The average vegan may even be your next-door neighbour. There are famous vegans. An increasing number of celebrities are ‘coming out’ as vegans. Celebs like F1 racing champ Lewis Hamilton, Made in Chelsea star Lucy Watson and Instagram fitness influencers Zanna van Dijk and Grace Beverley.
As a result, the diet’s image is beginning to change. In 2018, being a vegan is hip.
This year,167,000 people signed up for Veganuary – a month-long abstinence of animal-related products – over 100,000 more than in 2017.
If you haven’t heard of it, or don’t know anyone that took part in it, well, maybe you live under a rock. But if you were to ask any of these 167,000 participants their reasoning for signing up, you’d get a variety of responses. And I can bet that some of those include factors about being healthier and losing weight.
So let’s have a look at those arguments.
Is it healthy to be vegan?
It’s no secret that, when meat options are lacking, the food plate is filled with vegetables and legumes. Very rarely do restaurants venture into the field of tofu or other meat alternatives.
Sometimes you’re lucky if they do something fancy with vegetables.
All you have to do is look at the vegetarian option on the menu and you’ll probably get some kind of risotto, rarely vegan due to the mountain of parmesan on top, or a concoction of vegetables under the guise of a ‘salad’.
But there might actually be a benefit to all of this veg.
The vegan diet is high in fibre as a result of its high dependence on fruit and vegetables. It’s been related to a number of positive health effects:
Fibre-rich diets may protect against colorectal cancer
Studies have shown that the likelihood of getting colorectal cancer is reduced with a diet high in fibre. Therefore, vegans – with their diet based on fruit and vegetables, a high source of fibre – are at a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Reduced LDL cholesterol
Low-density lipoproteins (or LDL) are often called the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Put simply, they contribute to the build up of fat in arteries, causing them to narrow and raising the risk of coronary heart disease. Vegan diets have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and the build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries as a result.
This explains the…
Lower incidences of coronary heart disease
A reduction in LDL cholesterol in the blood has been related the reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). However, these results may also be conflicted by the fact that a diet high in fibre, such as a vegan one, is often also low in fat. But given that a vegan diet can be both high in fibre and low in fat, it’s understandable that the incidence of CHD among vegans is lower.
But fibre isn’t the be-all-and-end-all superhero of the vegan diet.
Leaving out some of the things found in an omnivorous diet is may also be good for health. In 2015, bacon-lovers nationwide were left sobbing. Research found a connection between bacon (and other processed meats), and cancer. And the Beeb ran an article proclaiming “processed meats do cause cancer,” causing floods of bacon-flavoured tears across the country.
Studies found that eating 50g of processed meat a day increased your chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. And, yes, bacon is a processed meat!
Given that these processed meats don’t form part of the vegan diet, vegans are at a reduced risk in comparison to their omnivorous friends. No more go-to hangover bacon butties?
What about vegan weight loss?
There seems to be a large amount of evidence suggesting that Veganism – a diet high in fibre and low in fat – can be used as a weight loss diet.
The thing is, it can be very easy to choose high-fat options when it comes to vegan diets. I mean: peanut butter, avocado, vegan cheese – all the noms. Unfortunately, they’re not exactly low in fat. At the same time, high-sugar foods are also all too readily available in vegan alternatives.
That said, what you eat is up to you.
As long as your diet is high in fibre and low in fat, from all that juicy veg, Veganism can aid weight loss. In fact, in a comparison of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and meat-eaters, BMI (although now known to not be the most accurate measurement of health but a good one for comparison) was found to be lowest in vegans for both men and women of all ages.
What’s also interesting is a study comparing a vegan diet and a controlled diet. Energy intake (kcals) and portion sizes were unrestricted in the vegan group, meaning that participants were able to eat until they were full. That sounds brilliant to me. In the controlled diet group, energy intake was restricted by creating a daily deficit of ~500 kcal per day, sustained over 74 weeks.
There was no difference in caloric intake between the vegan and controlled diet conditions – both were reduced by ~430 kcals and 420 kcals respectively. This means that the vegan group consumed less calories than they needed per day (the good old calorie deficit) without even trying. They also eat 13% less fat than the controlled dieters, and 18.5% more carbs. Dietary protein was 4.3% lower in the vegan diet than the controlled.
This study isn’t alone, several others have shown vegan diets can aid weight loss, even when participants are allowed to eat unrestricted amounts. So, obviously, there’s something else going on.
So, what gives?
Why is it that, even when told they could eat as much as they wanted, those on a vegan diet maintained a strong calorific deficit?
Think about your most basic vegan foods. The lego bricks to your hip, vegan house, if you like.
Fruit, vegetables and legumes. Here’s the thing: these foods are notorious for being high in fibre. When they’re the foundation of every meal, they create a diet which is less energy dense but higher in volume and more filling. And the volume is the thing which keeps people both sustained and sane.
If you’re someone who struggles to look at a plate which is essentially half empty – which is most of us – volume eating may be your solution. That’s not an excuse to binge eat a bag of Minstrels. Rather, filling the other half of the plate with vegetables can be the psychological validation you need to stick to a diet in the long run.
And following a vegan diet means that you can feast yourself silly on all this nutrient dense food for a fraction of the calories your meat-eating counterpart is eating.
Every. Single. Meal.
So, in support of that time-old debate about dietary composition and energy balance, these results show that the 4kg reduction in body weight over the 74 week study was likely to be as a result of the caloric deficit created in both conditions, NOT the difference in macronutrient composition.
Well, let’s return to our lego blocks; fruit, veg, and legumes. How about protein sources? A kilo of chick peas? £5.23. Five portions at £1.05 per portion. A kilo of chicken breast? £6.16. 6 portions at £1.03 per portion. The difference is negligible.
Ultimately, being vegan is affordable. Unless you feel like venturing out to the Insta-worthy, gourmet vegan cafes every lunch break, you won’t be breaking the bank.
So, problem solved and what a revelation.
But here’s the deal
There’s no magical ingredient which leads to weight loss when following a vegan diet. It’s just an elaborate way of creating the good old calorific deficit (eat less calories than you burn).
Intermittent fasting, paleo, tracking macros, intuitive eating and the 5:2 diet, to name a few approaches are some of many which can lead to weight loss too. And the principle behind them all? Creating a caloric deficit. Shock.
So rather than exclude entire food groups from your diet, perhaps you could take the best of veganism (eating lots of fruits and veg) and tweak your current diet accordingly.
Or why not have a look at MyFitnessPal? See where you can change your diet without analysing the back of every product packet. Or accept that it’ll just take you a little longer to decide what you’re going to eat each day.
The bottom line is that there are obviously other benefits to turning vegan which are beyond this blog post, and it’s a lifestyle that you have to be willing to adopt. If you’re not prepared for that, and weight loss is your primary goal, there are plenty of other ways to create a calorific deficit.
Broscience is rife. You’ll find it in a lot of gyms, most fitness magazines, bodybuilding forums, supplement adverts and anywhere fitness folks congregate online or in real life.
I’ll also hold my hands up and say that when I started out lifting weights and improving my diet that I was a purveyor of broscience. I think most people are. Thankfully, we’re getting smarter. You don’t need to make the same mistakes I did! In this article, I’ll share 7 of the most widely held broscience beliefs that have been busted by science.
1. Fasted Cardio Is Better For Fat Loss
You’ve probably heard it before that fasted cardio, or exercising on an empty stomach in the morning, is much better for fat loss compared to exercising after eating?
The evidence shows that fasted cardio doesn’t increase fat loss compared to exercising after eating or later in the day. Although popular in bodybuilding circles, working out on empty stomach in the morning isn’t something you need to be doing! It’s entirely up to you when you decide to workout. The best time is whenever it fits your routine, lifestyle and preferences.
