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Interrupted / Intermittent Energy Restriction Sports Nutrition Strategy

Brand new for 2018, a new variation on the Flexible Fueling system inspired by the recent MATADOR (Minimising Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound) Study showing that greater weight loss results were achieved with a "two weeks on, two weeks off" approach to dieting compared to continuous energy restriction.

I want to try to skim over a couple of things that have been covered previously and get on to what's new. My Flexible Fueling approach (in fact, even before I started calling it Flexible Fueling) has always been about getting people OUT of that restrictive, further and further into deficit approach to IIFYM and getting them confidently enjoying a variety the delicious & nutritious foods that suit & appeal to them, to a total energy provision that is adequate, but not excessive.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating

I covered this in more detail recently, but suffice it to say that for many people it's enough just to get out of dieting, practice regular eating habits to ensure that they meet at least a conservative estimate of their minimum requirements, leaving a reasonable margin for error or variance so that they don't have to feel anxious about a social engagement where they may indulge a little... and to understand that as this is a conservative estimate of minimal requirements, before long they're likely to experience some hunger signals, which they should respond to accordingly with an increase to a more appropriate level of daily energy intake.

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity

My experience as a professional coach is that in the vast majority of cases, people's problems stem from attempting to restrict to an insufficient level of energy intake relative to their requirements. In the case of more experienced, more proficient, serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes this is a serious problem. Particularly with a younger, taller, more active client with a more advanced level of prowess at training it is imperative to increase steadily towards a target representing the highest level of energy intake that can be put to good use and produce a benefit in terms of athletic performance and condition.

This does not mean a "bulk and cut" strategy.

Serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes as described above have a high energy requirement and potentially massive capacity for energy flux AKA the amount of energy that could be expended or otherwise utilised. As you increase towards this amount, a leaner and more athletic condition will be the result.

If you've been following me for a while you'll know all of this already, and you'll know it's what I've been talking about for years and everyone else is slowly starting to catch up to, including a bunch of suck ass motherfuckers who've argued with me in the past. PROLONGED & EXCESSIVE LEVELS OF RESTRICTION CAN ONLY BACKFIRE AND CANNOT RESULT IN MAINTENANCE OF A LEAN ATHLETIC CONDITION. Rather, that sort of nonsense is only conducive to a regression in physical condition and the development of an eating disorder.

So much for the "skim". Let's cut to it.

The Flexible Fueling Punctuated Periodisation Protocol

What we're doing here is inspired by the MATADOR study, but it's a little different and also I don't like to have anything to do with the notion of "restriction", so I had to come up with a cool name of my own for this variation on the strategy.

Refer to the graphic below, and I'll explain how it works.

For the first two weeks, we start at the most conservative estimate of absolute minimum requirement. Often this is still more than the amounts people are attempting to work with when they come to me. I drew this as a curve, as we're likely to find that it does in fact turn out to be overly conservative and that we need to come a little higher, towards a more reasonable, more workable reflection of our minimum requirement.

For the next two weeks, we work to a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity.

In theory vs in practice.

In theory, so long as you're in caloric deficit your body will draw upon fat stores to make up the difference, right? And the further into deficit, the more fat loss, right? And if you're not seeing fat loss, you're not in deficit, right?

Bull. Shit.

Real quick... what a lot of these fucking imbeciles out there don't quite have the brain capacity to grasp is that there is a difference between for example a 90kg male aspiring body builder who has just done a "bulk" on say 3500 cals per day, and a female athlete on 1400 calories per day or an overweight mature age female with a decades long history of extreme crash dieting. The male could cut to 2500 calories and see fat loss due to being "in deficit" and may find at some point that he needs to cut further to keep leaning out. That's not how I'd do it because I'm smarter than that, but that's why they think "if you're in deficit you lose fat, when you're not losing fat cut further into deficit". The female athlete can't possibly cut any lower and should never have been instructed to cut that low to begin with, YOU GET ME?

So, in pursuit of your goals you need more than just "restrict, restrict further and keep on restricting indefinitely until you hate your fucken life". You need a system where you work to intelligently calculated targets, and assess your response to those targets until you find what feels right and works right for you, allowing you to enjoy life and enjoy your best and most sustainable results from training.

Assessing the response and revising the strategy.

