I’m about to be a lab rat.
Have any of you ever played the Sims, or Civ, or one of those games where there were slide rules? You adjust taxes too high, then weeks later, your people riot. Taxes are too low and your city dies and you lose the game.
This is essentially what fat loss and muscle gain is.
But I am doing something kinda sorta interesting. I plan on gaining muscle while losing fat.
“BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT”. Well, yes you can, under certain circumstances. This goes back to anabolic versus catabolic. If you watch the YouTubes, you’ll find lots of bro science talks about new gains and how, it is possible, for those who are obese, to lose fat AND gain muscle at the same time.
What’s extremely interesting is….no one can sort of explain it. Why does it only work for those who are massive or just starting out with training? How can we science this to understand what’s going on?
I did a writing last week I never posted. It was longggg, even by my standards. Let me quickly summarize some high level points:
- Walking will burn available carbs first, then burn mostly fat stores. I also believe this taps into muscle glycogen stores in your legs, or else your legs wouldn’t get tired.
- Running will seem to use available carbs first, glycogen stores in legs, and fat – but I also believe strongly that this also burns more muscle. I want you to find one marathon runner who has a decent amount of muscle bulk. I believe when you jog long distances, I believe your body signals for all hands on deck and it breaks down whatever is handy. This is why fat people, after months of running, hit a serious plateau – a lot of muscle is catabolized.
- Just sitting around and breathing, your body is pulling glycogen from muscles, liver, available carbs, fats.
Of interest here, is none of the real science has hit the “bro” community yet, so while I’m not dialed into the latest research papers from MIT on this, I can tell you a lot of the above is still sketchy to the people who are telling fat people how to lose weight.
If I may, let me also talk about Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is all of the calories needed to feed your body at rest. Meaning, this is essentially how much gasoline you have to put in the car to drive to work and back every day. As an example, here are some of the fuels I put into my Ferrari these days:
Typical dinner Mon/Tues. Salad with 12-16 oz chicken. I use lite Italian dressing, at 25 calories per TBSP.
This might be another dinner or two during the week, or even lunches. 8-12oz chicken, 1 cup brown rice, 1-2 cups broccoli. I love making up the chicken spicy, I then need no butter or anything like that for the rice. I use hot sauce as well for the chicken/rice when heating up. LOVE the spice!
My dinner last night. I made up a pork loin and had about 14 ounces. Low cal. I also made up cauliflower mashed potatoes and broccoli. In many years’ past, Sat night was going out to dinner and probably eating 3,000-4,000 calories. These days, I crave my own food, believe it or not. I had just worked out hard in the morning and wanted a high protein and lower carb meal – so I substituted mashed potatoes for cauliflower. I’m ok with veggie carbs all day long, as there are a LOT of nutrients with these.
The theories are…if you cut calories, you will lose weight. If you add calories, you will gain weight. People like myself said to ourselves, “fuck, I’ll just eat 1,000 calories and drop x weight in y months”. You do this as people are continuing to point out you’re still fat and need to stop eating donuts. You add lots of running. You drop 20 pounds…30…then STOP!!!! You continue to eat less and run…and no weight comes off. Then maybe you wake up one day 5 pounds less. I would spend probably half of every year of my life in some sort of mode like this to lose weight.
One big problem. I cut my calories too low and chose a form of exercise that not only burned fat, but burned muscle. Muscle is extremely important to having a higher BMR.
So last year, I dropped like 25 pounds in 2 months, then hit the wall, got back spasms, and at that time sought out a trainer for the first time in my life. I got my BMR from a fancy scale, and she told me to eat 2800 calories a day. 2800???? Yeah, and I continued to lose weight. What? It was HARD to eat 2800 calories of healthy food. I was able to have cheat meals 2-3 times a week, but I began not wanting it as much anymore.
Below, you will see my fanct chart print outs from 11/18/2017 (my 41st bday) to last week. Of note, FFM means “fat free mass”. This started at 149, I have seen it as low as 128 and as high as 169. These scales are far from perfect, but they give you a good idea of generally what you’re working with. So, TBW is “total body water”. You see FAT MASS and your eyes want to explode at the number, but then you look up what 20% bodyfat looks like in someone. My guess is my weight, today, at 20% bodyfat is 190-200 pounds. The trick, then, young jedi, is to lose a lot of the fat while gaining some muscle and/or not losing it. I believe when I started at 372, I had 200 pounds to lose. Today, I feel I have about 100 to lose.
She said to me, “we’ll create the deficit in the gym”. It was profound, but also got me down this path of caloric deficits, fueling, and macros.
I’m at 2300 calories I take in today. My BMR is 2513 or so on that fancy scale. If I did nothing, I am creating a deficit of 200 calories a day. That’s roughly one pound every 15 days. But that will most likely be all fat. Or will it?
You see…I have activity on top of the 2513. Mowing the grass, cooking, cleaning, walking my dog. This might add another 200-500 per day, based on my activity levels.
So I ate 2300, but expended 3000. Where does that deficit come from?
