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Key Takeaways
  1. The pescatarian diet is a vegetarian diet that includes seafood, and sometimes dairy and eggs.
  2. The pescatarian diet is higher in some nutrients than vegan and other vegetarian diets.
  3. As long as you manage your diet properly, you’ll have no trouble building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy while eating a pescatarian diet.

Plant-based diets are more popular than ever, and for good reason.

Research shows that people who eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains tend to live longer and stay healthier than those who eat little.

You probably know this and, understandably, are considering a major overhaul to your diet, but aren’t wholly sold on the idea of cutting out animal products entirely.

How are you supposed to get enough protein?

Will you be able to cover all of your nutritional bases with plants alone?

Will you actually enjoy your meal plans?

Well, the short answer to each of those questions is “yes,” but it’s not necessarily easy because certain animal foods make it much easier to improve your body composition and stay healthy.

That’s why more and more people are turning to “modified” vegetarian diets like the pescatarian diet, which is simply a vegetarian diet that includes seafood.

Some pescatarians also eat eggs and dairy, as well, which is technically known as “lacto-ovo-pescatarianism.”

As you’ll see, pescatarian diets require a little more fine-tuning than regular omnivorous diets, but if you understand and address the downsides and limitations, you’ll have no problem using the pescatarian diet to build a lean, healthy, athletic body you can be proud of.

By the end of this article, you’re going to understand . . .

  • What the pescatarian diet is
  • Its pros and cons
  • The most common muscle-building mistakes pescatarians make
  • How to use the pescatarian diet to maximize muscle growth, fat loss, and strength gains
  • What foods to eat on a pescatarian diet plan
  • And more!

Let’s start by defining exactly what a pescatarian diet is.

What Is the Pescatarian Diet?

Do a Google search for “pescatarian diet,” and you’ll find endless opinions on what you’re supposed to eat.

Some say that you can only eat plants and fish.

Others say you can eat plants and any kind of seafood, like mussels, shrimp, etc.

And still others say you even throw eggs and dairy into the mix and call yourself a pescatarian.

Who’s right?

Well, to cut through the confusion, let’s use the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition for a pescatarian:

“One whose diet includes fish but no other meat.”

So, really anyone who follows a plant-based diet and eats seafood but no poultry, beef, pork, or flesh from other land animals, is following a pescatarian diet. Most pescatarians also eat eggs and dairy, but that’s not always the case.

The term “pescatarian” comes from combining the Italian word for fish, “pesce,” with the word “vegetarian.”

Some people also refer to this style of eating as “vegequarianism,” which is a combination of the words “vegetarian” and “aquatic.”

In most versions of the pescatarian diet, there are no restrictions on the kind of seafood you’re allowed to eat. This includes fish, mussels, shrimp, and anything else that lives in water and isn’t a mammal.

That said, many proponents of the pescatarian diet also promote eating wild-caught seafood whenever possible.

The 3 Major Benefits of the Pescatarian Diet

There are three main benefits to following a pescatarian diet:

  1. It reduces your risk of developing a number of diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  2. It’s high in nutrients that many people’s diets lack.
  3. It’s easier for most people to follow than strict plant-based diets (such as a vegan diet).

Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these points.

1. The Pescatarian Diet Is Generally Associated With Better Health

The scientific literature clearly shows that, on the whole, people who follow a pescatarian diet tend to be healthier than omnivores.

A multitude of studies have found that people who get the majority of their calories from plants have a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and just about every other modern ailment.

A good example of this comes from a review study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford. The researchers analyzed eight large-scale studies that tracked the health of people following different diets, and 30 to 60% of the dieters in each study were vegetarian.

This allowed scientists to directly measure the rates of disease and death among vegetarians and omnivores, and while vegetarianism isn’t the same as pescatarianism, it’s close enough to expect similar health outcomes.

The researchers found that on average, vegetarians and vegans had a lower risk of . . .

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes (half the risk of meat-eaters in one study)
  • Heart disease (30% lower in one study)
  • Gut diseases such as diverticulitis
  • Cataracts
  • Kidney stones
  • Arthritis

If you take research like this at face value, you have to conclude avoiding meat is absolutely necessary for healthy living.

The truth, though, is more complex, however, because the reason pescatarians tend to be healthier isn’t just eschewing meat. Instead, their superior health appears to be due to three factors:

  1. Cutting out meat eliminates many foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, and potentially unhealthy ingredients like trans fats.
  2. Eating more fish is tied to a number of health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease (which are largely thanks to higher omega-3 intakes).
  3. People who follow pescatarian diets also tend to live healthier lifestyles on the whole—they smoke less, exercise more, and eat less junk food and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber.

In other words, pescatarianism is especially appealing to many health-conscious people who are naturally more careful about what they put into their bodies and why. And that alone partially explains why pescatarians (and vegetarians) tend to be healthier than your average omnivores.

2. The Pescatarian Diet Is High In Key Nutrients

If you’re currently eating like most Americans, switching to a pescatarian diet will drastically increase your micronutrient intake.

For example, pescatarians get more vitamin A, B2, C, and E, and other nutrients like carotene, calcium, folate, phosphorus, and fiber than meat-eaters. They also eat less cholesterol and sodium (which aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they’re generally signs of high junk food consumption).

Thanks to their above-average fish consumption, pescatarians also get more omega-3 fatty acids than omnivores, which benefits the body in many ways, including . . .

The reason for this is some fish are especially abundant in two crucial types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Research shows that a combined intake of 500 milligrams to 1.8 grams of EPA and DHA per day is adequate for maintaining sufficiency, but additional health benefits can be seen up to a combined intake of 6 grams per day.

Most people’s diets provide just one tenth of the EPA and DHA recommended to preserve health and prevent disease, so even a moderate increase in these fatty acids can provide significant benefits.

A single serving of fresh or frozen salmon has 0.7 to 1.5 grams of total omega-3s, so it doesn’t take much to hit the recommended amounts. Other fish high in omega-3s include mackerel, sardines, and herring, as well as most other high-fat fish that live in cold water.

The pescatarian diet is higher in a number of nutrients than the standard American diet, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which is largely responsible for the improved health of pescatarians.

3. The Pescatarian Diet Is Easier to Follow Than Strict Veganism

Vegan and vegetarian diets have their merits, but many people find them very hard to stick to.

Not only do they have to give up some of their favorite foods, they have to get creative to get enough protein every day if they exercise regularly and struggle to find appropriate foods when eating out and socializing.

The pescatarian diet, on the other hand, is more inclusive and flexible and thus more enjoyable and easier to stick to.

Most restaurants have a seafood-based option that fits a pescatarian diet, so no matter where you go out to eat, you won’t feel left out. Adding a small serving of fish or seafood to an otherwise all-veggie dish can also make it tastier!

Finally, including fish in your diet gives you myriad choices when creating a pescatarian meal plan, whereas many people get sick of trying to only eat plants.

So, the bottom line is this:

The pescatarian diet is leagues ahead of how most people eat. If everyone in America were to become pescatarians tomorrow, we would see a long-term decline in just about every major disease and dysfunction that currently plagues us.

That said, it does have a few drawbacks you need to understand and address.

The 3 Downsides to the Pescatarian Diet

The three main problems with the pescatarian diet are . . .

  1. It can be high in mercury.
  2. It can be lower in certain key nutrients than a diet that includes meat.
  3. It’s harder to follow than a plant-centric omnivorous diet.

Let’s start with the first issue.

1. It Can be High in Mercury

If you work out regularly and want to follow a pescatarian diet, you’re going to have to eat a lot of fish to get enough protein.

That’s good for getting plenty of omega-3s and other nutrients, but many fish also have surprisingly high levels of mercury.

For example, bigeye tuna, a fish known to have above average mercury levels, contains around 0.69 parts per million of mercury, or around one gram of mercury per 1,500 kilograms of tuna.

On the other hand, scallops contain just 0.003 parts per million of mercury, or around one gram of mercury per 350,000 kilograms of scallops.

This isn’t a problem if you’re only eating a few servings of fish per week, but it can be unhealthy when you’re eating two, three, or four servings of fish per day, as some pescatarians do. For example, high intake of mercury can cause nerve, brain, and DNA damage, especially to developing babies.

The good news is that most of the fish that people eat on a regular basis aren’t that high in mercury, with the worst being the following:

  1. Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  2. Swordfish
  3. Shark
  4. King Mackerel
  5. Bigeye Tuna
  6. Orange Roughy
  7. Marlin
  8. Spanish Mackerel
  9. Grouper
  10. Tuna (every other kind)

And the seafood with the least mercury? They are . . .

  1. Scallop
  2. Shrimp
  3. Clam
  4. Oyster
  5. Sardine
  6. Tilapia
  7. Canned salmon
  8. Anchovies
  9. Fresh or frozen salmon
  10. Squid

Generally speaking, the smaller the fish, the less contaminated it is due to the principles of biomagnification.

You may have also heard that many fish contain toxins like dioxins and PCBs. While that’s true, the levels in fish and seafood are similar to that of other animal products, and so small that the benefits of eating more seafood far outweigh the risks.

As long as you minimize your intake of the fish that are highest in mercury and prioritize the fish that are lowest, you should be fine.

2. It Can Be Lower in Certain Key Nutrients

Avoiding all poultry and meat reduces your intake of several key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron.

It can be hard to get enough vitamin D on a strict plant-based diet because the primary dietary sources are fatty fish, fortified dairy foods, and breakfast cereals (and most people in general don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels).

The pescatarian diet is slightly better in this regard because some seafood is high in vitamin D, like salmon, herring, and sardines, but other kinds like shrimp, clams, and tuna have very little.

So, if you’re going to follow the pescatarian diet, it’s a good idea to eat several portions of salmon or other fatty, cold-water fish per week or supplement with vitamin D.