BCAAs are a favourite among folks trying to get jacked down at the gym.
They sound ‘sciency’ Branched Chain Amino Acids….so that’s got to count for something right?
Unfortunately BCAAs aren’t going to do squat for your squats.
French researchers showed that BCAA supplementation on an energy restricted high protein diet had no beneficial effects on muscle mass, fat loss, aerobic and anaerobic performance in a group of 25 competitive wrestlers.
A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that when combined with heavy resistance training for eight weeks, 9 g/day of BCAA supplementation, half given 30 minutes before and after exercise, had no beneficial effects on body composition and muscle performance.
Researchers in Mississippi showed that in healthy, resistance-trained males BCAAs did not improve muscle thickness, performance, perceived soreness and weakness, or markers of muscle damage.
5. Neck A Protein Shake Immediately After A Workout
It’s important that you understand that despite what you may have read in fitness mags, or heard down the gym, the science shows us that there isn’t a rapid urgency to neck a protein shake the second after you’ve finished exercising.
Having some protein after exercise is an important aspect of recovery – it’s necessary to help rebuild muscle tissue that’s been damaged in your workout, run, cycle and so on – but it doesn’t require a finite degree of precision.
Just eat 20-40g of protein within a few hours after exercise.
The ‘bros’ down the gym love to talk about their ‘cheat days’ and ‘cheat meals!
When you eat nothing but chicken, broccoli and brown rice…it’s no surprise that come the weekend, you’re itching to eat something with some flavour!
If you follow a flexible dieting approach and track your macros, this doesn’t happen.
As you have the leeway to incorporate tastier, less nutritionally sound foods into your normal eating routine to help minimise cravings and to make dieting considerably more tolerable, you don’t need to have a huge, unregulated feed composed of mainly junk foods – in the thought that it boosts metabolism and gives you a welcome break from dieting.
The problem with cheat meals is that they can completely wipe out your hard work that you’ve put in during the week, bringing your calorie deficit to a whopping zero.
The rise in a self-reported food intolerance has come hand-in-hand with the upsurge of totally unqualified, self-proclaimed fitness ‘models’, ‘bloggers’ and ‘insta-nutritionists’. And they’ve been encouraging their followers to boycott certain food groups based on, well, utter nonsense.
Sadly, for cheese-lovers, dairy is often front and centre of their dietary ‘recommendations’.
So, is dairy a problem? Let’s take a look at what the science really says.
Lactose intolerance vs. allergic reactions
Before we all descend into mass milk panic, we need to separate food allergies from food intolerances. The two are very different.
A food allergy is a reaction involving the immune system, for example an anaphylactic response to eating nuts. The reaction is immediate and it doesn’t matter how much of the food you eat, even trace amounts can trigger a response. Not very pleasant.
A food intolerance, however, doesn’t involve the immune system and is usually down to a an enzyme deficiency or a pharmacological reaction (i.e. running to the bathroom after too much caffeine). The responses don’t often occur every time a food is consumed, aren’t immediate and often depend on how much of the food you eat. Lactose intolerance is common – and an example of what differentiates an intolerance from an allergy. The issue is a deficiency in the lactase enzyme, used to digest lactose (the sugars found in milk), not an immune response.
Cow’s milk allergy is a common allergy in children and most food allergies involving the immune system – the most common being eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish – develop in early childhood.
However, most children grow out of cow’s milk allergy, gaining tolerance to the food as they get older. Ergo, if you’re getting symptoms immediately after enjoying a lovely glass of milk, you should do two things. Firstly, rule out a true immune-system mediated allergy with your doctor.
Secondly, get an actual intolerance test (like a hydrogen breath test) from your doctor to determine whether you are, in fact, lactose intolerant instead.
What’s interesting is that lactose intolerance doesn’t mean the downfall for dairy overall. Fermented dairy products, like yoghurts, often have sugars modified by fermentation or – in the case of cheeses – can be predominantly protein and fat. And researchers found that some lactose intolerant people can tolerate cheeses and yogurts. That’s a welcome relief. On top of this, lactose-free milk is widely available.
Let’s talk lactose intolerance
So, milk allergy and lactose intolerance are both diagnosable conditions.
This is important because, as more and more of us banish dairy from our diets, one fact stands out. As self-reported ‘intolerance’ has increased, medically diagnosed allergy or intolerance hasn’t – over a 10-year period. Two studies indicate the reasons for this are largely psychosocial.
The first study was a survey of raw milk drinkers that asked why they drink raw milk over pasteurised milk. Apart from some environmental (and entirely valid) reasons, almost 60% said they thought it was healthier and easier to digest. Matching the increase in self-reported dairy intolerance, however, only 3% had been diagnosed as lactose intolerant by a doctor. Hmm.
Like any good scientific survey, this generated a research question: Does pasteurisation make commercial milk harder to digest than raw milk?
Well, a group of researchers from Stanford University decided to find out. They gathered a group of lactose intolerance ‘self-reporters’ and then tested which ones were actually lactose intolerant. The group then drank either whole organic raw milk for eight days or whole organic pasteurised milk, with whole soy milk serving as the non-dairy control. The results? Interestingly, by day eight, there was no difference – both milks produced the same response. That suggests raw milk – unaltered and still containing bacterial enzymes that supposedly aid digestion – doesn’t reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
So – we’ve got people reporting food intolerance to commercial milk and also self-reporting tolerance to raw milk.
Yet the evidence above shows no difference in symptoms between the two, in subjects with diagnosed lactose intolerance. That suggests many self-perceived intolerances to dairy are psychosomatic, which is supported by evidence that many who self-report dairy intolerance show no clinical signs of lactose malabsorption.
Is there a dairy intolerance test?
Just quickly, it’d be silly not to mention ‘food intolerance tests’. You know the ones. I’ll keep this brief: barely any evidence supports the use of these tests for diagnosing a food intolerance, and the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has advised against their use too. Save your money.
If not lactose intolerance, then what? The A1 vs. A2 debate
So why do you feel rough after demolishing the dairy?
Given that self-reported symptoms aren’t matching up to diagnosed lactose intolerance, some now think the difference in protein between the milk of different breeds of cow is an issue.
The theory relates to a genetic mutation that naturally occurred in European cows – a.k.a Holstein cows – leading to a variant of the protein produced in cow’s milk, called A1-beta casein. On the other hand, African, Asian, Jersey or Guernsey cows – they didn’t get the mutation – produce another variant known as A2-beta casein. That creates one serious international cow competition. Anyway…
Some research suggests (and this gets a bit technical) when we digest A1 milk, we produce an opioid as a product of A1-casein breakdown.
It’s this opioid that causes gastrointestinal symptoms. A trial in China, a country with lots of lactose intolerance, found people consuming mixed A1/A2 milk had more symptoms than those consuming A2 milk alone. However, the symptoms were mainly significant in those with lactose intolerance, which is difficult to differentiate given that the lactose, not the protein, may have been the culprit.
Another trial comparing an exclusive A1 milk to an A2 milk found no significant difference in symptoms, except in those with self-reported (not diagnosed) lactose intolerance.
Overall, the A1 vs. A2 debate is difficult to justify because of limitations in the studies and the greater chance of subjects with lactose intolerance seeing symptoms. Let’s move on.
One reason for this may be calcium, found readily available in dairy products – eating lots of it reduces blood pressure, in turn reducing heart disease risk. However, one of the interesting things to note here is that the protective benefit of consuming dairy is observed with whole milk dairy – a.k.a naughty “full-fat’, the good stuff. Though this goes against standard public health recommendations to choose low-fat dairy produce, the shift in focus to particular foods over nutrients has revealed the fat composition of milk has certain properties that are beneficial to health.