In theory you should see fat loss and therefore weight loss in that two week period at minimal intake. Interestingly though, some people will not see weight loss at that phase, but will see fat loss during the next two weeks while working to higher intakes. In which case, the question is whether the period of restriction is unproductive or whether it is necessary as the fat loss is a response to coming out of deficit. There's only one way to find out. If the period of restriction proves unproductive then it makes sense to find the lowest productive level of intake and consider that the new minimum.

If there is no fat loss at either level, you may decide to repeat the period and give it a little longer to see if it kicks in. Or you may logically conclude that since you can't go any lower, and since a conservative estimate of the most you could benefit from didn't do the job, you can only conclude that intake is still not high enough and a further increase to a less conservative estimate is required, as indicated on the chart at Week 7 & 8. In fact... if fat loss is apparent I'd still be likely to conclude that our conservative estimate is indeed quite conservative and I'd be optimistic that an increase to a less conservative level will prove productive.

At the very worst if we do overshoot that maximum level of intake and see an increase in weight beyond what would be explained simply by having more food passing through the digestive system, we have two weeks back at minimal intakes just around the corner that will resolve that, and we know to set our higher target more conservatively next time.

More likely though especially in the younger, the taller, and especially the more active people with a higher level of athletic prowess, everything works out better than expected and by the third cycle of the strategy we're confident and enthusiastic to get more adventurous with our higher targets.

Beyond Twelve Weeks

Having worked to different levels we'll have learned what's the least we can expect to last a few days or a week on, what's the most we can currently put to use while producing a leaner condition, and what's the optimal level of fueling relative to our requirements. We can then make an educated decision how best to proceed, either eating intuitively in accordance with our new habits and the healthy appetite we've developed, or by working to an optimal target for an extended period, or by continuing with the Punctuated Periodisation Protocol.
It's about enjoying life, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of working to a strategy, enjoying the physical stimulation of training, and enjoying the best and most sustainable results in athletic performance and condition.

Of course... such a complex and convoluted approach is not for everyone, which is why Flexible Fueling works on a spectrum between the "towards intuitive" to the "towards capacity" approaches, with this being somewhere in between. And it goes without saying that there's only ONE person capable of coaching this approach. Other people calling themselves "IIFYM" or "Flexible Dieting" guys and girls can't even begin to grasp this stuff. They literally just think "keep eating less, you must be lying to me and eating more than you say you are" is what passes for coaching.


Here's the revised version of the graphic representation of the strategy.

Now, exactly how this plays out is likely to vary from each individual to the next, but road testing this myself and with some clients what I've found is that at a certain point (week 9 on this version of the graphic) you realise that while you could reduce back down to those conservative, minimal intake targets, it's not actually doing you any favours to do so. So rather than cut back to minimal, you merely reduce from "less conservative" back to "conservative".

Also I've added a column for Week 13 & 14, where having established where our true maximal level aka metabolic capacity is, we have a good feel for an optimal level which is just shy of maximum, where we maintain absolute best performance and condition indefinitely.

The Latest On Weight Loss, According To Science And My Observations

As fate would have it, quite a few interesting articles regarding research related to weight loss have come out in the past few weeks since I posted my "why we  should probably all stop offering weight loss coaching" article of a few weeks ago.

Now, unfortunately the fact remains that long term success with weight loss goals is a statistically unlikely outcome. Therefore I suggest that anyone making any promises about weight loss with the inference of "guaranteed" results is at best overly optimistic or at worst a damn dirty liar. Certainly though there are people out there who've lost weight and kept it off... so if you have a weight loss goal, and let's quantify that and say you have a permanent weight loss goal, what you probably want to be concerned with is figuring out where your best chances of success lie, and with avoiding the mistakes that all the unsuccessful people are making.

First let's talk about exercise. You should be doing some resistance training.

This is probably not news to anyone who has followed my various social mediums for more than a few minutes by now.

Resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your health, whether you have a weight related goal or not. Reiterating about 5000 of my previous entries though, and this is important so make sure you're paying attention this time, the purpose of resistance training is a lot less to do with "burning calories" and a lot more to do with inspiring your body to take up and put more energy and resources to use in supporting lean mass, ideally at the expense of fat mass.

So it's not just that you expend energy while training (although you do, and that's good) but that your body has something productive to do with the balance of energy that remains.

And by the way for what it's worth, it absolutely IS possible to gain lean mass at the expense of fat mass, especially for beginners but also even in more experienced athletes and enthusiasts.

Q: What's a good resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight?

