About supplements…

I think that most supplements you find today are useless. A few might help but they will never replace smart training, adequate nutrition and sufficient recovery. The name says it all, they are supplements: something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.

A few of them are useful, they might give you a little edge but they will never replace a good training program or help you get results out of a bad one. So before spending money on dubious supplements, make sure you master the 3 fundamentals of muscle building.

Eugene Sandow
(1867-1925)

Before the supplement industry existed, before steroids were used, there were man that became really strong and muscular with just training, eating and recovery. On the other hand, now, there’s thousands of people spending fortunes on supplements and never getting any results This should ring a bell.

Billions of dollars are spent every years on supplements. Companies selling them have very aggressive marketing strategies to convince you that you absolutely need them. But not unlike the cosmetic industry, when you coldly look at the results, there isn’t much to see.

Take the typical product that promises wonders… the ones selling it usually hire a professional bodybuilder using steroids to endorse the product. Implying that it is the product that made him look like this and not his superior genetics, years of full time training, strict nutrition and use of drugs. Get serious!

And since the manufacturers are greedy, the marketing guys have huge salaries and the endorser asks big money to promote the product, they have to sell it at a hefty price. Even though the product is cheap to produce, and probably useless.

Even the ones that work are usually too expensive for what they are worth. Take whey powder… This is a very convenient protein supplement. But lactoserum is usually considered a waste by cheese makers. They used to feed it to cattle or simply dumb it in the river. Dry it and you have whey powder. And last time I checked it was sold around 1000$ for a ton (2200 lbs). So roughly 0.45$ for a pound. And the retail price ranges from 25 to 50$ for 2 pounds.  A nice profit margin, right?

My advice would be to invest your money in quality food, training equipment or subscription in a good gym. You might also want to hire a good trainer to help you improve your technique or even a massage therapist after your training. It would be a much wiser investment.

How to lose weight

To lose weight you need a calorie deficit. You can either eat less, exercise more or both (best solution). One of the main difficulty when you try to lose weight is to burn fat without losing too much muscle tissue . Keeping muscles is essential since they’re the one responsible for most of the calorie burning. Another tricky part is cutting calorie intake without getting your body in starvation mode. Let’s start by understanding a bit more of your body “thinks”.

The human machine

The human body is a marvelous machine fine tuned by tens of thousands of years of evolution. It hasn’t been long since food has been so easily available and our bodies haven’t catch up with this new reality yet. It still reacts like we were still living in caves, hunting mammoths and picking fruits and berries.

So our body is extremely good at stocking and keeping energy. Energy is primarily stocked as glycogen and fat. Glycogen is stocked glucose located in muscles and in the liver. This stock as a finite capacity and is quickly depleted. Fat stocks, on the other hand can be almost unlimited. Proteins can also be used as an energy source. This ability to endure starvation let us survive as a specie, but makes it harder to lose weight in a modern world were food is abundant.

Any drastic or prolonged calorie cut is perceived as a threat by our body. When this happens, it enters “starvation mode”. This slows down the metabolism to reduce energy expenditure, making fat loss more difficult. And at some point, the body will use proteins from the muscle as an energy source. This way it can save fat stocks for later. And reduce muscle mass which is responsible for a lot of calorie burning. It also enhances hunger, which makes it very difficult to follow a strict diet.

How to avoid starvation mode

The best way to lose weight and not regaining it is not to enter starvation mode. One of the best method for this is to avoid drastic changes in your eating habits. Studies show that most people who succeeded in losing weight and not regaining it lost an average of 1 pound/week. You might think it isn’t much, but it’s still 50lbs in a year!

And for really fat persons, this can be much more. If you have over 30% body fat, you can cut more calories before entering starvation mode. Since there’s so much stocked fat, the body won’t feel threatened. On the other hand, the leaner you get, the harder it is to burn fat…

Another way to avoid starvation is by using a cycling diet, but this is a more advanced topic that deserves his own  article.

A few weight loss tips

Never go on a diet! How many people undergo some drastic diet to give them up a few weeks or months later? To finally regain all the weight they lost (and more)? The best diet is the one you will follow. Change your eating habits one at a time.  Change one thing, then wait 21 days to change something else… This way you will gradually improve your eating habits and will avoid starvation mode. Slowly and steady wins the race.

A maximum daily cut of 500 calorie is usually recommended. The main goal is to cut your calorie intake a little bit in order to burn stored fat without triggering the starvation mode. And also without losing your hard earned muscles.