This doesn’t mean low-fat dairy produce is suddenly out, in fact the opposite. Low-fat dairy foods, like Greek yoghurts or cottage cheese, are higher in protein. Milk-derived proteins appear to have important roles to play in protecting against obesity and low-fat dairy consumption is closely associated with a lower risk of obesity. There is an important take-home message here because, right now in nutrition, there is far too much black and white thinking. There are benefits to low-fat dairy and there are benefits to whole-milk dairy.
Tasty dairy brownie points
There are more health benefits for dairy stacking up.
Dairy is also a fortified source of vitamin D and, together with calcium and a high protein content, these are all nutrients associated with the lower risk of metabolic disease. This might explain why eating dairy foods is significantly linked with a lower risk of obesity.
All of this has resulted in a reappraisal of the health benefits of dairy, and whole-milk produce, in particular.
The evidence overall suggests dairy can help to maintain lower body weight and reduce the risk of heart disease. Remember, nutrition isn’t a zero-sum game: including a mix of whole-milk and low-fat dairy produce can offer a broad set of health benefits.
Is dairy good for gut health?
When we talk about ‘dairy’, we’re obviously not simply talking about milk; the food group is diverse and includes foods that are products of fermentation, like yoghurts, fermented milk, and glorious cheeses. These foods contain bacteria beneficial to the human gut, dairy being one of the few food groups that provides this.
What’s more interesting is the recent research on the role that gut bacteria plays in mental health, given the now well-established links between the gut-brain axis. Research has shown fermented milk influences brain activity in a manner which corresponds to improved cognition. In a study of healthy women, without any gut or psychiatric symptoms, researchers found that consuming 250g/d of a probiotic-enriched yogurt, over four weeks, led to changes in brain activity in the regions that control emotion and sensation.
While research into the human gut microbiome remains in its early days, one thing that can be said is that the composition of gut bacteria plays a significant role. And that’s in both gastrointestinal and neurological health, with emerging data on metabolic health. Keeping your gut happy is a step to better health – time to go get some fermented dairy produce, things like yogurt or kefir to you and me.
Dairy-fuelled muscle growth
What about making ‘gainz’ at the gym, can dairy help there?
Recent research has shown muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is most strongly triggered by the amino acid leucine, a dose of 2g leucine resulting in maximal stimulation. Okay – but how does that relate to a pint of milk? Dairy proteins, particularly whey, are a rich dietary source of leucine and therefore might contribute to increasing MPS. In a study comparing 500ml low-fat milk vs. 500ml soy milk, the low-fat milk significantly increased leucine concentrations in the body.
However, dairy proteins are typically 80% casein, a slow-digesting protein, and 20% whey, a rapidly digesting protein. The different absorption rates lead not only to a higher leucine response but to more sustained MPS in the hours following a meal. This is a positive attribute of dairy proteins, specifically with eating casein-rich protein before bed as it leads to more sustained MPS overnight while you sleep.
So, what else? Dairy proteins, as a dietary source, also contain higher levels of essential amino acids than many other food groups. Due to the rapid absorption and maximal stimulation of MPS from whey, low-fat milk products are ideal for activating MPS right after training. On the other hand, casein-rich proteins like cottage cheese and/or Greek yogurt are great for maintaining MPS during extended periods of time without eating, like overnight.
The dairy verdict
I’ve found any attempts to present positive findings about dairy are often met with comments about ‘industry funding’ or some other cynical guff. These criticisms are largely divorced from the reality of the evidence. While there are certainly some research gaps to fill regarding allergies in adulthood, the idea of blanket exclusion of an entire food group (poor old dairy) is based more in the realm of ideology than evidence.
This isn’t merely my opinion – a recent review of all the evidence relating to dairy found that, consistent with all of the above, dairy protects against many chronic diseases, is a nutritionally dense food and contributes significantly to keeping us fit and healthy. On top of this, plant milk ‘alternatives’ – a rising trend pulling along an ever-increasing bandwagon – simply can’t be considered true alternatives. They are entirely different to milk, are often nutritionally bereft and there is no evidence to support their adequacy as an alternative.
All the evidence supports dairy as a health-promoting, nutrient-dense food group. It comes in many forms, and can be consumed in a variety of ways. And if you really think you have issues, please have these ruled out medically so you’re not guessing in the dark. Assuming you’re not lactose intolerant and don’t have a cow’s milk allergy, there is really no evidence to support the boycotting of dairy for health or nutrition. Now, where’s that milkshake?
For years, bodybuilders, strength athletes and recreational gym users have used glutamine in the hope of stimulating muscle growth, increasing immunity and preventing muscle loss.
Although there is a fairly strong theoretical basis for these effects, is there actually any evidence?
Does Glutamine Help You To Build Muscle?
The magazines and big dudes down the gym love to tell you that it will speed up your recovery and help you make gainz (that’s gainz with a z, it’s what the bros say).
The problem is that they’re wrong. Sorry big dudes.
Thanks to science, we know that supplementing with glutamine isn’t going to do much/anything for you. In one study, 31 males necked 45g per day for 6 weeks. Unfortunately for them, they experienced no greater increases in muscle strength or size compared to the group of subjects taking a placebo.
Another study examined the effect on weight lifting performance. Although it doesn’t help you gain muscle, can glutamine make you stronger? One group in the study received roughly 0.3g per kg of bodyweight and the second group were given a placebo. One hour after ingestion, the subjects hit the gym. They performed four total sets of exercise to failure (2 sets of leg presses at 200% of body weight and 2 sets of bench presses at 100% of body weight). The result? There were no differences in the number of reps performed between the two groups. Meaning that adding glutamine to your pre-workout is also an exercise in futility.
Finally, there was another study that showed mixing in a carbohydrate and amino acid drink after the gym had no effect on muscle growth either.
Not looking good for glutamine, is it?
In fact, as far as I am aware (at the time of writing) there isn’t a single study that shows glutamine will help you build muscle. Why do people think it does? I have no idea.
Can Glutamine Help Minimise Muscle Loss?
Yes. Wohoo, onto a winner.
Not so fast. It’s only ‘anti-catbaolic’ in some extreme circumstances. Not among dudes who hit the gym and want to get built.
Regardless of how hard you train, you’re not going to be inducing a state of “life-threatening catabolism”. In healthy folks, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that it will help you maintain your gains, even during periods of calorie restriction (dieting).
Does glutamine help the immune system?
Some ‘experts’ swear by glutamine and its ability to reduce the instances of colds, flu and other nasties, but what does the research say?
Unfortunately, again, there is limited evidence to show that it is any good for helping with this either.
FFS glutamine, are you good for anything?!
One piece of research on 200 runners showed that those who consumed it after exercise were less likely to develop any infections in a 7-day post-run period. However, it has not been established precisely which aspect of the immune system is actually affected by glutamine. More research is needed in this area before we can form a conclusive opinion on its effects.
Overall, although glutamine obviously plays important metabolic roles within the body, supplementation does not appear to provide consistent beneficial or therapeutic effects.
Does glutamine improve gut health?
Ok ok so glutamine doesn’t help you build muscle and it doesn’t seem to do anything for the immune system either.
But there are a lot of blogs and folk on the internet who say that it is good for gut health. They can’t be wrong as well…can they?
Glutamine is often touted as a supplement which can reduce intestinal permeability. It’s been claimed that it can alleviate or reduce the symptoms of IBS, Crohns disease, ‘leaky gut syndrome’ (this isn’t a real disease) and other conditions where impaired gut permeability is an issue. Some research has shown that glutamine increases intestinal villous height, stimulates gut mucosal cellular proliferation, and maintains mucosal integrity.