Well…..now you start to get into something I think a lot of people overlook. The SimCity tax sliding app.
What are your macros? How are you fueling your body? Here’s where I think there’s going to be a lab rat effect.
Before I started this adventure, I can tell you I probably put into my body 50-70% carbs, maybe 10-20% protein, and high fats (lots of the bad kind). Fats are important (the good kind). But all those carbs I put into my body – unless I’m VERY active with walking all day long, I don’t need that many. In fact, much of this I couldn’t use and it would get stored as fat. I also had caloric surplus, which duh….added fat to me. Glucose was converted to adipose tissue.
For the past 11 months or so, I’ve mostly done 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fats. While I’ve taken off a lot of weight in that time, I’ve been standing on fancy scales which put my fat free mass (FFM) at roughly 10-20 pounds higher than last year. NEW GAINZ they call it. Meanwhile, I’ve also put on another 15 or so pounds in water. My fat loss is staggering.
But during that time…I’ve also done a LOT of cardio I felt not only helped burn some fat, but felt that I took some muscle with that. On days where I had a LOT of long term cardio, I didn’t have 50-60% carbs, I had my same 40%. So I feel on those days, my body did burn fat…but also muscle.
On heavy lifting days, I may have only had 30% protein, so perhaps my gains were slowed?
The mind blowing part:
Yes, I want to create a deficit. But my activity will be low heart rate “fat zone” cardio like walking, slow long distance swimming, leisurely biking. On days where I plan on doing this for 30+ minutes, I’ll have a nice carb-rich meal prior to doing it. Not high in calories, but the idea is I want to not tear down muscle to fuel this event. What will then happen is, hours later, the deficit for the day happens. Where does the body get its energy from now? The liver? Maybe. But it’s getting it from the liver vis a vis lipolysis – or breakdowns of fats to get energy.
So maybe on those days, I’m at 30-35% carbs, with carbs mostly before the long duration activity. Fats will hover between 25-30%, with protein making up the rest. Why?
LIFT HEAVY they tell you. I don’t think lifting HEAVY is as important as getting to muscle failure. You can achieve muscle failure through heavy lifts of your 6-10 reps, but you can also do it through a less heavy for many reps or even less heavy with methods of slow lifting or pausing which can make the weight FEEL heavier. This means you don’t have to overly stress your joints.
To lift weights….you need POWER. Power comes from stored energy in your muscle cells, called glycogen. Your body doesn’t store a ton of glycogen here, with a lot of the glycogen stored in the liver. But this is for immediately movements – bend your arm – that’s glycogen in the muscle moving it. When your body takes in carbs, it then goes to replenish this. So for effective power in the gym, carb-friendly diets (for that day) are my choice for generating the most power.
For 24 hours leading up to the gym, I’m looking at a 40% carb, 35% protein, and 25% fats makeup. The carbs will ensure I have my glycogen stores topped off. Additionally, about 30-60 minutes before I lift, my preferred fuel is my overnight oatmeal cups. I have a mix of simple carbs with fructose (blueberry) and honey mixed with slower-release carbs like oatmeal. This helps make carbs immediately available as well as backfill my glycogen stores for a longer workout.
**** SIDE NOTE : NEW OATMEAL CUP RECIPE****
While I loved my overnight oatmeal cups, I felt they were a little too high on the carbs and a little too low on the protein. So, I remixed…
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- 1/2 cup 2% plain greek yogurt (fage)
- 1 TBSP chia seeds
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup unsweetened silk almond milk
- 1 scoop GOLD STANDARD Vanilla whey protein
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
I now make these in a big bowl and mix, then divide out by weight. Each one of these came out to be about 357 grams.
Calories: 424. Carbs 46.9g, Fat 9.3g, Protein 41.1g.
**** END OF SIDE NOTE****
Bro science talks about protein shakes immediately after. Now, many studies show this is bro science and not “real”, as proteins take awhile to digest, and your protein synthesis and repairing your muscle tissue (recovery) takes 24-48 hours. So, the 24 hours leading up to lifting I’m having 40% carbs, 35% protein, and 25% fats…but the 24-48 hours AFTER lifting, I’m having 40% proteins, 30% carbs, 30% fats. At this stage, I’m probably going over a little on the protein and lower on the fats.
The gym with weight lifting does burn SOME calories, but nowhere near what the running does. So why do it?
Well…as mentioned above, you continue to burn from that lift for 24-48 hours later while you are repairing muscle tissue. You need protein to build this muscle. These processes burn calories. So maybe that day, I took in 2300 calories and burned 3000….but my protein I brought in went to build muscle….and that deficit? Tapping fat stores to get energy.
What’s also interesting is muscle burns a LOT more calories at rest than fat. So while my weight might appear the same or gradually less over time, my BMR is either not dipping, increasing, or gently decreasing. Rather than a major drop off from 2 months of running, you can eat a TON of food.