Cutting calories and exercising is the best solution. Not only exercise let you burn more calories, it also keeps your metabolism in high gear. Forget cardio; the best type of training is strength training and HIIT. Not only this let you burn lots of calories in a short period of time, you will keep burning them 48 hours after your training session. Also, strength training will help reduce muscle loss.

Never grow hungry! Might sound weird, but if you starve yourself between meals you will make bad food choices when it is time to eat and you will tend too stuff your face. Eating healthy, filling snacks will help you control your daily food intake.

Cook! Stay away from restaurants and processed food. This way it will be easier to eat healthy balanced food.

Avoid any refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Eat only complex carbs. Carbs contain a lot of calories and won’t help satisfy hunger. And any excess carbohydrates that cannot be stocked as glycogen will be transformed into fatty acids by the liver and stocked as fat.

Eat a lot of proteins. Not only do they help cut hunger, they also help prevent muscle loss while your cutting. 1g of protein by pound of body weight is a good recommendation.

Don’t cut fat intake too much. Some fatty acids are essential to your health and a low fat diet might interfere with your hormone production. Fat helps you fight hunger. Fat doesn’t get you fat, caloric surplus does! If you drastically cut your fat intake, your body will react by holding on to the one it has stocked. Cut carbs instead, they are not essential.

Allow yourself planned cheat meals. Once a week, you can allow yourslef to eat anyhting (in reasonable quantity). This won’t change much your total weekly intake, but will help you stick to your diet.

Eat a hearty breakfast. Skipping breakfast or only eating carbs isn’t recommended. you’ll get very hungry, opening the door to unwise snack choices or stuffing yourself when diner comes. A big breakfast with lots of protein and fats will help you fight hunger and send a strong signal to your body, convincing it that there will be no food shortage today. So he can keep on using fat stocks.

Exercise!  Strength training and HIIT are the best , but any exercise is good. And it doesn’t have to be too long. If you can’t manage to jog for 30 minutes, three 10min sessions of uh-ups, sit-ups jumping jacks, skip rope, … will have the same results. The main idea is to stay active to burn a bit more calories and to keep your metabolism high.

Sleep well. Studies show that people suffering from sleep deprivation tend to gain weight more easily.

Why can’t you gain/lose weight?

 Billions of dollars are spent every year by people who want the get bigger or leaner. The sad thing is there isn’t much magic trick or super special ingredient needed. Brace yourselves I will reveal you the truth about it all.

If you don’t get big it’s because you don’t eat enough.

If you’re too fat, it’s because you eat too much
(and/or don’t exercise enough).

Period. 

Reality check

Under or over eating: simple as that. But no… not you… you’re different right? You have a super fast metabolism or you smoke, you’re very stressed and anxious, you workout a lot, you have a physical job, so whatever you eat, you stay skinny. And you my chubby friend… you have big bones, it runs in the family, you have a slow metabolism so no diet will work on you. Right?

Sorry, but chances are your body obeys the universal laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy. So, as hard as it is to believe: if you can’t  gain/lose weight, it’s because you’re not eating right. It’s all about calorie surplus or deficit. (Except a few cases where some diseases are involved).

Some will think I’m a bit blunt, but for some reasons people don’t want to believe this simple truth (I used to be like this). They prefer to look for some special reason why it’s not working, some magic pill or powder or some revolutionary diet to make it easy. (By the way, take any diet or “nutrition plan” and when you look at it, in the end, all they do is make you cut your calorie intake.)

I’ve spent years being skinny and thinking I was eating a lot. I had a fast metabolism, was exercising a lot and in the end, I wasn’t eating enough. If you don’t gain weight eating 3500 calories/day, try 4500. Still not working, try 6000… Same things goes when you want to lose weight: eat less and/or exercise more.

Some tips to get started

So how many calories a day do you usually eat? You don’t have a clue?!? Then you might want to start there. Write everything you eat for 1-2 days and count calories. It doesn’t have to be perfectly precise, just to give you a good idea.

Then, you will calculate your theoretical TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). You can use this calculator. If you’re lifting heavy weights, you might want to overestimate your activity level. Now compare your usual calorie intake with your TDEE. You should understand why you can’t gain/lose weight.

While this method is far from perfect, it will give you a rough idea of where you stand. It was a real wake up call for me. I thought was eating a lot, but in the end, that was only 2800-3000 calories/day. When you’re lifting heavy weights 4-5 hours/week, that isn’t much, barely enough for maintenance.

For those who are over eating, you might want to keep on using your food log a little longer to see where you could cut.

I’ll write specific articles about weight lost and mass gain later on…