Luckily, most fish that’s high in omega-3s is also high in vitamin D, so if you’re eating high-omega 3 fish, you’re probably getting a decent dose of vitamin D, too.

Another thing you’ll want to watch out for on the pescatarian diet is a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is common when animal foods are cut from one’s diet.

Most fish have very little B12, but sardines, mackerel, and salmon are good sources along with dairy and eggs. If you aren’t going to eat any of those foods regularly, you may want to take a B12 supplement.

Despite what you may have heard, pescatarians actually get more iron in their diet than most meat-eaters. The problem is that they get the majority of their iron from plants, which only contain non-heme iron, which isn’t absorbed as well and doesn’t confer the same health benefits as the kind found in meat, called heme iron.

The easy solution here is regularly eating oysters, clams, shrimp, and other shellfish, which tend to be higher in iron than other kinds of seafood. You can also try cooking more of your food in cast iron cookware, which increases the iron content of your meals.

A pescatarian diet will generally provide less vitamin D and B12 and bioavailable iron than an omnivorous diet, but this can largely be corrected by eating plenty of vitamin-rich fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring and iron-rich seafood like oysters, clams, shrimp, and other shellfish. Eating some eggs and dairy can also go a long way in covering your micronutritional bases.

3. It’s Harder to Follow than a Plant-Centric Omnivorous Diet

Think about how many popular cuisines and dishes include plentiful amounts of beef, pork, poultry, and dairy.

A rather long list, right?

Accordingly, the more of those foods that you cut out of your diet, the harder and harder it is to keep your meal plans interesting. And while a pescatarian diet offers more choices than a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s still far more constrained than an omnivorous diet.

Luckily, with the right recipes, you can keep things fresh and interesting. Here are some of our most popular vegetarian, vegan, and seafood recipes:

(Not all of these are 100% pescatarian, but you can easily substitute meat with a pescatarian-friendly protein).

So, in terms of health, it’s really hard to poke holes in the pescatarian diet. Now let’s see how effective it is at helping us lose fat and build muscle.

How Good Is the Pescatarian Diet for Losing Weight?

As I’ve written about many times before, weight loss is about how many calories you eat, not what foods you eat.

The bottom line is this:..

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Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

―H.L. Mencken

It’s early 1916 and World War I has been raging for nearly two years.

This is a cataclysm unlike any other in history. The advance of industrial and military technologies and horrors of trench warfare are producing unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction—millions are dead and thousands are dying every day from chemicals, fire, shells, bullets, bombs, famine, and disease.

Troops, medics, and nurses on the front lines are surrounded by piles of decaying corpses and chunks of rotting flesh. At night, they sleep to a symphony of machine guns, mortars, and artillery on a bed of their dead comrades strewn about the floor.

And then there are the rats swarming everywhere. Well-fed rats that grow as large as cats, that spread disease-ridden fleas and lice, that can eat a wounded man if he can’t defend himself.

How can you maintain your marbles under such conditions, let alone your morale? What can sustain your sanity, let alone your spirit?

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For many, humor is the only answer, the armament as essential as their rifles or bayonets, the last psychological defense. By laughing at what they fear most and raising two middle fingers to the Grim Reaper, ordinary people endure extraordinary hardship.

Pilots joke about joining the “sizzle brigade,” soldiers bleat like sheep as they march toward German machine guns, and fighters on both sides give shells cutesy nicknames like “cook pots,” “blue cucumbers,” and “Jack Johnsons.”

“We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here” goes the song sung every day. Trench newspapers mock both the enemy and one’s own officers, politicians, and home front propaganda.

How could mere wit and insouciance save so many people from a dark descent into derangement? And how can we tap into their power to raise our spirits when the going gets tough?

To answer the first question, let’s analyze humor and laughter through the lenses of history and science, and to answer the second, let’s probe the lenses through which we view the world.

Virtually all cultures stretching back to the beginning of recorded time have known of the relationship between humor and health. The benefits of joy appear in the Bible, which states that “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Ancient Greek physicians prescribed visits to comedy shows to help patients heal faster. Early Native Americans used laughter as an adjunct to various types of treatment and therapy.

In later times, doctors found that humor could distract from the pain of surgery and promote recovery and treat depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Humor wasn’t considered a legitimate field of scientific study, however, until 1964, when Dr. William F. Fry, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, suggested that mirth had tremendous potential for impacting physical and mental health.

His peers mostly ignored his assertions and denied his requests for funding, but Dr. Fry moved forward on his own steam and dime. In time, he produced landmark studies demonstrating several positive physiological mechanisms associated with laughter including the activation of muscles, elevation of heart rate, and increase in oxygen exchange (similar to the effects of exercise), as well as the release of endorphins and vasodilation.

Word spread of Dr. Fry’s discoveries, which attracted other pioneering scientists to what he was now calling gelotology (from the Greek word for laughter, gelos), and together they produced many breakthroughs.

For instance, studies conducted by Dr. Lee Berk and colleagues from Loma Linda University found that laughter lessens the negative effects of stress by reducing cortisol and catecholamine levels and boosts the immune system by increasing the production of antibodies, which protect against disease and dysfunction.

More recent research conducted by scientists at the University of Maryland Medical Center have found laughter improves blood vessel health and blood flow, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

These findings and others help explain why laughter is strongly correlated with significant health benefits, including improved cardiovascular performance, increased pain tolerance, reduced joint inflammation, elevated mood, fear desensitization, and improved quality of life and wellbeing.

Research even shows that incorporating humor into teaching and learning environments can be transformational, reducing anxiety, stress, and tension, improving self-esteem and motivation, and increasing alertness, creativity, and class performance.

Teachers who make their students laugh also create stronger bonds with them and receive higher evaluations, which significantly raises chances of academic success.

These are just a few examples from the growing body of evidence that joy is a powerful but often overlooked force immediately available to any of us who wish to uncork it. It’s a primal, instinctive, and universal basic emotion that creates positive feelings and softens the impact of stress.

What’s more, we don’t have to wait for something to tickle us—we can “fake it ‘til we make it.” Find something—anything—to laugh at, and the constructive process begins.

And before you scoff at the idea that it’s so straightforward, consider this: If soldiers on the battlefront of an unthinkably gruesome war could find comedy in the absurdity of their existence, we can too.

One reason humor is such an effective way to defuse stress is it allows us to distance ourselves from threatening circumstances and reappraise them in more positive, growth-oriented ways. Research also shows that people with a good sense of humor find more meaning in stressful events and perceive them as challenging rather than menacing.

In other words, you can use humor and laughter to become more resilient. The more you chuckle at the vicissitudes of life, no matter how unfair, underserved, or unreasonable they may seem, the less sway they have over you.

As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations:

Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.

When I first read that line, the message resonated with me but I struggled to feel it when confronted with highly destructive people, actions, and forces.

For example, some time ago, I invested a significant amount of money in a promising residential real estate venture being organized by a longtime “friend” of my family’s.

On paper, it looked like a home run: it had a prime location, buyers were already trying to put down deposits, and banks were already lining up to underwrite the project.

As time went on, however, the plans kept changing. The development got bigger and bigger, requiring more and more capital purportedly for more land, staff, contractors, and services.

As the financial demands continued to grow with no clear end in sight, so did suspicion among the investors.

Eventually, several filed lawsuits, and we all learned the operation was a sham. The developer had embezzled much of the money raised and never intended on building anything. What’s more, because I was a relatively small player in the game, there was little chance I’d receive any restitution.

Then, to rub salt in the wound, the founder shrugged my loss off as collateral damage. “Let this be a lesson in chasing after easy money,” he said.

The whole fiasco stung. This crook didn’t need my cash and knew there were many other productive and meaningful things I could’ve done with it. He only took the money because he could.

And so I was upset. A part of me didn’t want to turn the other cheek. A part of me didn’t want to look past the dishonesty, disdain, and depravity, not to mention the economic and emotional costs.

Fortunately for me, I have a funny bone and it won out. After cooling off, I had a good laugh. At the predicament. At him. At myself. What a ridiculous experience with a clownish parasite. A pure comedy of errors.

Even though I had “every reason” to seethe, I split my sides instead. And I no longer felt harmed.

“So other people hurt me?” Aurelius said. “That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine.”

Such is the power of what scientists refer to as self-enhancing humor—using humor to relieve stress and foster a cheerful outlook in the face of adversity.

So try not to take yourself or your circumstances too seriously, even when the chips are down. You never know how your good spirits and tenacity might pay off as time goes on.

In my case, losing that money not only did teach me important lessons about due diligence but also allowed me to meet several other successful entrepreneurs and investors who have since helped me grow my businesses in various ways.

There’s a Chinese fable titled “We’ll See” that expresses this message beautifully:

A farmer had a horse, and one day, it ran away.

His neighbors consoled him. “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse returned with twenty wild horses in tow, and the man and his son corralled them all.

His neighbors celebrated. “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, a stallion kicked the man’s son, breaking one of his legs.

His neighbors reeled. “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The following month, the farmer’s country went to war and drafted legions of able-bodied young men to fight their enemies. Casualties were high but didn’t include the man’s son, since the army had no use for a lame boy.

The neighbors couldn’t believe the family’s luck. “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

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What’s your take on this topic? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post The Real Secret to Toughness (Probably Isn’t What You Think) appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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“Can you recommend a book for…?”

“What are you reading right now?”

“What are your favorite books?”

I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.

I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.

On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.

So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.

The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.

I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.

If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!

Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.

Alright. Let’s get to this week’s book: Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.

If you want a detailed and practical overview of the science of optimizing your mental and physical performance, then you’re going to like this book.

It explores three primary topics–how to use stress and recovery to stimulate progress and growth, how to prime and prepare yourself for optimal performance, and how to tap into the power of purpose–and is packed full of insights and practical takeaways.

I’ve read quite a bit in this space already and so didn’t find much in Peak Performance that I hadn’t come across elsewhere, but I did enjoy it nonetheless. It’s a well-organized and well-presented review of the performance literature, and is written in a breezy, conversational style that makes for effortless reading.

