Use These 4 Methods to Help You Survive Intermittent Fasting!

In a previous article I’ve written, I talked about intermittent fasting and how it’s not the magical weight loss solution that many tout it to be. While this may be the case, I didn’t eliminate its usefulness entirely.

Image result for intermittent fasting

A Quick Refresher

First, let’s recap what exactly intermittent fasting is…

Although there are several variations of the diet that exist, the most popular and one that we’ll focus on here is called the 16/8 fasting protocol. It’s pretty self-explanatory, where you fast for 16 hours during the day and you have an 8-hour “feeding window” where you fit all of your regularly scheduled meals.

It’s become quite popular due to its touted health benefits, such as improvements in cholesterol and fasting blood glucose. However, there’s still a lot of research that has to be conducted in this realm, as many of the results come from animal models, and we are now just starting to see similar results replicated in humans. So for now, we can take the results with a grain of salt.

And it’s become increasingly popular in the fitness industry because of its claims to help you burn more fat faster than a traditional diet. This is where the problem lies.

This simply isn’t true, as stated by notable exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues, viewing the concept of fat-burning over a span of only 24 hours is extremely shortsighted. If one is burning more fat during one period, the body will compensate by burning more carbs during the other, and vice versa. See where I’m getting at here?

My Own Experience

I’ve actually been experimenting with it myself during my contest prep, and let me tell you, it’s helped a lot.

And let me reiterate this one more time for you guys, it is not because it is a magical diet that will “annihilate fat” or some other nonsense like that. Instead, let me explain to you how it’s helped me in a more practical sense.

It Fits My Lifestyle

As proven by science, the key factor to success in any diet is adherence. This is what makes or breaks a person’s success to achieving their fat-loss goals.

And intermittent fasting just happened to be the strategy for me that helped me to adhere to a calorie-restricted diet better than any other. Personally, I like to eat bigger meals. Especially when the calories begin to drop, I’m not really an avid fan of eating rabbit-sized meals every 2-3 hours (plus, the concept of meal frequency “speeding up your metabolism” has been debunked for quite a while now).

It Helps Me Keep My Relationship with Food Intact

We all love food, don’t we? Especially for those of us who are into competing and are experienced with very-restrictive dieting, it can really damage the once healthy relationship that we had with food.

For me, fasting helped me keep my mind off of food. Instead of constantly thinking about eating all day, as I’m used to eating more frequently throughout the day, it helped me to apply my thoughts towards other priorities that I had.

I would often hold off eating until around 2 p.m or so, sometimes even later. Because of this, I was able to concentrate on my morning tasks, such as doing cardio, running errands, and working on my online business. It helped me to be more efficient, as I wasn’t stuck on the thought of eating or even prepping food for that morning or early afternoon.

It Lets Me Eat Bigger Meals

Okay, maybe not that big…

Again, it lets me eat much larger meals during times of restrictive dieting. To many, this can feel a lot more satisfying afterwards compared to the empty feeling one may have after eating such a small portion of food.

The Problem(s) with Intermittent Fasting

While I may be making this sound like rainbows and unicorns right now, the fact of the matter is intermittent fasting can be tough at times, especially at the beginning.

Hunger

Often, people can’t get used to the feeling of hunger in the mornings, especially if there avid fans of a bigger breakfast. Many people can get past this feeling after getting accustomed to the diet, but for some, they just can’t stick to it. That’s completely fine, that just means this specific diet is not for them.

Luckily for me, I’ve never really been a fan of eating breakfast, so this works perfectly for me.

Social Acceptance

Sometimes this style of eating can cause complications with one’s schedule, particularly around social events.

For example, it may be viewed as impolite when you go out to lunch with your boss and you just order a water or black coffee. This may make you feel awkward or uncomfortable.

The same goes for breakfast. Maybe on Sundays you and your friends all like to go out to brunch (I don’t judge). This usually doesn’t fit within most people’s fasting windows, but it can if you coordinate it correctly.

And that brings me to this point…

You Don’t Have to Follow it to the Tee

People get really stressed out when they can’t follow this diet exactly as they planned it. Maybe they started eating with 30 minutes left in the fast. Maybe they put a little milk in their coffee in the morning by mistake. But trust me, IT’S OKAY!

Those who are only concerned with the metabolic benefits shown in the scientific studies should be the ones focusing more precisely on the nooks and crannies of the diet, as opposed to those who are simply trying to lose fat.

I technically “break my fast” all the time during my fasting windows. I also break my fast at different times during the day, depending on what my schedule looks like.

I tell you this because I want you to understand that as long as you’re following the general fundamentals of the diet, you’ll still receive its benefits.

4 Hacks to Help You Implement This Diet

If after all I’ve explained thus far and you’re still not interested, I understand. You can stop reading this now.

But for those who are willing to try this out for themselves and see if it’s right for them, then read on! As I tell you 5 of the “tricks” that I use to make adhering to this diet a bit easier.

