Training Diet

Dec 13

It's not he who trains the most, but he who regenerates and rebuilds the best that gains the most!

Chris Beardsley

Workout Nutrition 101

Consider the calorie equivalence of a 6 minute mile run at 180 lb. bodyweight or three fourths of a glazed donut. Controlling food intake is a much easier way to remove calories from your diet. Progress with your diet can have dramatic effects on your body. So while exercise is great, combining it with a proper diet is how you really get the results you want.

Your diet is such a fundamental part of making progress that ignoring it will seriously compromise your progress. In the same way that weight training utilises a progressive system so will dieting in this app. You'll start with the basics then ramp up over time.

Multi-Year's Intelligent Macro System

The calorie surplus/deficit calculated for you by the app will take into consideration your muscle mass as a percentage of your genetic maximum as well as body fat levels. The closer you are to your genetic max, the slower your rate of muscle gain. Therefore, the caloric excess does not need to be as large as when a faster rate of progress is possible. So when you are at 75% of max FFM, your caloric excess may be 650 calories per day. By the time you get to 90% of max FFM your caloric excess may drop to 300 per day.

Similarly, the greater your body fat, the larger the deficit you can sustain. When at 20% fat, you may have an 800 calorie per day deficit that drops to 200 when you reach 9% fat. To accelerate fat loss when on a small deficit you can add some cardio on top of your regular training thereby increasing the effective deficit.

Phase I

Key Skill: Calorie Counting

As you are learning the basics in the weight room you should also be learning the basics in the kitchen. At this point your goal is only to hit your daily macros. That's it, nothing fancy. Just learn to count calories. This is actually the hardest step for most people.

You'll probably need to make some adjustments in order to get your calorie distribution between carbs, fats, and protein set properly. Doing that alone will most likely leave you feeling better.

You'll need a scale, measuring cups and spoons. Also check out calorie counter apps as well so you can keep track of daily totals and compare them with your assigned targets.

Also check out the web app:

It's best used as a simple diet scratchpad. Set up the number of meals you plan on eating. Then delete the auto-suggested food items and drag and drop your own from the food menu on the left to assemble your meals.

Suppose you plan on eating 2400 calories in four meals. For simplicity that works out to be 600 calories per meal. Assemble your four 600 calorie meals. Fine tune the ingredient quantities until you reach your macro targets for each meal. Print that out. You could put together a little notebook of food dishes then draw from that as needed. Now you know exactly what to eat. When your calories go up or down just scale your ingredients to match the changes.

You are given two choices of macros for this phase: cutting and maintenance. You won't be gaining much muscle until neuromuscular efficiency improves a bit so excess calorie consumption will primarily lead to fat gain. The muscle you do gain will come without a caloric excess due to improvements in nutrient absorption and related hormonal changes.

If you are over 15% fat you'll benefit from using this time to cut before starting the following phases which require bulking macros for best results*.

* Reducing total body fat will also reduce aromatase activity that converts androgens to estrogens. Elevated estrogens increase the rate at which your body stores excess calories as fat as well as increasing water retention. So the less fat you have, the harder it is to gain fat. Reducing fat will also improve insulin sensitivity and glucose management through increased production of adiponectin. These two adaptations will increase your response to a caloric excess, thus dieting to a low body fat is strongly recommended before beginning a bulk. In technical terminology this is called promoting favorable nutrient partitioning. Basically, more resources are directed into muscle cells than into fat cells.

Periodized Cutting

Cutting can be hard in the beginning. You'll feel miserable at first. But your body will adapt, you'll start feeling better, and the weight will start coming off. The first week is the hardest but it gets much better by the third week.

Calculate 3% of your body weight. That's about how much weight you will lose before you start losing fat. It'll come off fast too but it's just water, digestive system contents and labile proteins. That weight will come back just as quickly the moment you start eating more. So to make lasting changes in body composition you'll need to drop below 97% of your current weight (unless you are already at very low body fat levels).

Follow the cutting macros for six weeks then switch to the maintenance macros for two. That's a two month cutting cycle. Repeat as needed. Breaking up the cut with a short maintenance periods helps reverse some of the body's adaptations to a restricted calorie diet, preventing weight loss plateaus. Having some time off will also help you stick with it. Once you get down below 15%, you can throw in a maintenance level cheat day once a week where you eat some food you've been craving.