I particularly liked the procedure for finding and formulating a purpose, whether for an individual project or your entire life. It emphasizes transcending yourself and identifying core values and fundamental beliefs, which I believe is spot on, because while they may be worshipped in today’s culture, self-interest and acquisitiveness are, in the end, incredibly unfulfilling and demotivating. You can only spend so much living for yourself and accumulating money and things before your soul yearns for something deeper and more meaningful. And you can only ignore this for so long before it hollows you out.

The right path, the authors argue, is in the opposite direction–the dedication of yourself to a course greater than you, and in focusing on becoming the person that you want to be as opposed to having the things that you want to have.

This isn’t news, of course–high-achievers and thinkers of all stripes have been saying it for millennia–but it will always bear repeating because sometimes you have to hear something multiple times or at the right time before you really take it to heart.

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Book Club: Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness - YouTube

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My 5 Key Takeaways from Peak Performance

If you are interested in really improving as a performer, I would suggest incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life.

My Note

Many people’s lives are horribly imbalanced when viewed through the lense of stress and recovery.

The majority strive to minimize stress of any kind and maximize relaxation and recovery, which makes for “easy living” but also personal stagnation and dissatisfaction, and then there’s the minority that refuse to take a break from stressful activities and make time for recovery, which makes for burnout syndrome and general malaise.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation at different times in my life–lazy and listless and frenetic and uneasy–and can say that while they have their silver linings (comfort and accomplishment), they both suck, just in different ways.

The challenge, then, is finding your Goldilocks zone, the sweet spot where you’re exposing yourself to enough stress in enough areas of your life to continue growing and improving, but not so much that the costs outweigh the benefits.


Some individuals learn to assess stressors as challenges rather than threats. This outlook, which researchers call a “challenge response,” is characterized by viewing stress as something productive, and, much like we’ve written, as a stimulus for growth. In the midst of stress, those who demonstrate a challenge response proactively focus on what they can control. With this outlook, negative emotions like fear and anxiety decrease. This response better enables these individuals to manage and even thrive under stress.

My Note

Reframing stress as constructive rather than destructive is more powerful than you might think. It not only positive influences how you view and feel about the situation, it also impacts your physiology.

Studies show that people who react to stress with a “challenge response” release more DHEA than those that don’t, which counteracts the negative effects of cortisol and can even confer health benefits. For example, research shows that people that view stress positively have a 43% lower chance of premature death that those that view it negatively.


The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. They show up every day and they do the work.

My Note

Stephen King wrote about this in his memoir On Writing. “Don’t wait for the muse,” he said. “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you are going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’till three. If he knows, I assure you he’ll start showing up.”

This is the unsexy reality of success. A lot of it just comes down to doing things that most people don’t want to do, each and every day. You often don’t want to do them yourself, either, but you have to find the will to act anyway (more on that in a minute).


Regardless of what you are doing— whether you are using your body, mind, or soul— repeating a purpose-driven mantra during times of fear, pain, or apprehension can yield big benefits. Doing so grounds us, attenuates negative emotions, and quiets our ego.

My Note

It’s well established that self-talk can boost performance, and especially when our bodies and minds are telling us to quit.

For example, according to one of the co-authors (who’s the cross-country coach at the University of Houston), when elite runners start feeling pain and discomfort in their workouts (which they all do), they respond differently than most people. Instead of thinking about how painful it is and how much worse it’s going to get or trying to force their way through or fight against it, they have a calm conversation with themselves that goes something like this:

“This is starting to hurt now. It should. I’m running hard. But I am separate from this pain. It’s going to be okay.”

In other words, they decide how to respond to the stress of the workout, and it makes all the difference in their mindset (they relax) and performance (they put up better times).


…students who were forced to struggle on complex problems before receiving help from teachers outperformed students who received immediate assistance. The authors of these studies summarized their findings in a simple yet elegant statement: Skills come from struggle.

My Note

“Skills come from struggle.”

This is a powerful statement to include in your self-talk whenever you’re struggling through a situation or activity. As us weightlifting folk know, growth occurs at the point of resistance, and often is preceded by failure, which allows for productive reflection and analysis toward the final solution.

Remember that the next time that you’re facing a challenge that feels barely manageable or a little out of control. These are the situations that grow your skills.

Have you read Peak Performance? What did you think? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post My Top 5 Takeaways from Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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Key Takeaways
  1. Leptin is a hormone primarily produced by fat cells that’s involved in many functions in the body including regulating appetite, metabolic rate, motivation, immunity, fertility, and libido, to name a few.
  2. Low leptin levels are the root cause of most of the negative effects of dieting, including increased hunger and decreased metabolic rate and energy levels.
  3. The best way to deal with the negative effects caused by low leptin levels is to include pre-planned “diet breaks” during your cut where you increase your calories and carb intake.

The first few weeks after starting a diet are usually smooth sailing.

You aren’t that hungry, your energy levels are good, and you’re still adding weight in the gym.

Then, often at about the four to eight week mark, the gears begin to grind to a halt.

You feel more hungry before meals and less satisfied after.

Your energy levels drop and it becomes increasingly hard to add weight to your compound exercises.

And worst of all, the number on the scale moves slower and slower with every weekly weigh in.

What changed?

Why did dieting suddenly transform from a sprint into a slog?

Are you eating too much or too little? Not doing enough cardio? Not eating the right foods? Not taking the right supplements?

The answer to all of those questions lies in a hormone called leptin, which is the topic of this article.

Leptin lies at the center of the constellation of problems every dieter experiences as they lose fat—lethargy, hunger, metabolic slowdown, and even increased risk of illness.

Like anything related to weight loss, there’s a lot of misinformation, hype, and chicanery surrounding leptin.

In the past decade a new wave of Internet doctors, fitness gurus, and online influencers have seized on the significance of leptin and come up with specialized diets and supplements designed to “hack” weight loss by controlling leptin.  

They throw around enough big words and studies to make their pitch sound sciency, but like any fad diet, it’s all a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

There’s no such thing as “hacking” your metabolism, hormones, or body fat, though, and controlling leptin levels isn’t the secret to weight loss any more than controlling other hormones like insulin or testosterone is.

Now for the good news:

Understanding how this hormone works can give you a better perspective on what’s going on inside your body as you lose weight and how to make fat loss easier by making a few simple modifications to your diet.

On the plus side, though, understanding the workings of leptin allows you to make a few informed changes to your diet that make losing weight significantly easier.

Let’s start by looking at what leptin is.

What Is Leptin?

Leptin is a hormone primarily produced by fat cells that’s involved in many functions in the body including regulating appetite, metabolic rate, motivation, immunity, fertility, and libido, to name a few.

Leptin’s main job, though, is to help you maintain a healthy body weight.

It does this by keeping your brain informed as to how much energy is available in the form of body fat and calories from your diet.

When leptin levels are high, this tells your brain you have plenty of energy available in the form of stored body fat and dietary calories. The brain responds by reducing hunger and increasing metabolically expensive activities like muscle growth, sex, pregnancy, and exercise.

When leptin levels are low, though, this tells your brain your body fat stores and calorie intake are dwindling. The brain responds by increasing hunger and decreasing “spending” on the aforementioned activities.

This manifests itself in the form of lethargy, lack of motivation, and the general malaise that you feel when cutting calories.

In other words, low leptin levels are largely responsible for the negative feelings you experience when dieting.

Here’s how the process works in a nutshell:

In healthy humans, this “feedback” loop works incredibly well and helps us maintain healthy levels of body fat.

We get hungry, we eat until our body tells us its full, it stores some of the food as fat and uses some for energy, we go about our day, expending energy and burning fat, our body tells us it needs more energy, we eat until full, and the cycle repeats.

In this way, our body is normally able to maintain our weight in a very narrow range, never allowing us to gain or lose too much fat.

As you can see, leptin plays a key role in the body—helping us consume enough energy to stay healthy, happy, and vibrant, while keeping us from eating so much that we become the opposite.

At this point you may be wondering, if that’s true, then how do people ever become overweight?

Why isn’t leptin keeping them from overeating?

Let’s find out.

How Does Leptin Affect Weight Loss?

To understand how leptin affects weight loss, you have to understand how leptin levels rise and fall in response to your diet and body composition.

Leptin levels in the body ebb and flow in relation to two variables:

  1. Your daily calorie intake.
  2. Your body fat levels.

When you’re eating enough calories to maintain or gain weight, fat cells secrete leptin to signal your brain that you have an ample influx of energy. As you learned a moment ago, this triggers the brain to decrease hunger and increase activity levels and other calorically costly activities.

Leptin levels closely correlate with your food intake on an hourly basis, rising as soon as five hours after eating a meal. Leptin levels are also particularly sensitive to carbohydrate-rich foods, which produce the greatest rise in leptin.

Likewise, leptin levels can also fall within a matter of days after you begin restricting calories for weight loss. For example, in one study conducted by scientists at Washington University, obese people who ate 1,000 calories per day (creating a massive calorie deficit) experienced a 26% drop in leptin levels after 10 days.

Another study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago found that a week of undereating (70% of total daily energy expenditure) decreased leptin levels by 30 to 50%.

Leptin also helps control appetite and activity levels over the long-term, too, by keeping the brain apprised of your total body fat levels.

Despite what many people think, body fat is more than just an ugly, greasy, encumbrance. It’s the body’s best way to store energy, and it’s kept humans alive in times of famine for thousands of years.

As a result, the body evolved an elegant and resilient system for keeping careful tabs on how much body fat it has on hand at any one time.

Body fat is the main organ that creates leptin, and so when body fat levels rise, leptin levels rise in lock step.

Conversely, when body fat levels fall, leptin levels fall as well.

