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Muscle for life

MFL Podcast 63: Why you’re not losing weight

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MFL Podcast 63: Why you’re not losing weight

In this podcast I talk about the most common reasons people stop losing weight and how to fix it.

TRANSCRIPT

Hey, this is Mike Matthews. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. In this podcast, I want to talk about not losing weight, why people stop losing weight, because it’s something I get asked fairly often. I’ve commented on things here and there, but I thought it would make for a good episode.

I wrote an article about it, I don’t remember, a couple of months ago. That article has been popular, people keep asking, because they don’t find it or whatever. I thought it would make for a good podcast episode.

Let’s talk a little bit about the problem. The most common situation I hear is where somebody has been following some sort of diet that usually revolves around “kneading.” They’re restricting certain foods. They’re not eating any sugar. They’re not eating certain types of carbs. They’re not eating carbs after a certain time of the day. Maybe they lost some weight in the beginning of starting the diet, maybe they’re doing some exercise as well, but then in time the weight lost has slowed down, slow down, slow down, and then it’s just plateau.

They’ve been stuck for however many weeks with no real change in terms of body composition, or some people, they’re not really thinking with body composition, they’re really just thinking with weight. They haven’t seen their scale go down and then they just don’t really know what’s going on.

They go and they start searching around online and they just find all kinds of strange advice. Some people will say, “Oh, it’s a hormone thing. You’re not losing weight, because your hormones are now out of whack for one of many different reasons.” In terms of solutions, it could be, “Oh, you need to try this different diet or you need these supplements or you need to try this different workout program.”

Another common culprit that is blamed is metabolism. Some people, some “experts” will say, “Oh, well, you stopped losing weight, because your metabolism is ruined or damaged or has adapted.” The solution can be anything from the standard “Eat less move more” to other weird shit like, “Oh, it’s your hormones are screwing with your metabolism. It’s your thyroid. It’s the foods you’re eating. It’s the type of exercise you’re doing.”

Another common thing that’s blamed for not losing weight is artificial type of ingredients, artificial sweeteners, just different types of chemicals and things that could be found in food or they would just get exposed to in daily environment. They usually tie back into hormones, saying those things are disrupting your hormones. The good news is, all of that’s not true. All of that is bullshit basically.

If you’re familiar with my work, and familiar with just the basic physiology of weight loss, you know that if you’re not losing fat, the underlying problem is you’re not in a large enough calorie or caloric deficit over time to see any fat loss, whether it’s in the mirror or on the scale.

You know that that’s the bottom line problem. But just eating less and moving more isn’t necessarily the solution. There are a lot of different factors that are involved that can cause your calorie deficit to become too small or just disappear all together. There are some common mistakes that lead to that and then there are just some issues that you need to be aware of when you are dieting that kind of conspire against you in that way. It’s kind of built in your body.

Just realize that dieting, proper dieting is a mild form of starvation. That is what you’re doing. You’re starving your body. That sounds extreme, but it’s not. It’s a mild form of starvation. Extreme starvation would be like eating half of your TDEE and doing a ton of exercise and stuff. That, obviously, would be bad.

But any sort of dieting, any sort of restriction of energy intake is a mild form of starvation, and your body fights against it. Your body is very reactive in that way. Like if you were to forcefully starve your body, if you were to keep it in calorie deficit for long enough, you would eventually die.

Even if it’s a mild deficit, be if you kept on reducing intake, increasing output, reducing intake over time, eventually you would die. So, your body, of course, doesn’t know your intentions, doesn’t know that you know what you’re doing. You’re not trying to kill it, you’re just trying to get a six pack or whatever. It has different mechanisms built in that it employs to erase your calorie deficit basically.

So, it’s kind of you versus your body in that way, although, of course, you don’t have to look at it in those contentious types of terms. You can work with your body and you can lose fat without causing any harm to your body. But you’re still working against your body.

You’re doing something that your body doesn’t actually want to do. But you can make it do it, and you do it in a way that doesn’t cause harm. So, we’ll talk about those things in the context of not losing weight. I think that’s a good overview of what we’re going to cover. So let’s just get into it.

First, let’s just talk about…I’m going to run down things in terms of not necessarily seniority, but what I see that’s most common. The first thing is that people are losing fat but they’re not losing weight. We’re very programmed to just think with weight when people say they want to get leaner. What they really are saying is they want to lose fat not muscle.

But the words they say is they want to lose weight. If someone wants to gain muscle, they say they want to gain weight. A better way to think of it is in terms of body composition. If we look at your body composition in terms of, what’s your body comprised of? You have fat, and you have everything else that’s not fat, including bones and muscles and organs, and water, and all that.

In terms of body composition, when you are wanting to “lose weight,” what you’re wanting to do is get rid of fat and not get rid of anything else that’s not fat, basically. You don’t want to be losing muscle. Of course, you will lose some water and glycogen, so I guess that’s not totally true.

There is a little bit of the fat free mass that you’re going to be losing. You don’t want to be losing organ tissue, you don’t want to be losing bone, you don’t want to be losing muscle. You want to lose fat, and your water and glycogen levels are going to fluctuate, which is what we’re going to talk about here. This is the number one most commonly misunderstood thing that people see. Let’s say someone starts to overweight, and then they start dieting for the first time properly. They’re restricting their calories, high protein, blah, blah, blah.

Then they start lifting weights, and then they don’t really understand how. Let’s say, three months can go by, or two months can go by. They look leaner in the mirror, and their pants are fitting looser, but their weight hasn’t really changed.

On one hand, they’re happy. They look in the mirror and they go, “Hmm, clearly something is working, but, on the other hand, it kind of goes up against that inherent, “Well, why isn’t my weight changing?” The whole point of dieting is that your weight is supposed to go down.

So, that is obviously a situation where when you are new to weightlifting, you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Really, anybody can do it. The degree to which you can do it is going to depend on your body, your genetics, your compliance to your diet, your compliance in your workouts.

This is more anecdotal, this is just based on working with a lot of people. I would say that anyone, probably in their first six to eight months of weightlifting, can reliably build muscle and lose fat.

If you took the same volume of muscle and fat, muscle weighs more because it’s more condensed. So, if you were placing, in the space that was once, let’s say, had that much fat, if you replaced it with that much muscle, you’re actually going to weigh a little bit more.