1. Diet Soda

This works for any other carbonated beverage as well, as long as it’s zero calories. And no, artificial sweeteners don’t raise insulin levels, like you may have been lead to believe.

I find that drinking these throughout the day, particularly during my fasts, gives my body the feeling of fullness for a little while. Usually, I do this when it’s close for my fasting window to end, around lunchtime.

Just always make sure to look at the nutrition label before choosing your beverage. Some drinks, such as Diet Mountain Dew, contain a bit more calories than most, about 10 calories per 20 oz. While this may seem negligible, this can add up if you’re guzzling the stuff and not keeping track of it.

2. Pickles

Yep, you heard me right. Pickles…

But Zach, don’t these technically have calories. Why yes, fellow reader, they do. But think about this for a second. It’s a cucumber, which is a green vegetable. Green vegetables are naturally low in calories, so it’s very difficult to overeat on them.

Can you see a common theme here with these tips? It’s that a high amount of food volume is what is going to affect your feeling of fullness, or satiety, not the number of calories in the food. That’s what your stomach is, a volume counter, not a calorie counter.

But Zach, isn’t all that sodium found in pickles bad for you brahh? Not in the way that you may think…

It’s really only bad if you are what they call in the scientific literature “salt-sensitive”. These are people who are especially sensitive to the effects of sodium on their blood pressure, often people who are hypertensive already. Those who are salt-sensitive are estimated to account for about 25% of the population.

If you’re not one of those people, then you don’t have anything to worry about. And plus, as with many things in life, use moderation. Anything in excess usually isn’t good for you, including water.

3. Walden Farms

I am freakin’ in love with this stuff. If you haven’t heard of them, go give them a try. Basically, they make various salad dressings, condiments, syrups, and other goodies, all with ZERO CALORIES! I’ve been putting the Italian dressing on my chicken and vegetables and it’s been absolutely killing my cravings.

Now, I’m gonna be real with you here. It’s not exactly zero calories, as FDA labeling guidelines allow for anything less than 5 calories per serving to be labeled as zero. However, these calories are quite insignificant, given how great they actually taste. These certainly make dieting a hell of a lot easier.

But How Would I Use This During My Fast?

Some of their products, like the chocolate dip and cinnamon raisin peanut butter, allow you to eat it straight from the jar! Often times, it’s the taste of the product that will allow you to kill the craving you have during that moment, which you may have mistaken for hunger.

4. Coffee

Ahh yes, that good ole’ cup o’ Joe.

A lot of people use it as their morning staple, but did you know it can actually help you out in your fat-loss goals as well?

Much of it has to do with caffeine and its effects on appetite suppression, but researchers are now beginning to discover how another non-caffeine ingredient in coffee blunts hunger levels as well. This means that even decaf coffee can have similar effects compared to regular caffeinated coffee in terms of regulating your hunger. More research needs to be conducted for sure, as they’re still trying to figure out what that ingredient is exactly, but it looks quite promising.

Conclusion

So give it a shot and see if this diet is right for you. If it’s not, no big deal. But you won’t know for sure until you try.

Let me know how it works out for you in the comments section below!

Refeeds and Cheat Meals: Are They Really Necessary?

It’s almost that time of the year. Many people will begin to end their bulks and shed the blubber that they put on over the winter.

I may have taken my last bulk a little too far…

The diet usually starts out simply enough. You’ll begin by dropping the calories. You start to see gradual but consistent changes. You decide to amp things up and include some more cardio into your plan as well. The scale begins to budge faster now, things are going quite well.

But then…

BAM! Like a freight train, it hits you. You hit that dreaded wall. You’ve reached the infamous plateau.

You’re not losing weight anymore. Your performance is declining. You always seem to be in a sour mood. You need to be drinking coffee every hour on the hour in order to just survive the day.

So what do you do? Drop the calories even more? No, you say to yourself, you’re already hungry as it is, and this will just exacerbate that issue.

How about more cardio? Hell no! You’re tired as it is already, you feel like you can’t manage any more of an increase in activity.

Well, my friends, there may be a solution out there that you may have heard of but never tried before.

Refeeds and Cheat Meals

These are two different types of dieting strategies used to combat this plateau. But what are they and how do they work?

Well before we dive into each of the strategies, let’s examine what exactly the function and purpose of them are.

Leptin and Ghrelin

These are two potent “hunger hormones” in your body that regulate appetite and energy balance within the body. Both leptin and ghrelin directly contrast one another.

Simply put, a drop in leptin signals for hunger while a drop in ghrelin would signal that you are satisfied or full, and vice versa.

As you progress further and further into your diet, leptin will continue to drop. This is what causes that intensifying hunger and drop in metabolic rate. Cheat meals and refeeds would theoretically combat this issue. But the caveat here is that we have to find the right balance. We have to eat just enough more to reaccelerate our fat loss, but not too much that we throw off our calorie balance and end up gaining fat. This is the trickiest part for most people.