In this way, the brain is able to monitor how much energy it has available at any one time—in the short-term by using leptin to monitor calorie intake relative to expenditure, and in the long-term by using leptin to monitor body fat levels.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Leptin not only tells the brain what’s going on, it also acts as a kind of master regulator for many of the other hormones that are involved in fat loss, muscle gain, mood, and hunger.

For example, when leptin levels drop, this affects a number of other hormones involved in appetite, fat burning, and energy expenditure:

  • Thyroid hormone decreases, which reduces metabolic rate and fat burning
  • Neuropeptide Y and agouti-related peptide rise, which increases appetite and fat storage and decreases metabolic rate
  • Cocaine and amphetamine regulated transcript fall, which increases appetite
  • Cholecystokinin, a hormone that increases fullness, stops working as effectively, which further raises appetite
  • Ghrelin, one of the primary hormones responsible for stimulating hunger, skyrockets.

Leptin also directly increases fat burning in muscle tissue. And when leptin levels fall, this additional boost in full body fat burning dries up as well.

What’s more, low leptin levels depress immune function, which is part of why people who are dieting get sick more often than people who are eating enough calories to maintain or gain weight.

When body fat levels get low enough, there’s almost no detectable leptin in the blood, which is why it’s almost impossible not to feel hungry, tired, and lethargic when you get extremely lean (typically around 8% body fat for men and 20% for women).

When people who’ve been dieting for a while get an injection of synthetic leptin, these symptoms disappear, their metabolic rate increases, and they lose weight faster.

So, why don’t obese people just get a shot of leptin to lose weight?

It turns out scientists tried this, and it turned into a colossal failure.


How can this fat-burning, energizing, invigorating hormone not produce massive weight loss in those with the most weight to lose?

Simple: people with lots of body fat have high leptin levels—far more than lean people.

This is why injecting them with leptin doesn’t make them lose weight. They already have sky-high leptin levels, and thus jacking it up even further doesn’t produce any additional benefits.

What’s going on here?

Why are obese people driven to eat so much? Why aren’t their brains—swimming in leptin—reducing hunger and increasing the desire to exercise?

Is this a glitch in the matrix?

The hitch in this case is something known as leptin resistance.

Like insulin resistance, leptin resistance is a condition wherein the body becomes less sensitive to leptin’s signals, which wreaks havoc on the appetite and metabolism.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure why this occurs, but the fact is that overweight people have extremely high leptin levels, but their brain still believes they’re running low on energy and takes the actions mentioned earlier to increase energy intake and decrease output.

Despite being overweight, these people want to eat more and exercise less.

Now, if you’ve spent any time on the Internet reading about weight loss, you may have heard some people point to leptin resistance as proof that the “calories in vs. calories out” theory of weight loss is bunk.

Stop worrying about your calorie intake, they coo, optimize your hormones and metabolism and weight loss will take care of itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is leptin resistance simply helps us better understand why restricting calories is difficult and doesn’t always result in as much weight loss as we’d expect. It doesn’t change the fact that you still have to restrict calories to lose weight.

While scientists aren’t sure how or why leptin resistance occurs at the cellular level, they have a pretty clear idea of what lifestyle factors lead to leptin resistance, and thus what people can do to pull themselves out of this metabolic quagmire.

For one thing, the main factor that causes leptin resistance is simply allowing yourself to become fat in the first place. The primary source of leptin is excess body fat, and maintaining healthy body fat levels is the best way to avoid leptin resistance.

So, what should people who are already fat do to get out of this logjam?

Well, restricting calories and reducing body fat levels reduces leptin levels and improves leptin sensitivity.

This won’t be fun in the beginning, when the body is still resistant to leptin and sending out SOS signals for more calories ASAP, but this effect diminishes as leptin levels stabilize and the brain once more becomes sensitive to leptin’s effects.

If you’re in this boat, then there’s another reason to take heart that you won’t have to deal with the nuisance of leptin resistance forever.

Remember that leptin scales both in response to short-term calorie restriction and long-term fat loss.

This is why there’s normally a rapid drop in leptin right after you start a diet—in response to reduced calories—and thereafter a gradual decrease in leptin as you whittle away your fat stores.

What this means is that while the first few weeks of a new diet might be extremely difficult, an experience many obese people can relate to, it becomes easier and easier as your body finds it’s normal, healthy leptin level.

Don’t believe me?

Here are a few examples of guys who were obese who achieved a healthy body fat percentage following the Bigger Leaner Stronger program who’ve stayed lean ever since, without steroids, dangerous fat loss drugs, or surgery:

And here are a few examples of women who’ve achieved the same following the Thinner Leaner Stronger program:

These people are testaments to the fact that as long as you’re willing to stick your diet out for a few months, you can achieve and maintain a healthy, attractive physique even if you’re currently overweight and wrestling with leptin resistance.

In other words, if you lose fat, keep it off, and maintain the right habits, you can at least partially reprogram your brain to maintain a lower body fat percentage, or what researchers call your “set point.”

You can learn more about that concept in this article:

How to Change Your Body Weight Set Point

Aside from losing weight, there are two other potential ways to improve leptin sensitivity.

First, it’s possible that eating a diet of minimally processed, satiating, bland foods may help dodge the normal rise in hunger that follows from crashing leptin levels. Basically, a plant-based, high-protein bodybuilder style diet.

For example, several studies have shown that eating more simple, bland, foods can help obese people lose massive amounts of weight in short order without experiencing hunger.

Whether this is because this kind of diet improved leptin sensitivity or simply reduced hunger through other means, this diet produced significant weight loss with almost none of the discomfort normally associated with low leptin levels.

Second, there’s also indirect evidence that exercise may improve leptin sensitivity. Endurance athletes—who tend to exercise more than anyone—generally have lower leptin levels than you’d expect based on their low levels of body fat, and don’t generally suffer from intractable hunger or other symptoms of low leptin.

It’s possible this is because their exercise regimen makes their bodies more sensitive to leptin, thus requiring less to get the benefits.

Even if exercise doesn’t improve leptin sensitivity, there’s strong evidence that it helps “fine tune” your appetite so that you’re more satisfied from meals and less likely to overeat (which is basically what leptin does).

In other words, the three best ways we currently know how to improve leptin sensitivity are to lose weight, eat a healthy, minimally processed, whole-foods diet, and exercise.

How Can You Raise Leptin Levels for Easier Weight Loss?

If you’re overweight or even obese (you have a BMI over 30), then you don’t need to worry about raising leptin levels.

Focus on losing weight, eating healthy, and exercising, and your body fat and leptin levels will settle into a new, healthy, sustainable range.

What if you’re pushing the lower limits of leanness, though?

What if you’re a man looking to dip under 10% body fat or a woman looking to slim down to less than 20% body fat?

This is when the low-leptin gremlins come out to play, and why getting #shredded is so damn difficult.

Once your body fat falls below these points—10 to 12% for men and 20 to 22% for women—leptin levels bottom out, dropping to almost nothing in many cases.

This leads to unyielding hunger, constant lethargy, weak workouts, and frayed nerves. All too often, this period is punctuated by a blow-out binge that results in gaining back much of the fat that was lost and then some.

What to do about this problem?

Well, the first step is to simply acknowledge that this period isn’t going to be fun. You aren’t going to feel like yourself most of the time. Your workouts are going to feel significantly harder than normal. You’ll probably feel tired, unglued, and grouchy much of the time.

Such is life when in a prolonged calorie deficit.

Understanding and accepting that reality is going to go a long way in helping you cope with the effects of..

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I’ve asked a lot of successful people how they did it.

The middling ones regaled me with stories about their brilliant strategic moves, uncanny intuitions, and superhuman endurance.

The great ones had a much simpler and deeper explanation.

They didn’t attribute their success to just “hard work,” like you might expect.

I think we all know that working hard doesn’t guarantee anything. We can look around us in every direction and find people that work plenty hard with little to show for it.

They didn’t chalk it up to extraordinary luck, either.

Sure, there was plenty of serendipity, but there were also great misfortunes.

Instead, they said there was one primary factor that made all the difference in their journeys.

It’s something Albert E.N. Gray wrote about decades ago.

It’s the habit of doing the things that other people simply don’t want to do.

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You know, the things that most of us instinctively dislike, that go against our natural preferences and prejudices.

The hard things, the uncomfortable things, the complicated things, the unexciting things, the exhausting things.

They did them all. Every day, week, month, and year. Without fail.

They didn’t even necessarily learn to like these things, either. They just had a strong enough purpose to ignore their feelings and do them anyway.

They just cared more about achieving satisfactory results than doing things they innately liked to do. Producing desirable outcomes and fulfilling their purposes made it all worthwhile.

Unsuccessful people have that backward.

They care more about the experience of doing the things they like than the results those things produce.

They choose the comfort of mediocrity over the struggles of greatness.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though.

Every one of us can change our behaviors and thereby our habits.

Every one of us can find a purpose strong enough to override our self-defeating natural inclinations.

Every one of us can learn to do the things that failures don’t like to do.

And once we do, we can do a lot more than build a great body. We can build a great life, too.

What’s your take on what it takes to succeed? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post The #1 Unspoken Rule of Success appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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“Can you recommend a book for…?”

“What are you reading right now?”

“What are your favorite books?”

I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.

I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.

On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.

So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.

The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.

I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.

If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!

Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.

Alright. Let’s get to this week’s book: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

If you like to read biographies to find ideas, models, systems, habits, etc. that extraordinary people have used to improve their lives and achieve great things, then you want to read this book.

In case you’ve just arrived to Earth and spend most of your time in orbit, Elon Musk is one of the most fearless entrepreneurs around these parts. He was one of the founders of Paypal, and he used the money he made there to create SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City, which are space exploration, electric car, and solar energy companies, respectively.

Elon’s genius, vision, work ethic, courage, and integrity has earned him billions of dollars and a cult of personality, and rightfully so, if you ask me. His story is a master lesson in the power of big think, hard work, and iron will, and we’re lucky to have people like him working for the betterment of humankind and not selling more knicknacks or creating new ways for us to waste time on our smartphones.

