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Muscle for life

Why “Clean Eating” Isn’t the Key to Weight Loss or Muscle Growth

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Why “Clean Eating” Isn’t the Key to Weight Loss or Muscle Growth

These days, “clean eating” is nearly synonymous with being lean, muscular, and healthy. It shouldn’t be though, and here’s why…

 

The cult of “clean eating” is more popular than ever these days.

While I’m all for eating nutritious (“clean”) foods for the purposes of supplying our bodies with vitamins and minerals, eating nothing but these foods guarantees nothing in the way of building muscle or losing fat.

You can be the cleanest eater in the world and still be weak and skinny fat

Why?

Because when it comes to body composition (how much muscle and body fat you have), how much you eat is more important than what.

You see, fat loss boils down to feeding your body less energy (via food) than it burns every day. We measure both the energy burned and eaten in calories or kilocalories.

When you feed your body fewer calories than it burns, you are creating what is known as a “calorie deficit.” Your body must get energy from somewhere, though, and so it turns to its fat stores. When you keep your body in a calorie deficit over time, total fat mass decreases. And maintaining a daily or weekly calorie deficit is the only way to do this.

The “clean eating” kicker is that “clean” calories count just as much as “dirty” calories when it comes to gaining or losing fat. 

And what about when you’re focusing on building muscle? Many people are surprised to learn that total calorie intake affects your body’s ability to build muscle just as much as its ability to reduce body fat percentage.

This biological factor known as “energy balance” is the key.

Think of energy balance like your body’s energy checking account. A negative balance is a situation where your body is burning more energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the red as far as energy goes). A positive balance, on the other hand, is a situation where your body is burning less energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the black).

Now, as you already know, when a negative energy balance is sustained over time, total fat mass decreases. But this comes at a price: it also impairs the body’s ability to synthesize muscle proteins.

What is means is when you’re dieting to lose fat, your body simply can’t build muscle efficiently. This is why it’s commonly accepted that you can’t build muscle and lose fat, which is generally true but not always the case.

So, what this means is that when you want to maximize muscle growth, you must ensure you’re not in a calorie deficit

Instead, you must ensure that your body is in a slight calorie surplus, or a positive energy balance.

What that means in terms of actual numbers varies from person to person. Some people’s metabolisms are extremely fast and they require vast numbers of calories every day just to gain a pound per week (which is what you want to see when you’re bulking properly), whereas others don’t require nearly as many.

Finding your body’s optimal calorie intake for maximum muscle growth will require a bit of trial and error, but you can start here:

  • Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
  • Eat 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight
  • Eat 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight

Take those numbers and turn them into a simple meal plan of foods you like to eat, follow it every day, and see how your body responds.

Meal frequency is (basically) irrelevant.

clean eating and weight loss

You’ve undoubtedly heard that you need to eat 5 to 7 small meals per day to lose fat effectively. You’ve probably heard that it speeds up your metabolism and keeps hunger at bay.

Well, these claims seem to make sense at first.

Your metabolism does speed up when you eat because it has to work to digest the food and absorb the nutrients. Therefore, if you eat every few hours, your metabolic rate will be elevated all day, right? And what better way to avoid hunger than by eating throughout the entire day?

Well, like many of the myths that seem to make sense on paper, they just don’t pan out in clinical research. Let’s first address how eating food affects the metabolism.

The energy that your body must expend to digest and process proteins, carbohydrates, and fats is known as the thermic effect of food. How much of a boost your metabolism gets depends on how much food you eat. Small meals result in small increases in energy expenditure whereas larger meals result in larger increases.

This basic physiology is all well and good, but what does it mean in terms of actual weight loss? Does eating more frequently actually help you lose more weight by increasing daily energy expenditure or not?

Well, in an extensive review of literature, scientists at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research looked at scores of studies comparing the thermic effect of food in a wide variety of eating patterns, ranging from 1-17 meals per day. In terms of 24-hour energy expenditure, they found no difference between nibbling and gorging. Small meals caused small, short metabolic boosts, and large meals caused larger, longer boosts, and by the end of each day, they balanced out in terms of total calories burned.

We can also look to a weight loss study conducted by the University of Ontario, which split into two dietary groups: 3 meals per day and 3 meals plus 3 snacks per day, with both in a caloric restriction for weight loss. After 8 weeks, 16 participants completed the study and researchers found no significant difference in average weight loss, fat loss, and muscle loss.

The bottom line is that increasing or decreasing meal frequency can help with dietary compliance, but it doesn’t increase or decrease total daily expenditure and thus fat loss.

Appetite control is another aspect of dieting where, according to various “gurus,” more frequent eating beats less frequent feeding. The truth is that this claim isn’t downright false—it’s just not a certainty.

A study conducted by the University of Missouri with 27 overweight/obese men found that after 12 weeks of dieting to lose weight, increasing protein intake improved appetite control, but meal frequency (3 vs. 6 meals per day) had no effect.

The University of Kansas investigated the effects of meal frequency and protein intake on perceived appetite, satiety, and hormonal responses in overweight/obese men. They found that higher protein intake led to greater feelings of fullness, and that 6 meals actually resulted in lower daily fullness than 3 meals.

Don’t think that 3 meals per day is the key, though. There are other studies wherein people felt fuller eating 5 or 6 meals per day than 3 meals, which made it easier for them to stick to their diets.

The bottom line is the appetite is a multi-faceted phenomenon, affected by both physical and psychological factors, and people can respond differently to more or less frequent eating. 

So, how many meals should you be eating per day, then?

Well, our hunger patterns are established by our regular meal patterns, so it’s usually easiest to work around this, not against it.

That said, I recommend that you start by eating several small meals per day, with a serving of protein in each. In my experience, most people do best with this approach. They like the feeling of being able to eat every few hours and being able to eat different types of foods throughout the day.

Don’t think of that as a prescription, though. If you prefer fewer, larger meals, then eat that way. So long as your daily numbers are correct, you can’t go wrong.

As the cliché goes, the best dietary protocol is the one you’ll stick to, and reducing psychological stress goes far in increasing diet compliance and thus overall effectiveness. 

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Eat enough protein to build and preserve muscle.

clean eating weight loss diet

Before I get into how much protein is enough, I’d like to review some basics to ensure we’re on the same page.

First, let’s talk about what a protein actually is. A protein is a molecule comprised of substances known as amino acids. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of proteins–they’re used to build protein molecules up, and protein molecules can break down into them.

There are many different types of proteins in the human body, and they perform all kinds of functions ranging from the formation of tissues, hair, and nails, to facilitating biochemical reactions, to cell signaling (hormones are proteins), and more.

Muscles are comprised of “muscle proteins,” and in order to build muscle tissue, the body requires a number of amino acids. The body is able to synthesize some of these amino acids, but others it must get from food (and these are known as “essential” amino acids).

It gets these amino acids from the protein content found in food. When you eat food with protein, your body breaks it down into a pool of amino acids, which it can then use to build muscle tissue (among other things).

If your diet contains too little protein, your body can become deficient in these essential amino acids and thus its ability to build and repair muscle tissue becomes impaired.

This is true whether you exercise or not. The basic processes whereby cells die and are replaced require these essential amino acids.

Regular exercise increases your body’s need for essential amino acids and thus protein. This is especially true if you’re lifting weights, because your body must repair the damage you’re causing to muscle fibers. This is why research has shown that athletes need to eat a high-protein diet to maximize performance.