Exercise selection and variations in programming obviously will vary between individuals, but generally speaking the best resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight is the same program that you would give her if she didn't want to lose weight... subject to her levels of confidence and proficiency at exercise.

Where most people with a "weight loss" focus will screw this up is by messing with the program, adding stuff in, leaving rest periods out, performing the whole routine as a super set or a circuit, and so on, with the idea that they "need to burn more calories to lose weight". So there's an obvious mistake you should decide right now that you will resist the urge to commit in future.

A couple of related links on this point:

Just a little more on the many benefits of strength / resistance training:

I may have digressed a little so peruse those additional links at your leisure. The first one may be especially pertinent to many of the people reading this entry.

Back to the main point as per the included image above, diet is key but resistance training will facilitate the best and most consistent results.

Paradox: Diet is the key, but "diets" don't work.

Diet is a contentious topic.

On the one side of the fence you have the people who insist upon some variation of the "all they have to do is stop eating crap food, cut out carbs, cut out grains, and eat clean" theme, and on the other side of the fence you have the people who insist "all that matters is that they are in caloric deficit". However, according to the International Journal Of Obesity, “it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term”. So with one or two very rare, very notable exceptions, both camps are full of idiots.

Now I covered an abundance of evidence in this weight loss bullshit busting master post (not to mention all the other master posts), a while back... so rather than being redundant and repeat myself again and again, let's skip to the new stuff. Suffice it to say though, it's NOT about "clean eating" and it IS about "calories in, calories out", but it is NOT about "less and less and less calories in, more and more and more calories out".

At a certain point with such approaches... whether by deliberate caloric restriction or by omission of energy dense food choices to the effect of caloric restriction... all you are doing is training the body to manage the workload, rather than to actually benefit from training. It may be more accurate to say that you are training the body to require that level of workload (expenditure) at that level of restriction (intake) just to maintain a heavier and fatter condition, and if those levels are unsustainable then weight gain / regain will occur. As would appear to fit with the observation quoted earlier.

Again though, this has been a contentious topic. The majority of the "calories in calories out" crowd until very recently have insisted that there is no way for the body to adapt to prolonged and excessive levels of caloric restriction so as to preclude weight loss. Rather they would insist "if people are in deficit they see fat loss, if they're not seeing fat loss they're lying to you about how much they eat". 

Now since the Biggest Loser Study a year or so back, people in that camp have begrudgingly admitted that the body WILL adapt to prolonged calorie deficit and this WILL preclude further fat loss, but have continued to insist that the answer to this is simply to restrict even further into deficit and/or increase expenditure further with additional exercise & activity. I did mention that I think most of them are complete fucking idiots, didn't I?

Anyway. Increasingly, more and more evidence suggests that while fat loss IS dependant upon being in caloric deficit, we must work to appropriate levels of deficit where an expectation of adherence is not unreasonable, and where we are still providing sufficient energy and resources to benefit from training, and we must not restrict indefinitely but rather adopt a strategy of working at periods closer to metabolic capacity and at periods working from a greater level of deficit.

So, really that's almost exactly what I have been talking about for years... isn't it? 

Here are some links to relevant evidence:
Now... the approaches in each of those studies are different, but collectively in my opinion they more than sufficiently refute the "further into deficit (aka less calories in) always results in greater fat loss" doctrine as pushed by far too many halfwitted CI/CO & IIFYM proponents. 

Practical application of this information:

As coaches, as overweight or obese people, and even as fitness enthusiasts of non excessive weights, we need to be aware of and appreciate the paradoxical nature of things. To wit; an energy deficit is required to facilitate fat loss, but prolonged and excessive levels of energy deficit are associated with a higher body fat percentage in athletes and with greater long term weight gain in the overweight and obese. It is similarly ironic that when changes in body weight are seen as the most (or only) important outcome of an exercise program, we tend to adopt less effective approaches due to being overly concerned with "burning calories" and we are less inclined to pursue and appreciate the many benefits of productive activity.

Regardless of whether we are overweight and obese people or whether we are relatively lean and more active people, we need to move away from a "dieting" mentality where we glorify or consider necessary the arbitrary restriction of food choices, or over restriction of energy intake. We need to cease associating the suppression or ignoring of our bodies' hunger signals with discipline, will power or other strength of character and these virtues with the attainment and maintenance of a lean and healthy physical condition.