My 5 Key Takeaways from Elon Musk

The guiding principle at SpaceX is to embrace your work and get stuff done. People who await guidance or detailed instructions languish. The same goes for workers who crave feedback.

My Note

The world is starved for people that have initiative — people that are willing to venture out into unknown territories and risk time, money, and effort on new and untried things that may ultimately come to nothing.

If you can develop this trait in yourself, it’s one of the easiest ways to increase your earning and career potential because there are, right now, an infinite number of problems that need solving, just waiting for someone to come along and figure them out. Why not you?


And the absolute worst thing that someone can do is inform Musk that what he’s asking is impossible. An employee could be telling Musk that there’s no way to get the cost on something like that actuator down to where he wants it or that there is simply not enough time to build a part by Musk’s deadline. “Elon will say, ‘Fine. You’re off the project, and I am now the CEO of the project. I will do your job and be CEO of two companies at the same time. I will deliver it,’” Brogan said. “What’s crazy is that Elon actually does it. Every time he’s fired someone and taken their job, he’s delivered on whatever the project was.”

My Note

A leader earns devotion by showing devotion and never asks his people to do something he won’t do himself, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more devoted to their vision and willing to shoulder any burden than Elon.

For example, several years ago, when it looked like both SpaceX and Tesla were going to fold, Elon lived in his office. He worked 18 to 20 hour days and slept on a bean bag, 7 days per week, and slept on a bean bag in his office. Employees actually wondered if he was even taking showers because they literally never saw him not in his office.


As he sees it, all of the design and technology choices should be directed toward the goal of making a car as close to perfect as possible. To the extent that rival automakers haven’t, that’s what Musk is judging. It’s almost a binary experience for him. Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure.

My Note

Perfectionism can be paralyzing — at some point you have to stop tinkering and just ship it — but too many people think about too many things other than simply making the best product. They fail to realize that the number one best way to grow a business is to make products and services so good that customers tell everyone about them.


“Even then, as essentially a college kid with zits, Elon had this drive that this thing— whatever it was— had to get done and that if he didn’t do it, he’d miss his shot,” Heilman said. “I think that’s what the VCs saw— that he was willing to stake his existence on building out this platform.” Musk actually said as much to one venture capitalist, informing him, “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.”

My Note

When you can make decisions, big or small, with this amount of force — when you can say that you’re going to do or not do something and that only death can change this — then you enter a whole new realm of existence.

Goethe said that boldness has genius, power, and magic in it, and I’m a believer. The moment you truly commit to an action, plan, or path, all sorts of things align to help you that otherwise never occur.  You can find countless examples of this in the lives of the great men and women of history, and can experience it for yourself just as easily.


“Elon came to the conclusion early in his career that life is short,” Straubel said. “If you really embrace this, it leaves you with the obvious conclusion that you should be working as hard as you can.”

My Note

People often say that when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to be proud of how much you worked. I disagree. If you spend your life in service of something greater than you and engaged in meaningful work, you’re going to be very happy about it. What you’re not going to care about is how many video games you played, TV shows you watched, or arguments you think you won on Twitter.

Have you read Elon Musk? What did you think? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post My Top 5 Takeaways from Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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Key Takeaways
  1. Carb cycling is a method of dieting that involves planned increases and decreases in carbohydrate intake throughout the week.
  2. Carb cycling can help you lose fat and build muscle if it helps you better stick to your diet, but it doesn’t have any special fat-burning or muscle-building properties.
  3. For carb cycling to work, you also need to set and track your calories correctly and follow a carb cycling meal plan (which you’ll learn how to do in this article).

I don’t know about you, but I like simple.

And here’s a simple fact for you:

You don’t need to do anything particularly special or fancy to build the body of your dreams.

At least 80% of the game is just understanding and applying a relatively small number of physiological principles related to diet and exercise.

And I’d go as far as saying that the majority of what’s left is just patience and persistence.

You don’t need fancy training programs or crash diets. You need fundamentals. You know, energy balance, macronutrient balance, progressive overload, consistency, and the like.

That said, once you have the fundamentals firmly in place, you can go after that last 20% of the game. This is where things like supplementation, fasted training, periodization, and carb cycling come into play.

As the name suggests, carb cycling involves eating more carbs on some days and less carbs on other days, and there are many different opinions on its merits and methods.

Some people say eating carbs has benefits but also significant drawbacks, and carb cycling allows you to enjoy the former and minimize the latter.

Others say carb cycling is an effective way to lose fat faster while retaining muscle when you’re cutting.

And others say that carb cycling is only helpful if it helps you better stick to your diet or if you’re an athlete who’s trying to follow an extremely low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet.

Who’s right?

The short answer is that carb cycling can indeed make it easier to build muscle while staying lean—but not for the reasons most people claim—and it can also make it easier to stick to your diet while cutting.

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into carb cycling and learn what it is, how it (supposedly) works, what the benefits and drawbacks are, and how to do it.

We’re also going to review many of the fundamentals that supercede it, and ultimately, we’re going to get an answer to the most important question:

Is carb cycling better than plain ol’ flexible dieting?

That is, is it better than following the same meal plan every day for building muscle and losing fat?

Let’s find out.

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What Is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a method of dieting that involves planned increases and decreases in carbohydrate intake throughout the week (and generally in calorie intake as well).

There are many different carb cycling protocols, but most have you alternate between at least two of three types of days:

  • High-carb days

High-carb days typically call for 2 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight or 50+% of calories from carbs. They’re usually your highest calorie days.

  • Low-carb days

Low-carb days typically call for about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight or 20+% of calories from carbs. They’re usually your second-highest calorie days.

  • No-carb days

No-carb days typically call for less than 50 grams of carbohydrate or less than 10% of calories from carbs. They’re usually your lowest calorie days.

(Not all carb cycling protocols involve no-carb days, and personally this isn’t something I recommend to most active people.)

If all that sounds complicated to you, that’s because, as far as dietary strategies go, it is. You need to be meticulous in your meal planning and steadfast in your compliance.

Many people find it physically and mentally taxing as well. This meme pretty much sums it up:

So, if carb cycling has a lot of moving parts and may turn you into a manic depressive, why do people do it?

How Does Carb Cycling Work?

We’re often told that carbs are a double-edged sword.

The story goes like this:

Thus, a predicament:

We need carbs if we want to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible . . . but we have to pay the price of an ever-expanding waistline.

Or do we?

Enter carb cycling, which we’re told can deliver most or all of carbs’ muscle-building benefits with little or none of its fat gain drawbacks.

It accomplishes this rather staggering feat by using higher-calorie high-carb days to do several things:

  • Replenish glycogen stores and thus boost training intensity.
  • Favorably influence various hormones related to muscle protein synthesis and metabolism.
  • Temporarily elevate insulin levels to help preserve muscle tissue and boost muscle growth.

And then, you use lower-calorie low- and no-carb days to maximize fat burning.

This solution is particularly appealing to people on a ketogenic diet, which normally involves eating less than 50 grams of carbs per day. By adding some high-carb days into the mix, the entire experience can become more enjoyable.

Theoretically, then, carb cycling should allow us to build muscle while gaining little to no fat or, even better, build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

And now you understand why carb cycling is so popular these days. It sounds like a miracle.

Unfortunately, though, upon closer inspection, it’s more a mirage.

To find out why, let’s start with carb cycling’s biggest claim to fame: rapid fat loss.

Is Carb Cycling Good for Weight Loss?

Can you use carb cycling to lose weight?


Any dietary protocol that has you in a calorie deficit over an extended period of time will result in weight loss, regardless of the foods you eat or how you structure your meals or anything else.

Or, put more simply:

So long as you regularly eat less energy than you burn, you’re going to lose weight.

That said, carb cycling isn’t sold as “just another way” to lose weight. It’s the way to lose weight. The “secret” of the fitness elite and “best way to drop pounds fast.”

And that’s when the wheels start to fall off.

To understand why, we have to first make a distinction between weight loss and fat loss.

When you diet to lose weight, a portion of the weight lost comes from fat, but a portion also comes from water, glycogen, and, in some cases, muscle.

Water and glycogen levels will fluctuate up and down depending on your diet and other factors, so we don’t really care about that. The real goal is to lose fat and not muscle. That’s what improves our body composition.

What does this have to do with carb cycling, you wonder?

Well, at its core, carb cycling is a carbohydrate-restricted diet, and while it may help you lose weight faster, it isn’t going to help you lose fat faster.

That is, if a traditional “40/40/20” bodybuilding diet would have you eating, let’s say, 1,500 grams of carbohydrate per week, a carb cycling diet might peg your intake at half that or less.

And while low-carb diets can, in the short term, beat out traditional diets in terms of weight loss (but not always), they don’t result in greater fat loss.

Yes, you read that right. Low-carb diets are not inherently better for fat loss than their higher-carb counterparts.

Sure, there are exceptions (certain metabolic disorders, for example), but the above holds true for normal otherwise healthy people.

If that sounds blasphemous to you, I understand, but a sober review of the literature makes this abundantly clear.

Low-carb evangelists often point to a number of studies as definitive proof of the superiority of their ways. This, this, and this are fan favorites.

A glib review of such studies would lead you to believe that low-carb dieting is indeed more effective for fat loss, but a critical review of the research shows otherwise.

There’s a big problem with many of these studies, and it has to do with protein intake.

Namely, the low-carb diets in these studies invariably contained more protein than the high(er)-carb ones.

That means that what we’re actually looking at is a high-protein, low-carb diet vs. a low-protein, higher-carb diet . . . and the former will result in more weight and fat loss every time.

Why is that, though? Is it because the carb intake is lower or because the protein intake is higher?

Well, there are several studies that answer that question for us.