To determine how much protein we need to maximize muscle growth, let’s look more at the research done with athletes.

Let’s start with athletic research conducted by scientists at McMaster University. They found that a protein intake of 1.3 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (.6 to .8 grams per pound of body weight) is adequate for stimulating maximal protein synthesis.

They noted, however, that protein requirements are higher in the case of frequent, intense training (which applies to anyone lifting heavy weights 4 to 6 times per week).

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario came to the same conclusion: 1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight seems to be enough for athletes, but higher amounts can be beneficial depending on other factors such as total energy intake, carbohydrate availability, exercise intensity, duration and type, dietary protein quality, training history, gender, age, timing of nutrient intake, and more.

As you can see, athletes should meet a “bare minimum” intake of 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, but there are times where more is better.

This actually agrees with old school bodybuilding advice that has been kicking around for decades now.

Specifically, the standard protein recommendation is about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and higher levels of intake (1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight) are often recommended when restricting calories for fat loss purposes

In my books and articles, I recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight when bulking and maintaining, and 1.2 grams of protein per pound when cutting. (In the case of obesity, I recommend less—around .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.)

And if 1.2 grams of protein per pound sounds excessive to you, consider the findings of a recent review of the matter conducted by researchers at AUT University. Here’s a quote from the paper:

“Protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of FFM [1 – 1.4 grams per pound of fat free mass] scaled upwards with severity of caloric restriction and leanness.”

That is, when you’re weightlifting regularly and restricting calories, you should be eating anywhere from 1 to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of fat-free mass (which is everything in your body that isn’t fat), and if your calorie deficit is large (which isn’t advisable, by the way) or you’re already lean, you should eat more.

This is exactly in line with what I’ve seen in my own body and the hundreds of people I’ve worked with.

Maintaining an optimal calorie deficit of about 20% (you eat 80% of the calories your body burns every day) while also preserving strength and muscle requires quite a bit of protein every day. And as you get leaner, this becomes even more important.

Exact needs are hard to quantify, so I err on the side of being a little high. It’s always served me and my readers well, though—we lose little-to-no muscle or strength when cutting, and that’s partially due to a high protein intake.

Oh and last but not least, if you’re worried that eating high levels of protein is bad for your kidneys, don’t worry, this myth has been conclusively debunked.

Carbohydrates don’t make you fat—they help you build muscle.

clean eating basics

The anti-carb hysteria is reaching a frenzied pitch these days, but it’s completely unfounded.

Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy. They don’t make you fat or unhealthy. In fact, carbohydrates are vitally important for building muscle and can even be useful when dieting for fat loss.

When you eat carbohydrates, one of the substances your body breaks them down into is known as glycogen. This is a form of potential energy that is stored primarily in the liver and muscles.

When you lift weights, you rapidly drain your muscles’ glycogen stores, and when you eat carbohydrates, you replenish these stores. By doing this and keeping your muscles “full” of glycogen, you improve performance and reduce exercise-induced muscle breakdown.

Another benefit of eating carbohydrates is the stimulation of the production of insulin, which is a hormone released by the pancreas that shuttles nutrients from your blood into your cells. What does this have to do with building muscle?

Well, insulin doesn’t directly induce protein synthesis like amino acids do, but it does have anti-catabolic properties. What that means is when insulin levels are elevated, the rate at which muscle proteins are broken down decreases. This, in turn, creates a more anabolic environment in which muscles can grow larger quicker.

That sounds good in theory, right? But does it pan in out clinical research? Yes, it does. There are several studies that conclusively show that high-carbohydrate diets are superior to low-carbohydrate varieties for building muscle and strength.

Researchers at Ball State University found that low muscle glycogen levels (which is inevitable with low-carbohydrate dieting) impair post-workout cell signaling related to muscle growth.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that when combined with daily exercise, a low-carbohydrate diet increased resting cortisol levels and decreased free testosterone levels. (Cortisol, by the way, is a hormone that breaks tissues, including muscle, down. In terms of maximizing muscle growth, you want low resting cortisol levels and high free testosterone levels.)

These studies help explain the findings of other research on low-carbohydrate dieting.

For example, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Rhode Island looked at how low- and high-carbohydrate intakes affected exercise-induced muscle damage, strength recovery, and whole body protein metabolism after a strenuous workout.

The result was the subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet (which wasn’t all that low, actually—about 226 grams per day, versus 353 grams per day for the high-carbohydrate group) lost more strength, recovered slower, and showed lower levels of protein synthesis.

In this study, researchers at McMaster University compared high- and low-carbohydrate dieting with subjects performing daily leg workouts. They found that those on the low-carbohydrate diet experienced higher rates of protein breakdown and lower rates of protein synthesis, resulting in less overall muscle growth than their higher-carbohydrate counterparts.

All this is why I never drop my carbohydrate intake lower than about .8 grams per pound of body weight when cutting (and yes I get to 6% body fat eating this many carbs per day), and I’ll go as high as 2 to 2.5 grams per pound when bulking.

Dietary fat is necessary, but high-fat diets don’t deserve all the attention they’re getting.

tips for eating clean

Remember when low-fat dieting was all the rage? When fat-free products flooded the supermarkets and “gurus” used to tell us that dietary fats were the reason why people are fat?

Well, that pendulum has swung hard in the other direction. Now we’re told that carbohydrates are the real enemy and that we should be eating copious amounts of dietary fat every day if we want to be healthy, lean, and strong.

What gives?

Well, the truth is dietary fats play a vital role in the body. They’re used in processes related to cell maintenance, hormone production, insulin sensitivity, and more. If fat intake is too low, these functions can become compromised, which is why the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults should get 20 to 35% of their daily calories from dietary fat.

That said, those percentages were worked out for the average sedentary person, who often eats quite a bit less than someone that exercises regularly.

For example, I weigh about 190 pounds, and if I were the average, sedentary type, my body would burn about 2,000 calories per day (which is what I would be advised to eat so as to not gain or lose weight). Based on that, the IoM’s research says my body would need 45 to 80 grams of fat per day. That makes sense.

But I exercise 6 days per week and have quite a bit of muscle. My body burns about 3,000 calories per day, and if we were to blindly apply the IoM’s research to that number, my recommended fat intake would skyrocket to 65 to 115 grams per day. But does my body really need that much more dietary fat simply because I’m muscular and exercise regularly?

No, it doesn’t.

The bottom line is your body only needs so many grams of fats per day, and based on the research I’ve seen, if you exercise regularly, dietary fat can comprise 20 – 35% of your basal metabolic rate (measured in calories) and you’ll be fine.

Calculating this way, instead of based on your actual calorie intake, is more in line with the IoM’s research.

So, with that under our belt, let’s now look at high-fat diets, which are diets that have you getting 30% or more of your daily calories from dietary fat.

Marketers are jumping all over high-fat dieting at the moment, and one of the big alleged benefits is related to anabolic hormones. The claim is that a high-fat diet will increase testosterone levels and thus help you build muscle and strength.

As with most hormone-related claims, that’s not the whole story.

Yes, it’s well known that switching from a low-fat to a high-fat diet can increase free testosterone levels…but not by much. Not nearly enough to help you build more muscle.

For example, one study showed that men getting 41% of daily calories from fat had 13% more free testosterone than man getting just 18% of daily calories from fat. The findings were similar to those of another study conducted a decade earlier.

While that sounds nice, there’s a problem: small fluctuations in free testosterone, up or down, don’t help or hinder muscle growth. This isn’t just theory—it’s been demonstrated in clinical research.