Cheat Meals

This is the one that most people are familiar with. But notice a subtle detail here. I said MEALS, not DAYS. Trust me, no matter how far you are in your diet, you DO NOT NEED an entire day to break your plateau. That’s just ridiculous, and most often just an excuse to eat like a pig and not stay disciplined.

This method often doesn’t utilize calorie or macro tracking and is usually pre-planned as well. Depending on the macronutrient composition of the meal, it has the potential to raise leptin and provide psychological relief to the dieter.

However, the problem here lies in the fact that as cheat meals become increasingly popularized and endorsed (particularly in social media), the risk for developing eating disorders increases, such as binging episodes. As we continue to diet, we want our relationship with food to remain healthy. Remember, beyond the vanity of this endeavor, we are also doing this for the betterment of our health.

Plus, the use of the word “cheat” creates its own set of problems. This also has the potential to damage ones’ relationship with food, as the word “cheat” has a negative connotation and stigma attached to it. People have often referred to this type of meal as a “free meal” in order to remove that taboo.

Refeeds

This is where refeeds come into the picture.

Think of this strategy as the more balanced and planned out version of a cheat meal. Basically, it is an increase in one’s calories by only increasing carbs. Protein is often set to around 1 gram per pound of body weight, and fat is dropped anywhere between 25-50 grams per day to make room for more calories from carbs. Calories are increased to about 20-30% above the person’s calorie deficit.

Just note that these are ballpark figures and that there are no scientific studies out (yet!) that have determined a “best number” of macronutrients and calories to consume for a refeed. This requires constant experimentation and monitoring of one’s own physique and performance over time.

Now what’s the benefit of doing this over a flat-out cheat meal?

Well, you’ll increase leptin more so than cheat meals would. Carbs have been shown to increase leptin far more significantly than dietary fats do. In one study, leptin was increased by 28% after a carbohydrate overfeeding compared to fats which didn’t even increase leptin to a statistically significant level.

Plus, it’s more structured manner allows you to more easily track what is working and what isn’t. When you’re utilizing cheat meals, it’s not as easy to see what foods make you perform and look better, as you’re most likely not tracking them either.

But with refeeds, you’re able to modify and adjust the amount and type of carbs that you’re using, as fats and proteins remain constant. That’s one of the most important things to do when performing experiments, even on yourself; keep as many variables as constant as possible.

But It’s Not All Black-and-White Either…

As with anything in fitness and bodybuilding, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Those who prefer cheat meals may not have any psychological issues with food whatsoever and find that it works better for their particular physique and increases their motivation. That’s fine. You have to do what works for you.

But others may find that once they get off track one time, they develop that all-or-nothing mentality and begin to binge and use it as an excuse to fall off of their plan. Try both of them a couple of times and see which one works better for you.

How Often Should I Utilize These Strategies?

Depending on which one you decide to choose, frequency is going to differ.

If you go the cheat meal route, I’d stick to a more pre-planned route. I would pick a certain day of the week to use it (probably a weekend day) and use it as the last meal of the day. This reduces the chances of excessive binging later in the day and allows you to start fresh the next day.

If you’re prepping for a contest or photoshoot, I’d switch to the refeed strategy for the last 2-3 weeks, as you want the most control possible as you get closer to your deadline. But if you’re just dieting with no set deadline, then experiment and determine which frequency is best for you. The leaner you get (sub-10% body fat), the more often you’ll need to implement them.

Before I learned about refeeds…

If you go the refeed route, I’d start out with once a week after you’ve been in a deficit for about 2 months or so. You don’t really need it that much before this point, depending on how lean you start the diet. Just like with the cheat meal route, the leaner you are, the more often you’ll need to implement them. As you get to the 8-10% body fat range, you’ll probably need to do it 2x/week.

Final Thoughts

So again, you’ll really need to try these out on yourself in order to see which one works best for you. The scientific community is finally beginning to look at this in the bodybuilding and fitness community, so expect to see some interesting revelations in the industry relatively soon.

Do you use refeeds or cheat meals (or both?) If so, which one do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @zach.macdonald

Should You Still Eat “Healthy” During the Holidays?

In a matter of less than 2 weeks, we’ll be going to parties and gatherings that involve some tasty and interesting food options; eggnog (alcohol anyone?), ham, cookies, cakes, you name it. It’s there.

Now, since we’re all into fitness and such (I’m assuming that’s why you’re all here right?), it can be difficult to navigate through these times. We want to keep on progressing in the gym because we’ve worked so hard to get there, but at the same time, we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl” who makes everyone else feel bad by not indulging in the holiday goodies. So, what should you do?

Well, the simple answer to that question is…

It Depends…

The most annoying answer you’ve ever seen in your life, I’m sure. Usually comes without a valid or applicable explanation too, which makes it worse. But don’t worry, I’m Zach, and I explain things…thoroughly.  

What Are YOUR Goals?

This is probably the most important question when it comes to dietary success during the holidays. Why do you train? Why do you track your nutrition and watch what you’re eating?