This is called body recomposition, because you’re changing the composition of your body for the better. It’s a good sign. It’s one of those things I tell people, if you are looking leaner in the mirror. There are some different reliable ways to keep an eye on your body fat percentage and your body composition. The mirror is good. Taking pictures every week or so — front, side, back, in good lighting, not flexing — that’s good.

Taking a caliper measurement…I like a caliper made by Accu-Measure. It’s cheap. It’s a one measurement on the suprailliac. If you search Muscle For Life for “body fat,” you’ll see an article I wrote, and there’s a video there, or, if you search on YouTube here in my channel, you’ll find a video on how to take a correct measurement.

Extrapolating it to body fat percentage, there’s going to be a level of inaccuracy, really with any method that you use. So, you don’t even have to necessarily do that.

You could know within one or two percent. I calipered about seven percent, but I’m not seven percent. I’m probably eight percent, highest would be nine percent. My guess is I’m in the low eight percent range. But, again, it doesn’t matter how I get tested, whether it’s bioimpedance, or whether I even go get DEXA-Scanned, or hydrostatic, they all have margins of error.

There’s really no way to know with 100 percent accuracy what your body fat percentage is, besides, cutting all the fat off your body and weighing it, basically. That’s the only way to really know.

More importantly though is you see that caliper measurement going down in millimeters. If you start at 15 mm in the suprailliac, and now you’re 10, you have lost fat. Period. I don’t care what happened on the scale. I don’t care if you’ve gained 10 pounds on the scale, you have lost fat. That’s reliable.

Measuring your waist at your navel, that’s also reliable. Again, if your waist is shrinking, you’re losing fat. If it’s growing, you’re gaining fat.

In terms of how frequently to take these measurements, I recommend once a week under the same conditions, and weighing yourself. I mean, obviously, keeping an eye on the scale is a good idea. I recommend weighing yourself every day in the morning, after you’ve gone to the bathroom, naked.

Take an average every seven to ten days. Don’t pay too much attention about that number day to day, because it’s going to fluctuate based on water, and going to the bathroom, and how much food you ate, and all that stuff. If you take an average every seven to ten days, and then watch that average, that’s a much more reliable way to see what’s going on with your body.

There’s also, I’ve talked a little about this already, water retention issues that can affect where you are. You can be losing fat, but not losing weight.

One thing you need is that, when you’re in a calorie deficit, it puts some stress in your body. Cortisol levels are going to be generally higher. If you don’t sleep enough, that’s going to make worse.

Training, depending on higher body response, training, even depending on your hormones…If you are a lower testosterone person, then you are more prone to have issues with cortisol.

As cortisol levels go up, water retention goes up. You just hold more water. You’ll see it subcutaneous under your skin. You look puffy and that’s part of the game. What you can do about that though is there are some different simple strategies.

I mean cortisol is a stress hormone, right? If you have high stress levels just generally in your life, it’s not going to help. Doing things that help you relax are going to help with this, making sure you get enough sleep.

I wrote an article on this. If you search Muscle For Life for “relax,” you’ll see some different simple scientifically proven methods to help your body relax. Your mind and your body. It could be as simple as having a night routine that involves bathing, reading.

Obviously, meditating is the thing that some people are into. I’ve tried but it’s not really my thing. I don’t remember in the article. If you search the article, there are some good simple strategies there.

The main things are getting enough sleep and making sure that your calorie deficit is not too large. As you know, I recommend a calorie deficit about 20 to 25 percent so if you’re going to be aggressive, you are eating 75 percent of the energy that you are burning, but you start going too larger deficit and it put the body under more and more stress.

Another common mistake that people make that really screws with water retention is eating too much sodium and too little potassium. This is probably, these and vitamin D and vitamin K deficiencies…Sodium-potassium imbalance, vitamin D and vitamin K deficiencies are probably the most common micronutrient issues that are out there with people’s diets. At least here in western diets.

Western diets are generally very high in sodium very low in potassium which is not particularly healthy. But it can also mess with your water level retention. Generally speaking, most people’s Potassium levels are low.

Potassium pumps water out of cell and Sodium pumps it in. Generally, people’s diets are very low in potassium and sodium levels can be all over the place. Sodium in one day could be five grams. Sodium the next day could be two grams, then three.

Those fluctuations can dramatically affect water retention. Again, this depends on your body. I just don’t tend to hold much water and that’s just my body. Maybe it could be hormonal. I haven’t ever even gone to blood test. I keep on saying one of these days I’ll do it and then I just don’t really think of it because I don’t have a reason to.

Out of curiosity, I would guess that I’m probably a higher testosterone type of person, giving how my body responds to weight lifting and even my personality and stuff.

I know my brother, he tested. He tested really high. He’s not on drugs. Definitely not. He’s actually a skinny little dude. I think his test was at like 1,100 or 1,200. That wasn’t his free test but that was his test. I don’t know what his free was. I think it was pretty high too.

Anyway, that’s very high for natural testosterone. He’s not, even when he tested, he got into weightlifting for a little bit and start taking care of himself, then just fell off the wagon. The time he got tested, he wasn’t even lifting. He wasn’t exercising. I think he was even smoking. He wasn’t a healthy person at all.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I don’t really see much change in my water retention. But even that said, I definitely will see a change if I go out to a restaurant and eat a bunch of food. Which if you’re eating out in a restaurant just know that shit is salted to the hilt. That’s because if you want to be better at cooking, make sure you salt your food enough. That’s a simple little tip.

In terms of how much, the general rule is, you want to salt your food as much as you can take, basically. Because salt brings up flavors. So, when you’re in a restaurant, especially when you have a very fatty savory types of food, there’s a lot of salt in there. A teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium I think it is. That’s a lot of sodium. Think about that. That’s just a teaspoon of salt.

Depending on what you’re eating, if you’re eating a lot of food, you can easily eat probably two to four teaspoons. That’s in one meal. If you go out and you have an appetizer on tray, and dessert — easy. Depending on what the foods are, that could be five or six grams of sodium. And then you wake up the next day super bloated.