So this is good, right?
But, there seem to be an equal number of studies that show the complete opposite meaning that the findings are very inconclusive.
One study showed that it did nothing to reduce symptoms of gut hypermeability in patients suffering from Crohns disease. Others have found the same.
The bottom line is that there isn’t any concrete evidence that glutamine can improve gut health. If you do want to know more about gut health and supplements that might help, listen to this podcast episode with dietitian and gut expert Laura Tilt.
The Take Home
There are no apparent physiological downsides to glutamine use. The main downside is financial. It’s going to burn a hole in your wallet if you’re forking-out for a supplement that isn’t going to do anything for you.
Doing a quick search of google, it appears that the majority of articles that claim glutamine is worth taking are, you guessed it, written by supplement companies. Highly impartial, I think not.
Now, let’s say Colin decides to lift some weights instead.
In a 45 to 60 minute moderate to vigorous weight lifting session, Colin will burn around 150-200. Remeber that big Col is just an example. Individual body composition, total body weight, training intensity and specific training type will all affect actual caloric expenditure.
This is just to give a rough example on what you would expect from a typical cardio and weight training session, respectively.
As you can see, neither weight training or cardio sessions, on average, expended all that many calories on a per session basis.
Sure, they do contribute to overall caloric expenditure and energy balance. But when you consider how many calories make up a day’s worth of eating, it’s not ultra dramatic.
Now you may think “the hell with both of them then, I may as well just focus on my diet and not even waste my time with cardio or weight training.”….
Whoa now, let’s not get too hasty.
Although the actual calories expended in a training session aren’t too exciting, they both can be great tools in your fat loss tool box.
Why Weight Training Is The Mutts Nuts
So weight training doesn’t expend all that many calories, then why the heck should we even bother huffing and puffing over more iron than a blacksmith?
Energy balance (calories in vs. out) is undoubtedly vital for overall body composition improvements.
However, thinking only about calories leaves way too much on the table in terms of physique enhancing considerations.
Although not expending an extreme amount of calories per session, weight training is the proverbial clay for the potter (you).
But all too often we neglect the fact that muscle tissue is the determining factor in the overall shape of our physiques.
Sorry ladies, but this is especially true for female athletes. Female clients new to lifting will apply to me for online coaching, but often worry weight training will harm their physique.
In reality, adding some muscle tissue (women can’t get bulky like men due to hormonal and structural difference, without the use of drugs or rare genetic outliers), will add the shape many women look for in their legs, shoulders, glutes etc.
While weight training may not help you expend a ton of calories while you’re dieting, it will help you build sought after shape between dieting phases and better maintain that shape as you focus on fat loss.
Dieting to get rid of some unwanted body fat totally makes sense, but doing so without first making sure we have built the shape via muscle building weight training doesn’t quite make sense. The idea losing more fat will unveil some shapely; “toned” physique without combining that with a proper weight-training program is misguided.
Cardio can help enhance fat loss by contributing to the overall caloric deficit we achieve by increasing energy expenditure, but it won’t do much in the way of helping us unveil the shape and curves we expect in our physiques like weight training can. Not to mention, maintaining hard earned muscle mass through proper training programming helps slightly, but still notably, maintain a higher metabolic rate, which can aid in overall fat loss efforts through the course of a diet.
The Role Of Cardio
We’re agreed that weight training helps build and maintain our ideal shape.
So why do we need cardio, you ask?
Cardio is simply an additional way to tip that energy balance for more consistent fat loss as a diet progresses.
If the ménage à trois example was lost on some of you more conservative readers, comparing the three to a birthday cake is another great analogy. I like to approach a client’s fat loss efforts much like a well-made birthday cake:
The diet aspect is the actual cake, without it- the dessert isn’t very great.
Weight training is the icing. Sure you can have the diet without weight training, but man does it make that cake exponentially better.
Lastly, we have cardio as the sprinkles. If the diet and weight training are on point, you may not even need the cardio (sprinkles), but from time to time, sprinkling some into your plan can help keep the entire dieting experience a bit more pleasant.
In more direct terms, cardio doesn’t result in vastly significant caloric expenditure, but it does provide a notable amount when your diet is already creating a sufficient caloric deficit and just needs a bit extra help to produce the rate of weight loss you’re shooting for.
You don’t have to do fasted cardio or drink a load of green tea before doing so, both are unlikely to make any difference to your fat loss efforts.
As a diet progresses and you don’t have as much food to pull from to continue losing body fat, sprinkling in some cardio sessions to further enhance that deficit can keep things moving along well.
Another thing to mention is that there are multitude of health benefits to be reaped from cardio such as improved heart health, bone density, improved insulin sensitivity, and many others.
It’s not simply about getting lean.
Think of your ticker too!
If I Eat More Food Can I Just Do More Cardio?
If you go waayy of piste, ditch the meal plan or sack the macros and eat a burger containing 700+ calories, trying to make up for it through a cardio session just isn’t realistic.
When you’re trying to get lean, adding in a sh*t load of additional cardio on-top of your routine would simply hinder overall recovery much more than actually effect energy balance.
Focusing on calorie intake over the course of a week will more than make up for one tracked meal or food here and there.
Trying to out-cardio an unplanned meal/food can just lead to frustration, fatigue and a poor relationship with food and exercise.
So weights or cardio?
Well, unfortunately, when it comes to fat loss neither weight lifting nor cardio is going to directly cause significant long-term fat loss.
However they do each both play a specific role in maximizing the results you see from a food first fat loss approach.
Cardio can be sprinkled in for additional expenditure while weight lifting consistently builds and maintains the shape that will make the fat loss achieved even more impressive.
Monogamy may be admirable among personal relationships, but when it comes to fat loss, embracing this three way is the best way to go.
Before you go, make sure to hit me up on Instgram to continue the conversation: @andrewnpardue
BCAAs have become increasingly popular over the years and are a staple in most supplement stacks.
Unfortunately for the BCAA guzzlers out there, research has yet to demonstrate a clear, significant benefit of why you would actually need to take them in the first place.
If you’re on board the supplement hype train and shelling out your hard earned dough on BCAAs, here are 9 solid reasons why you might want to stop.
1. You’re already getting enough
What most people don’t realize is that BCAAs are abundantly found in food. Most protein rich foods have quite a high percentage (15-25%) of BCAAs already.
– 30 g of protein powder usually provides 5.5 g
– 5 whole eggs have 6.5 g
– 150 g of wild salmon has 5.5 g
– 1 cup of peanuts have 6.2
– 150 g of canned tuna has 5 g
– 1 cup of cottage cheese has 6.1 g
– 1 cup of rice and lentils has 5.5 g
– ½ cup of parmesan cheese has 6 g
Bet you didn’t know that, did you? So the main question is, given that you’re already going to be eating a lot anyway, will the extra scoop or two you’re adding to your shake make any difference?
2. Complete Proteins Have All The Amino Acids (Including BCAAs)
You only need around 2-4 g of Leucine (one of the three BCAAs) to kick start the muscle building and repairing process. This is called ‘muscle protein synthesis’. Thankfully, it can easily be achieved from whole foods (or protein supplements). In fact, consuming a whole protein source will not only provide you BCAAs but also EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) and other nutrients too. Food 1, supplements 0.
For example, whey protein has several beneficial compounds. It contains immunoglobins, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidas and glycomacropeptide. These are not present in BCAA supplements. Likewise, eggs and sea animals are rich in zoo-nutrients like creatine, carnitine and taurine, not to mention Omega 3 fatty acids which all have beneficial properties.
In other words, Whole Proteins = BCAAs + EAAs + Other Nutrients = More Benefits.