Is it for:

  • Enhancing your physique?
  • Gaining strength?
  • Having an overall greater sense of well-being?
  • Impressing chicks? (nothing wrong with that)

There is no wrong answer here. Everybody has different reasons for training. It doesn’t matter why you do it. My goal here is to help you stay aligned with whatever goal it is that you have. 

Let’s go over a couple of the most common goals that fall into broader categories that will most likely be applicable for most of you. If I happen to miss any of you, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments or DM on social media!

Bulking Phase

Hell yeah. This is the holy grail of goals to have during the holidays, which many people do. Being in a caloric surplus to gain mass during the holidays is a simple feat. And don’t worry, one day of more extreme overfeeding of a less than ideal ratio of nutrients is not going to make any sort of significant impact on your long-term progress. 

In one study of 31 young (mid-twenties) and healthy (non-obese and not overweight) people, subjects were overfed 1,250 extra calories per day above their normal levels. That equals out to a 3,750 calorie surplus over the course of 3 days for these people (1). Most people during the holidays (even if they are bulking) don’t even get to this number. But yet, we have to be realistic, some do. 

Even still, this study showed us that even though health markers such as body weight and fasting glucose and insulin increased, there was no significant increase in peripheral insulin sensitivity (the failure of tissues to increase the release of glucose in response to the release of insulin) or any biomarkers that are associated with insulin resistance, such as angiopoietin-like 6, insulin-like growth factor 1, selenoprotein-P, and C-reactive protein. 

So no need to worry here. You’ll see a greater increase in weight (a lot of it from water/sodium retention, so don’t get too excited) which will go away after a few days of eating on your normal diet. Plus, you’ll most likely get a good training session the next day due to the even higher acute increase in calories. 

Cutting Phase

This is the tricky one. To be quite honest, this one all depends on your view point.

Now, if your goal is to lose around 5-20 lbs, that’s what I’d unofficially call a light or mild weight loss cycle. In this type of cut, you’re allowed to be a little more lenient, since you don’t have nearly as much to lose as somebody who is carrying a lot more body fat on them. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go hog-wild and stuff your face with sweets and treats until you vomit. 

I can only give you my recommendations and insights as to what I would do. I wouldn’t go all out if I were in a phase like this, but if you’re one of those people with the “all or nothing” mentality, then go for it. I admit it can be fun sometimes. As long as it doesn’t promote an unhealthy relationship with food, then yes, stuff that face of yours. You’ll be able to catch back up to your set point sooner than you might think (depending on how hard you go). But if you feel like it’s messing with you psychologically and causing you more stress than its worth, then you got to learn to cope healthily. We’ll get into that into a future article.

No matter how big your weight loss goal is and you still want some treats to eat for the holidays, this is the approach that I’d reccomend:

  • Intermittent Fasting: No, this is no holy grail diet or solution to all of your weight loss problems. However, it’s been shown for many to reduce appetite in people more so than regular calorie-restricted diets (2). Because of this, I’d recommend following a diet like this for a few days previous to a party or gathering you plan on attending. If you’d like to find out more on how to perform this kind of diet and find out more about the diet in general, please read my other article on intermittent fasting here: https://scholarlymuscle.com/2018/08/07/intermittent-fasting-is-it-really-the-weight-loss-miracle-its-advertised-to-be/
  • Whey Protein: It’s also been shown that whey protein, when taken consistently, can blunt both short and long-term hunger responses (3). I’d recommend taking it an hour or two before you head out to ensure that you’re not overeating during the event. 
  • Carbonated Beverages: Diet soda, sparkling water, whatever you’re into. It doesn’t take a scientific study to tell you that these types of beverages can fill you up and pretty quickly as a matter of fact. Just make sure you’re not adding a significant amount of calories to them such as through juice, alcohol, or other calorically-dense drinks. 
  • Variety: Get a little bit of everything. Anything that you see that you want to eat or drink, make yourself a sample platter of it. Do this in order to make you feel like you haven’t missed out on anything but also keep the portions modest, which can add up quickly particularly with typical holiday foods. 

Just Enjoy Yourself

Cliche statement alert. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance and moderation. The holiday season only comes once a year, so enjoy it to the extent that you want to. Don’t worry about what Joe Schmoe or Jane Doe is doing. Their goals are different. Their genetics are different. Their beliefs are different. 

This is all about you. Nobody else. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about eating a particular way; holiday season or otherwise. Your the one who’ll be receiving the results of your actions, not them. So just freakin enjoy yourself!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever else you celebrate!  

References

  1. Chen, M., Liu, B., Thompson, C. H., Wittert, G. A., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2016). Acute Overfeeding Does Not Alter Liver or Adipose Tissue-Derived Cytokines in Healthy Humans. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 69(3-4), 165-170. doi:10.1159/000452678
  2. Seimon, R. V., Roekenes, J. A., Zibellini, J., Zhu, B., Gibson, A. A., Hills, A. P., . . . Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology,418, 153-172. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2015.09.014
  3. Mollahosseini, M., Shab-Bidar, S., Rahimi, M. H., & Djafarian, K. (2017). Effect of whey protein supplementation on long and short term appetite: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN,20, 34-40. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2017.04.002

Research vs. “Bro Science”: Who Can You Really Trust in this Industry?