Research shows that when protein intake is high and matched among low- and high-carb diets, there’s no significant difference in weight loss.

That is, if you eat enough protein, going low-carb as well offers no special fat loss benefits.

A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at Arizona State University, which randomly divided 20 overweight men and women into two groups:

  1. Group one followed a ketogenic diet that ate about 30 grams of carbs per day.
  2. Group two followed a higher-carb diet that ate about 160 grams of carbs per day.

For six weeks, both groups ate 1,500 calories per day from the same foods, did the same amount of exercise, and more or less lived under identical conditions.

Here’s the most important part, though:

Unlike the studies touted by low-carb zealots, the scientists in this study designed the participant’s meal plans so that both groups would consume the same amount of protein.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the protein intake was still fairly low for both groups (only about 120 grams, or ~0.5 grams per pound per day). This probably wasn’t enough to get the full benefits of a high-protein diet, but the important thing is that both groups consumed the same amount of protein per day, so neither would benefit more from protein intake than the other.

Thus, with protein intake matched between both groups, any differences in weight or fat loss could be reasonably attributed to differences in carbohydrate or fat intake.

This study’s methodology was rigorous, too. All meals were prepared by the scientists, and from the beginning to the end, everything eaten was recorded along with careful measurements of their calorie, macronutrient, and vitamin and mineral intakes, as well as their body composition.

The outcome? Surprise, surprise, there was no significant difference in muscle or fat loss after six weeks between the two groups.

And ironically, much to the low-carb zealot’s chagrin, there was a slight trend for the people in the high-carb group to lose slightly more fat. Furthermore, toward the end of the study, the group following the ketogenic diet also reported they felt worse, had less energy, and were less motivated to get up and move around.

So, to be clear:

The reason both groups lost the same amount of weight was they ate the same number of calories, and the reason both groups lost the same amount of fat is because they ate the same amount of protein.

How can this be, you wonder? What’s so special about protein?

Several things actually.

The Power of Protein

One of protein’s weight loss advantages has to do with something known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF.

This is the amount of energy required to eat, digest, absorb, and store food, and research shows that it accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

The total energy expenditure from TEF varies based on the macronutrient composition of the diet because protein, carbohydrate, and dietary fat all have different TEF values.

Research shows that protein costs the most energy to process (30 to 35%), carbohydrate costs significantly less (5 to 15%), and dietary fat costs the least (0 to 3%).

This is one of the reasons why high-protein diets are so effective for fat loss (it’s also why high-fat meals result in more immediate body fat gain than high-carb meals).

You see, when a considerable amount of your daily calories come from protein, a considerable amount of that energy is expended through TEF, which helps you maintain a calorie deficit.

Another reason for protein’s preeminence is the fact that eating too little while dieting to lose fat can result in a considerable amount of muscle loss.

This, in turn, hampers your fat loss in several ways:

The bottom line is this:

If you want the best possible results when dieting to lose fat, you want to eat plenty of protein.

With that in mind, let’s swivel our spotlight back to the flawed low-carb studies I mentioned earlier.

We already know that the low-carb groups were eating more protein than the high-carbers, but how much more exactly?

Well, in many cases, the high-carb groups were eating far less—less than even the RDI of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which studies have shown is woefully inadequate for preserving muscle mass. In fact, research shows that double and even triple the RDI amount isn’t enough in many cases.

So, given all the above, we shouldn’t be surprised that high-protein, low-carb diets are superior for weight loss compared to low-protein, high-carb diets.

You might still be reeling from the fact that high-protein, high-carb diets work equally well, though.

Don’t carbs spike insulin levels, and doesn’t insulin spike fat storage?

Well, while that’s a physiologically accurate statement, it’s used to mislead millions of people into fearing insulin and carbs.

The Bogeyman of Insulin

One of the easiest ways to invent a fad diet is to isolate some aspect of nutrition and finger it as the root cause of major problems or deliverance from them.

Lectins are the bogeyman of The Plant Paradox diet, “toxins” are the bugbear of detox diets, and “acidic foods” are the bane of the alkaline diet.

For the low-carb crowd, insulin is the great bugaboo; the evil hormone programmed to make us fat, type II diabetics.

And the carbohydrate, we’re told, is insulin’s trojan horse and partner in crime. We eat the delicious carbs, and they open the insulin floodgates and chaos ensues.

Well, like much of the nonsense foisted on us by magazines, trainers, and “gurus,” the “insulin makes us fat” story is nothing but an urban legend used to scare the kiddies.

Insulin doesn’t make you fat. Overeating does. Full stop.

To understand why this is, let’s jump to square one: what is insulin and how does it work?

Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients from your blood to your cells.

When you eat food, it gets broken down into various substances like amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids. These all make their way into your bloodstream, and are joined by insulin, which is produced by the pancreas.

As the nutrients make their way into cells, your body gradually reduces insulin levels until everything is absorbed. Insulin then remains at a low, baseline level.

This cycle occurs every time you eat food, and thus your body’s insulin levels are constantly rising and falling throughout the day.

When explained like that, insulin sounds like a pretty cool dude. We can’t live without it. Why, then, are we told it makes us fat and sick?

Because one of its roles in the body relates to fat storage, and that makes it an easy target. Specifically, insulin inhibits the breakdown of fat cells and stimulates the creation of body fat.

That is, it tells the body to . . .

  • Stop burning fat and burn the energy readily available from the food you ate instead.
  • Store a portion of the energy that’s available as body fat.

And yes, that sounds bad, which is why it’s an easy scapegoat.

The “logic” goes like this:

High-carb diet = high insulin levels = burn less fat and store more = get fatter and fatter

And then, as a corollary:

Low-carb diet = low insulin levels = burn more fat and store less = stay lean

This sounds reasonable but is deeply flawed, mainly because it violates the principles of energy balance.

Energy balance is the relationship between how much energy you eat and how much you..

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If you want to check out some of my favorite motivational quotes for changing mindset, setting goals, doing the work, and more, then you want to read this article.

There’s a reason why most people are the way they are.

There’s a reason why they’re, on average, 23 pounds overweight, why they do just 3 hours of real work and watch 5 hours of TV per day, and why they’re over $130,000 in debt with less than $1,000 in savings.

There’s a reason they sit, eat, watch, and die, an anonymous statistic.

It’s because escaping the gravity of mediocre is hard.

You don’t get to eat all the sugary, fatty foods your inner fat kid desires. You don’t get to buy all the shiny things your ego swoons over. You don’t get to carouse through life with reckless abandon and blame everyone else for everything that makes you unsatisfied.

You have to exercise self-discipline in all areas of your life. You have to take personal responsibility for your circumstances and refuse to complain. You have to get very good at saying “no” to all the people and things that might derail your efforts, and at doing all the types of things that most people don’t want to do.

To make matters worse, you can make all the hard sacrifices and still come up short of the brass ring.

So it’s easy to understand Everyman’s predicament. It’s also easy to fall prey to it ourselves.

It’s all well and good to intellectually understand the myriad benefits of health, wealth, and wisdom, but it’s something else to come to the end of a long, stressful day and choose the gym over the couch, the salad over the spaghetti, and the book over the TV show.

And that’s where motivational quotes can help.

The right words at the right moment can pick you up when you’re down, steel your nerves when you’re afraid, and even transform the way you view yourself or the world around you.

I’ve been collecting such quotes for years now, and in this article, I’m going to share 55 of my favorites organized by theme (mindset, goal setting, doing the work, overcoming obstacles, and staying on top), as well as books on those topics that I’ve found particularly helpful.

I come back to many of these quotes regularly for guidance, inspiration, and reassurance, and I hope that some of them resonate deeply with you as well.

If anything here does speak powerfully to you, please do let me know in the comments at the bottom of this article. I’d love to hear which quotes meant the most to you and why.

Furthermore, feel free to share favorites from your own collection, too. I’d love to see them!

Motivation Quotes for Cultivating the Right Mindset

The greatest discovery of my generation is that you can change your circumstances by changing your attitudes of mind.


Never cease chiseling your own statue.


When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. But that is not what great ships are built for.


In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.


You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.


Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are.


If you have the power to change your body, you have the power to change your life.


Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.


There are people who do not live their present life; it is as if they were preparing themselves, with all their zeal, to live some other life, but not this one. And while they do this, time goes by and is lost.


I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.


Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.


Don’t sacrifice who you could be for who you are.


Recommended Reading

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Motivation Quotes for Setting Goals

Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing people don’t get.


Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.


Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable . . . What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.


I have always been contented, but I have never been satisfied.


Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.


So what you need is . . . confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours of people who are hopelessly lost, though some are wandering not far from the true path.


We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.


Recommended Reading

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz

Motivation Quotes for Doing the Work

We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness, then, is not an act, but a habit.


Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.


Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.


A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.


Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before Kings.


We do two things here. We work hard. And we win. The reason we win is that we work hard. So really, we only do one thing here. If you don’t want to work hard, don’t waste my time.


You know that all things require work and that work might be quite difficult. But do you really understand? Do you have any idea just how much work there is going to be? Not work until you get your big break, not work until you make a name for yourself, but work, work, work, forever and ever.


To know and not to do is not to know.


In the elder days of Art,

 Builders wrought with greatest care

Each minute and unseen part;

 For the Gods see everywhere.


The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. They show up every day and they do the work.


Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.


To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day—if you live long enough—most people get what they deserve.


Recommended Reading

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Motivation Quotes for Overcoming Obstacles

The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it but in what one pays for it— what it costs us.


In this age, which believes that there is a shortcut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.


The worst form of stress is an absence of stress, because the feeling that there is no life before death gives rise to a despairing feeling of emptiness in the face of the void.


He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.


He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.


Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand.


Don’t assume other people are smarter than you, or more talented than you, or more magic than you. Nobody knows anything. Everybody’s faking it.


Not dead. Can’t quit.


‘Tis not in mortals to command success, but we’ll do more . . . we’ll deserve it.