3. BCAAs seem to work best in the presence of other EAAs
Several studies have shown that muscle protein synthesis is most efficient when the body is supplied with a all of the amino acids. Not just the BCAAs. It also appears that amino acids in their free form, like when you take a supplement, are not as efficiently used by the body compared to the amino acids from whole proteins.
For example, whey protein has been shown to increase protein balance 3x more than the same amount of free-form essential amino acids (EAAs). What’s More, researchers in Canada stated that:
Despite the popularity of BCAA supplements we find shockingly little evidence for their efficacy in promoting MPS or lean mass gains ….
4. BCAAs are not calorie free
BCAAs are one of the most calorie dense amino acids out there! If you’re consuming 10 g of BCAAs, that’s about 63 calories that you didn’t know about. Do this before and after a workout 4x per week and that’s an extra 504 calories!
However, supplement companies don’t list the energy content on the label of BCAA products. So it is commonly assumed that BCAAs are calorie free. Here is the label of a popular BCAA supplement, Scivation Xtend.
The reason manufacturers can get away with this is because the governmental food authorities do not consider products containing individual amino acids as “protein containing”.
The “zero calorie” myth is a large reason why many people use BCAAs while performing any form of fasted cardio.
The rationale behind doing fasted cardio while consuming BCAAs is to preserve muscle mass whilst creating a favourable environment for fat loss. However, research has shown there to be no difference on body composition between doing cardio fasted or after eating.
5. BCAAs can interfere with exercise performance
It’s long been suggested that BCAAs can improve performance. This is because they inhibit the uptake of other amino acids like Tryptophan and Tyrosine.
Although this is a may seem to be a good thing because it can reduce fatigue by decreasing Serotonin (a chemical produced by your body which can stimulate parts of your brain that help you to sleep), it’s not.
Low Serotonin concentrations are also associated with grumpiness (you in a bad mood or something mate?) BCAAs can also diminish catecholamine production which can reduce physical performance in the gym.
6. BCAAs can make you hungry
If you’re on a diet, BCAAs don’t seem like a great option either. They can actually stimulate your appetite. As mentioned in the last point, BCAAs compete with Tryptophan for entry into the brain thereby reducing Serotonin production.
Since Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can help you to feel full, it’s thought that BCAAs can therefore make you hugry. This is further driven by the fact that BCAAs have been successfully used in hospitals to treat loss of appetite, anorexia and muscle wastage.
So if you’re already hungry on a cut, BCAAs might just make you feel a little more miserable. However, protein from whole sources will do they opposite – they are satiating and help you to feel full. Another win for the whole proteins.
7. Protein from whole foods is cheaper and tastier
BCAAs from whole protein sources are often cheaper on a gram per gram basis. For example, a serving of Scivation Xtend costs £0.85 whereas a serving of The Protein Works Whey Protein costs only £0.24. Bargain.
Whole protein sources also happen to be a lot tastier. So save your money and give those taste buds some love.
8. BCAAs are associated with an increased risk of diabetes
Numerous publications in the scientific literature indicate a strong association between high BCAA intake (and high BCAA plasma levels) and increased diabetes risk, impaired fasting glucose, and insulin resistance.
The reason for this association is still not fully understood. Given that a majority of these studies are observational in nature, you may want to take these findings with a grain of salt.
But if you are someone who is already following a high protein diet and has a family history of diabetes, this is yet another reason to be vary of BCAA supplementation.
9. There isn’t enough evidence full stop.
The bottom line is that there are a tonne of studies that show BCAAs aren’t going to do squat for your squats.
French researchers showed that BCAA supplementation on an energy restricted high protein diet had no beneficial effects on muscle mass, fat loss, aerobic and anaerobic performance in a group of 25 competitive wrestlers.
A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that when combined with heavy resistance training for eight weeks, 9 g/day of BCAA supplementation, half given 30 minutes before and after exercise, had no beneficial effects on body composition and muscle performance.
Researchers in Mississippi showed that in healthy, resistance-trained males BCAAs did not improve muscle thickness, performance, perceived soreness and weakness, or markers of muscle damage.
The studies go on and on…
Wait, I read this study that showed BCAAs were legit…
When folks who advocate BCAAs (the bros) are challenged about their recommendations, they will often present the following two studies to support their case:
In 2009, Jim Stoppani showed staggering results for BCAA supplementation. In just 8 weeks, experienced resistance trained athletes gained 4 kg of muscle mass and dropped their body fat percentage from 9% to 7%.
Holy guacamole batman.
However, suffice to say, there were a couple of problems with these results….
Firstly, this study was funded by Scivation, a supplement company best known for its BCAA product, Xtend.
But more importantly, the study never made it through peer review. The paper was never accepted for publication in a scientific journal.
Another study, Dudgeon (2016), also funded by Scivation showed that combined with resistance exercise, BCAA supplementation preserved muscle mass and reduced fat mass on an energy restricted diet.
I base all of my beliefs and recommendations on scientific evidence, not subjective placebo and marketing driven testimony. You can be sure that if someone believes (by whatever means it took to convince him) that extra BCAA will work, it will. However, it’s the belief that’s the active agent, not the BCAA. You can create the same effect by convincing someone that a lucky rabbit’s foot in his right pocket will increase his lifting strength. If the person is truly convinced or even if the person has deeply vested hopes in the product or protocol, it indeed will work. The mind has powerful effects on the body. It always has and always will.
The Bottom Line
Save your cash.
The only people who may benefit from BCAAs are those who do not get enough high quality protein (e.g. vegans). Outside of this, BCAA supplementation on top of a sufficient protein intake is useless.
Someone might pick up a fitness magazine and see claims like “MELT 10 POUNDS OF FAT WHILE ADDING SLABS OF MUSCLE!”, and think “whoa, I want some of that.”And then, there’s the other camp. More experienced folks who have a better understanding of nutrition, training, and physiology. These people can sometimes look too close with skepticism, and end up dismissing the claim that you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time altogether.
I’ve been on both sides of this fence
I loved the Men’s Health mags that promoted the latest celeb program. Promising the exact same body within 2-3 months. Jumping from a month-long “bulking” phase only to then switch things around with the aim to get “shredded”.
Then, I went full science and would only believe what the experts and studies say. Keeping a closed mind on my own thoughts and experience.
Ultimately, there would have to be some truth there. To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. To add muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus. So how can both happen at once?
I would’ve struggled to believe it fully until I experienced with an early online client.
He came to me because he had been training for a couple of years. Following online popular programs. Yet, was only becoming more bulky, instead of stronger, leaner, and healthier. So, since I was new to the coaching thing, I felt I could help him despite lacking a lot of knowledge myself.
Little did I know that it would go so well. You see, we didn’t have a timeline for progression, but we both knew we wanted to see something happen quick, as well as steady. So we went to work.
Over the course of 8 months, Alan consistently lost fat in a steady state. Some weeks he would drop more than anticipated. Some weeks there would be no weight change. On top of that, he was progressively becoming stronger. So much so that we entered him into his first powerlifting competition in which he picked up a bronze medal. Only nerves prevented a silver.
You might argue that he hasn’t added slabs of muscle, but he easily added muscle to go along with the strength he gained, while only a blind person wouldn’t be able to see the amount of fat he lost.
So, How Can You Build Muscle & Lose Fat?
On Building Muscle….
Firstly, to gain muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus.
Quite simply this means you need to be taking on more calories than you burn per day. Around 10-15% over maintenance seems to be the sweet spot.
Once you’ve got that sorted you’ll want to focus on ensuring that your body has enough fuel to perform at its best in the gym.
Continuing the food theme, research suggests that you want to be eating around 1.6-1.8g of protein per kg of body weight too.