A study conducted by McMaster University with young, resistance trained men had them lift weights 5 times per week for 12 weeks and follow a normal, high-protein diet. The primary finding of the study was that the exercise-induced spikes in anabolic hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1, which all remained within physiological normal ranges, had no effect on overall muscle growth and strength gains.

All subjects built muscle and strength, but the natural variations in anabolic hormone levels had no effects.

Research conducted by Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science also lends insight. Researchers administered varying levels of anabolic steroids and a drug to inhibit natural testosterone production to 61 young, healthy men for 20 weeks, and tested their leg strength and power on the Leg Press machine.

What researchers found was that muscle growth wasn’t significantly affected until testosterone levels moved below or above the physiological normal range, which is between 300-1,000 ng/dl.

In terms of total lean mass, subjects on the low end of that range weren’t far behind subjects on the high end. A significant increase in muscle growth wasn’t seen until testosterone levels surpassed the top of “normal” by about 20 to 30% (until they reached the 1,200 to 1,300 ng/dl range).

So, with all that considered, let’s now turn our attention back to high-fat dieting, and particular to gains versus benefits.

When you increase fat intake to 30%+ of your daily calories, you ultimately have to decrease carbohydrate intake to balance your total calorie intake (to make room for all the fat). And you have to reduce it quite a bit because, as you probably know, a gram of fat contains over double the calories of a gram of carbohydrate.

For example, if you’re eating 2,500 calories per day with 30% of calories from protein, 50% from carbohydrate, and 20% from fat, that looks like this (approximately):

  • 190 grams of protein
  • 310 grams of carbohydrate
  • 55 grams of fat

If you switched to 30% of calories from protein, 40% from fat, and 30% from carbohydrate, it would look like this:

  • 190 grams of protein
  • 190 grams of carbohydrate
  • 110 grams of fat

Based on what we talked about in the section on carbohydrate intake, you probably already know where I’m going here.

By reducing carbohydrate intake this much, you will be impairing your performance in the gym as well as your body’s ability to build muscle.

And what are you gaining by adding the fats? Nothing but an insignificant increase in testosterone levels, which will have no direct benefit in terms of building muscle.

It’s a double-whammy of fail, and it can be particularly troublesome when you’re dieting to lose weight, because, as you know, this primes your body for muscle loss.

Clean Eating is Important, But Isn’t Everything

healthiest way to eat

Don’t mistake this article as me railing against eating healthy foods. I’m not a fan of the people trying to prove that you can “eat junk and get shredded”–long-term health matters more than getting super lean while eating boxes of Pop Tarts every week.

So yes, the majority of your daily calories should come from nutritious, healthy foods, but there’s much more that goes into proper meal planning for muscle growth or weight loss.

 

What are your thoughts on clean eating? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Caleb Hamman

    Mike, just wanted to say great job synthesizing so much of your material here in this article. Great of you to give solid information like this with no gimmicks or promotion of your own “secret formula” or proprietary bullshit.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Caleb!

  • Kevin

    Best article yet.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

  • James

    Best article to date mike! I completely agree with a flexible dieting approach- don’t get me wrong I eat the majority of my food from nutritious sources but do like a treat from time to time. The problem is people are so misinformed and think they only get ripped eating ‘clean’. Also the ‘clean’ eaters will have a cheat day with over 3000 calories once a week. Surely it’s a more sensible idea to have a small treat each day and fit them into your macros. It keeps me sane anyway! Haha
    Anyway, quick question – I start my cut in 4 weeks (your meal plan). Do you think I should reduce my workout volume? Currently doing 9 sets per body part apart from arms like you suggest in bls. Do you think strength will suffer with this volume or keep it as it is?
    Many thanks in advance. James

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks James!

      You’re totally right. I also include little treats. My current fave is a few squares of chocolate for dessert. 🙂

      Nope, the volume is totally fine for cutting.

      • James

        Ok cool I’ll stick to the volume. One last question, would you recommend a refeed day once a week on my cut?

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah it gets more important as you get leaner

  • Cary

    Great article Mike. I always look forward to your posts since they are backed by actual science, not “BroScience”. I have been following the program now for about a year and can definitively say that there is a huge change in my whole outlook on life, not just on my physical appearance. I have a quick question though. Throughout your book and the article you talk about grams of macro nutrients per pound bodyweight, but in one sentence in particular you specify that it should be grams of protein per pound lean body mass. Is this how all macro nutrients requirements should be calculated or should overall mass, fat included, be used?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’mr eally glad to hear it!

      I like to calculate macros based on body weight because it’s simpler and you can always adjust based on how your body responds.

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  • Donald

    Evolutionarily, it makes sense that as your daily calorie consumption decreases, your body responds by slowing your metabolism down and holding on to your fat stores. What is the physiological response that cardio and weightlifting have on the metabolism? Specifically, I have heard that each of these can increase the metabolism but I haven’t heard a clear explanation as to any hormone signals or general body responses to cardio and/or weightlifting by the body in terms of metabolism speed. Thanks

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  • Nick

    Hi Mike,

    Great article, thanks.

    Regarding this statement: The “clean eating” kicker is that “clean” calories count just as much as “dirty” calories when it comes to gaining or losing fat.

    It seems you are saying that all calories are the same and what you put in goes out (clean or dirty) – However, surely this is only true if the body gets what it’s designed to get and can process it effectively.

    With too many carbs it’s like putting diesel into a petrol car. So even though a single calorie, whether it be from fat, carbs or protein, is still just “one calorie,” your body doesn’t deal with them in the same way and so some may contribute more to weight gain/weight loss/muscle gain/loss than others?
    Would be interesting to know your thoughts.
    Thanks,

  • Vince

    Great article Mike. Thanks for all of the helpful info. Quick question for you – does your body automatically burn fat stores first when it is in a calorie defecit and then move on to muscle? I want to lose about 2% bodyfat, but I worry about cutting calories because I don’t want to lose muscle also.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yes it burns fat while in a deficit and while SOME muscle loss is normal, you can mitigate it with proper training, protein intake, and deficit size (small/moderate).

      • Vince

        Do you recommend modifying your training while in a calorie defecit? Do you alter the amount of weight or reps that you do compared to when you are in a bulking phase? Thanks Mike!

        • Michael Matthews

          Nope, I keep lifting heavy and try to progress. I usually can for the first 3 weeks or so and then my strength stalls.

  • Pieter

    Hey Mike! This does make sense and thanks for the article. I have a problem though in that high protein foods also tend to be high in fat. This quickly becomes a problem if your FFM-split according to the 1:2:0.3 ratio for P,C & F is supposed to be 27%P, 54%C and 18%F. What would you recommend as high protein/low fat options?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Pieter! I like lean proteins like chicken, lean ground turkey, lean ground beef, low-fat dairy, and egg whites.

  • Alex Gear

    Hi Mike. I have been cutting now for 12 weeks and have lost about 12lbs. I am 6″ and currently at 84kg (185lbs) and I lift 4 times a week, and have an active job. My nutrition mentor gave me the macro’s of :

    P 200
    C 220
    F 80

    or

    P 200
    C 175
    F 100

    I started off on the top numbers and when I hit a plateau I switched to the higher fat option. So I swapped my breakfast of porridge and mixed berries to a meat and nut breakfast etc..
    Would you say that I would be better off with the higher carb lower fat option? also what do you think of my numbers? (if I went with your numbers fat would be at 34g’s – and I could not handle going that low!!)