Depending on how your body responds to the fluctuations in sodium intake and then how much of water you’re drinking and stuff like that, it may last for one day, it may last for two days. But if you are not paying attention to your Sodium intake on a day to day basis, again, rapid fluctuations can cause water retention both up and down.

What you can have is you could have situation I see is a lot when I asked people to track their sodium intake for a week and it’ll be like 2,000, 4,000, 6,000, 2,000, 4,000, 1,500. Basically, their sodium level is always fluctuating enough to where they’re always just holding more water.

The solution for that is simple. Keep your sodium intake around a good safe range. For the average person, it will be around three to four grams of sodium.

I have read some stuff just recently. There’s some new research showing that unless you have a genetic little [inaudible 16:59] , people can go quite a bit higher in that without having hypertension issues and whatever. It’s something I haven’t really dived into.

I was reading a paper on something else and there was a link to that and those are interesting. I was looking into…I didn’t like spend a bunch time diving into it.

I just go at the Institute of Medicine. Their recommendation, the standard thing is, I think it’s about two and a half grams of sodium a day. But then you can go up to three or four grams without any issues. The key there is that your potassium should be up around four or five grams a day.

That’s actually trickier to do. You need to think with that when you’re doing your meal planning, if you want to get it all from food. That means you need to be looking for potassium rich fruits and vegetables. You can also supplement.

My favorite potassium rich fruit is obviously banana. I eat a couple of bananas a day. I get about probable two grams of potassium from bananas. And then I get probably about another 500 milligrams from the other vegetables that I eat. And then I supplement with about a gram.

When you buy potassium supplements, just know that it’s 99 milligrams per pill. That’s the standardized, regardless of the form, potassium citrate, gluconate, or whatever. It might say 500 milligrams in a pill, but then if you look, it will say providing 99 milligrams of potassium. That’s intentional, because if you take too much potassium, if you were just to ask, let’s say you thought it was 100 milligrams of potassium per pill and its 500, and you take a bunch of pills, your heart can stop. You can die. That’s why it’s restricted to 100 milligrams per pill to prevent overdosing.

So, yes, that means I have to take 10 pills of potassium a day and that’s what I do. If I didn’t wanted to take the supplement, of course, I could figure it out with changing my diet even a little bit more and adding more potassium, but I’d rather just take the pill. That’s not a big deal.

If you get your sodium-potassium levels balanced, you’ll find that the water retention issues will…you won’t be holding as much water and you won’t see those fluctuations on a day-to-day, because you’ve experienced this before, you know. You can go out to a restaurant and let’s say you’re good, you don’t eat a ton of calories, and you even save some calories.

Let’s say you go in there with 2,000 calories to “spend” on the meal. You’re good and you maybe eat a little bit more but it’s nothing ridiculous. Then you wake up the next day looking like two pounds fatter and you’re like, “What the fuck?” That’s water.

It’s just there was a ton of salt in that meal, basically. That’s fine if you know it’s going to happen. I know that if I go out to a restaurant, I expect to look fatter for the next day or two, and then it gets back to normal, even if my calories are not, I don’t explode my calories.

Let’s move on to the next, probably the most, one of the most common reasons why people I speak with, why they are having issues, why they’re weight loss plateaus, they’re not losing weight anymore, and that’s they eat too many calories in short periods of time.

They’ll be good on their diet and they’ll maintain their calorie deficit for, let’s say, five days of the week, and the weekends come. Then it’s all out cheat days and shit, and they eat back all the, all that deficit that they accumulated and all that fat they burned through the week. They gain it all back on the weekend.

I know I’ve talked about this before so I’m not going to go on and on about it, but if you just look at it in terms of, let’s look at your calories and your energy expenditure on a weekly basis as opposed to just a daily basis. Let’s say by the end of a week, my average daily energy expenditure, let’s just say mine is around 3,000 calories, give or take.

I have 21,000 calories that I burn in a week. I probably don’t burn that many, because I’m less active on the weekends, usually intentionally less active to give my body a little bit of a break.

Let’s just say it was 21,000 calories. That’s how much energy I’m going to burn. If I want to lose weight, then I’m going to be eating 75 percent of that.

Whatever that is, 16,000, 15 something, 15,000-16,000 calories, that’s what I’m going to be eating. If I did that, then that deficit there, let’s say it’s a six or five thousand calorie deficit, should be good for about a pound, maybe a pound and a half of fat loss.

Now, if I go Monday through Friday, and I have that deficit, have that deficit, and then I go ham on the weekends, and my calorie intake skyrockets back up to by the end of Sunday. Let’s say I pushed it right to 21,000 calories, not that you know what you’re doing, I’m just simplifying it here, then I haven’t, I’ve ruined that deficit.

That means that for the whole week I ate the energy that I burned. Of course, I didn’t lose any fat. What you’ll see though, and how that’ll go is, you’ll go through the week, and you’ll get a little bit leaner, you’ll look a little bit better.

Things are good, and then the weekend comes and you eat all this food, and then you usually see the after effects come Monday or Tuesday, you just don’t look any different. Your measurements aren’t any different.

You’re going to have this improvement, improvement, improvement, and then you slide back, and then you just look the same. That’s very common.

You have to be smarter “with your cheating.” That’s why, I think a cheat meal is fine, that’s why I actually recommend just restricting it to one cheat meal a week when you’re cutting is because, especially, in my books like, “Bigger Leaner Stronger,” “Thinner Leaner Stronger,” they’re written more for people that are new to weightlifting, new to dieting.

I try not to overwhelm them with too many different things, just give some simple rules of thumb, some simple guidelines to follow. The reason why I say one cheat meal a week is because you’re not going to do that much damage in one meal.

Maybe you’re going to end the day in a few hundred calories surplus, and it’s not that every calorie that you eat even, it depends on where those calories are coming from. A 300, 500 calorie surplus of carbs is just going to result in less fat storage than let’s say, a 300 to 500 calorie surplus of dietary fat.

If you want to look at it a bit more technically, in terms of a “cheat meal,” as you know, it doesn’t really matter. The foods that you’re eating are not the point, it’s just the amount.

The problem with the foods that we “like to cheat with,” they’re usually very high calorie. They’re fatty foods. Probably people the most, one of the most favorite cheat meals, pizza, ice cream, those are probably actually the top two, pizza and ice cream, very fatty foods.