In an online space full of so-called “gurus” and online coaches, who can you really trust in this world? This doesn’t only apply to the fitness community either.

This is seen in nearly every niche. Whether in fitness, finance, marketing; the list goes on. There’s good, honorable individuals who truly want to help others for a living. And then there are others who want to prey on the vulnerable and misinformed in order to make a quick buck. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes it’s just pure ignorance. Whatever the reason, it needs to be put to stop.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have actual researchers with a formal education in some exercise science related topic. But just as with the “bro scientists”, you must think critically when evaluating what these researchers have to say as well.

Wait wait wait, you mean I can’t trust them either? No, that’s not what I’m saying either. There are many variables that influence my bold claim (see what I did there?). Let’s dive in!

Fitness Gurus & “Bro Science”

You see that guy or gal on Instagram with the physique you aspire after; rock hard abs, toned legs, small waist, broad shoulders. You get my point. They’re giving you some free content to look at like snippets of their workouts and what they eat in a day. They usually have a caption about why you should do the workout their doing or why you should take the supplement they take. Aha, we’ve found out how they’re getting paid.

Now listen, I’m not saying that wanting to make a living isn’t bad (like I do with this website), but it just makes me sad to see individuals that just getting into this scene get ripped off by people who claim to know what they’re talking about, but aren’t.

Just take a look at the literally thousands of supplement companies out there nowadays. You think all of them are adequately dosed with the highest quality ingredients and that they are looking out for your best interests. No. Of course not. There are very few and far in between. And these “gurus” and usually sponsored by said companies and receive commissions to sell there (usually bullshit) products to you.

A few other things to be weary about when looking at these fitness gurus:

  • They don’t have a formal education on a related topic
  • They don’t cite their references when making claims
  • They don’t hold any certifications related to health or fitness
  • If they’re selling something to you that’s too good to be true, it probably is

They don’t have a formal education on a related topic

Listen, you don’t NEED  a formal education in exercise science to understand the fundamentals and even some of the intricacies of exercise science. BUT, it certainly does help when you’re explaining the finer details, which this field most definitely requires.

A big thing many people miss is that it a formal education helps out a lot when it comes to interpreting the research in the field. Sure, anybody can access most of these articles through free databases online. But it takes a trained eye to spot out key variables in the study, such as:

  • Were the methods/procedures used appropriate for the topic?
  • How were the results analyzed and interpreted?
  • How can this be practically applied to the real world?

They don’t cite their references when making claims

Anybody can just type something and claim it as fact. But, you need solid evidence to backup your facts and claims.

This is where the scientific literature comes in. These must be properly cited in order to back up what you are saying. Because if not, then you’re in for world of trouble when people call you out on your bullshit.

Again, this is also where a formal education plays a vital role. Just like anybody can just type something, anybody can just cite something as well. This is even if the reference doesn’t even match what they’re saying. I’ve gone through some of these fitness blogs and looked at their references and proven this to myself (not going to cite these sources to avoid exploiting them).

You have to know how to interpret the data properly in order to know what exact implications can be drawn from it.

They don’t hold any certifications related to health or fitness

Now, this should be the next best thing to a formal education. In fact, it gives a person brownie points if they pair this with a formal education.

These would include things such as a personal trainer certification, a sports nutrition certification, exercise physiology certification, and the list goes on and on.

For example, a personal trainer certification gives an individual a basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology, as well as Sports Nutrition. Even with this, somebody can most definitely be more trustworthy than someone who just did their research on Google.

If they’re selling you something that’s too good to be true, then it probably is

Oh yes, the biggest culprit of them all. The oh so famous keto only burns fat diet craze is definitely included in this category.  But there are definitely other ones as well.

I’m going to lay a very hard truth on you, what actually works in this field isn’t exactly what I’d call “sexy”.  And by this I mean there’s never really just one variable to be blamed here. It’s hard to package it in a nice, flashy ebook.

For example, going back to keto, many people who are firm believers in this and demonize carbohydrates will put insulin to blame. The raising of insulin is the reason why you’re gaining body fat. This is a much too simplistic way of looking at it.  Now I’m not saying a keto diet is bad , far from it. It happens to work well for many people and that’s absolutely fantastic, but it’s not magic that’s making that happen, it’s often personal preference in terms of what foods they like to eat and what they can sustain as a diet long term.

Another example is when people tell you specifically how to train. This could include making very black and white statements such as “only lifting very heavy weights makes you build muscle and lifting light weights makes you tone”.  Again, much too simplistic for a topic so complex as exercise physiology.

So they’ll make this very strong claim, and then they’ll coincidentally provide you a product that fixes the problem they just addressed. Trust me, nothing in life is ever that simple. The plan you put in place must be calculated and planned by an expert.