    Also, I am getting leaner for sure but still feel a long way away from my goal of 10% BF (I started about 25%) I can only train after 7 in the eve so end up having to eat carbs at night sometimes an hour or two before bed. Is this impeding my fat loss? anything I can do about it?
    Thanks buddy

    Alex

    • Michael Matthews

      Great job on the fat loss!

      High- or low-carb doesn’t really matter. Total calories matters more. My guess is there will be a point where you have to drop cals, not just shuffle macros.

      I used to train late at night and what I found workable is to cut my normal post-workout carbs in half, and to spread the remaining half throughout the day.

      For instance, if my post-workout was normally 80g of carbs, I’d do 40g, and eat the remaining 40g earlier in the day.

      As I said in the book, this is likely a minor point and I may just be being paranoid, but I’m just sharing what’s worked best for me.

      • Alex Gear

        ok so maybe not be so carb heavy post workout. Say I have 175 carbs per day, would I generally want about 75 of them to be postworkout (therefore 32.5 odd)?
        and if I need to drop cals, would 5 fat 10 carb and 10 pro be sufficient do you think?
        Thanks for the quick response!
        I read your book aaages ago and after a while of following it incorrectly (bad form, badly worked out nutrition, being impatient) I gave up and moved onto a few more different programs and diets (carb cycling, wedlers 5/3/1 etc) and it turns out I ended up going full cycle and back to following BLS and I have to say, its working for me a lot better this time! feeling re-inspired and seeing results now. Just want this damn 6 pack to appear already!!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah exactly. I wouldn’t drop pro. I would drop fats until you reach the 20% of total daily cals mark and then I would start dropping carbs.

          Drop daily intake by 100 cals and see how your body responds over the next week, rise repeat.

          Haha glad to hear it brother. Keep me posted!

  • David

    I have to take issue with this article. I think the title is misleading. I have spent the last 9 months eating a diet consisting of only oats, sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, salmon, chicken, beef, veg, carrots, blueberries and the odd banana, and now your saying it’s not that important? I’m averaging 3700Kc per day, 400g of carbs, 240g of protein and averaging 110g of fat, all from the ‘cleanest’ food sources, I don’t have cheat days because I don’t want them or need them to stay wain but after all this effort it’s now not ‘that important’?!

    Should I just go back to eating as much as I want from whatever sources to bump up my calories even more, because to be honest, I’m not seeing the kind of gains I was hoping for on the current diet? I’m confused now…

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome on what you’re doing. Honestly the title was just to generate interest so I could then fully explain the issue. 🙂

      In terms of raising intake higher, What I like to do is focus on eating a bunch of calorie-dense foods. Here are my favorites:

      Red meat

      Grains like brown rice and quinoa

      Oils like coconut oil and olive oil

      Avocado

      Whole-fat dairy

      Multi-grain pasta and bread

      Almonds and almond butter

      Bananas

      White and sweet potatoes

      • David

        Great, sounds like I should stick to my current diet and maybe just up portion sizes. Great website by the way and superb book. Love reading your articles, just was a little confused about what I should be doing but all good now 🙂

        • Michael Matthews

          Exactly. 🙂 Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

  • orly

    Hey thanks for this great article. I have been working hard and seeing results also have been eating clean every day with a cheat meal once a week, for six months have seen results but my fat loss has hit a wall., i suspect its due to not counting cals/macros as i find this to be a royal pain in the rear, seems eating clean is not enough to reach my goal of getting just below 10% BF. guess ill have no choice but to count cals.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Glad to hear it. You HAVE to work out a proper meal plan to get below 10%. Either that or you have to be the best calorie eyeballer in the world. 😉

  • Paulo Ferreira

    I don’t mean to be a buzz killer here, but it seems to me there’s some contradiction in what you wrote, Mikw. You say HOW MUCH you eat is what really matters in terms of fat loss and/or muscle gain, but after that you recommend “eat X protein, Y fats, z carbs”. Isn’t that a matter of WHAT to eat, as well?

    As for the “a calorie is a calorie” mantra, I simply can’t go along with that. I don’t believe a guy eating 3000 kcal of crap daily would get the same results as another one who eats in a healthy, balanced manner, even if both were exercising properly and that was the ideal calorie value for building muscle or whatever.
    Carbs from oatmeal, quinoa or brown rice will do your body much better than high fructose corn syrup or any kind of processed sugar. Fish oil, extra virgin olive oil or even saturated animal fat will have a different impact on your body, comparing to trans fats and similar.

    Then there’s the hormonal aspect. Yes, I’m aware natural rises in testosterone won’t have much to show for in terms of muscle building per se, but that’s not the only thing healthy levels of testosterone bring to the table, is it? I seem to remember you pointing to a study showing that natural high levels of testosterone do have a significant influence in fat loss and fat gain prevention, which always comes in handy when bulking. 😉 Then there’s all other stuff like increased sex drive, better mood, mental focus, “grit”, etc., which in one way or the other influence your workout performance and thus your muscle building efforts.

    I’m not saying you should eat 100% clean for the rest of your life – heck, I can’t stand the thought of giving up my strawberry-yogurt ice cream on weekends 😛 – but the idea that it all boils down to calories in vs. calories out… well… I just won’t buy it, Mike. 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Ah right. By WHAT I meant specific types of food. Should have specified that actually

      That is, it doesn’t matter if I eat a chicken breast, drink a protein shake, or eat some yogurt–protein is protein. Potato, rice, pasta, or veggies…carbs are carbs.

      Some sources are more healthy than others of course, but the first thing people need to learn about proper dieting is energy balance and macronutrient breakdowns.

      Basically all my cals come from clean sources because I actually like healthy foods more than junk.

      • saveourskills

        Mike, does the BCAA content of the protein matter. For example is 15 grams of protein from Ezekiel bread going to be as good as fish?

  • Simon

    Hi Mike,

    i got a question that not exactly referres to this article but i have to ask you:
    for the last half year i did virtually only heavy weights/repmax (2-4 reps) and compound exercises. I was quite happy with it.
    Then i had to have surgery at my stomach. So i’m not allowed to lift heavy or very heavy at least. In my despair i switched to german volume training (10reps x10). I feel quite good, i dont think i lost muscle, i dont think i gained either.

    i read that you can use GVT to break plateaus (and that its even good for quite a muscle gain for very experienced lifters??)

    Id like to know your thoughts on this.
    Should i go on with this (at least for 2 months where im not allowed very heavy lifting) or should i do anything else? (my goal — as always: reduce bodyfat or maintain current, gain muscle)

    Would be so awesome if you could give a quick answer 🙂

    Thanks, Simon

    • Michael Matthews

      I’ve never had luck with the really high-volume training. I know quite a few druggers have though. Natties don’t seem to respond nearly as well.

      That said, if you’re doing well with it, keep it up…

      • Simon

        I know. I was asking referring to my “restraint” due to the surgery. Maybe in your opinion i should do an other training!?
        But on the other hand theres nothing else to choose i guess …

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah right sorry. You can keep doing it. Personally I would reduce the volume to something closer to 7 sets of 10.

          • Simon

            thanks!! will do! 🙂

          • Michael Matthews

            Great!