Rather, we should take an interest in learning and practicing a productive and beneficial approach to exercise and activity. We should practice regular, consistent, structured and varied eating habits to an appropriate but not excessive total energy intake. As per the links above, there may be some evidence to support the practice of eating more earlier in the day and less later on... but I would suggest whatever meal and snack schedule each individual finds convenient, appealing and sustainable to achieve "appropriate but not excessive total energy intake" by default without being too concerned about occasional divergences.

This could simply be described as practicing self care and healthy habits, and this alone should prove conducive to better physical and emotional health as well as a leaner condition, whether actual weight changes occur or otherwise.

For those who are enthusiastic to work more strategically to maximise their potential to see the most significant and sustainable results, the process should involve periods of working closer to a "maintenance" level of intake representing metabolic capacity, and periods of working to a merely "adequate" level of intake which is at a significant deficit, but still suitable to a reasonable expectation of adherence, and to reap the benefits of training without resulting in comprised metabolic rate.

Please come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.

The Evolution Of A Coaching Strategy & Training Philosophy

To the right of the screen is a pictorial representation of an idea that has been banging around inside my brain for a little while, trying to find it's way out.

As you can see, we have a Training Strategy and Fueling Strategy which are separate, but parallel to one another. You wrap the two of those up together and you begin to have what we call a Coaching Strategy.

Let's elaborate.

Your Training Strategy encompasses your exercise selection, your program split, your sets & reps strategy, your prescribed rest duration between sets, and so on. Here I'm only really talking about concepts related to resistance training... we may also choose to incorporate High Intensity Interval Training, Low Intensity Steady State cardio... running, rowing, cycling, swimming... the choices are endless.

Ideally though we make choices strategically and we put them together in away that makes sense in the context of the pursuit of our goals. Note that as obvious as this seems, a lot of people fail to really grasp the concept, as all they're really thinking is "to burn calories".

Similarly your Fueling Strategy should be inspired by more than just the idea that "it's good to eat clean", or that "you lose body fat while in a caloric deficit". I have approximately 8 million articles elaborating upon this point already so I'll leave it at that just this one time in order to move forward.

So, at this point we have the strategic training program, and we have an idea of our fueling requirements. When you put the two of those together and you start to consider "how can I facilitate confident, consistent, enthusiastic adherence", then you go beyond merely having a training & fueling strategy, and you begin to have an actual Coaching Strategy.

Again note that a lot of people fail to grasp this concept, even though in some cases they have branded themselves as coaches and charge others a hefty fee for instruction and advice that is impractical and ineffectual, and expectations that are unreasonable if not impossible.

Having a Coaching Strategy as we've described hopefully signifies that you actually have people's best interests and well being at heart. When you think a little more deeply about all of this, what you start to develop is an all encompassing, overall philosophy on training.

In my opinion.

We should see ourselves as fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue fitness and training related goals, for enjoyment and to enrich our lives. It can add a sense of direction to our lives at times when that may be lacking. It should compliment and better facilitate success in our other interests and other aspects of life, rather than detract from or come at the expense of them. The psychological aspects, effects and consequences of training should be seen as being of equal importance as the physiological, and in fact it should be considered that the best and most sustainable results in the latter can only be attained by prioritising the former.

Further, in my opinion.

As a coach your aim should be to provide the knowledge, the strategies and an overall outlook on training that facilitates permanent results via reasonable methods for those who are serious and enthusiastic.

As an athlete, serious fitness enthusiast or as a beginner who is serious about becoming more enthusiastic, you should be aware that any of these short term "transformation challenge" type of programs promising miraculous results via extreme and unsustainable approaches will be more conducive to failure, a worsened relationship with eating, with exercise, and a regression in condition over the long term. The people marketing them are well aware of this.

Practical application in real life?

Think about 99% of what you see in those stupid infographics and everything else you see on social media fitness pages. How to avoid trigger foods, how to manage your hunger and stick to your calorie deficit, how to burn more calories at exercise, and so on. A load of garbage.

Rather than being about trying to find ways to force strict adherence to a dietary regime, your outlook on training should be about finding a balance where you have confidence in your established habits and your ability to break from your established habits as necessary, while facilitating the successful pursuit of your training related goals, however modest or however ambitious they may be.

A strategic approach is about more than just burning calories and restricting intake. A philosophical approach is about more than just futile attempts to force adherence to what is neither reasonable nor advantageous via concepts such as will power, discipline, or accountability.