Researchers

This is where it gets real interesting.

The research field is ever-expanding to address a wide variety of topics. This is amazing as it helps us to address the many gaps we have in our knowledge about this broad field.  However, just like with our fitness influencers and gurus, there are good and bad researchers and studies.

Lets use an example that’s become very infamous in the exercise science research realm.  The one I’m talking about here is Dr. Jacob Wilson’s study about the supplement HMB. This has received a lot of controversy due to its claims of the results being “better than steroids”, with subjects gaining over 16 pounds of lean body mass over the course of 12 weeks just by taking this supplement. Ironically, he just released a video defending his study, if you would like to watch it the video is below.

You also have to take into consideration something called inter-individual variability. Basically, what this entails is that there are many things that make individuals different from one another; including genetics, age, sex, and our body’s physiological responses to certain stimuli, such as particular nutritional protocols, supplements, and drugs.  Because of this, research can only do so much to standardize these variables

Also, there’s also something that we call in the scientific literature external validity. This refers to how the results of the study can be applied to the real world. This correlates with something called internal validity, which is basically how effective the protocols  are being used to test what is being tested.  The higher the internal validity, the lower the external validity most of the time and vice versa.

Looking at the research is a great way to help us establish the best direction in which to go or where to turn. But also, one shouldn’t take it too literally either.  As the saying goes, what works best for one person may not work well for the other. Utilize the literature for the fundamentals, but also use critical thinking as well to be your own researcher. Essentially, be your own guinea pig. Apply what’s in the research and see if it actually works for you.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, clear answers are very difficult to come by these days. It’s hard to know who exactly to trust. Invest in the content of those we have never let you down. Use that intuition of yours to determine what this person’s goal is. Overtime, you can see if they’re in it just for the money, or if they’re really interested in making a difference in your life.

That even includes myself. I can say as much as I want that I care about your best interest, but until I prove that to you (which is what I hope I’ve done) then you really have no idea what my intentions are.

Bottom line; if you mostly see the selling of products rather than the distribution of information at the forefront of this person’s content, then I think you know what their motive is.

Wanna Grow But Can’t Fit In All That Food? Check Out These 3 Weight-Gaining Methods

It’s a common problem amongst those “cursed” with a fast metabolism (myself included). Ectomorphs, forever-skinnies (I just made that up now), whatever you want to call them. You really want to build muscle, but unfortunately, it’s just too difficult to eat all that food required for you to gain weight. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Well, you could do it the old fashioned way and just suck it up. Eat all the food you need to and lie in bed at night feeling like you just ate a boulder along with feeling like it’s gonna come back up any second now. But c’mon now, there’s gotta be an easier way, right?

The “GOMAD” Diet

Those of you who have been into lifting may have heard of this before. “GOMAD” stands for “Gallon Of Milk A Day”. It’s just like it sounds, you drink 1 whole gallon of milk per day, split up amongst various meals throughout your day. Doesn’t sound too expensive either, right?

milk

Well, let’s think about it for a second. A significant amount of people are lactose intolerant in the United States alone, about 30-50 millionand even more throughout the Eastern world, as Western countries consume much more dairy than those on the Eastern side of this planet [1].

And secondly, that just sounds disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I love myself a good glass of milk. But even for somebody who isn’t lactose intolerant, too much milk in one day and I’ll be sittin in that good ole’ water closet for an hour at least.

Lastly, it’s not the “leanest” way to gain size either. Given that one is drinking whole milk during this diet, as it is the most dense (8g of fat, 12g of carbs, 8g of protein, and 150 calories in a 1 cup serving) type of milk there is. Simply multiply these numbers by 16 (1 gallon), and you’re already at 128g of fat, 192g of carbs, and 128g of protein without adding in your other food for the day. Now this is great for hitting your protein targets for the day, however, having all that fat in your system during the day will certainly slow down digestion to a great degree, affecting your workout performance for sure if you work out later in the day.

However, if you like milk, are on a tight budget, and don’t mind using this $3 per day method, then go for it. There’s nothing really “unhealthy” about milk, given that you don’t do this for a long period of time, over a month long or so [2]. After that point, your gastrointestinal tract may take a turn for the worst, but individual results do vary.

Apetamin

What the hell is apetamin? Well, it’s actually an antihistamine (for allergies symptoms such as sore throat and itchy/watery eyes). So why would you use it to gain weight? It contains an ingredient called cyproheptadine, which produces a side effect of increased hunger. Because of this, it is often used in the treatment of anorexia and malnutrition [3]. A simple Google search will show many people’s stories (particularly women) who have gained “healthy” weight by just using this “weight gain syrup.” One of the most common plans using this product being the “Slim Thick Plan”.

apetamin

In a 2016 cross-sectional study (meaning that the subjects were observed/answered questions at only one particular point in time, i.e. questionnaires, etc.) that observed a Kinshasa population (a society near the Congo River in Africa), a whopping 72.9% of them (364 out of 499 participants) had used apetamin as an appetite stimulant [4]. This is a surprising amount due to the fact that this purpose of use is considered “off-label”, therefore, unethical and unlawful usage.  When used in access, it can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and sudden cardiac arrest.