In 11 months, my BMR has gone from 2850 to 2530 or so. It dipped 300. There was a LOT of running/biking/intense activities in there for duration. I’ve also added close to 20 pounds of lean mass to my body.
Apparently, the “upper limit” of new gains is about 40-50 pounds of muscle. After that, it might be 1-2 pounds a year if you are training like a beast.
I’m hoping in the next year to keep my BMR the same…increase more FFM, increase more water, and decrease lots of fat.
Here are the main takeaways from this:
- You CAN build muscle and lose fat at the same time. I don’t know if it is only supposed to work for ridiculously fat people, but I don’t see why this process can’t continue, under the right scientific conditions. There are scores of YouTube people who have done something like this. Check out BrixFitness. I just don’t believe the science is there yet to give everyone the exact blueprint on how to do this. This is why I want to be the lab rat for the next 1-2 years.
- Lifting weights will not make you look HUGE. Apparently, natural bodybuilding does not get you HUGE. Steroids and growth hormone do that.
- Lifting heavy weights improves testosterone levels. For guys, this can make you look young well into your 50s. There are natural bodybuilders in their 50s that look in their 20s/30s.
- I believe body fuel sources are important to the activities you are doing. Carbs are not the devil. To many carbs when you are not running 10 miles a day will make you obese. Sugars will cause inflammation and heart disease.
- Macros are far more important than I ever would have guessed. Test your macro levels with activities. I have, thoroughly.
- Carbs help fuel your workout, so they are essential to creating the POWER needed to lift weights. Protein is essential to repairing and preserving muscle tissue. Excess protein can be turned into fats in a caloric surplus.
- Fats do not get broken down and put into glycogen stores…but carbs can be added as fats to adipose tissue.
- No one fully, 100%, understands our body fuel sources and how it works. I am living through many failed diets where I have been religious to a tee – and I am someone that physical exertion has never been of any question. At 294 pounds, I’ll take the pepsi challenge with anyone my height/weight in the country who is not a former NFL player. My point is, through my many dieting attempts, I have been a lab rat for 25+ years on what works and what doesn’t work.
- I believe the body recomp will only continue as long as muscles are being thoroughly challenged. I believe this signals to the body to divert energy to the muscles and use fats for the maintenance energy when carbs and other sources are present. I also believe, historically, that proteins were not readily available for our ancestors. They would exert themselves to build shelter, perhaps exert themselves with trees to build fires – move rocks. I believe they ate berries and carbs through vegetation during this. THEN they would hunt. They would SPRINT. Then, they would take down game or the like and haul a 200 pound deer back to camp. Then…RECOVERY. They feasted on proteins AFTER heavy lifting. Maybe for the next day they rested. While they didn’t have food readily available, our bodies have many of the same things going on inside from 50,000 years ago. Carbs are not the devil, it’s how we powered ourselves.
- Working out – while many work out 5-6 days a week, I don’t have time for that. I’m looking to do 2 one-hour sessions in the gym each week. Saturday and either Tuesday/Weds. These are full body workouts. You only have to exercise muscle groups 1-2 times a week. So I’m upping the intensity and going for 2 dedicated sessions. This usually means Friday I will have higher in carbs (Sat morning workout) as well as Weds (Weds evening workout). During the other days, I will try to do 20-30 minutes of low intensity workouts, like walking my dog, gently biking, etc. I want to create more of a deficit, but not burn muscle. I will have more protein in the 24-48 hours after my workout.
- All bodybuilders recommend higher levels of protein during a cut than a build in order to preserve muscle. They do months of bulking, then cut, because they believe they can’t do both build muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, if you look at Jeff Caviliere from Athlean-X, he is about 6-7% bodyfat all year long and also increases muscle slightly. While he does push his products occasionally, he has become a pretty trusted source on the internet for working out. Most of what he teaches is for people who are at the last 5-10% of bodyfat, but most of the movement/dieting principles are pretty good info. The point is – macros are important for body recomp. I’ve seen no sources that recommend more than 25% fat and none under 20%. Fat is important for many aspects in your diet, so don’t dip this too low.
- HIIT training. I didn’t discuss this here because I think it’s FANTASTIC. However, I think for significantly overweight people, there’s a problem with actually being able to do a lot of it coupled with the impact to the muscles/joints. I believe a lot of this was with our ancestors hunting the game. Chasing a deer. Jumping over logs. Pursuit. Walking. Pursuit. I believe there is a LOT of science for this and I plan on using this heavily with my last 20-30 pounds, but not at this time.
I like to think of myself as smart. However, I’m not a nutritionist, physical therapist, or licensed/bonded in anything. I have two master’s degrees, but not in these disciplines. Meaning, I love learning and being a student, but these are not areas I’ve achieved ANY academic credits in. However, I have lived a life of crash diets, brutal exercise, and have lifelong experience in dozens of different diets and their pros/cons. What I am doing now is not “dieting”, it’s reshaping my life to what I perceive what many “normal” people do. I have spent 4 months cultivating the best “bro science” on the internet along with researching all of the academic backgrounds to this.