Psychologically, there is another dieting pitfall. If you cut from 18% fat down to 15% for example you won't notice much change in definition. Your muscles will also flatten out a bit due to less glycogen storage. You'll look and feel smaller without being more defined. That's pretty disappointing. What happens at that point? You give up and start bulking.

But if you stick with it until getting down below 12% fat then you'll start to see muscles begin popping out from under the skin. Melting away the smooth layers of fat gives your muscles a more 3D look. As definition increases, the more the muscles pop out from the under the skin and the bigger they'll look. That'll put a smile on your face. Dieting can then become addictive as you'll look better and better with every percentage point of fat lost. So hang in there and take a maintenance break if you need one. Just don't quit.

Phase II

Prerequisite Skill: Calorie Counting

Key Skill: Nutrient Timing

Your muscles are now being stimulated by the workouts and want to grow. If they don't grow then you'll wind up with an early plateau. So you can see how important getting control of your diet is if you want more than short term progress.

Figure 1: Early Plateau

Since muscle growth is critical for making continued progress lets take a closer look at the growth process in response to resistance training.

Under ordinary circumstances ingestion of a meal induces a temporary increase in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) followed by muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Overall the two processes cancel each other out and tissue is maintained. Your daily protein turn overrate (PTOR) can be estimated by multiplying your body weight in lb. by 1.818 (175lb. x 1.818 = 318g). This multiplier is also dependent on overall metabolic rate so it's just an example. This one in particular is for a sedentary individulal. The higher your metabolic rate, the higher your PTOR.

So for a 175lb. man his body will synthesize and breakkdown 318g of protein per day of which ~30% is muscle tissue*. Per year that means his body synthesizes and breaks down about 77lb. of muscle. If he could favor synthesis (anabolism) over breakdown (catabolism) he would gain muscle.

* The process of breaking down and rebuilding tissue is vital for clearing out damaged tissue. So although we sometimes think catabolism is bad, it's not something we want to eliminate completely.

Figure 2: Protein Balance

The general consensus from research in this area is that exercise increases protein breakdown as well as protein synthesis. Ingestion of protein following a training session strongly tips the balance of breakdown versus synthesis to that of overall protein synthesis, or anabolism.

Suppose our sedentary, 175lb. man could maintain a 20% differential in favor of anabolism for a year. He would synthesize 86lb. of muscle and breakdown 68lb. for a net muscle gain of 18lb. over the year. Maintaining that differential is the hard part of course. The body seeks to restore homeostatis: the balance between anabolism and catabolism. So that's why we need to alter the stimulus regularly. With this in mind it's easier to understand why daily undulating periodization is currently the highest performing training model.

Figure 3: Net Protein Synthesis

Furthermore, to sustain net tissue growth additional energy is needed beyond the maintenance level. Suppose our 175lb. man started working out and eating more, raising his PTOR. Let's say his new multiplier is 2.50 (175lb. x 2.50 = 437g). Now he's gaining 117lb. of muscle and losing 96lb. per year for an overall net increase of 21. As we can see increased calories and activity lead to more muscle gained with the same anabolic/catabolic differential. The smaller the differential, the greater the contribution from excess calories.

Exactly how many additional calories are needed is difficult to quantify. Too few and growth is compromised while too many results in fat accumulation. The best trade-off between muscle and fat gain occurs with slightly too many calories. Gaining 1lb. of muscle for every 1lb. of fat gained is an excellent goal. Since the limit of natural muscle growth is about 2lb. per month on average, you should not be gaining more than 4lb. body weight per month in order to minimize fat gain.

To summarize: our goals are to increase anabolism, decrease catabolism and increase metabolic rate.

Nutrient Timing and the Workout Window

Now that you are counting calories and controlling your food intake we are going to introduce a new concept of timing your intake of carbs around your workouts. This is called the "workout window". You'll want to throw most of your carbs into this period. Our specific aim is to maximize anabolism and minimize catabolism.

This will also create a few new challenges as well. The large intake of carbs following a workout will create an insulin spike that will drive glucose and amino acids into the muscles, increasing protein synthesis. Because of this insulin is regarded as a highly anabolic hormone. However, it will also increase the absorption of fat as well. We can minimize this negative somewhat by making sure fats and carbs are not consumed together in the workout window. Your meals during this period should therefore consist of protein and carbs with minimal fat. Outside of the window any carbs consumed should be complex carbohydrates and may be mixed with fats. A good example would be buttered brussel sprouts with almonds, chicken breast and brown rice.