Delicious but very fatty which means very calorie dense and also, as you probably know, I’ve talked about this many times, is that dietary fat is converted, is stored as body fat very efficiently. That’s one of the primary things that the body does with dietary fat is store it as body fat.

Whereas carbs are very rarely converted directly into body fat, which is by a process called de novo lipogenesis. You have to eat a lot of carbs, basically, because your body, the first thing it does with carbs is, it burns it for energy and then it stores it.

Well, you have glucose that gets burned as energy and then the glucose can be converted into something called glycogen, which gets stored primarily in the muscles and liver. Once glycogen stores are full, then de novo lipogenesis can occur, which is the process whereby then excess glucose beyond those needs would be converted into body fat.

Now, the thing is, if you’re weightlifting, your muscles can store more glycogen than a normal person’s. The more muscle you have, the more glycogen your body can store.

Somebody my size, I’m 190 pounds, I’m six two, have a good amount of muscle, I probably, it’s hard to say with, could like, “Oh, this is the exact amount of glycogen,” but a good guess is probably six to 800 grams of glycogen stored in my body at any time. If I deplete that, which you do with working out, you do with, if I were to do some low carb type dieting would say, “I want to get rid of some water out of my body for a photo shoot or something,” you can deplete glycogen stores by quite a bit and then the body has to replenish them.

That’s why I recommend that, with cheat meals, go high carb over high fat because the only “problem” in terms of fat storage and how it relates back to energy balance is, carbs, mainly due to the insulin stimulation, it suppresses fat oxidation. Your body, when you eat carbs, your body starts burning carbs for energy instead of its body fat.

That’s how the body works. You have, every day you eat food, your insulin levels rise, your body burns the food for energy, it’s not burning its own fat. It’s storing the dietary fat and not burning its own fat.

Eventually, that process is done. It burns through all the energy that you ate. It processes all the nutrients that you ate, and it has to go back to its body fat for energy, and it has to do that until you feed it again. It’s just, you have that cycle.

At the end of the day, fat loss or fat gain is really just the difference between the amount of fat that you burned when your body didn’t have food, when it had to go through its own fat stores, versus the amount of energy, or the amount of fat that it stored after you ate.

You have on this hand, you ate all this food, it stored all this fat. On this hand, you did whatever you did in terms of activity, you burn energy. If it had to burn through more fat than it stored, you lost fat. If it got to burn less fat than you ate, than it stored, then you gained fat.

With carbohydrates, they blunt when you eat carbs, your body stops burning fat. That’s how it relates to your total fat mass. It’s not that when you eat carbs, it gets directly turned into fat. That rarely happens, and protein, that very rarely happens as well.

Bring this all back is, when you’re going to cheat, I recommend, what I personally like to do, is I just like to save up my calories for the day. If I’m going to go out to a restaurant, and I know that I’m going to want to eat a lot of food, then I’ll just eat protein throughout the day.

That’s it. I’ll have my post, my post workout meal will just be protein. I’ll come into that meal with maybe having eaten 80 percent of my day’s protein, 75 percent of my day’s protein, as little fat as I can get away with, because I want to eat it in the food that I’m going to eat, and basically it’s low carbs, too. I’ll have some vegetables at lunch and stuff, so maybe I’ll have eaten 50 carbs by the meal comes.

Then that gives me a big buffer. Now I get to eat a couple thousand calories and not gain any fat, and by the end of the day…just bring it back to the scale example there. I haven’t fed my body very much food throughout the day. It’s had to rely on its body fat for basically the entire day.

Technically speaking, say, it has burned through 50 grams of fat, let’s just say. Maybe that’s high or maybe that’s low, whatever. The point is it’s burned through a good amount of fat. Then here comes this big meal, and this big meal, then, is going to result in, yes, the storage of a fair amount of fat, but if I have my energy balance, if I have my energy intake and output balanced, if by the end of the day, if I burn 3,000 calories and then I ate 2,000 calories at dinner and then a thousand calories, or even more, if I ate 2,500 of my daily calories at dinner and 500 throughout the day previously, that doesn’t matter.

In the end, I’m in balance. Again, what that means is the amount of energy that my body has pulled from body fat, is then replaced with the fat that is stored from the meal.

That’s a good way to minimize the damage of cheat meals. You don’t have to do it that way. That’s more if you want to, I can eat so much food. Fifteen-hundred calories of food, for me, is I barely even feel full.

It’s so weird. I don’t get hungry and it takes a shitload of food to make me feel actually full. I don’t have to eat more than 1,500 calories in a meal. I can eat a small meal or a big meal, but for me to eat to that point where I’m like, “Damn, that was a lot of food,” and feel really satisfied, I have to eat so much food. That’s just the way I like to do it.

Let’s move on to the next problem that, a mistake that people make, is trying to eat on feel, by too much trying to eyeball macros. Instead of just making a meal plan, that’s very precise, weighed, in terms of, it’s going to be a hundred grams of this, 50 grams of that, so many ounces of this liquid, blah, blah, blah. Instead of doing it that way where people go, “Well, that’s about this many calories, that’s about that many calories.” If you’re trying to do that and you’re not losing weight, then that could very well be the problem because people are generally very bad at estimating the calories that they eat, the amount of calories they eat.

I don’t know if it’s a psychological bias where we want to tell ourselves that we ate less than we did, or what, but when I hear that somebody is doing that and not losing weight, my first thing I tell them is, “Trust me, just make a meal plan, very precise, every single thing that goes in your mouth is on that meal plan, and everything is quantified exactly, not a fist of this, or two fists of that, or whatever. Very precise, like measured. Then do that for the next 10 to 14 days and let’s see what happens.”

In a lot of cases, that’s it. They didn’t realize that they were eating more than they thought they were, which brings me to the next issue where there are good and bad ways to count calories.

The bad way is, say you make a meal plan. You say, “OK, a cup of oatmeal.” Then you go to do your cup of oatmeal and you scoop it and you’re a little bit generous, and it’s a heaping cup of oatmeal, and you go, “You know, whatever. It’s a little whatever, it’s not a big deal.”