Weight Gainer Supplements

These types of supplements have become very popular throughout the years. High in carbs and protein while containing good amounts of “healthy fats:, what’s not to love?

Well, unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal, and weight gainer supplements are no different. For example, let’s look at one of the most popular weight gainer supplements on the market; Serious Mass by Optimum Nutrition.

Serious mass

Now, on the surface, it looks decent; high amount of protein from common sources (50g from whey and egg proteins, among others, and fats coming from MCT’s (Medium Chain Triglycerides), which have the ability to positively influence fat mass [5].

However, the issue here is that most of the carbs come from something called Maltodextrin, which simply put, is a type of fast-digesting sugar. Now, as we all know, we need high-quality nutrients in order to see the body adaptations that we want to (decreased body fat and increased muscle mass), right? Well, having most of your carbs coming from sugar really isn’t the best route to take, now is it? Not that sugar is necessarily “good or “bad” as the media makes it out to be, [6,7]it’s just that it is very easy to over-consume it due to its low satiety rating (ability of a food to make you full) and it often takes people away from the consumption of essential nutrients and minerals such as fiber, particular B-vitamins, and iron, just to name a few. May companies add this as an ingredient as it is a very cheap filler.

Now, not all of these supplements are bad. Let’s look at another brand of weight gainer supplement:

 

This supplement is called Mass Tech by the popular sports nutrition company Muscletech. Now, the ingredient profile in this supplement is of higher quality, as we take a look at what they call the “Multi-Phase Carb Complex”. It does contain a notable amount of sugars to start, but gets much of its carbohydrates from oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and other high-quality carb sources.

It’s not that all of these supplements are simply “good” or “bad”, just as with sugar, it is less of a black-and-white answer. Some are just of a higher quality than others. People are better off simply consuming whole foods for their caloric needs. However it’s more convenient to supplement the calories that one needs to gain weight, as getting all of them through whole foods is quite difficult. I mean, that the purpose of supplements. To SUPPLEMENT, not REPLACE, an adequate diet.

Conclusion

Now the methods I have presented here are few of many methods out there that are available to you. I don’t endorse any of the companies presented or recommend the off-label use of Apetamin. However, the choice is yours to make. None of these methods are perfect, but they do work. I’ve been through this predicament before on the weight gain journey, in fact, I still am. So I know what it feels like. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments or DM. Thanks 🙂

References

  1. Lang, S. S. (n.d.). Lactose intolerance seems linked to ancestral struggles with harsh climate and cattle diseases, Cornell study finds | Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved from http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/06/lactose-intolerance-linked-ancestral-struggles-climate-diseases
  2. P., C., & P. (2016, December 08). Daily milk consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease and stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational cohort studies. Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-3889-9
  3. Apetamin is a New Trend in Unapproved Drugs. (2018, July 27). Retrieved from https://www.legitscript.com/blog/2018/05/apetamin-unapproved-drug/
  4. Lulebo, A. M., Bavuidibo, C. D., Mafuta, E. M., Ndelo, J. D., Mputu, L. C., Kabundji, D. M., & Mutombo, P. B. (2016). The misuse of Cyproheptadine: A non-communicable disease risk behaviour in Kinshasa population, Democratic Republic of Congo. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 11(1). doi:10.1186/s13011-016-0051-8
  5. Marten, B., Pfeuffer, M., & Schrezenmeir, J. (2006). Medium Chain Triglycerides. International Dairy Journal, 16(11), 1374-1382. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2006.06.015′
  6. Saris, W. H., Astrup, A., Prentice, A. M., Zunft, H. J., Formiguera, X., Verboeket-van de Venne, W. P. H. G., … & Vasilaras, T. H. (2000). Randomized controlled trial of changes in dietary carbohydrate/fat ratio and simple vs complex carbohydrates on body weight and blood lipids: the CARMEN study. International Journal of Obesity, 24(10), 1310-1318.
  7. Surwit, R. S., Feinglos, M. N., McCaskill, C. C., Clay, S. L., Babyak, M. A., Brownlow, B. S., … & Lin, P. H. (1997). Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(4), 908-915.

Intermittent Fasting: Is It Really The Weight Loss Miracle It’s Advertised To Be?

I’m sure you’ve heard all about Intermittent Fasting and all its touted benefits by weight loss “gurus” and experts” such as:

  • Faster weight loss
  • More energy
  • Less hunger
  • And more

Intermittent-Fasting-to-Get-Ripped-1024x538
Oh wow, who knew the only way to get ripped is not eating for 16-20 hours a day? 😉

However, are all of these claims really even true? Is there actually any scientific evidence that proves these claims?

Well, let’s not waste any time here.

Intermittent-fasting
Aha Zach, I see what ya did there

What is Intermittent Fasting Anyway?