Show me a man who is not a slave! One is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear.


The common denominator of success—the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful—lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.


It’s not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


We all need something to struggle against and to struggle for. The aim in life is not to avoid struggles, but to have the right ones; not to avoid worry, but to care about the right things; not to live without fear, but to confront worthy fears with force and passion.


There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement.


Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.


Recommended Reading

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Motivation Quotes for Staying on Top

Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.


Heroes have the whole earth for their tomb . . . There is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart.


Let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death.


The first thing which gods bestow on one they would annihilate is pride.


It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.


It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.


In pleasant peace and security, how quickly the soul in a man begins to die.


Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.


If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.


Recommended Reading

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

What did you think of these motivational quotes? Have any favorites of your own that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post Need Motivation? 55 Quotes That Will Get You Fired Up (and May Just Change Your Life) appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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“Can you recommend a book for…?”

“What are you reading right now?”

“What are your favorite books?”

I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.

I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.

On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.

So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.

The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.

I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.

If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!

Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.

Alright. Let’s get to this week’s book: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

This is one of the books that I have recommended most to people that want to be more successful in business and life.

It’s short, has very little filler content (much appreciated), and delivers a powerful and practical message, which can be summarized in a question:

What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

In other words, how can we go beyond merely “being busy” in any area of our lives and develop a sense of the essential?

Napoleon once said that a military commander should be slow in deliberation and swift in execution, and the authors of this book think we should apply that advice to all areas of life. That we should, before acting, pause long enough to decide what really matters, and then allow that to drive our days.

One of the reasons I find this concept so compelling is I think that modern living is, in many ways, an embarrassment of riches.

We have more freedom and options in every aspect of our lives than ever before, and that’s why I think a major part of achieving success and fulfillment in any of them is identifying the things that will produce a disproportionate share of the results–you know, the 20% that produces the 80%.

Therefore, success is more about doing the right things than doing everything right. It’s not about developing superhuman discipline and endurance, it’s about exerting just enough effort and self-control to establish the right habits–the ones that make everything else easier or unimportant.

For example, in terms of health and fitness, those habits would include controlling your caloric and macronutritional intakes, and regularly eating nutritious foods and doing effective resistance training workouts.

If that’s all you knew and did, you could ignore almost everything else in the health and fitness space and have a lean, muscular, healthy body for the rest of your life.

In terms of work, it really depends on your business or career. In my case, it’s creating content — articles, podcasts, books, videos, and the like. If that’s all I did, ignoring every other idea and opportunity that came my way, my brand and companies would keep growing.

Alright, let’s get to my 5 favorite takeaways from the book and thoughts on each.

My 5 Key Takeaways from The ONE Thing

We hear about balance so much we automatically assume it’s exactly what we should be seeking. It’s not. Purpose, meaning, significance— these are what make a successful life. Seek them and you will most certainly live your life out of balance, criss-crossing an invisible middle line as you pursue your priorities. The act of living a full life by giving time to what matters is a balancing act. Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible.

My Note

The idea that you should strive to keep all aspects of living in some magical state of perfect balance never really made sense to me, simply because extraordinary results require extraordinary sacrifices of time, attention, and energy.

There’s just no way around it. You can’t, all at once, create an extraordinary career, family life, social life, and personal life. Something has to go. You’re going to have to choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands, and that means your life is going to get pretty unbalanced, which you’ll then have to correct from time to time.

In my case, I focus on my work and family. I’d say that about 80% of my waking hours are spent working or spending time with my family, 10% are spent eating and exercising, and the remaining 10% is mainly spent educating myself or pursuing a hobby or pet project of some kind.

That probably sounds like torture to some people, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me, happiness and fulfillment lies in being active and engaged and taking on more responsibility, as opposed to being passive, disconnected, and unaccountable.


Achievers operate differently. They have an eye for the essential. They pause just long enough to decide what matters and then allow what matters to drive their day. Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later and defer, perhaps indefinitely, what others do sooner. The difference isn’t in intent, but in right of way. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.

My Note

If we do that, we’ll inevitably focus on the things that most people delay and defer, sometimes indefinitely — you know, the hard things, the uncomfortable things, the complicated things, the unexciting things, the exhausting things — and work and live from a clear sense of priorities, not a compulsive “busyness.”


Do your most important work— your ONE Thing— early, before your willpower is drawn down.

My Note

Most people start their days with a full tank of mental energy and willpower, and every decision that they make — whether they’re going to snooze their alarm or go to the gym, what clothes they’re going to wear, what they’re going to eat for breakfast, and everything else that the day has in store — progressively diminishes these reserves.

Some of us are more mentally resilient than others, but at some point, we all run out of cognitive bandwidth and become more susceptible to illogical and impulsive behaviors.

This is known as “decision fatigue,” and one of the easiest ways to inoculate yourself against it is to eliminate distractions and decisions that don’t really matter. Reserve your energy and willpower for the activities that are critically important.


We usually succeed in spite of most of what we do, not because of it.

My Note

The key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.

Therefore, you can gain a lot from evaluating the various compartments of your life and deciding in clear terms what you want, and then working backward to identify the actions that will be most productive, and making those your number one priority.

It’s the difference between waking up every day and asking “what shall I do?” or “what SHOULD I do?” Without a sense of purpose and direction, it doesn’t really matter because whatever you do will get you somewhere. But when you can say you want to go in THAT direction for THIS reason, then you can know what you SHOULD be doing. It inculcates a natural sense of priority.


“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”

My Note

Research shows that people are very bad at predicting what will bring them sustained happiness. The Great Western Disease is “I’ll be happy when…I buy that house…find that guy or girl…get that job…”

I believe that true, lasting happiness can’t be pursued but can only ensue from personal dedication to a course greater than oneself — a course that gives us compelling reason to endure all the effort, chaos, and pain that must be faced if we’re going to live a full, rewarding life.

Have you read The ONE Thing? What did you think? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The post My Top 5 Takeaways from The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan appeared first on Legion Athletics.

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Key Takeaways
  1. Powerlifting is a sport that consists of lifting as much weight as possible on the squat, bench press, and deadlift for a single repetition.
  2. Although many people think powerlifting only helps you gain strength, it’s also an outstanding way to build muscle if you train correctly.
  3. If you want to get started with powerlifting, you want to do a lot of heavy squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting in the 1-to-6-rep range, as well as some isolation exercises in the 6-to-15-rep range.

Powerlifting has become more and more popular in the past few decades, and you’ve probably heard many different things about this sport.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff.

When most people think of powerlifting, they think of someone like Eddie Hall, one of the strongest men in the world:

In other words, most people associate powerlifting with being big and strong, but not very lean or “aesthetic.” (Granted, I know Hall is a strongman, not a powerlifter, but this observation still holds true).

There’s even an old joke in the fitness world that goes, “If you can’t get lean enough for bodybuilding, you can always try powerlifting.”

The second thing many people have reservations about is getting injured.

For example, they see videos like this . . .

Crazy Nose Bleed Deadlift 426kg - 939lbs - YouTube

And understandably assume that this sport is about as good for your health as competitive chain smoking.

Finally, there’s the less common but still prevalent idea that most powerlifters are just fit guys and gals with freakishly good genetics for pushing and pulling heavy things.

For example, if you saw this guy on the street you probably wouldn’t assume he could squat in the mid 500s, deadlift over 600, and bench over 300 pounds . . .

. . . but he can:

Richard Hawthorne 600 lbs deadlift x 5 reps in the Animal Pak Cage 2017 - YouTube

So, if you have a lot of conflicting emotions about whether or not you should try powerlifting, I understand.

Once you peek under the hood of powerlifting and learn what’s actually involved, you’ll quickly realize the truth:

  • It’s not all about getting as big and strong as possible regardless of how much fat you gain.
  • It’s not dangerous compared to most sports when done properly.
  • It’s not reserved for the freakishly strong genetic elite.

In fact, the reality of powerlifting is that . . .

  • It’s one of the single best ways to gain muscle and strength
  • It’s an outstanding sport for both beginner and advanced lifters, and everyone in between.
  • It’s one of the healthiest and safest ways to stay in shape, assuming you follow a well-designed program and use proper technique.

The bottom line is that if you’re new to lifting weights or an old hand who’s interested in getting as strong as possible, you want to learn about powerlifting.

Let’s start by defining exactly what this sport is.

What Is Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a sport that consists of lifting as much weight as possible on the squat, bench press, and deadlift for a single repetition.

You perform all three of these exercises at a powerlifting “meet,” where you take turns with other lifters to see who can lift the most weight on these exercises.

Here’s how a powerlifting meet works:

  • All of the competitors are divided into different weight classes based on their body weight the day before or of the meet (depending on the rules of that particular competition) and their sex.
  • Each lifter gets three attempts to lift as much weight as possible on the squat, bench press, and deadlift, for a total of nine attempts (three per exercise).
  • In a pre-arranged order, everyone in a particular weight class makes their first attempt at the squat. Once everyone is finished with their first attempt, they make their second attempt, and so forth until everyone has made three attempts at the squat.
  • Next, the process is repeated for the bench press, and then finally for the deadlift.
  • Most lifters start with a weight that’s slightly lower than their goal for the day and attempt to build up to a new best one-rep max by their third attempt.
  • Three judges observe each lift, and give the competitor either a white light if they complete the rep using proper technique, or a red light if they used improper technique or failed to complete the lift. If someone gets two or more white lights, the lift counts toward their score. If someone gets two or more red lights, the lift doesn’t count toward their score.

At the end of the meet, the highest amount of weight each competitor was able to lift on each rep is added together to create their total—or their best squat, bench press, and deadlift combined.

The person with the highest total in each weight class wins.

For example, if the most weight you lifted for the squat, bench press, and deadlift was 400, 300, and 500 pounds, respectively, then your total would be 1,200 pounds.