What you didn’t know is, let’s say you look on the back of the package, and the label it says a cup of oatmeal is X number of calories, and you put that in your “My Fitness Pal” and then move on. Then you do that with, let’s say you have some peanut butter, and it said one tablespoon or two tablespoons of peanut butter, and the tablespoons are a bit bigger, and you put those calories in, though.

What you don’t realize though is that on the label there, when it says a cup of oatmeal, that depends. You have a heaping cup, that’s different than a cup.

Or if it’s a cup of sugar, let’s say, when you’re baking, a cup of sugar that is packed into there is as much as, where it’s a hockey puck of sugar, that’s different, that’s a different amount of sugar than a loose kind of, even a little bit less full cup.

It’s much better when you are creating your meal plans, instead of just going by, cups are fine, I like, I use fluid ounces. But, if I’m talking about anything other than that, I’m going by grams. That’s much more precise.

If you’re going to eat, let’s say 80 grams of oatmeal, when you look on the nutrition facts behind an oatmeal and it says one cup, that’s what they’re referring to actually. It’s about 80 grams of oatmeal.

If you have that cup packed and a little bit heaping, you might get up to 100 grams of oatmeal. You might be increasing the calories there by 25 percent just in that one food. The same thing with your peanut butter, your peanut butter might be 25 percent more peanut butter than you actually think it is.

You can imagine you rinse and repeat this and that’s plus 50 calories there, plus 100 calories there, plus 25 calories there. You do that enough and by the end of the day, you can easily have eaten an extra three, four hundred calories that you don’t even realize and then you wonder what the hell is going on. You’re sticking to your meal plan, you’re eating the way you’re supposed to eat.

That’s also very common and, obviously, I’ve already given you solution, is working in absolute weights so you kind of remove that element of human error. That’s also worth mentioning. I get actually asked this very often.

I like to weigh my foods raw if I’m making one meal. If I want to make chicken or whatever it is, I weigh everything raw, because weights can change based on what you’re cooking and with how much moisture absorbs or how much moisture it loses or whatever.

If I’m making a one pot type of meal, that’s really the way I cook these days. Every Sunday, I make a big one pot something and then portion it out and just eat it throughout the week, because it’s easy and I don’t mind eating the same foods everyday.

I take all the ingredients and work out all the numbers for the entire thing and then weigh that total amount and then of how much food it is cooked and then portion that out. I find that better, because then you just know.

For simple math, let’s say you have 1,000 grams of food and it’s x number of calories. Then you just go, cool I’m going to eat that. There’s my four dinners. I’m going to do 250 grams of this stuff. Whether it be a chili. I’ve been doing a lot of chilies recently.

Also you can do some delicious, I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily desserts, but some rice dishes or even rice pudding type stuff and whatever. It’s easier if you have the numbers for anything that went in that pot and then weigh the amount of food that it gives you and then portion that out.

Another thing worth noting is alcohol. This is more in conjunction with cheating. Alcohol is actually similar to carbohydrate in the way that it doesn’t get converted into body fat. Really there’s basically no conversion from alcohol into body fat, but it blunts fat oxidation like carbohydrates do.

Unfortunately when people go out, if you’re going to cheat, it’s usually going to be a high fat meal like we already talked about — burgers, pizza, ice cream, that kinds of stuff, french fries — plus alcohol equals maximum fat storage basically.

It’s not that you can’t have alcohol, but if you’re going to do that, I would recommend keeping the day that you’re drinking alcohol, the day you’re going to have alcohol, make that a low fat day.

That’s really the key. A lot of protein, you can have some carbs, but you really want your fats to be as low as possible if you’re going to be drinking alcohol. That will basically minimize the fat storage that can occur as a result.

The next area of error here with people that aren’t losing weight is they usually think they’re burning more energy than they are. The most common mistake actually is just bad calculations. I’ll regularly hear from girls that they’ll say, “Oh, my BMR is 2,000 calories so I’m multiplying that by 1.35 and working my deficit from there.”

Your BMR is not 2,000 calories. My BMR is 2,100 calories. I’m a guy and I’m 6’2”, 190 pounds and I have a lot of muscle. Trust me, your BMR is not…Usually the vast majority they go, oh yeah, they made a mistake. Their BMR is like 1,400 calories and they thought it’s 2,000 or they thought it’s 1,900.

Sometimes, strangely enough, I’ve had people argue with me. I’ll send them up. I’m like, use the formula. Your BMR is not, because I don’t know, someone in their CrossFit gym pulled them, did the math for them or some shit like that.

I’ll try to show them, here is the BMR formula. Trust me, you do not have the same BMR as me. You’re a 150 pound girl. It’s just not possible. Most people are receptive to it. They realize, oh shit, there’s the problem.

That’s very simple. Just make sure you’re calculating your BMR correctly and you’re calculating your total daily energy expenditure…This isn’t really peoples fault.

It’s just unfortunate that one of the more common…basically the most common methods that are used to do this like Katch-McArdle and there are a few other formulas. The activity multipliers are just too high. They’re just not applicable to a person with an average type of metabolism.

For instance, according to the Katch-McArdle I should be multiplying I exercise about five to six hours a week which I believe is like a 1.5 multiplier on the Katch, which would mean that my TDE would be over 3,000 calories and it’s just not.

I’ve worked with thousands of people and I know for a fact…this is also just a thing that is kind of known in the body building world. Many body builders that just kind of know what they’re doing, they really never go over 1.3 or 1.35 regardless how much exercise they’re doing.

Sometimes if you’re doing a lot of exercise some of these guys are also running large calorie deficits, because they can, because they’re on enough drugs to make it…it just doesn’t matter. They cannot lose muscle and their hormones are so blasted out of the roof. There’s nothing.

They’re taking thyroid hormone. They’re just doing so much do their body that they might as well just basically starve the shit out of themselves, because why not?

The only reason to really eat enough food, eat a good amount of food is to have enough energy for their workouts. They’re are not really worried about losing muscle or anything else. It is just a known thing that those activity multipliers that you see are just too high.

The general rule is take whatever. Wherever you fall in the sedentary one, three hour, four to six hour [inaudible 38:36] whatever it is, whatever that multiplier is, reduce it by one-tenth.