Pre/Peri-Workout Nutrition

30 minutes before your workout consume a whey protein beverage (there is no benefit from fancy whey varieties) according to your recommended numbers. Also prepare a carbohydrate beverage to consume during the workout according to your pre-workout carb recommendation. Take sips on the carb beverage between sets.

Ideally, you want a 2:1 mixture of glucose and fructose for the peri-workout carb drink. That would probably be excessively sweet though so you could replace the glucose with maltodextrin to make it more palatable. Some people also experience gastrointestinal upset from large amounts of fructose so the 2:1 ratio may need to be adjusted. Adding in some electrolytes would also be a good idea. Dilute with water to an overall concentration of 6-8% by mass. What you will probably wind up with in the end is a solution that closely resembles Gatorade. So instead you could use some powdered Gatorade and prepare that as needed.

Mix your solids with water to create a 6-8% concentration solutions. So if you use 20g of whey and 60g of Gatorade powder, you'll have a 285mL protein drink and a 860mL workout drink.

Why 6-8% concentration? Why fructose? Why protein? Why carbs? Six to eight percent concentration will lead to the fastest absorption. There is a saturation limit to how much glucose your body can absorb per hour but you can overcome that limit because fructose has its own absorption pathway. Studies have also shown a stronger anabolic response from protein consumed prior to exercise as compared to after. Finally, the carbs are there to provide workout energy and cut down catabolism to nearly zero.

Post-Workout Nutrition

You want somewhere between a 50:50 mix to 20:80 mix of whey and casein proteins. How do you decide? The older you are the more whey you want.

Consider using the non-sweet maltodextrin as the carb source.

As with the peri-workout drink, what you wind up with for the post-workout drink is a solution that resembles milk. It seems that nature has found an effective liquid growth formula. Go figure.

One practical solution is to drink milk. Milk protein is roughly 80% casein and 20% whey, a mixture that has proven to be a very reliable way to build muscle over the years. With a few calculations on your part and some added ingredients (whey & maltodextrin) you can adjust the composition to fit your requirements. You might wind up with something like 1000mL of low fat milk, 20g whey protein, and 30g maltodextrin depending on your post-workout numbers. The only downside to this approach is possible issues with the lactose in milk. You could also reduce the total volume by substituting dried milk powder for some of the liquid milk.

The following post-workout meals should be whole foods as much as possible. As you get further from your workout, shift your carbs from simple to complex. So while your first post-workout meal uses maltodextrin your last should have something like brown rice as your carb source.

Why mix the two types of protein? Whey leads to a higher peak concentration of amino acids which in turn stimulates anabolism with little effect on catabolism. Casein, on the other hand, leads to a lower but more sustained increase of amino acids concentration. This has relatively little effect on anabolism but does effectively decrease catabolism. The combination of increased muscle protein synthesis with reduced muscle protein breakdown leads to a larger net muscle protein gain. They work better together than either alone.

Studies say they don't contribute to protein synthesis, so why the need for carbs? Since the energy demands of weight training are largely met by glycogen, adequate carbohydrate consumption is a must for optimal performance. Take a look at figures E and F in the Training Primer section. Partial glycogen recovery can similarly lead to a progressive decline in glycogen stores and a related decline in performance over time, counter to our goals of increased performane over time.

Phase III

Prerequisite Skills: Calorie Counting & Nutrient Timing

Key Skill: Carb Cycling

In this phase we'll introduce the concept of carb cycling for the purpose of insulin management. On rest days you'll consume high protein with most of your energy from fat. On workout days you'll increase the portion of energy derived from carbohydrates. The net effect of this will be to increase insulin sensitively above and beyond the increase from resistance training.

So what is insulin sensitivity? Insulin sensitivity is defined as the "concentration of insulin required to cause 50% of its maximal effect on glucose transport. An increase in insulin sensitivity results in a shift in the insulin dose-response curve to the left with a decrease in the insulin concentration required to cause 50% of the maximal response."

Figure 4: Insulin Dose-Response Curve

In other words, you'll get a stronger effect from the same amount of insulin. So what does insulin do?

When insulin is released into the bloodstream, it acts to drive glucose, amino acids, and fats into muscle, fat and liver cells. Generally, the more materials the cells uptake, the larger they become. Insulin will also directly reduce muscle protein breakdown, further tilting the balance in favor of overall protein synthesis. But obviously we don't want to increase fat excessively. So we'll need to be careful. The more sensitive your body is to insulin the better your muscle to fat gain ratio.