    • Brent Stewart

      GVT is more for your tendons than anything else. In your case you will want to up the intensity and keep the weight low. Do lots of body weight type stuff. Do 3 sets and do them till failure then move on to the next exercise. Keep the rest periods short, finish your exercises and get out of the weight room. You can do this type of routine every other day. This is an awesome way to keep the gains you made and try some new stuff!! Keep the workouts to 20-30 minutes and then leave. Eat so you don’t gain weight in the form of fat!! Make the adjustments necessary!! Look at this as a great chance to try some new stuff!! Then in the future don’t do every workout so heavy!! do 2 heavy workouts and then 2 lighter workouts. In the light workouts do NOT go till failure!! This will help you to recover!! If you don’t make gains on this type of program then something is bad wrong. take 6-7 days between leg days when you are going really heavy and no less than 5 when you are going light-same goes for powerlifting routines. If you get really sore you are doing too much.

  • Jessica Diehl

    This is a FANTASTIC article. I wish it was required reading, would save so many people from that restrict/binge/guilt mentality. It matches up with my experience cutting happily for a bikini competition and all the research I have read.
    I do have a question. I started bulking in mid January. (and quite sloppy with my bulk at first as I was getting ready to deploy). I am currently about 15 lbs heavier than mid January. I am definitely lifting heavier, but I cannot tell if my muscles are actually growing as my body fat is now too high for me too see definition. I’m worried I’m just gaining fat since the body can only synthesize so much muscle at once. Any recommendations? Should I maintain my weight at 150 (I’m 5″8) and continue to lift? Keep bulking? Cut to 140 and maintain there?? Obviously the art of a good bulk eludes me, lol.
    Thank you for the great article!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jessica! I really appreciate it!

      Hmm generally speaking us guys only want to see about 1 lb gained per week while bulking and generally speaking it’s 50/50 fat and muscle, so a girl bulking would probably want to see a bit less–closer to 0.5 pounds gained per week.

      That said, if you’re at or above 25%, I’d say it’s time to cut down to the 20% range to restore insulin sensitivity and see what you’re working with. 🙂

      What do you think?

      • Jessica Diehl

        Sounds reasonable to me. Last two days my macros have been 70f / 210c /160p, (didn’t track as closely during bulk but higher in fat and Carbs, lower in protein I’m sure). I’ll see how that works out.
        Also, if you have time, can you explain how lowering body fat restores insulin sensitivity and what that does for me in terms of fat loss/muscle growth? Is it possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool, let me know how it goes.

          Yeah check this out:

          https://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

          • Jessica Diehl

            Another great article, thank you! I believe i’m around 24% based on the pics. Like I said I tracked my macros for the week at 70f/210c/160p. I went from 156.8 lbs to 152.8lbs in that week. I’m hoping that’s mostly water, did not expect to jump down that fast! I increased my protein just by 10g for this week, hopefully I wont see any more big losses in one week!

          • Michael Matthews

            YW!

            Yeah that’s definitely mostly water. Keep me posted!

          • Jessica Diehl

            I have continued my cut. I’m now around 145 lbs (I started at 157 lbs, probably around 25% body fat or more). I started the cut at 2,150 calories – 70f/210c/170. Slowly lowered that to my current breakdown of 60f/180c/160p. I lift 5 times a week. I do HIIT cardio for 20 min 2-3 times per week. I plan on doing one more month at my current macro split. After I shed about 4 more labs of fat, would you recommend I reverse diet for a bit to increase my metabolism? Or keep going for another month since my total intake is still relatively high?

          • Michael Matthews

            Great job! I like the plan. Yes, reverse diet once you’re done.

  • Simon

    Hi Mike,

    another quick question. I try to have the mild caloric deficit. I have a desk job. so an online calculation for my basic rate was about 1700-1800kcal. (im 183cm, ~80kg).

    I take 4 scoops in my protein shake. Which means 4x25gr of protein = ~100gr. per shake. I try to have 2 of the shakes a day.
    But one scoop has about 100kcal. Meaning i would take about 800kcal a day alone with the shakes. Leaving me just 500-600 to eat (plus burned cals at workout) ? Is this calculation right?

    Thanks!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Many online calculators are going to put you too high. Check this out:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      200 g pro per day from shakes? Yikes. That doesn’t bother your stomach? I try to keep my powder intake to about 30-40% of my total daily pro intake.

      • Simon

        Calculator from our link gives me 1850 x 1.35 = 2500 minus 20% = 2000.
        Well even if i train, i have to say in my experience i struggle to maintain my BF at same level when i have 1700-1800 kcal.

        But more importantly my original question: is it right to substract all calories from shakes (in that case 800) from my daily calorie sum?

  • Scott

    Great article and pocast, very informative and has really motivated me to start keeping close track of my macros, and as always great links throughout the article

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Let me know how it goes.

  • Terry

    Hi Mike
    Just a quick question regarding protein, as protein is broken down into aminos does it make more sense to just take an amino supplement rather than a protein drink when supplementing?
    Terry

    • Michael Matthews

      If you had a supplement with all the aminos in the right proportions you could do this, but there is more nutrition in natural protein than just aminos.

  • Mareike

    Your article isn’t bad at all and I like that you do research. What I am wondering if whether you are at all concerned about the detrimental effects of high-protein diets on long-term health?

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2014.02.006

    P.S.: SOME hormones (like insulin) are proteins or peptides, not all. One example are steroids which can transverse the plasma and nuclear membranes due to their carbon structure (which is very different from that of a protein) and thus often act as direct transcription factors to alter gene expression and cellular behaviour. I don’t think it matters much in terms of your article, but factual correctness is important.

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  • Kris Daugherty

    I eat clean so I have some idea of what is going in my body. I don’t expect to get muscle definition unless I lift weights which I do.

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  • Amir

    Do you count your macros everyday ? and if not how do you transfer from counting to just regular eating ?

    • Michael Matthews

      I just eat the same stuff every day. Keeps it simple. I change meals up here and there but not often.

      You can just eat when you’re hungry to stick to a high-protein diet and do okay, but that’s not how you get or stay really lean. You’ll likely overeat.

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  • Alvin A

    Hey Mike, I love the concepts you put on here, and by hitting macros I’ve been able to get ripped eating ice cream sandwiches and pizza, I just make sure to get my protein and a few servings of fruit and veggies daily. I’ve been doing BLS and it’s not draining, I just hit my workouts hard. With that said, I’m in a creative field and keeping my mind sharp is my priority. If I switches my carbs from “dirty” to “clean” ones, would I see any increased benefit in concentration?

    • Michael Matthews

      Great job on your progress so far! Good question. I’m not sure if there’s research on the matter but I do think so as the lethargy or “blah” feeling that can come after eating low-quality foods is just mentally distracting IMO…

  • peter griffin

    so by the end of the day what really matters is calorie intake ??

    if so why so many people watch every thing like carbs, fats and fibers

    what would watching those thing affect in my weight loss plane

    if am soo overweight i mean i need to lose like 100 pounds

    would watching fibers….etc give me a boost in my weight loss or it wont be helpful in my current state?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes calorie intake is the bottom line when it comes to weight gain and loss but macronutrient ratios matter when we’re talking BODY COMPOSITION.

      No fiber won’t help you lose weight.

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  • rob_B_B

    clean calories and dirty calories are not the same, The calorie values reported on food labels do not capture important costs of digestion that are typically lower for processed foods and higher for unmodified items.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment! The difference of the thermic effect doesn’t change as much as you think, though…

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  • ccfs

    what are your thoughts on people with hormonal imbalance and under-active thyroid

    • Michael Matthews

      In most cases it doesn’t affect BMR as much as people think. I’ve looked at hypothyroidism research and if I remember correctly the worst case I saw was a ~15% reduction in BMR.