If it’s a 1.3 multiplier, make it a 1.2. Unless you know you have a very fast metabolism, unless you’ve been one of those people that’s been lean your entire life. You’ve always had trouble gaining weight, you’ve always been eating a lot of food, then you probably could actually just stick with the normal multipliers or maybe you need to go higher.

I do run into people every once in a while I run into guys, very fast metabolism, they have to eat a lot of food to gain weight. For the average person, if you take that activity multiplier and just reduce it by one-tenth in terms of decimal points, reduce the tenth slot by one, then that would be more accurate.

Another kind of common mistake regarding energy expenditure is just assuming that you’re burning more energy while exercising than you are. I like to use the activity multiplier method for turning my calories. It’s simpler. You don’t have to try to adjust things on a day to day basis.

At the end of every week, you can get the job done. I don’t see a real reason to make things more complex than it needs to be where you like, let’s say you’re doing one hour of exercise on one day, you’re doing two hours the next day, an hour and a half the next day, 30 minutes the next day, to try to change your intake every day and do it that way is just, I think it’s unnecessary complication.

Some people try to do that and then they run into the problem of accurately estimating calorie expenditure during exercise and fit bits and all those machines and all those little gadgets and cardio machines that have calorie output.

You can’t trust those things. They’re going to be wrong. You can just bet on that.

Then you just kind of left to guesstimate how much calories you’re burning. You’re eating a certain amount and you just don’t really know.

Instead of that, I do recommend just go with a simple method, calculate your BMR, multiply it by an activity multiplier that is based on how much exercise you’re doing per week and just do that.

Of course, that means that on certain days, your deficit is going to be a little bit larger than other days based on how much exercise you actually did and even other things based on like spontaneous…any activities.

Did you walk more that day? Did you take the stairs a couple of times at the office, because the elevator was broken? All these things add up to energy burned. You’re never just going to be a flat deficit every day. That’s fine, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.

The point is as long as you’re not starving the shit out of yourself, if your deficit is good by the end of the week, which it will be if you just using the simplified method, you can lose fat, and not really have do to more math everyday and then adjust your meal plans everyday based on what you’re doing.

I’d say the exception of that is if you’re doing a lot exercise. I email sometimes with people that do a lot of biking, for instance, on the weekends. They go and bike a gazillion miles and burn a ton of energy. Well then, yes, it makes sense. We want to increase their intake at least a bit.

I think it’s fine if let’s say you’re in a 25 percent deficit. You say you set your deficit for 25 percent for the week and then on top of that though you have all this biking.

You can go look online and approximate maybe that you’re burning 2,000 calories let’s say per biking session and you want to eat a thousand of those calories back. Leave yourself good margin there. Don’t try to eat right back up to 2,000, because you might not burn 2,000.

It depends on your body. It depends on your muscle mass and depends on how conditioned you are, how adapted it is to the exercise.

You normally burn 1,500 calories. Though you’ve calculated 2,000, you eat 2,000 back and now you’ve over eaten by 500 calories. In that case, I usually “play it safe” and just say eat half your calories back.

Then if you’re in a little bit larger deficit one or two days a week, great. You’ll just lose more fat. It’s not like it’s going to be a problem.

One other thing you should know about energy expenditure is, and I mention this spontaneous activity. You have this non-exercise type of activity level that it varies from person to person. Some people are very high in this regard. They fidget around a lot. They’re always moving.

Little kids are a good example of this. My son Lennox, he’s turning three and he’s literally always doing something. He’s always running around, moving, talking, playing with his toys, jumping around and it’s not “exercising,” but he’s burning a ton of energy, because he never is sitting still.

He’s always doing something. As we get older, obviously, we don’t run all over the place, but still some people, they burn more energy through just non-exercise activity than others. Some people are just more sedentary in general.

Some people they walk fast, they take the stairs instead of taking that one floor elevator. They fidget around a lot. They move their hands when they talk a lot. All these things burn energy and it adds up.

Research shows that it can actually add up to quite a bit. One study, if you look at the lowest non-exercise activity thermogenesis — That’s what it’s called, NEAT — Lowest to highest was like a 2,000 calorie a day difference. Two-thousand calories, that’s crazy. I think the average was like maybe around 350 calories would be a more like when you start looking at the middle of the distribution of people where you go…

You have people a little bit on the low end a little bit at the high end. You could be at three, four hundred calories a day difference, but three to four hundred calories a day difference, that’s huge.

A lot of people don’t realize that all the extra activity that occurs outside of the gym burns energy. That’s why you’ll see a little weight loss tips to take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk the extra block or two instead of getting in the car and stuff like that. It actually adds up.

Even if you’re cleaning the house, then dance while you’re cleaning the house. It sounds stupid, but it increases the energy burning. In that way it helps.

Those are all the major points that I wanted to cover in the podcast. Those are usually by the time someone runs through all that, someone comes to me, I’m not losing weight, what’s going on? They run through all that. Rarely do we have to even go any further than all these things that I’ve covered.

The last thing that’s worth mentioning would be there is a point where if you’ve been in the calorie deficit for a long time, your body…just kind of brings you back to the beginning of the podcast. How it “fights back” is it tries to reduce its energy expenditure.

The major way it does that is it reduces the non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Naturally, you just will move less. You just are not going to do as much fidgeting. You’re not going to want to take the stairs. Your body wants to conserve energy in that manifest and different ways.

There also can be a bit of an adaptation that can occur with your basal metabolic rate. It’s not nearly as extreme as some people will say.

If you look at the research that came out of the Minnesota starvation experiment back in World War II, these are guys that were starved for months. I think it was up to a year actually. About 1,500 calories a day. They were burning about 3,000 calories a day.

It was a simulated POW camp basically. They were doing physical labor all day. In that whole period, I think the largest metabolic adaptation, down regulation that they saw was about 14-15 percent.

Somebody whose BMR, take me, my BMR is 2,100. It maybe drops by 300 calories or so, which is significant. That’s straight starvation status. It was research done to see with these prisoners of war, they’re going to be coming out of the war. How do you wean them back on the food when they’ve been starved for a year?

That was real starvation. Eating half your TDE for months and months and months, that’s starvation. Even that didn’t completely wreck people’s metabolisms.

There is a bit of adaptation that can occur. Just know that. In terms of working with people, I’ll see it.

