training for lifter’s as it tends to help with improving recovery from training and intraworkout stressors like repeated sets of heavy squats, power cleans, presses, etc. Many people are afraid of adding a small amount of HIIT training to their programs for fear of overtraining, which I think is a bit misguided. If you do HIIT 5x a week using a high-impact or other modality with a high eccentric loading, such as sprints, for instance, then yes you’re performance will likely suffer. On the other hand, doing a small amount of work with the prowler or C2 rower while training is easy, as it is in the beginning of the novice program, will allow for the appropriate adaptations to occur with respect to lactate buffering, capillary and mitochondrial density, energy substrate use, generation, and storage. Additionally, basal metabolic rate tends to increase in those who perform HIIT along with improvements in cardiorespiratory capacity. Two days a week is where I’d like to start for HIIT training and I’ll only titrate the frequency upwards if the trainee can tolerate it, isn’t interested in strength-related sports, or does not possess the requisite ability to push the intensity. I like to cap the frequency of HIIT at 3x per week during a strength phase and even then, recovery parameters and barbell training performance need to be watched closely.

On the other hand, LISS can be done very frequently because it is not stressful. However, it does not provide the same benefits as HIIT with respect to conditioning of the cardiovascular system, myofibrils, and metabolic rate. Nevertheless, many people have used it successfully and to omit this option would be fairly foolish.

With Jim I’d be looking at photos, waist measurements, weight changes, and training progression/regression. Each week I’d like to see a full-body picture in similar lighting to see what, if any, changes are occurring body composition-wise. I’d want an accurate waist measurement taken right at the level of the umbilicus, as his waist size should be going down slowly but surely. Finally, his weight should be decreasing slowly, as he is 35% bodyfat, and his training should be coming along nicely. If his weight does not go down 2-4lbs in the first 2 weeks, but rather it stays the same then I’d leave the macros alone for one additional week to see what happens. If his weight still didn’t go down or if it went up I’d remove 15g of carbohydrates and 5g of fat on all the days for the following week, as he really should be losing weight as this point. I’d continue to evaluate all parameters from week to week to make changes if necessary. If, or rather when, the weight training begins to stall, as a novice will eventually, then I’d try a few nutritional tricks to give Jim a chance at running out this progression a little longer. Note that this would likely be occurring 8-12+ weeks after beginning the program. His squat should have gone up by 150lbs minimum and he should also be sitting around 225-230lbs and somewhere in between 22-27% bodyfat. We obviously still have a ways to go to get him into the teens where I prefer, but this is still slow and steady progress while improving strength.

For informational purposes let’s have Jim do a reset on his weights while altering his nutritional protocol a bit to encourage losses in bodyfat and increases in strength/LBM. Jim just failed to get all his reps at 295 on the squat, so we’ll reset him 10% to 265 x 5 x 3. We’ll also make his second squat session of the week a recovery squat day, where he squats 80% of day 1’s weight. He’ll make 5lb jumps on both Day 1 and Day 3, which denotes that these days are his hardest training sessions. Now for the nutritional trickery, let’s make training days 1 and 3 higher carb days, training day 2 a moderate carb day, and the rest days lower carb days. On higher carb days we’ll decrease protein and fat a smidge, whereas on low carb days we’ll bump protein and fat up a bit. Working off our original numbers of 300/300/130, Jim’s high days would now be 275/325/100, his moderate day would be 285/250/120, and his low days would be 300/175/130. This manipulation of the macronutrients might prove to be effective for body composition while still allowing hard training. Modifications will need to be made weekly as discussed earlier by removing 15g of carbohydrates and 5g of fat from all days when and if a recomposition stall is occurring.

This sort of carbohydrate cycling is where I like to start with intermediate and above trainees. I prefer to have the higher carbohydrate days on either the heaviest of training days, the days where the weakest or most underdeveloped lift or body part (for you bodybuilders) is trained, or on days with the highest volume. Optimally, the two high days would be separated by two or three days. Moderate and low carbohydrate days are not part of all my dietary recommendations, but some people need to drop their carbohydrates lower and lower, which is where the need for dedicated low days comes into play. These days are usually devoid of training, but if conditioning must be done on these days then 60% of the day’s carbohydrates should be split between the two meals surrounding the conditioning work.

If we can get Jim to comply with the nutritional parameters set here he will make great strength and physique gains for a long period of time. The goal isn’t to get him to lose weight as fast as possible, but rather to lose weight at the appropriate rate that preserves as much muscle mass as possible or even allows for hypertrophy. If he works hard and is consistent, 6 months later he’d be weighing around 210-220 and somewhere in the teens bodyfat-wise with a mid to upper 300lb squat for reps. Sounds like good progress to me.
-thefitcoach

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About thefitcoach

An aspiring physician, I've been involved in the strength and conditioning world for over 5 years now in a professional sense. I started this blog with some like-minded individuals to share our thoughts on training, nutrition, lifestyle, medicine, health, and everything in between.

30 thoughts on “To Be A Beast

  1. I searched around for this, and I’m sorry if I’ve asked this before, but would you mind explaining the benefits of my getting 35g fiber/day? I looked back at my food log, and some days I’m actually over 20, which surprised me. I almost bought some Psyllium Husk Powder today but didn’t pull the trigger.