Lastly, if you want to get stronger and bigger then when you’re in the gym, you need to focus on ‘progressive overload‘. This means that overtime, you’ll gradually increase the volume you lift.
On Losing Fat….
To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. This is the opposite of a surplus. You burn more calories than you consume per day.
Thankfully, your body has plenty of stored fat that it can use for energy that can also support basic exercise which allows you are able to burn more calories on non-training days.
This means that your body is able to utilise energy from fat to both build muscle and burn unwanted fat. The energy is still being used whether the body is in a calorie deficit or surplus. We’re just adjusting the amounts of calories to support the intended outcome. Meaning body composition can be changed throughout. Winner winner chicken dinner.
You first need a method, and time, lots of time…
Building muscle is a very slow process. Its glacial. The more advanced you are, the slower it is. If you’re a newbie, adding some decent muscle to your frame can take between 9-18 months.
To support your training progression you need the calorie surplus like I mentioned above. To lose the fat you need the calorie deficit, so, we will create this throughout the week. This is different to most approaches where you go on a ‘bulk phase’ for several months then a ‘cut phase’ then repeat the process.
This is called Calorie Cycling
It’s more simple than you think. You’re going to modify your calorie intake based on your activity levels.
On the days that you train, your calorie intake will be around maintenance levels, if not a fraction above.
Now it’s important to ensure that you’re tracking your intake accurately! This is where many people can go wrong – they either eat too little on rest days or too much on training days.
Going too far into a deficit on rest days can inhibit your ability to recover. It might blunt the muscle repair process. No bueno my friend.
Also be aware that if you do cardio on your rest days then it should support your recovery, not add more physical stress.
How Often Should You Train?
You need to find a happy medium between training enough to grow but not so much that you can’t recover.
This doesn’t include going #YOLO six times a week performing drop sets to complete failure while some dude in a Golds Gym vest is screaming “It’s all you, bro!”, spraying particles of his Carb Killa bar mixed with his BCAA shake all over your veiny puffed up face.
This requires something that most us are not a fan of, but is always the key to progress. Balance.
The best approach to this is to have a 4-5 day training week. You can split this however you want depending on your training goals.
A solid starting point would look like two to three days upper, and two days lower.
One day of each can be purely strength focused with rep ranges between 3-8, while the other two days can be more hypertrophy focused with the rep ranges between 8-15. If you choose to do a fifth day, then this can be for any accessory work so that you are not stressing out the body too muscle.
Adding enough volume to support the other four days. The goal, of course, is to create progressive overload with each passing week. Not going to failure on every exercise.
What about the rest day cardio?
If you don’t like the idea of feeling generally unfit and gasping for breath while you are getting up off the toilet, then I highly recommend staying relatively active.
Because I constantly prioritise recovery, you want to avoid too much stress on your rest days. This means you can add a form of aerobic finishers at the end of your workout to support this. Here are some methods to do this without slogging it out on the treadmill for hours.
Method 1: The High Intensity Option
SHIIT (Super High-Intensity Interval Training)
These are short and to the point. Think of it as the standard HIIT sessions but cranking it up a level, if you can.
I first came across these a number of years ago when I read about a pro bodybuilder using it in some lab testing. I assume it was legit as the guys around him were wearing black-rimmed glasses and were wearing white robes, so, this means they are real doctors, right?
Anyhoo… I later read of another variation of this on a podcast by someone more reputable, so checked it out. It turns out that is is actually legit, based on research used with Wingate Bikes coming out of the University of Tampa.
Grab yourself a stationary bike. A spin bike would be easier for this. Set it at a moderate difficulty. After a warmup period, you will go all out max for 10-20 seconds. After this, crank up the difficulty and go for it even more for another 10-20 seconds. Once you are done, reduce the difficulty and rest for around 2 minutes, then repeat.
It should look like this:
Warm-up: 1-2 minutes
Moderate intensity: 10-20 seconds
High intensity: 10-20 seconds
Rest: 2 minutes
How many times you do this is dependant on your experience levels too, so if you just joined the gym last week and you see some guy who is super jacked, wearing all the knee wraps, wrist wraps, and screaming at himself throughout, then you are probably not wanting to follow suit. Actually, best to stay clear and remain within normal realms of humanity.
Beginner: 2-4 rounds
Intermediate: 5-7 rounds
I’m a huge fan of these, and so are most of my clients. I say most because not everyone can do these. Be sure that you have a skill level to the point where you feel comfortable performing some of these lifts at a high-intense level without risking injury.
These are great because they will not only fire up your aerobic capacity but will do so by getting you stronger. building muscle simultaneously. How could you possibly lose?
A favourite of mine is called The Bear Complex. It looks like this:
Power Clean x 1
Front Squat x 1
Push-Press x 1
Back Squat x 1
Push-Press x 1
Pick a weight that you feel confident enough in both, that you won’t gas out too quick, and, will avoid letting go or dropping the bar. Be sure to take your time performing these if you have never done them before as it can be really easy to mess this up.
This is another one that I’m a big fan off. Thanks to John Romanellio, I first found out about these on his site back when I was in my bro phase; looking for more fancy ways to look more jacked in my stringer vest.
I often use these in client programming when in a fat-loss phase and don’t have the time to add in any excess cardio or avoid going into a larger calorie deficit
It works by setting a timer for between 8-20 minutes. Then, pick between 3-4 resistance exercises, selecting a weight that you can comfortably perform for 8-12 reps. Now it’s important that you drop the ego here as the weight you select will be the one you will continuously be lifting, with perfect technique, until the timer runs out. This will light up your lunges and muscle.
I tend to mix it up with upper and lower exercises, such as:
Bent Over row
Dumbbell Bench Press
Similar to the density circuit, these are great for improving both your aerobic capacity while building strength. This time, you don’t need any equipment so you can do them anywhere. You can even do this at home if you struggle to get into the gym and want to fit in a quick workout.
Pick 2-3 bodyweight exercises and start with rep 1, then, work your way up to a specific rep target. Once you get there, start to work your way back down. Sound simple enough?
Here’s an example for you:
Push-up x 1
Reverse Lunge x 1 /Leg
Chin-up x 1
Push-up x 2
Reverse Lunge x 2 /Leg
Chin-up x 2s
Rest then you would do 2 push-ups, 2 reverse lunges, 2 chin-ups etc. Once you’ve worked your way up to your target, say 8 reps for each exercise, you work your way back down again.
Annnnnnd you’re done!
Method 2: The Low/Moderate Intensity Option
On your rest days, you want to prevent as much physical stress as possible, so an easy way to do this while expending energy is by simply increasing your steps. You can do this in any way, shape, or form. If you want to play it safe then you can target the standard 10,000 method in your favourite mode of movement.
Again, it’s important to not do anything over strenuous here, so anything I listed above would go against this as this will require some muscle repair.
Basically, be active and healthy and get yourself a FitBit. Netflix isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So, how do I know if I should recomp?
I’ going to bang on about this again – recomp is a sloooooooow process. Because of this, if you go into it thinking that you are about to look like Superman in a few months then you will be greatly disappointed my young padawan.
If you are in. You are in it for a longer haul.
I cannot put that across any clearer than that.
We good? Good. Here are several reasons why you might want to consider body recomposition.
Reason #1 You are ‘skinny-fat’
This is sort of a grey area to be in. Not quite muscly and strong. Not quite lean. Or, nowhere near either of them, to be exact.
When you’re at this stage it can be common to fall into an endless loop of cutting fat and gaining muscle. What happens here is that a weight cut starts, and may be successful, but, there is little to no muscle to display.
Because of that, you end up just looking skinny and gaunt with a semi-sweet set of abs. You achieved your goal of getting lean but sacrificed any muscle that you had to get there. Back to dieting you go.