Also I see it in my body where I have to start reducing my calories a little bit. Which isn’t necessarily because of my BMR changing, but I’m just burning less energy through exercise, which also can happen as well with your body depending on what the exercise is like.

If it’s low intensity kind of just endurance cardio, over time, you are going to be burning less and less energy doing it, because your body is going to be more efficient. Which is one of the reasons why I recommend high intensity cardio, high intensity weight lifting.

It’s one of the smaller reasons, but it is kind of a side benefit. Over the course of about, I’d say two to three months into dieting, it’s when you can expect to see a bit of this adaptation where you can be good on everything else that we just talked about.

Weight loss can slow down, slow down, slow down. You can expect it to slow down, because you get leaner, you’re going to be dealing with more and more stubborn fat which is just slower, just takes longer to get rid of.

Where in the beginning, you might be able to lose two pounds of fat a week if you’re quite overweight and then, at the end of your diet, let’s say you’re a guy, you’re now down to about ten percent body fat, or you’re a girl, down to about 20 percent body fat, and you want to keep in going, you can expect maybe a half a pound of fat a week.

You can maybe get that up to a pound with some supplementation and doing everything right, but it slows down. You just know that there is going to be a bit of metabolic adaptation, and the solution there is, if everything we’ve just talked about, if none of that fix the problem, the weight loss is still too slow, it’s still just grinding, you’re not feeling good, then it’s time to reverse your calorie intake.

One of the problems with, one of the many problems with dieting is when you’re in that stage. You’ve kind of mildly starved your body for several months. You’ve gotten lean. It’s in our own getting to the details here, because this video has already gone quite long, but basically your body is in a state where it can rapidly store fat.

What you don’t want to do is do what many people do and that is just start slamming down calories, because the diet is finally over and you just start eating everything. You’re going to gain fat very quickly. Instead what you want to do is reverse diet which is where you slowly increase your calories over the course of a month or so and just to prevent that binge effect.

I’ll link an article down below on reverse dieting that goes all into it. You can just go check that out, or if you’re listening to this and you’re not on YouTube, just go to Muscle For Life and search for reverse diet and you’ll see it.

That’s everything. I hope you find this video helpful and let me know what you think in the comments below. Subscribe and do all that good stuff and I will see you next time.

ARTICLES RELATED TO THIS PODCAST:

How to Measure and Improve Your Body Composition

10 Proven Ways to Relax Your Muscles and Mind

Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Weight Loss and Muscle Growth?

The Definitive Guide to Reverse Dieting

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

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  • Kelly Carpenter

    Hey Mike-

    Love your info- in a big fan. Just listened to this podcast during my run this morning and I decided I was going to ask you about something you said and have said before that in having a hard time wrapping my brain around.

    “If you’re going to eat a surplus, it’s better to make that surplus from carbs or protein instead of fat because dietary fat is more easily stored as fat”. This is the concept in struggling with. I totally understand the concept of denovo lipogenesis and all that. Butttt my question is how does one macro become what makes you in a surplus over another? I mean you’re eating dietary fat every day, so it’s there already in some amount. So if you then pig out on pasta and go way over your carbs and you’re into a calorie surplus…even though it was carbs you overate with, there’s still dietary fat present (because you ate some that day too of course) that can be stored since you’re now in a surplus. So why would it matter what it was you went over in calories with, if there’s always dietary fat present to be stored when you do this? It’s not like all the food is collecting in chronological order in your body and there’s like a “surplus line” you cross…like you said in the pod cast, we go through little surpluses and little deficits all day every day. So how can you ever be in a surplus of just one macro?

    Please help, my brain hurts!

    • Joseph

      It matters because dietary fats have no benefit to lifters beyond regulating our hormones, and the amount required to carry out that process is actually very little. There are several reasons mike recommends a surplus mainly comprised of carbohydrate. (or protein as you mentioned) One of them being that when you are in a surplus with carbohydrates, your muscles and liver can store the extra carbohydrate that you’ve eaten in some cases, which in turn reduces the amount of fat that you store. There is also the fact that both protein and carbohydrate cost a LOT of energy to convert into fat (with carbohydrates its about 25% and with protein its virtually impossible to convert into fat) versus dietary fats which can be stored in the body with almost no energy cost. A final reason relates to training in that training is directly dependent on carbohydrates for glycogen stores and energy so when your’e eating more carbs your training is much better. Basically, if you place yourself in a surplus mainly comprised of fats, your body will store fat much easier/faster than if it was with protein or carbs. (as a side note, the body only requires about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight so your surplus should be mainly comprised of carbs)

      • Kelly Carpenter

        I totally get all that you said. I know it’s difficult to store carbs or protein as fat. But my question was HOW can you create a surplus of one macro or another, when you’ve eaten all three? A surplus is made from more CALORIES than your TDEE. So once you are in that surplus, even if it wasn’t a fatty meal that put you there, you still consumed some amount of fat that day so that very fat can now be stored. That is where I’m getting confused as to why it would matter what specific macro you overate on. I get that the extra carbs and protein you ate won’t be stored as fat…but the fat that you ate can be…so what does it matter what put you in a surplus?

        • Joseph

          I guess if you put it like that, then it doesn’t really matter. But lets say you had a LOT more dietary fats than protein and carbs. Since the dietary fat isn’t needed beyond a certain amount it will ALWAYS store as fat beyond your deficit but if your’e having 20% of your calories daily from it, your body will use most of it for horomone regulation and the rest for a bit of fat storage not much though. (considering its 20% of your daily calories) You’re right, a surplus is a surplus but your macronutrient composition will dictate the amount of fat you store, and how much energy you have in your workouts.

          • Kelly Carpenter

            That makes sense. I think 20% of calories from fat is adequate when bulking, since calories will be high and that will equal a good amount of fat. I just want to throw out there that I think 20% of cals for fat when cutting, especially for women, is a bad idea. For me that would only be about 30g a day which is not enough to make my diet doable. I just couldn’t comply with that and if a diet isn’t sustainable it’s worthless. Less than 50g a day for women is not a good plan all around. But I digress, that’s not the point if any of this, just mentioning it.

          • If you keep your fat around 0.3 grams per pound of fat-free mass, or 0.2 to 0.25 grams per pound of body weight, you should be fine.