Increasing insulin sensitivity is a good thing. Insulin resistance, on the other hand, means the muscle cells will have a harder time absorbing materials which ultimately leads to muscle wasting. The nutrients have to go somewhere though, so they go into fat cells. Therefore we don't want to desensitise our cells to insulin by chronically raising insulin levels.

You can take a look at an insulin index when planning what to eat. Fats can also raise insulin as well as sugars so you'll want to be careful. Nuts and eggs are good sources of fats and protein that will keep insulin low. Incorporating those into your diet on off days is a smart thing to do.

Fat Source Examples
Incorporating Extra Fats
Avocados Great addition to sandwiches; chop over Mexican food; mix with diced tomatoes, onions, jalapeno pepper, lime juice, cilantro, and salt for guacamole
Olive Oil Pour a Tbsp. into oatmeal for creamier texture
Canola Oil Use for everyday cooking; pour into protein drinks to make creamier yet yield no additional flavor change
Nuts Great between meal snack; toss some walnuts into a salad with balsamic vinegar and crumbled feta cheese; add 2 Tbsp. of peanut butter to 12 oz. of skim milk, one frozen banana, a 1⁄2 cup of raw oat bran, and a scoop of vanilla protein powder for a tasty shake

Phase IV+

Prerequisite Skills: Calorie Counting, Nutrient Timing & Carb Cycling

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is cutting to single digit fat while maintaining a significant amount of muscle mass. Since you'll have a little more training variety, with low/medium/high volume days, you'll want your energy sources to reflect training needs. On off days you should stick with the fat dominant macros. For high volume hypertrophy days follow the carb dominant macros. For low/medium volume strength days use the balanced macros.

Having your diet closely in step with your training activity will go a long way to maximizing body composition.


1) My "macros remaining" have zero carbs with high protein and fat. What type of meal can I eat?

A steak and egg dinner would satisfy both hunger and macro requirements.

2) I only have protein and very little fat after finishing my post-workout meals. What can I do to satisfy my remaining daily macros?

You could have some chicken breast with green vegetables. Don't worry about the carb content of the vegetables as long as they aren't starchy.

3) Do I really need to have a post-workout meal every hour or could I just combine them?

Instead of four meals on the hour following your workout, you could have two larger meals. That's ok.

4) What about the fat content of post-workout meals?

Post-workout meals don't have to be fat free. Current research has not addressed the need for fat following a workout so there is no specific recommendation provided. That said, keeping fat intake to a minimum during the workout window is advised.

Controversies: Protein Requirements

There is a mismatch between what athletes say they need for the best results and what researchers say about protein requirements. So who is right?

Let's ask Dr. Peter Lemon, one of the leading researchers on protein requirements. His studies suggest an upper limit of 0.82g/lb or 1.8g/kg. But here are his personal thoughts on the matter:

"You'll get scientists all the time that say, 'Well, 1.5-2.0 grams per kg is all an athlete needs' but I'm not sure it's as simple as that. It might be that this amount is adequate to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, but it might be that larger amounts actually stimulate growth and there just isn't a lot of data to support that, because it's not an easy thing to measure.

There's probably some other caveats too when making these recommendations. It depends on what type of protein, and it probably depends on when you're consuming it much more so than how much you're consuming.

It's also very difficult to determine because most of the studies are done in novice lifters not in advanced body builders and there are adaptations over time that probably change the requirements. What you might need when you start a program might be very different from what you need later on. And what you need to be a really elite bodybuilder could be very different from a novice.

My philosophy is: where there's smoke, there's probably some fire. I think there's some stimulus that bodybuilders have discovered over months and years of training that the scientists who study weeks or a few months can't find. And so, there probably is some adaptation that we're missing in the short term studies. It's just too difficult to do these types of studies for that length of time.

If I could do a study comparing someone consuming 2 grams of protein per day versus someone consuming 4 or 5 grams per kg over several months, I would love to do that because most people find it hard to believe that those high intakes are really beneficial. And yet, for many, many years, many strength athletes have done that."

Lyle McDonald, author of The Protein Book says:

"It's possible that all bodybuilders are deluding themselves about their need for higher protein intakes although it's a little hard to dismiss four decades of empirical observations out of hand like that. A lot of what bodybuilders have found to work has been subsequently validated by research, this may be another of those areas."