On the flip side, you go heavy on the quest for muscle. Slamming out chest, back, shoulder, arm, and skipping leg day, until you look…. bloated.
i’m bulking, ja!
Note: I’m not sure why he has a German accent. It just made me chuckle to myself while writing that.
Anyway, a good way around this endless look of cut and bulk is a recomp. If you are going to spend the time on this merry-go-round then you may as well put the time and effort to better use.
Reason #2 You are a beginner
Much like our German friend above, this works perfectly well for someone who is just starting out with lifting weights and dieting.
Often times, when I take a new male client on they say something along the lines of…
I want to lose this *grabbing their stomach*, but I also want to build some muscle too. Not like Arnie, though, but, you know what I mean.
In other words, they would love to look like Arnie but are being too shy to just come out and say it.
They follow this up by instantly dismissing that they know it can’t happen. Well, I have some news for you my German friend, you can.
As a beginner, your body is essentially “primed” to take on the new physical demands that you place upon it. If programmed correctly, you will gain some sweet new muscle while also burning off fat. However, like the previous example, if you diet too hard then you will just be lifting weight while getting skinny. Diet too easy and you will look like you’ve got muscle, but end up looking more like the guy what walks about with his arms flared out looking like there are invisible rolled up carpets under his arms.
Reason #3 You want to maintain fat while in a gaining phase
First off, this demands some training and dieting experience. Mainly because you will get a better understanding of how to manage your diet, training recovery, and how to actually train effectively. These are all important components to any sort of progression, whether it’s dieting or muscle and strength.
In this scenario, you may have been enjoying a good ole’ maintenance phase over the holidays and decided that you wouldn’t mind shedding the few pounds that you picked up. Along the way you think
I tell you what, since I have nothing in the calendar for the next six months, let’s see if I can add a pound or two of muscle.
This bodes well for you here. Not only that, but because your body is already familiar with dieting, it will be able to partition the nutrients more effectively. Meaning that the body will direct calories toward muscle repair and fat burning independently.
Also, on top of this, you can also get away with being more relaxed on certain days. Consuming some extra calories on bigger training days to help move things forward a little on the recovery front while making little to no effect on the fat gaining side of things. Think of this as more of a refeed. A beginner or skinny fat person don’t have the luxury of this as their bodies aren’t used to these scenarios so are more likely going to straight up gain fat.
Reason #4 You just want to maintain
On paper, this should be the easiest of them all, but in fact, it is the most difficult. Not in the way that you will be measuring everything to the absolute gram while forcing out the very last rep to complete that crushing workout you downloaded from bodybuilding.com. More because it is very easy to stray from the intended path of maintenance into the realm of “Ah shit, where’s my abs!?”
When you are able to master maintenance then you are are gaining a new set of skills. Now, say that last part with the voice of Liam Neeson for added dramatic effect.
There are a few things to be aware of here.
First, be aware of where your body falls naturally. Meaning, if you’re a skinny-fat person then you will easily gain fat. Because of this, you will need to be more mindful of how many carbs and fat you consume on your rest days.
Second, avoid allowing yourself to be too relaxed. You’ve got a weekend away with friends, drinking, eating, and having a couple of late nights? Sweet! First of all, just remember to come home. Then, when you do, taper things back again. It is very easy to stray from the path for longer periods. This is especially if you have no particular goal in mind, which can often result in simply being bored of training and dieting too. So set yourself mini-reminders for training and physique goals.
Can you still squat X amount? If not, then direct yourself toward being able to do so again.
Are you still visibly lean? Nope? Then make some small changes in your diet until you can.
Both of these examples will take a couple of weeks to achieve so they can help kick-start some motivation back in.
Body recomposition is another great tool. Especially for those who find themselves in yo-yo programming scenarios.
It does work extremely well if you play it outright. Sure, it does not require you to be 100% dialed in, but it does demand your attention, especially since it’s a longer process than most.
However, it’s not a magic pill. This will work very differently for each person. Some will take to it very easily when others will grow frustrated. Be patient and document your progress.
We all have our own preferences when it comes to stuffing (and let’s face it, our favourites are usually from our granny) but whatever stuffing you use, whack it into this casserole with that leftover turkey for an amazing post Christmas day treat.
After a big feast on Christmas Day, why not try something a little lighter for a snack? With the main ingredients being toasted bread, melted cheese and turkey, there’s not much not to love with this one.
Comfort food at its finest just when you need it. This recipe will use up more than just the leftover turkey. It will only take you 15 minutes to put this together, and 10 minutes to cook. A great way to put the leftovers away.
Take that turkey south of the border! Combine your turkey with leftover squash, all the cheese you can get your hands on, spices, and a creamy enchilada sauce. Roll that up into some soft tortillas, top with even more cheese, then stick in the oven. The resulting plate of food is gooey, melty, spicy goodness perfect for any night of the week.
This is an old school recipe that has stood the test of time for a reason. Essentially it is a pasta casserole topped with parmesan bread crumb and baked until bubbly. Any time of the year this would be a winner, but this time of year it is also a fantastic way to empty your fridge.
This easy turkey soup recipe hits the spot on a cold day. The potatoes melt in your mouth and make this soup extra comforting. A splash of cream makes the broth taste even better without going overboard on the extra calories.
Just because your Christmas meal was traditional, it does not mean that what you do with the leftovers cannot be a little different. This is bound to be one of the easiest ramen bowls you’ll ever put together. Embrace a taste of Asia with this cracker of a dish.
In the quest for a ripped physique women faint over and men admire (or vice versa), the age-old cheat meals question has created many a controversial stand off.
Keyboards have been tapped to their breaking point. Many an online friendship severed in the name of this nutritional nuance. The ironic part, after we look at what modern nutrition research and practical experience is showing us, it really shouldn’t be much of a debate at all.
When it comes down to truly maximizing progress, whether you’re preparing to step on a physique competition stage or just look better on your next date, those weekly untracked “cheat meals” may be cheating of you out of more progress than you may realize….
Meal Make Up Matters
One of the most basic benefits of a cheat meal or refeed is simply having a temporary mental break from the rigors of dieting phases.
Being able to enjoy some tasty high protein meals after a week working our butts off (somewhat literally) is always a welcome occasion.
Rigorous or not, we don’t want this break creating a lasting setback in the grand scheme of our dieting efforts.
Depending on what you eat, following a cheat meal (or worse yet, a cheat day) strategy can make that setback more likely. A really high fat, moderate carb meal/day is going to have far different effects from a carb-focused, moderate fat strategy because of the thermic effect of food…
The Thermic Effect of Fat & Carbs
The thermic effect of food (TEF) in basic terms means the amount of calories you burn in the digestion process.
When your protein intake is kept constant, dietary fat has a TEF of roughly 0-2%. This means that if you eat 100 calories of fat you only use 0-2% to digest it, so you’re body digests and uses 98 of those 100 calories.
What this means is that a day much higher in fat than carbs, or for some really embracing their cheats, both, pushes the risk of storing more body fat in the process as your calorie intake rises. This is especially true in the case of full on cheat days where calorie overages can easily reach into the thousands.
Glycogen replenishment however is a huge aspect of refeed days that shouldn’t go unmentioned. It is often overlooked when using a ‘cheat meal’ approach.
As a diet progresses and folks reach lower and lower body fat levels, muscle glycogen (prime energy source during training and daily activities), continually declines.
Low glycogen levels can leave you feeling weak in the gym, foggy headed at work and at times making it look like you ‘don’t even lift bro’.
If you follow structured reefed days, you can strategically replenish your glycogen levels, while keeping total food intake in check to avoid disrupting fat loss. Win!
Could I have a high fat ‘cheat day’ instead?