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  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:

    http://www.muscleforlife.com/signup

    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:

    http://www.muscleforlife.com/signup/

    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:

    http://www.muscleforlife.com/signup

    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

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  • Coloradomom

    I am confused on the calorie intake issue. I have had several personal trainers and all have told me to eat only a max of 1600 to 1800 calories a day – NEVER any more than that. Now I am finding articles/blogs like GoKaleo.com that state one should be eating way more per day. I am completely confused! I have so many questions about this issue, but all I get in answers are “Eat less, workout more” and that makes me feel so sick, tired, run down, spacey and I don’t lose the fat that I have gained due to eating less and working out more. I eat more I feel better but the FAT will NOT go away. What gives! Would anyone be willing to answer my questions!?!?

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  • saveourskills

    I’m not a fan of restriction diets, BUT one advantage to a clean eating program is that unprocessed foods are less calorically dense, thus you can eat a LOT more if you eat clean.

    This is why most people lose weight and lean out when switching to whole foods. If you have tried to eat 3000 kcal eating nothing but whole and unprocessed foods you will understand why it can work. It ends up being a ton of food.

    The issue is if people don’t know a lot about food they think things like whole wheat bread are good examples of whole foods, but this obviously is not true. So there is an education factor here.

    Personally I wasn’t seeing any results until I just switched to eating the same meals every day as you do. I just couldn’t handle any other style.. so this is sort of a restriction diet by default.. as I have limited myself to just the calculated meal plan…. meh….

    Well at the end of the day “whatever works” 😉

    • Yup you’re 100% correct! I still cut the same way. It makes it really easy to be precise with intake.

  • Rusty

    When you state that to consume 1g per pound of body weight is that per day or per meal? Say you weigh 210 lbs and want to get to 175 – 180 do you consume your macros base on the weight you want to be? Thanks

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  • Benito

    Hi Mike, quick question, how many grams of protein can an individual process in one sitting?

  • John Stem

    75% of what your body looks like comes from what you eat, if you eat like crap you will look like crap, that simple, having said that, this article couldn’t be any more dumber.

  • Corné Jansen van Vuren

    Hello Michael

    So if it all burns down to the amount of calories, can I get lean by eating cheesecake all day, as long as I have a negative calorie count?
    Won’t this break down muscle and make me more “flabby” , but lighter?
    So losing more muscle than fat?

    Thanks

    • Technically, yes. You could lose weight by eating cheesecake all day. As long as you’re in a caloric deficit.

      That being said, it obviously wouldn’t be very healthy and you would lose muscle. That’s where having the correct ratios of macros is important.

      • Jo Mormont

        Don’t ignore the very important thing called insulin. Her insulin resistance levels will be high, probably as well as estrogen. Certain foods like broccoli for example help reduce estrogen and create some testosterone which can affect muscle growth over the long term.

        And again high insulin resistance = more body fat storage. More BF means less muscle built.

        • Not necessarily. Some people’s bodies just do better with carbs than others, even overweight people.

          I talk about insulin in more detail here:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-insulin-works/

          • Jo Mormont

            Right so I will show actual science here. Not only do Carbs make you store fat easier, but they are just overall bad for you if you take in more than necessary to fill glycogen stores.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4405421/

            Carbohydrate intake and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: fructose as a weapon of mass destruction

            http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/3/e26.short

            Conclusions. The rapid absorption of glucose after consumption of high-GI meals induces a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that promote excessive food intake in obese subjects. Additional studies are needed to examine the relationship between dietary GI and long-term body weight regulation. glycemic index, obesity, dietary carbohydrate, diets, insulin.

            High carbohydrate raises blood fats aka triglycerides and makes you very prone to CVD

            http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/10/2772S.short

            Effect of Dietary Carbohydrate on Triglyceride Metabolism in Humans

            and you do not take in adequate cholesterol which leads to this

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19263395

            CONCLUSIONS:
            It is shown that low cholesterol levels in serum are associated and related to different neuropsychiatric disorders. Lowered cholesterol levels seem likely to be linked to higher rates of early death, suicide, aggressive and violent behaviour, personality disorders, and possibly depression, dementia and penal confinement among young males. Further studies are needed to confirm the evidence currently available and to relate more accurate diagnoses with hypocholesterolemia.

            http://thescipub.com/abstract/10.3844/ojbsci.2014.167.169

            PLANT STEROLS LOWER CHOLESTEROL, BUT INCREASE RISK FOR CORONARY HEART DISEASE

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24008907

            Dietary carbohydrates, refined grains, glycemic load, and risk of coronary heart disease in Chinese adults.

            We have 0 need for any carbohydrate in our diet our bodies aside from the possible glycogen stores (but we don’t actually even need that) and for those who are Vegan often times tend to go carb heavy, which is certainly an easy way to kill yourself.

            I have plenty more studies if you wish to actual read the science behind it.

          • Way to copy and paste from study abstracts without actually reading the papers or understanding the mechanisms in play.

            You’ve clearly made up your mind but here’s the actual science of the matter:

            If you’re overweight and sedentary, you shouldn’t be eating a lot of carbs because your body doesn’t need the energy (carbs are primarily energetic).

            You should also exercise regularly and get your body fat into a healthy range because being overweight and sedentary is incredibly unhealthy.

            If, however, you do exercise regularly and aren’t overweight, your body has a good use for carbs and will do just fine on a carb-rich diet.

            End of story.

            Leaving this for any viewers that want to look at an actual in-depth review of the matter:

            https://legionathletics.com/low-carb-diet/

  • Jason Elyk

    Assuming protein intake is adequate and the caloric deficit is moderate as opposed to severe, what’s the benefit to weight training as it pertains to muscle loss? Wouldn’t muscle loss be minimal with dieting alone under these conditions?

    • It makes a significant difference and if you’re new to weightlifting, you can actually gain muscle while losing fat.

  • Kyle

    Good Read,

    I stumbled upon your article after googling my own results in wonder if anyone else has come to the same conclusion. Basically through all of my trials and errors in life with dieting and heavy lifting, I have come to some of the same conclusions your article states.

    My diet right now consists of not a lot of meals but an assload of protein, carbs, fats and calories but nothing that isn’t already attached to the protein I eat.. Here’s my usual eating schedule for a day:

    9am BCAAs/Creatine/L-glutimine (old school vintage build)
    10am pre shake syntha-6 1 scoop
    1230pm hit the gym and tear shit up
    145pm post shake syntha-6 1 scoop

    6pm whatever the wife cooks (chicken mostly/beef sometimes with carbs and probably a beer)
    10pm some kind of sandwich on rye bread usually stacked with bologna or ham and salami, pepper jack…and some pringles… and a tall glass of skim milk or beer…

    anyway following this pattern the only real weight i ever gain is flux weight from the tremendous amount of food and water I am taking in and muscle..

    I go up in weight or reps I am able to handle just about every week …
    My energy levels are going nuts too, for instance last night I started digging a cellar in my backyard….with a shovel….

    Anyway nice article, thanks for posting.

    • Thanks for all the info.

      Glad you’re getting stronger! Sounds like you’re enjoying your food. 🙂

      If you want the gains to be consistent and actually gain .5-1 pound a week, I recommend creating a meal plan and sticking to it. Check it out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      What do you think?