There are many different kinds of powerlifting, too, depending on what kind of equipment you’re allowed to use.

In the raw division, you’re allowed to use a belt, squat shoes, wrist wraps, and knee and elbow sleeves, but no other equipment.

In the classic raw division, you’re allowed to use everything from the raw division as well as knee wraps, which allow you to lift slightly more weight.

In the single or double ply divisions, you’re allowed to use everything from the classic raw division as well as specialized weightlifting suits that are either one layer (single ply) or two layers (double ply) thick. These suits allow you to lift significantly more weight than you would be able to otherwise.

Most people new to powerlifting compete in the raw division, and it’s often considered the purest expression of true strength as the lifters get the least assistance from equipment. That said, there’s nothing wrong with the other divisions, either.

Powerlifting is often confused with Olympic weightlifting, but they’re very different sports.

Olympic lifting involves lifting as much weight overhead as possible using two different exercises: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

We don’t need to get into the nitty gritty details, but the long and short of Olympic weightlifting is that it’s a much more technical sport than powerlifting that requires a great deal more coordination and balance.

Typically, powerlifters spend the bulk of their training time practicing the “big three”—the squat, bench press, and deadlift. They do most of their sets in the 1-to-5 rep range, resting anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes between sets, or as long as they require to fully recover before the next set. (A common joke in the powerlifting word is, “If it’s over 5 reps, it’s cardio.”)

Most powerlifters also do a few “accessory” exercises to aid their main lifts, such as Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, incline bench press, and so forth.

Powerlifters also tend to plan their training months in advance, working on building muscle and strengthening weak points several months before a competition, and working on getting as strong as possible on the squat, bench press, and deadlift as they approach the competition.

Can You Build Muscle with Powerlifting?

Many people believe that lifting heavy weights is only for getting stronger or competing in a sport like powerlifting, lifting lighter weights for more repetitions is better for building muscle.

While there’s a kernel of truth to this idea, it’s mostly wrongheaded.

You see, the truth is that you can build muscle effectively using a wide variety of rep ranges, including both very few (3 to 5) and very many (15 to 20) reps per set.

A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at City University of New York.

The scientists split 20 resistance-trained men aged 20 to 31 years old into two groups:

  1. Group one performed 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest between each set for all of their exercises. This was the “hypertrophy” group.
  2. Group two performed 7 sets of 2 to 4 reps with 3 minutes of rest between each set for all of their exercises. This was the “strength training” group.

Everyone performed a 3-day per week push pull legs workout routine that involved the flat and incline bench press and machine flye, wide- and close-grip lat pulldown and seated cable row, and barbell squat, leg press, and leg extension.

The scientists adjusted the participants’ training so that both groups lifted about the same amount of total weight (sets x reps x weight) each week. They also continually increased everyone’s weights so that they were reaching muscular failure on every set and getting stronger week to week.

Before and after the study, the scientists measured the participant’s one-rep max for the bench press and squat, and measured their biceps thickness with ultrasound as a proxy for muscle growth.

All of the participants followed this workout routine for eight weeks. By the end of the study, both groups’ biceps had grown 13%, with no difference between the two protocols.

Group two, though, added 25 pounds to their bench and 60 pounds to their squat, whereas group one only added 18 pounds to their bench and 48 pounds to their squat.

When this study came out, the pro-powerlifting crowd shared it around as definitive proof that powerlifting is just as good for building muscle as bodybuilding-style training. And it does sort of show that.

On the other hand, there are a few other aspects of this study that should give you pause before you start using low reps and heavy weights for all of your training:

  1. Group one, the high-rep group, finished their workouts in about 17 minutes, whereas group two, the low-rep group, finished their workouts in 70 minutes. From a time efficiency standpoint, the higher rep group won.
  2. The differences in strength gains weren’t all that significant between the groups, and the difference in squat strength wasn’t statistically significant, either.
  3. Everyone in the low-rep group felt like they’d been thrown down a stairwell by the end of the study. To quote the lead author of the study, Brad Schoenfeld, “Almost all of them complained of sore joints and general fatigue, and the two dropouts from this group were because of joint-related injury (and these routines were highly supervised with respect to form, so we took every precaution for safety). On the other hand, the HT [hypertrophy] group all felt they could have worked substantially harder and done more volume.”

So, what are you supposed to make of all of this?

Well, first of all, it does indicate that you can effectively build muscle with powerlifting-style training. It also indicates powerlifting leads to greater strength gains over time than bodybuilding.

That said, this study also shows that doing all of your sets with low reps and heavy weights is a recipe for burnout, injury, and a lot of waiting around in the gym between sets.

This is why most powerlifters carefully plan their training in such a way that they’re splitting their training between lighter weights and higher reps and heavier weights and lower reps.

This way, they get the best of both worlds.

You’ll get an example of what this kind of program looks like in a moment.

The bottom line is that you can build muscle with powerlifting, but you’ll make better progress over time if you also incorporate lighter weight, higher rep sets into your training.

Is Powerlifting Dangerous?

Many people think powerlifting is inherently dangerous, and I understand why.

When you compare squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting gargantuan amounts of weight to other forms of exercise, like jogging, cycling, or calisthenics, weightlifting looks more like a death wish than a discipline.

Ironically, though, research shows that it’s actually one of the safest kinds of exercise you can do . . . when it’s done properly.

Proof of this comes from a review study conducted by scientists at Bond University that involved 20 different studies on injury rates from sports such as bodybuilding, strongman, Crossfit, and powerlifting.

The scientists found that on average, powerlifters suffered only one injury per 1,000 hours of training.

To put that in perspective, if you spend five hours per week weightlifting, you could go almost four years without experiencing any kind of injury whatsoever.

The scientists also noted that most of the injuries tended to be minor aches and pains that didn’t require any type of special treatment or recovery protocols. In most cases, rest with a bit of ice and heat wins the day.

Now, as we move into more intense and technical types of weightlifting, like CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, and powerlifting, the injury rate rose, but not nearly as much as you might think. These activities produced just 2 to 4 injuries per 1,000 hours of training.

For comparison, sports like ice hockey, football, soccer, and rugby have injury rates ranging from 6 to 260 per 1,000 hours, and long-distance runners can expect about 10 injuries per 1,000 hours of pavement pounding.

In other words, you’re about 6 to 10 times more likely to get hurt playing everyday sports than hitting the gym for some heavy weightlifting.

If you want to learn more about your risk of getting injured from lifting weights, and what you can do to avoid getting injured, read this article:

How Dangerous Is Weightlifting? What 20 Studies Have to Say

How to Train for Powerlifting

Poke around on Google, Reddit, and the many powerlifting blogs and forums, and you’ll find myriad different powerlifting programs to choose from.

Some people say you should stick with something minimal like Starting Strength until that stops working.

Others say you should use the most challenging program you can tolerate, such as Sheiko, Smolov, Westside Barbell, or the Bulgarian method.

Read further, and you’ll find many other training programs pieced together by lifters over the years, such as Mad Cow, PHAT, GZCL, and others.

And then, of course, almost every high-level powerlifter has a proprietary training program for sale, too.

Which one should you choose?

Well, before you make that decision, it’s best to first learn the principles that make all good powerlifting programs tick. They are . . .

  1. Specificity
  2. Progressive overload
  3. Recovery

(This is an oversimplification and there are many facets of powerlifting we could go over, but these are the biggies).

Specificity refers to training in a way mimics what you’ll do in competition as closely as possible. In powerlifting, this means spending a good portion of your training doing a lot of heavy squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting.

Getting really strong on front squats is a great way to build your quads, but it’s not going to improve your back squat as much as back squatting.

Not only is exercise specificity important, but rep range specificity matters, too. Your strength is largely specific to the rep ranges you use the most in training, so you want to spend a good chunk of your training time working in lower rep ranges.

Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, and the most effective way to do this is by progressively increasing the amount of weight that you’re lifting.

In other words, the key to gaining muscle and strength isn’t doing a laundry list of different exercises, balancing on a BOSU ball, or seeing how much you can sweat on everything in the gym, and this is particularly true in powerlifting.

Instead, the key to getting stronger and building muscle is forcing your muscles to work harder over time. This is exactly what you do when you gradually force them to handle heavier and heavier weights.

Recovery, also sometimes referred to as fatigue management, refers to strategically incorporating rest into your training program in a way that allows you to adapt to your workouts and become stronger over time.

This is one of the most underrated aspects of proper training not just for powerlifting, but for any sport. Perhaps the number one mistake made by newbie lifters is doing too much, too soon, and either getting burnt out, injured, or simply progressing slower than they should.

Proper recovery encompasses . . .

If you get these three things right, then you’re going to be ahead of 90% of people who are interested in powerlifting.

Understanding all three of these principles also makes it much easier to pick an effective powerlifting program that’s right for you.

For example, an extremely high-volume powerlifting program like Smolov can work well for an experienced lifter, but it’s generally going to be far, far too much progressive overload and too little recovery for a beginner.

Likewise, a simple, low-volume strength training program like Starting Strength could provide the right mix of specificity, progressive overload, and recovery for a beginner, but would likely be far too easy for an experienced powerlifter.

Once you grasp these principles, you can see why the “best” powerlifting program for someone else might not be the best one for you.

The best powerlifting program for you depends on your goals, your training experience, your ability to recover from your workouts, and your preferences.

If you’re reading this article, then I’m going to assume that you’re relatively new to powerlifting or strength training on the whole.

In that case, I recommend you stick to the following guidelines when setting up your training. These come from Eric Helms, PhD, who’s a powerlifting and bodybuilding coach, drug-free powerlifter and bodybuilder, and member of the Legion Scientific Advisory Board.

In terms of training frequency, or how often you train the squat, bench press, and deadlift, Eric recommends most beginners train each lift two to three times per week. This lets you practice these lifts often enough to quickly improve your skill, while still allowing plenty of time for..

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