    • It’s just a way to ensure you’re not getting all your carbs from a super refined source. A fiber recommendation means that a good chunk of your carbs must be fibrous, lower glycemic, and limits the amount of sugar. As far as health benefits of 35g of fiber, I have none except for keeping you regular. It’s more of a compliance thing to prevent high sugar intake.

      • I’m glad I didn’t buy a fiber supplement, then. It sounds like, unless you have a problem with being regular, a supplement would defeat the whole purpose of compliance. Right?

      • Eh sort of. You’d still count the carbs in the fiber supplement and you’d still be decreasing the glycemic index of the meal. It’s about 50/50 physiology and compliance on that one in my opinion.

      • Since I’ve been eating Quest bars, I almost always hit my fiber, but Kashi cereal in the evenings often puts me at 45+. Is this a bad thing? I could substitute for a lower fiber source if so.

  2. Resurrecting an old post here, but I’ve forwarded this gem of an article to a lot of people. Probably the best practical explanation of theoretical knowledge on diets around the net.

      • Greetings.
        This is great stuff!
        Been lurking on your site and in the SS Nurtrition Forum.
        Just have a quick question for you.
        Background:
        34 Y/O Male
        6’2″ , 207lbs
        Lifts:
        Squat: 5RM 365lbs
        Bench: 5RM 275LBS
        Deadlift: 3RM 417lbs

        Currently running 4-day Texas Method split and training at 5:30AM fasted+1 Scoop Scivation BCAAs in H2O.

        I’ve been tracking my food with MyFitnessPal for a few months and have titrated up to 3200kCal/day (Which I am thinking is still low). Macros currently look like:
        360g Carbs/day
        240g/Protein/day
        95g Fat/day

        If my lifts are stalling and my goal is to get strong and jacked without losing all teh abz, I should be slowly adding carbs, correct?
        My weight has stayed fairly steady from 3000kCal to 3200kCal over the past 2 weeks. Am I adding too slowly, or was my starting point simply too low (per your table above) ? At 34 Y/O with a desk job, I’m shy about jumping to 4000kCal/day when I’m not a competitive lifter.
        Thanks in advance!
        Ty

      • If you haven’t missed any reps yet, your lifts aren’t stalling they’re just getting hard. Yes, keep adding carbohydrates. If you can, stop training fasted. Slow and stead my friend 🙂

  3. Jordan,
    Thanks for the reply! My lifts are stalling. I have reset my Press a couple of times and the only thing that is going up at the moment is the deadlift and only by 5lbs/week on the 3RMs.
    Also,I am actually down a pound today to 206lbs. I’ll definitely be adding another 10-15g Carbs/day starting today.
    What’s the best food/supps to get down quickly in the AM before I train?
    My typical PWO is as follows:
    1 Cup Oats
    1 Banana
    2 Cups Milk
    1 Cup mixed berries (Rasberries/blueberries/Blackberries)
    35g Whey

    I usually have a similar meal/shake at night, but will add in some fat (EVOO or Coconut Oil)
    The aforementioned ‘meals’ help with my compliance. I’m getting to minimum 30g fiber/day and at least 48Oz H20 as well. Maybe it’s tiem to start hammering down some FroYo? Or, I can easily add a red potatoe to my lunch and dinner meals??

    Anyway, thanks for the the help! I’ll try to bring more intensity to the bar…sometimes gets hard to amp up at 5:30AM.

    • I’d try and get something like BCAAs + dextrose/waxy maize + instant outs pre workout and some caffeine. Post workout, your meal looks fine.

      As far as carb sources, adding more potatoes, rice, quinoa, rice cereal, or of course, FroYo is a good call 🙂

      Programming wise, you need to look at whether or not you need more volume to drive the adaptation or if it’s you’re recovery that’s suffering. If you’re missing on volume day, I’d say recovery is an issue. If you’re missing on intensity day, I’d say stimulus/volume is an issue. If you’re missing on both days then you need a slight deload before switching to a slightly different rep/set/loading scheme

      • Based on those suggestions, I believe that recovery is the issue.
        Looks like I’ll aim for more food, more sleep, and more dates with the PVC roller.
        I’ll definitely look into dextrose/waxy maize. I can crush instant oats in a shake like nobody’s business, so that’s no problem.
        Maybe I should switch my Volume Squats to Sunday when I can train later in the morning after a proper meal??

      • That would work, provided your ID doesn’t leave you too drained to hit Sunday with the correct recovery. I’d probably just do a top set of 5 at 5lbs more than last week, then take 10% off the bar and do 4 sets of 5 there.

  4. My brother got married over the weekend (late nights/questionable nutrition), so I backed it off this morning quite a bit and will progress with a top set and 4 back off sets for volume as you suggest.
    After going back through my log and doing some more reading on programming, I think I was wrong to switch to a 4-day Texas Method Split. Given that recovery seems to be my issue, and I need to focus on my squat, the standard 3-day split with minimal accessory work is probably appropriate for my goals.
    Thanks again for your help. I’ve also really been geeking out on your Booze and Barbells series. Good stuff!

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  9. Hi Jordan.

    I am pretty sure you meant to say the opposite of “No one would argue that all else being equal, a person at 30% bodyfat is healthier than the same person at 20%.”

    A lot of people would love that to be true, but I am pretty sure it isn’t.

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