Early research on protein requirements used amino acid oxidation as an indicator that protein needs have been met. Essentially, the body "burns" off excess protein. So the thinking was once oxidation begins, protein requirements have been satisfied. However, this doesn't mean that protein intake should stop when oxidation begins because some of the byproducts of protein oxidation, such as HMB, have valuable regulatory roles in promoting protein synthesis. This might explain some of the disconnect between research suggesting lower protein requirements and what athletes have found to be most effective.

Furthermore, take a look back at Figure 1, specifically, the hypertrophy curve over time. You'll notice that for beginners there isn't much hypertrophy going on until the muscles are adequately stimulated. It follows that protein requirements wouldn't need to be too high in such a situation. Similarly, once you've put in some good training time and start levelling out you could reason that protein requirements wouldn't need to be high. But what about the time of increased growth rates? Once could reasonably assume that higher protein intake would be required. These are the adaptations Dr. Lemon was talking about between novice and elite classifications.

Only looking at skeletal muscle protein synthesis may also be overlooking other important parts of the overall picture.

Protein Class Function Example
Protein Functions
Structural Structures within the organism Collagen (skin, tendon, cartilage), keratin (hair, fingernails)
Enzymes Control biochemical reactions Aromatase (converts androgens to estrogens)
Hormones Regulate metabolic processes Insulin (regulates glucose metabolism)
Transport Shuttle substances from one place to another Hemoglobin (transports oxygen)
Contractile Mediate motion and muscle contraction Actin and Myosin (provide muscle contraction)
Protection Protect and defend cells Antibodies (neutralize infectious agents)

Maintenance Calorie Level: The Breakdown

There are two components of total energy expenditure. The first concerns sustaining life.

  • BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate): The calorie requirements due to the basal life processes within the organs of the body.

The following formula can be used to estimate your BMR:

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x Fat Free Mass)

The second component of calorie requirements is thermogenesis -- the process of heat generation. There are three ways the body can generate heat:

  • NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis): The calories consumed in regular, daily activities not related to intentional exercise -- walking up the stairs, carrying your bags, cutting the grass, etc. NEAT typically accounts for the majority of calories needed in excess of BMR.
  • EAT (Exercise Associated Thermogenesis): The calories consumed in the process of intentional exercise.
  • DIT (Diet-induced Thermogenesis): The calories consumed in processing food. Protein is the most energy intensive to digest and fat is the least. Processed food is also easier to digest than unprocessed food. A diet high in unprocessed lean meat will therefore consume more calories to digest than an isocaloric diet high in processed sugars and fats.

Add them all up and you get your maintenance calorie requirement (e.g. BMR + NEAT + EAT + DIT). There's not much you can do to change your BMR by an appreciable amount but the other three are fully under your control. If you are trying to lose weight, paying attention to NEAT and DIT, in addition to EAT, will go a long way..

TEE: Total Energy Expenditure

Your maintenance calorie requirement is called TEE. You can estimate this number by multiplying your BMR by an activity factor to account for thermogenesis (i.e. TEE = 1.4 x BMR).

  • 1.15-1.2 = Sedentary (low NEAT & little or no EAT)
  • 1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (little NEAT & light EAT 1-3 days a week)
  • 1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (moderate NEAT & moderate EAT 3-5 days a week)
  • 1.7-1.8 = Very Active (high NEAT & intense EAT 6-7 days a week)
  • 1.9-2.0 = Extremely Active (very high NEAT & EAT daily)

Finally, adjust your total TEE according to your goals. If your goal is maintenance then aim to consume calories matching your estimated TEE. Otherwise, create a deficit or surplus target.

  • To gain weight multiply TEE by 1.1-1.3
  • To lose weight multiply TEE by 0.8-0.9

Calorie requirements will also change in time depending on your physical state. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Untrained: 2 lbs muscle gain per month (+20% calories per day above maintenance)
  • Lightly Trained: 1 lbs muscle gain per month (+15% calories per day above maintenance)
  • Moderately Trained: 0.5 lb muscle gain per month (+10% calories per day above maintenance)
  • Highly Trained: 0.25 lb muscle gain per month (+5% calories per day above maintenance)

If you're an ectomorph, you should start with +30% over maintenance for gaining, and -10% below maintenance for cutting. On the other hand, if you an endomorph, you should start with +10% over maintenance for gaining, and -20% below maintenance for cutting. As with the guidelines above, these numbers approach maintenance levels the more advanced you become.

The app will perform the preceding calculations for you. If you find your body weight is not changing in the way you intend, modify your activity factor either up or down.