Well before we figure out if it works, we have to know a little bit about it. There are many versions of fasting out there, but the “intermittent” part of fasting, meaning occurring at regular intervals, is the most common form of fasting in the fitness realm, so that’s where we will focus our attention. This includes eating all of your meals within a 4-8 hour “feeding window” and fasting for the remainder of the day (Chaix et al. 2014).

The theory for this type of diet is that, with calories equated (equal to another group), it is more effective at fat loss and muscle mass maintenance/growth when compared to a standard calorie-restricted diet. However, the answer is not so black-and-white.

Adherence

There’s no point to a diet if you can’t stick to it. In the scientific literature, we call this “adherence” or “compliance”.

In a 2016 study, subjects that were part of a fasting group ate less total calories than the traditional diet group over an 8 week time period. A questionnaire was given to participants of the fasting group after the conclusion of the study. The majority of participants claimed that the only difficulties that they had with adherence was during the weekend due to differences in one’s schedule and the social opportunities that presented themselves (Tinsley et al. 2016).

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This may look confusing, but all this table tells us is that the fasting group (RT-TRF) ate less total calories than the traditional diet group (RT-ND) across both calories and all macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats). The ± symbol simply means how much the totals differentiated from the average in both directions (positive and negative). The p-values and effect sizes are simply thresholds (has to be below .05) that need to be reached in order to reach statistical significance (meaning that the results shown actually show a change). So in this scenario, there was only a difference in the results BETWEEN GROUPS, not due to the duration of the study or interactions between the groups. However, the details of this are outside the scope of this article. However, if you would like to know more about it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments!

In a study concerning obese subjects, individuals became used to the fasting protocol in as little as 2 weeks (Johnstone, 2015). This used a fasting every other day approach, which is even more difficult to follow for most people. This was measured every fasting day by asking the subjects about their changes in perceived hunger, satisfaction with the diet, and satiety (feeling of fullness). The conclusion was reached after a majority of the subjects reported very little hunger on the fasting days. The data also illustrates that the subjects became increasingly satisfied with their diets after 4 full weeks. The only parameter to not increase significantly was the feeling of fullness; however, for obese subjects undergoing a caloric deficit, this is common.

Now, even though the focus here is primarily on athletic populations, the fact that significant amounts of adherence are seen in the obese is a great indicator for athletes to have success with this type of diet. This is because athletes are stereo-typically more determined than most populations, especially the obese, as it pertains to achieving their physical fitness goals. If obese subjects are able to adhere to a diet in as short of a time as 2 weeks, than the possibilities of success with this same type of diet for athletes looks positive.

Effects on Testosterone and Other Anabolic Growth Factors

One primary concern about beginning a fasting plan (particularly for men) is the effect fasting has on ones’ anabolic hormonal levels. Moro et al. (again, “et al.” means that others were included in the research besides Moro himself) discovered that after 8 weeks of fasting, the growth factors of insulin, IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1), and testosterone decreased. However, no negative changes in body composition or muscular strength were detected when compared to the traditional calorie restriction group, which is a good sign. And this trend is seen across the board among various studies as well.

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Here’s some more practice reading those fancy shmansy tables. IF represents intermittent fasting and ND represents the traditional diet. Pre and post simply means before the study started and after the study concluded respectively. All the other complex numbers you see are not a cause for concern.

But Do You ACTUALLY Burn More Fat When Fasting?

A 2011 article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal describes the examination of stored body fat burning only during an exercise session itself as extremely shortsighted (Schoenfeld, 2011). The body is ever-changing and it continually adjusts its energy utilization due to a host of factors such as hormonal secretions, enzyme activity, etc. Ultimately, if one burns more carbohydrate during training, than fat will be utilized more greatly during the post-exercise period, and vice versa.

So unfortunately, the answer is no. There is simply not enough evidence out there to make a decisive answer to this question. However, the research shows that many people can better stick to this diet as compared to a traditional calorie-restricted diet. Therefore, it’s up to the person, if you can better stick to this diet compared to any other, then yes, this diet will help you burn more fat FOR YOU, but probably not for somebody else. Give it a shot, if you don’t like it, that’s okay, there’s definitely another diet out there for you. But as for the physiology behind it, no, there is nothing magical about it.

References

  1. Chaix, A. Zarrinpar, P. Miu, S. Panda (2014). Time-restricted feeding is a preventative and therapeutic intervention against diverse nutritional challenges. Cell Metabolism, 20, pp. 991-1005
  2. Johnstone, A. (2014). Fasting for weight loss: An effective strategy or latest dieting trend? International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), 727-733. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.214
  3. Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 23-25. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31820396ec
  4. Tinsley, G. M., Forsse, J. S., Butler, N. K., Paoli, A., Bane, A. A., Bounty, P. M., . . . Grandjean, P. W. (2016). Time-restricted feeding in young men performing resistance training: A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Sport Science, 17(2), 200-207. doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1223173