            If, at that level, you notice signs of inadequate fat intake (overly dry skin and irregular periods are two common ones), yes you should eat more.

        • Generally speaking you can expect your body to store just about all dietary fat you eat as body fat. This function is important for maintaining health.

          As Joseph said, when we look at acute overfeeding, a high-fat meal/day is going to result in more direct fat storage than a high-carb one.

          You can read about this here:

          http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/62/1/19.full.pdf

          Example:

          You go to a restaurant to “cheat” and are going to end the day in a calorie surplus.

          If you eat 50 grams of protein, 100 grams of carb, and 300 grams of fat, you’re going to gain more fat than if you had eaten, let’s say, 50 pro, 300 carb, and 100 fat.

          Remember that maintaining a calorie surplus over time is different than eating a shitload of food in a short period of time.

          • Kelly Carpenter

            Thank you!! I’ll read that link. This does make more sense now. Thanks Joseph as well

          • My pleasure! Happy to hear it.

      • Spot on Joseph. Thanks for commenting.

    • Thanks Kelly!

      Sorry for the confusion. I’m going to jump in on the comments below.

  • Kelly Carpenter

    Also just did the math real quick- 34g fat for me (136#) if on maintenance cals (1850ish) is only 17%. Shouldn’t fat be in the 20-35% range always?

  • Haha well personal preferences do matter. I’m talking physiological needs and you just don’t need more than about 0.3 g/lb FFM for overall health, that’s all.

  • Christian Carrera

    How do i get a customized meal plan from you?

  • Hi, Mike. Suggestion for a post: high-carb, low-fat cheat meals. When Saturday comes, I can only think of fattty foods (except for pancakes): burgers, cakes, cheese (I live in Switzerland), fries with mayo, speculoos.

    • romankol

      Fellow Swiss here! (Live in Canada though). You have the best bakeries in the world over there in Switzerland. Tons of delicious breads(Zopf!), cookies, and cakes (most cakes I can think are loaded with sugar and aren’t that fatty) for you to enjoy!

    • Not a bad idea! Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  • Bill

    Why you recommend 1.2/(lb of bodyweight) grams of protein when cutting and 1 gram when Bulking? What’s up with the increased protein when cutting?

  • Nick

    Hey Mike I take bcaa’s during my fasted training and has worked out for me but I realize some have sugar or extra stuff in it which equals calories which can break the fast, is there a good bcaa product you could recommend that’s flavored but won’t break the fast?

  • Gabriel Cortez

    Mike and other knowledgeable bros,

    I’ve been very happy doing fasted training for about a year (w/ Leucine) but I’m finding myself wanting a little energy boost on my chest and leg days. Does it make any sense to just have carbs pre-workout and not protein, while taking leucine? Or should should I just go ahead and take protein if you’re already taking carbs? It was my understanding that the leucine compensates for the lack of protein but not necessarily lack of carbs. Thanks!

  • Yin

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks again for the post,one question about cutting:
    Im female that weights 58kg, 30% body fat, TDEE is 1666, BMR is 1234. I want to cut 30% which gives me 1166 calories intake. Could I do that even though is below my BMR for one to two months? (i have been doing weightlifting 5 days a week for a month)
    Thanks!

    • YW!

      Nah I don’t recommend going below BMR. Let’s start with a 20% deficit from TDEE and see how you do.

      What do you think? My pleasure!

  • Eli Amghar

    Hi Mike,
    I basically listened to this entire podcast AND read the script to find an answer to a question that’s been in my mind for a long time. I found that most of my preferred cheat-meals are like 3000 calories!! I’m afraid that will seriously hurt my fat loss. Is there a sure way to have a cheat-meal that will be satisfying enough but NOT hurt my fat loss?
    (btw 3000 calories is not much for me i’m 6’2 and 200 pounds also i have quite a bit of muscle)

    • Hey Eli, that’s a lot of cals! Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/cheat-meal/

      What you can also do is “save” your calories during the day so that you can allocate them to the evening cheat meal. It’s very possible to still wind up in a deficit at the end of the day doing this.

  • Reuben

    Hey Mike,

    A question for you, after training for 8 years, I took two years off the gym. I lost a fair bit of muscle and gained a bunch more fat. I am back at the gym now, 6’1, 235lbs, 76kg lean mass and 27% body fat. I want to cut down to at least 15%, I started trying to cut on about 2500 calories (40/40/20) as instructed by macro calculators, training 5-6x per week @ 4-6 reps. Didn’t lose any weight. Dropped my calories to 2300 the next week, didn’t lose any weight, in fact gained nearly 1/2 a lb. Dropped my calories to 2000 for the third week, and still gaining weight.

    My strength is also coming back ridiculously fast even though I am not in a surplus, bench and squat alone have gone up 130lbs from what I started lifting 3 weeks ago. I don’t want to drop my calories too low, because already now I am in what would be considered “too much” of a deficit, I just don’t know why my weight is going up even though I am specifically trying to cut. My calories are on point (albeit really low), even hidden stuff like cooking oil etc. I’m not too concerned with gaining muscle at this point, just want to get back down to a healthy body fat %. What gives?

    • Hey Reuben,

      Welcome back on the wagon! Can you verify that BF% is correct, and that you’re referencing the correct tables and portions on your meal plan? Also, have you started doing HIIT cardio? Let’s start with 3-4 sessions a week and see how it goes:

      https://legionathletics.com/high-intensity-interval-training/

      • Reuben

        well, I was DEXA scanned at 27% and would probably eye myself at minimum of 20%. I am still quite a muscular guy even after so long off the gym. My macros are 40% carbs, 40% protein, 20% fat. I actually changed this to 40% carbs, 45% protein, 15% fat. I try fast for 15 hours per day (sleep, then until about 1pm but have BCAA’s in between). The DEXA put my TDEE at 3,000 cals. And 2500 for a cut. I’m on 1960 (my DEXA RMR) and still seem to be staying the same weight. Have not tried HIIT yet, figured at 27% it should have already started just by nutrition alone, just left confused

        • OK. At 235lbs, 27%BF, 4-6hrs of intense exercise, that’ll put your cutting cals at 2218/day to start. Reduce it to 2100 and/or increase HIIT cardio if you’re not losing fat. LMK how it goes.

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