      • Kyle

        Makes sense, I do this for the most part the hardest thing for me is getting enough protein and fiber. pertaining to protein some days I hit 200g…Some days I barely squeak to the 150g mark… its because I don’t have set foods that i eat every day, i get that, but I also am not 1 to put labels on everything I eat…The only time my daily intake varies is at dinner …which isn’t a big deal. Very rarely do I stray away from my daily intake. I also benchmark myself occasionally on myfitnesspal to make sure i’m hitting my macros..

        The way I eat seems to be doing better than good for me for the time being, when I get to a plateau I will probably revisit this article and make changes accordingly.

  • Bane

    Hey Michael, i just watched a movie called “that sugar truth” .. A guy in the movie used to eat 2300 kcal mostly from proteins and fats and very small amount of carbs.. He made an experiment where he swaped calories from fats with carbs (i think his goal was to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar every day) .. after 60 days all the blood test parameters was far worse than before and he got fat mostly in the midsection.. And he claims that all the time he eat the same number of total calories.. How do you explain that and what was the reason for such a bad results ? Inuslin ? Frustose ? Processed carbs ? I find it strange that one can gain all that fat eating the same number of calories..

    • I would be wary of documentary types of films like that and look to scientific research instead.

      Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/sugar-facts/

      • SeppoLa

        Perhaps Michael you’d care to explain to people in a little more detail how eating 2000 calories in sugar IIFYM will help them, before someone actually tries it and it kills them

    • Jo Mormont

      Because calories in vs calories out is bogus. It doesn’t tell the whole story and you hit at least one of the points correctly. Insulin is a major factor in how much body fat is stored, so if you have high insulin resistance you will have a tough time gaining muscle. Also the more BF you have, the harder it is in general to build muscle fast and conversely the opposite is true, if you have low BF you build muscle faster.

      There are also other factors such as when he is eating, how much, what types of foods, macros, gut flora (it has been show that gut flora can make a difference in keeping fat on or off), quality and frequency of sleep etc.

  • Scott Blakeley

    Right on this is a great article, one of the only ones I have read that back up their points with science. It falls pretty much into the whole trend of IIFYM stuff which I am a total fan of. I have lost the most weight when doing a 40/40/20 split. I have been dabbling in other things, and have to say thats the best for me. My problem is I lift 5 days a week and im 238 right now with 20% bf. I get ranges on my daily caloric needs from 2500-4000. I gotta say that sucks depending on what equation I use. Now when you talk about making the deficit you mean 80% of your bmr correct? Ignore that guy who said this could be “any more dumber,” he cant even use proper grammar. Whos “dumber” now?

    • Cool on the results you’ve gotten so far.

      Yep, unfortunately a lot of calorie calculators are all over the place.

      To accurate figure out your cals and macros for cutting. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      The deficit should 80% of your TDEE–not BMR. Take a look at the article and LMK what youthink.

      Lol.

      • Scott Blakeley

        Im doing 35/45/20 and 2640 cals think ill be good

        • Not a big difference, but I recommend a 40/40/20 split.

          LMK how it goes with those cals and macros!

    • Stan_Morely33

      When you say 40/40/20 do you mean 40% Protein, 40% fat, and 20% Carbs? If this is correct, what is your goal, to gain lean mass? If so, yes this will work, provided you cycle the carbs to before and after your workouts.

      If you mean 40% Protein, 40% carbs, 20% fat, based on 2500 to 4000 calories, you won’t be losing much more weight after 20% body fat. Your insulin will start play a very large roll in how much fat your body can burn off the lower your bf% goes.

  • Safiya Badgurl

    Great article!.. I have a question though.. If an individual wanted to bulk up (build muscle) and still have six pack abs (low body fat)…What would his/her macros be like? A calorie surplus is required is build muscle and deficit to drop fat.. So how would you achieve that?

  • Martin351

    This article is wrong from the beginning to the end.

    “Because when it comes to body composition (how much muscle and body fat you have), how much you eat is more important than what.”

    This is beyond false. This basically says that someone with a metabolic rate of 2000 calories will lose weight if they stick to a diet of 1600 calories of coke and cheezies. Now I would hope people have enough common sense to know that this obviously won’t work.

    There are 2 parts to the equation, insulin and metabolic rate. Insulin being the primary factor, is a storage hormone. People won’t be losing or gaining anything until they learn to manipulate this. Once it’s been manipulated and you give your body the environment to control your goal, THEN calories matter.

    Those of you who have success with just watching calories, probably already have the insulin sensitive environment in your body to do so, meaning you’ve already solved the primary part of the equation. Those struggling to lose weight probably have insulin/glucose issues. Those same people whom watch their calories and stay lean will probably have a hell of a time trying to gain lean mass because simply adding calories won’t work. At that point they need to learn to increase their insulin secretion at select times to increase mass, and that is dependent on WHAT you eat.

    • LindaHensley

      True that, the calories in vs calories out is just a myth and nothing more. I see from one of the comments below about the sugar experiment and gaining all that fat.

      Science specifically states one thing on this, Insulin is a storage hormone, and glucagon is a catabolic hormone. Glucagon suppresses insulin when the glucose levels are low to signal the breaking down for energy (whether its fats or protein).

      Research over the last 50 years on tens of thousands of clinical trials has proven that the body cannot catabolize (break down fat), if insulin is present in the body because it’s a STORAGE hormone. That means, for those who want to lose fat, keep insulin in check, IE: don’t eat foods with a large insulogenic impact.

    • Stan_Morely33

      100% the truth Martin, well said. This author is dead wrong, and his advice only works for people whom maintained a regular eating pattern over time as to keep their glucose tolerance in check. I’ve worked with people from that camp and people on the opposite side of the spectrum.

      The people whom have ate regularly healthy throughout their lives are the easiest to work with because I can focus more on their calories, and less on what food their eating (unless they want to gain lean mass). The others who have generally had a carb rich diet throughout their lives and are obese because of it, are a bit trickier. Now I have to focus on eliminating insulogenic food and correcting their glucose issues before we can even tackle calories. Easiest approach here, just stick to paleo, that corrects the glucose issues 99% of the time.

    • PaulfromWal

      I’m more interested to see if Michael will even address this comment from you Martin, instead of saying “look at this link with the science behind it”

      I’m prepared to throw 5 decades of science and clinical trials his way to prove that his theory is wrong and yours is right Martin.

  • Patricia Golding

    Great, so I can stick to McDonald’s as long as I stick about 1700 calories per day based on my 2100 BMR and I’ll lose weight, easy peasy.

    Wait, I already tried that and it didn’t work. I gained 15lbs in 33 days. The calories in vs calories out doesn’t work.

  • I found carbs do make me gain weight, but so I keep it around the same as my protein intake or maybe even slightly less and I’m doing the diet where I cut and build muscle at the same time. I only eat carbs with my first three meals of the day as well. Not the last two meals before bed. So I have two meals after my workout that contain carbs so that it helps with muscle growth. The last two meals of the day may contain some carbs but almost negligible. What do you think of this diet? Do I take enough crabs and for muscle growth? If I take more I won’t have a calorie deficit and I won’t be able to cut.

  • Nathan

    Thank you so much for this article, I constantly have to fight myself and convince myself eating more is healthy than being in a deficit. Especially now that I try be more active and train actually I need more food just to not feel sick. So hopefully one day I can be done with counting calories, it’s ironic being overweight that the key being lean is to eat more not less.

  • Kay

    (purchased thinner, leaner, stronger yesterday).
    I am a vegetarian and really confused about what to eat to take in that much protein. I have 65lbs to lose and I want to incorporate strength training from the beginning. Any advice as to where I may learn how to keep protein up & still lose?