Yes, technically you could structure a calorically comparable refeed with dietary fat and notice temporary, general energy improvements.
However, those glycogen levels may remain less than optimally replenished, which may leave some potential benefits on the table.
You may look vascular as hell after a good ole cheat meal. But just because a ton of sodium, carbs and fat are circulating in your blood stream temporarily doesn’t mean those calories won’t also disrupt fat loss in the days following. Nor will they successfully help with training performance in the immediate days to follow.
If you’re simply dieting to improve body composition and look better. But not to step on stage in your skimpies, this aspect isn’t anything to be too concerned with.
Following a structured refeed days can provide valuable data that can be used in constructing your peak week plan the week prior to your bodybuilding show (bodybuilding being any of the divisions referred to as a whole).
During peak week, the goal is to maximize muscle glycogen replenishment through strategic manipulation of sodium, water and carbohydrate intake.
In an ideal prep, peak weeks aren’t based solely off educated guesses as the final touches are in place.
Instead, those carb, water and sodium adjustments can be made based off previous weeks’ refeed day goals. They are then adjusted weekly or biweekly based on how the physique responds to each refeed.
If really ahead of schedule, which is a very prudent idea if serious about your placing, full-on practice peak weeks can be ran in place of traditional refeeds. This willreally nail down the best peak week approach to use once it’s officially game time.
If you’ve been following structured refeed or “high carb” days throughout your prep, the transition into more comprehensive refeed runs or practice peaks can be a very productive strategy.
Cheat Meal Alternative
On the other hand, if each week has ended in untracked, random cheat meals, there’s virtually no opportunity to collect this data. You won’t know how variations of carb, water and sodium adjustments affect your ability to properly fill out.
You’re just left to guess how your peak week should be structured.
Although it may feel much better to be liberated of dietary distress as each week comes to a close, it’s best to put the untracked meals on hold and take advantage of every opportunity available to ensure show day is as enjoyable and successful as possible in return.
We Suck at Guessing
Another fact we should just go ahead and embrace is that we as human just suck at guessing how much food we’re actually eating.
In the heat of the moment, when energy is low, hunger is high and that buffet is calling our name 3 months into our diet, a chubby little devil on our shoulder may tell us otherwise, but you must resist!
In all seriousness, the longer the diet, the more folks lie to themselves in order to justify snacking or entire meals that an objective eye could clearly see it a pretty bad idea.
“Oh yeah? Prove it guy!” Ah, I’m glad you asked!
Luckily there have been some studies on dietary recall and calorie estimation that help shine some light on this.
One study showed an example of the “flat-slope syndrome” which suggests populations are likely to under-report high food intakes and over-report low food intakes.
We tell ourselves that we’re eating less than we actually are
When we’re dieting, we subconsciously tell ourselves that we’re eating less than we actually are when overeating.
Another study resulted in food intake being consistently under reported by an average of 22% from actual caloric intake.
Sure some people may inherently be better at eye balling meal content than others. But by looking the averages, it’s not likely that you or I will beat the system.
Plain and simple, the likelihood you will eat within reason during a cheat meal and not far overshoot your caloric needs, as your diet progresses, is slim…pun intended.
This fact alone is one major reason I prefer to incorporate structured re-feed meals. I like tracked macro goals rather than untracked cheat meals.
Nutrient Deficiency & Caloric Restriction
Anytime folks aren’t dieting or in early stages of a reverse diet, I strongly encourage a flexible dieting approach.
Tracking food intake and focusing only on “health foods” is not only extremely challenging to do year round, but also quite arguably unnecessary.
“Health bases” can typically be covered while still having additional macros leftover as food intake peaks in the offseason.
That being said, dieting phases are quite different. As a physique coach that has published research on the effects of contest prep dieting on natural bodybuilders, I have a close appreciation for the various effects dieting has on metabolism, hormones and various other health factors in order to reach stage conditioning.
As a diet progresses, if you’re working toward very lean conditioning such as for a natural bodybuilding show or advanced photo shoot, that lower and lower food intake provides fewer opportunities to consume nutrient dense foods that could be promoting better overall energy levels, but more importantly, sufficient general health.
Lower carbs reduce the opportunity for large varieties of fruit and whole grains. While fat declining leaves less chance for beneficial mono and unsaturated fats. All of which have nearly countless micronutrients that we normally want to maximize intake of anytime calorie intake goals allow.
Don’t Cheat Your Health
During an extended dieting phase, having a structured refeed can benefit not just physique goals, but also health markers. This allows a focused attempt to consume nutrient dense whole foods.
Whole grain, starchy carbs, continued focus on unsaturated fat intake as always, and depending on refeed carb goals, some additional fruit* for health support can be achieved.
Take your typical cheat meal as an opposing example.
Often moderate carb, high fat “fun” foods like burgers or pizza just don’t provide the same health-promoting nutrients. Sure, it’s probably a bit better than no refeed at all, but not by much.
Considering how challenging an extended dieting phase can be, our goal should be to maximize results. You also want to maximize your health too!
Cheat meals may be fun. But when it comes down to the grand scheme of applying nutrition principles to maximize results and minimize negative health effects when dieting, it just makes sense to take advantage of every opportunity we have to keep the ball rolling and not feel deflated along the way.
*Fructose is less likely to replenish muscle glycogen than starchy carbs when consumed. I encourage 1-2 daily servings of fruit whenever possible until the very latter stages of prep when calories are very low. I only encourage additional fruit when dieting if refeed carbs are quite high and athletes have plenty to support glycogen replenishment along with additional wiggle room to take advantage of extra fruit consumption.
The Bottom Line
It would be outright obsessive to suggest serious athletes should never enjoy an untracked meal for the sake of “making gains.”
At the end of the day, what we do the majority of the time is what will dictate our progress in the gym, and really life in general.
Taking time to enjoy family meals, celebratory dinners and the like are part of being human.
When deep in a diet or contest prep, or in the early transition stages from of a diet, it’s as important as ever to be mindful of your weekly eating habits to avoid rebound weight and reduced performance along the way.
In other words, there’s no need to be constantly 100% accurate with tracked macros year round, but when it comes time to run a dieting phase or contest prep- it’s important to eat like an adult and keep the current goals in mind if we want to maximize results and minimize pain along the way.
After you’ve been exercising it’s important to think of three main elements of post-workout nutrition: muscle repair, fuel replenishment and hydration. Your post workout meal should include around 20-40 grams of quality protein. You’ll need carbohydrates to replace the glycogen you’ve used for fuel during exercise. And last, but not least, you need to replace the fluids that you’ve lost through your hard work and sweat.
Now you could just neck a quick protein shake and grab a banana to scoff in the car or on the walk back to work but these 17 post-workout, carbohydrate rich, high protein meals that we’ve listed are far tastier that a cheap and nasty shake!
Whoa baby – this Spicy Thai Chicken is seductive. From the moment it first sets your mouth on fire, it’s going to have you hooked with its flavor-loaded, saucy, sticky exterior and light-your-face-on-fire spice status.
Everyone love’s Mexican food; the colours, the smells, the spice, the warmth and the amazing flavours are what makes Mexican food so amazing. This is simple, quick and family friendly dish for Mexican steak and rice that is ridiculously easy to make.
The beauty of this is that it is all made in one pot.. Cooking the rice with the chicken on top adds extra flavour to the rice because the chicken juices get soaked up by the rice. It’s a delicious post-workout meal.
Fish cakes are delicious, but the problem with most recipes is that they are loaded with cream and butter which means they’re tasty, but the fat content is rarely helpful if you’re trying to eat healthily. We’ve got your back, we’ve made a high protein, low fat recipe for fishcakes using slow digesting, high fibre sweet potatoes.