    • Thanks for picking up the book! LMK how you like it. 🙂

      Yeah, it can be tough to get the protein you need being vegetarian. I recommend Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and protein powder as needed.

      Understood on what you have to lose. It’s doable! Cool on the strength training too. Let’s do it.

      In order to keep losing with the high protein intake, you just need to manage your energy balance. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/best-diet-plan/

      LMK what you think!

  • G Depetta

    Hi Mike, using the Macro calculator, I came up with 1800 Kcals/day ( 192 lbs, 25% BF, 1.35 % multiplier ) My TDEE is 2400. I’m a little confused on the amount of protein I should be consuming every day.
    I saw one of articles suggesting no more than 1G per LB of LBM if you have a high BF %, which would be about 144 grams for me, another article u suggested about 40% of total calories which would be about 180 grams. What works the best for 25-27 BF?

    • If you’re at 25% BF or lower, I recommend the 1-1.2g per pound of bodyweight. If you’re above 25% BF, you should do 1g per pound of lean mass.

      To get a good idea of your BF%, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/body-composition/

      40% of your cals for protein is just an easy way to do it, and it’ll get you in the right range.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Alex

    Given your comments on energy intake from fat vs carbs, what are your thoughts on the Ketone adaptation approach to reducing body fat %

  • The Workout Magazine

    Focusing on carbs in our diets is so important, We have an entire post on it on our website

    6 Carb Rich Food Essential for Muscle Building

    http://www.theworkoutmagazine.com/carb-rich-food-essential-for-muscle-building/

  • Michael MC Westergaard

    Hi

    What is your take on libido and amount of fat in the diet? It seems to be that libido is decreasing for some when cutting – including me as well and is quite frustrating. The general advice is to up the fats in the diet, but I am already eating around 70 grams per day at 172 lbs. Has it more do

    • That’s common because a calorie deficit can lower T levels. Is what it is.

      You don’t need more than 70 grams of fat per day, but are you getting a good amount of unsat fat?

      Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-many-grams-of-fat-per-day/

      • Michael

        Eating quite a bit of fatty fish every week and keeping fat around 60-70. But yeah I guess I just have to deal with it.

        • Okay cool. Yeah, seems to be your body’s response to a deficit.

  • Yas

    Hi Mike
    I had an eating disorder (anorexia) for about four years. A year ago I started gaining more and more weight even though I hadn’t changed a lot in my diet. But I was fine with the weight gain. I always in these last years ate around 1200 kcal a day. There were times with less and times with more. I am 5’4 and now 116 lbs. I am still eating around 1200 calories a day and my weight has been the same for half a year now. I tried to go up on calorie intake to 1700 for four weeks, because I read that I could be in starvation mode. But my weight went up 2 lbs or so in that time, so I went back to 1200 calories.
    What would you recommend me to lose a little bit and after that being able to eat more than 1200 calories to maintain?

  • Thank’s for the article. I’m on a big struggle to get ripped for years. Tried all exercises, diets…Trx, HIIT…I get more results to get leaner when I don’t train, cause I get less hunger, eat less 🙁 Whe I train I get more fat, it’s because of the protein shake, or oats, can’t stop eating, thinking in what to eat…its a nightmare. When I don’t train….Ii don’t think in eating or in food general….I’m a guy who need results to stick to a plan, I started again in 4th January this year and it’s almost 3 months and results are the same as in the begining which is frustrating… Cheers!

  • Chris

    This was really interesting to read, and I have learned alot from it. I’ve been trying lots of different diets that cut out carbs, or minimize carbs, or put focus on lots of protein, or implement fasting, or carb cycling and calorie cycling, etc etc. They are hard to stick to because then I crave potatoes and bread and rice. Worst part is that I can’t eat rice and beans haha. But, I have built a good amount of muscle from eating 1 meal, to 1 meal plus a snack, and doing calisthenics with either bodyweight or added weight, and hiit cardio. However, I can’t burn the fat to reveal my abs and chest, and legs. I’ve been struggling alot lately, and drive myself crazy with it. What do you recommend? I like fasting, and I like my calisthenics. Should I eat 1 or 2 meals? Should I count calories or can I go by the portion size method? Should I workout 3-4 times a week, or 6-7 days a week? When I’m not working out, or doing hiit cardio, I’m a but sedentary. What are your thoughts? Thank you

  • Grant Mcarthur

    Hi, I have been eating clean for some months now, eating around 2000 calories a day, 100g carbs 70g fat and 180-210 protein, I have been hill running 3 times per week, 45 mins each session. I also do a resistance workout on each training session to mix things up. In the last 7 weeks I’ve gained around 6 pounds that I’m assuming is muscle as my body looks slimmer on my back and sides, but my body fat percentage has went up, to which I’m confused about. I look like I’ve gained a bit of muscle in my chest and arms but my goal was to drop body fat. I’ve tried eating less calories but the fat stats haven’t changed.
    I’m at a disheartening point in my journey as I’m putting in tonnes of effort both in diet and exercise which is a complete turnaround to what I was like a year ago but the results are rubbish. I really thought by now I’d be more slender and people would make a comment or two regarding a change in my appearance but sadly no.
    Any suggestions? I thought maybe I have low T
    Thanks

  • OmaR Messi

    i want to gain 3 or 5 kg but i don`t want to lose my abs
    iam never take any sort of supplements

  • Erick

    What if you’re consuming 3600 calories, @ 188lb. How does 225g protein, 450g of carbs and 100g of fat sound? I think it’s pretty balanced out.

  • sakib800

    Hey Mike are all processed foods bad?

    I found a quick easy food, i dont know if you guys know but its called “Birds Eye Steamfresh Protein Blends”

    You pop it in the microwave for about 5 minutes and tear it open from the bag and its ready to eat.

    Its preety high in fiber and protein and contains beans lentils and such.

    But since it sounds like its processed is it really bad for you?

    • Looking at it on their website, it doesn’t seem too bad… Check out the label to see if there’s a bunch of words that look like they belong in a laboratory. Shorter the list, the better.

  • Adam

    Okay. I have no idea where to start here. I’m 164lbs now (5’7″-5’9″). Used to be 185lbs. Started doing a 5×5 program 6 months ago. Started cutting in Jan. Am still cutting because I really don’t know what to do. I think I’m more skinny fat now but want to build muscle while losing these love handles and lower abdominal fat. I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass while cutting. What am I to eat to gain muscle back all while shrinking my waist basically? 160 grams of protein? 195 grams of carbs? How many meals? Can someone help me here?

  • imran

    Carbcyclingscience The science behind it you are getting carbohydrates when you need them so you are having two high carb days a week, Going out with family and you are at a restaurant and you want to indulge and you want to be able have those carbs and be able to eat whatever you want another thing it does is it improves the function of leptin in your body.
    So what leptin is it’s your hunger hormone it tells your body when you are hungry and when you are not hungry and how well you respond to leptin determine your hunger levels and carb cycling can help with lepti response, it also improves your insulin you are able to manipulate your insulin and spike it when you need it and improved insulin sensitivity can help your body stay in an anabolic state a muscle building state and you also be able to notice effects from yes that’s the thermogenic effect of food this is how many calories you burn actually digesting your food so it takes to burn calories carbs fats and proteins and protein actually has the tes and with that you are going to have a lot of protein on your low-carb days, so you are going to be burning even more calories on those days because of the thermogenic effects of food.

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