How Caloric Over-Restriction Makes Binge Eating Inevitable.

Just a little something I’ve been working on.

Here’s the thing with caloric deficits and binge eating. 

I put these numbers together as a hypothetical case study on a female of average height and a certain undisclosed age. Suffice it to say, if you’re taller than average these targets would be overly conservative. If you’re younger; also overly conservative. But the factor that really makes the biggest difference and which tends to be entirely neglected by most people writing about CI/CO and IIFYM style approaches is level of proficiency and productivity at training.
So, for a beginner who has a fat loss goal, we would start out in deficit. According to a lot of social media posts and infographics, all that matters is that you are “in deficit”, and so long as you are in deficit you lose body fat, and if you’re not losing body fat you’re not in deficit. 
Well, that's actually garbage.
Somewhat insufficient and unsustainable levels of energy intake can be an appropriate strategic move at times, but only for short periods and with the understanding that is not really enough, and the anticipation that an increase will be required within a predicted duration of time.
So in this example the client is instructed to begin at 1400 calories which should be considered an overly conservative estimate of her requirements. As part of an intelligent strategy, the reason for doing so might be to learn to recognise and respond accordingly to hunger signals... however in this case, it is simple caloric restriction in order to be at a significant level of deficit. While the client is told "you'll see fat loss due to being in deficit", this is only half of the truth, and what also happens is that the body adapts by compromising energy expenditure at training, at rest, and at activity outside of training as well.

At a certain point fat loss will cease to occur, and what the client is likely to be told according to the many infographics doing the rounds of late, is that she is "no longer in deficit" and must either cut caloric intake further or increase energy expenditure via extra training sessions or more deliberate activity outside of training. However, at this point all she is really doing is training the body to manage, and for that matter to require this increased level of work load at this level of energy restriction... and this cannot and will not result in improvements in athletic condition.
Now, the further we instruct the client to restrict intake further below this already insufficient level of energy provision, the greater the magnitude of the inevitable binge eating episode that will follow. 
Reiterating & understanding the situation correctly at this point.
This level of restriction will preclude any improvements in lean athletic condition, as the resources are simply not available to recover from and adapt to training, other than with the adaptations necessary to cope with (rather than benefit from) the workload. Since we have attempted to restrict even below that amount, the inevitable binge episode will be of a magnitude to bring average intake to a level that is merely sufficient to do so and maintain weight.
So, this means the client is no longer in deficit?

This is a conversation I have had a few too many times, where I'm attempting to explain this situation and citing examples of clients who've been a lot happier and seen major improvements in performance and condition by increasing towards more optimal levels of energy intake in accordance with my instructions. "But Dave, what you don't understand is that she hasn't mentioned that she is binge eating, so that's why she's not in deficit". Wrong you stupid motherfucker. I am well aware that she is binge eating, as that is the problem she has come to me desperate for help with. 
What you can see in the chart above is some estimates of what might be the maximum amount this client could benefit from or otherwise expend on a daily basis at different levels of proficiency at training. The greater your consistency and proficiency at training, the higher the amount you can put to use and benefit from. The more severe the level of restriction on a daily basis, the more mathematically improbable it is that a single (or even a couple of) binge eating episodes on a weekly basis could "erase the deficit" and result in a caloric surplus so as to preclude fat loss.

Rather, the situation is that even taking binge episodes into account, total intake is still only to a level that allows the body to manage / cope with the workload, but not to a level that facilitates improvements in performance and condition. To benefit from training you require a certain level of energy intake and other nutritional resources, in order to recover from and adapt favourably to the level of stress you are subjecting your body to.

Come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.

Intuitive Approach vs Metabolic Capacity Approach to Sports Nutrition

Your metabolic capacity is an amount of energy that you would benefit from, put to good use, or otherwise expend in a day if it was made available.

As described in the video and elsewhere on my blog, a lot of the time people are restricting to an insufficient amount, not getting anywhere, and are mislead into believing that that amount is their "maintenance" and that since they're not seeing fat loss on that amount, they have no use for any more.

This is incorrect.

You may be restricting to an insufficient level of fueling and your body may have found a way to adapt and manage it's workload on that amount of energy, but the only reason you aren't burning more is because more has not been made available. What we're talking about here is the difference in approach between being interested in an amount that you can restrict to and get by on vs fueling to the amount that you can benefit from.

On an individual basis, we have a couple of options of approaches that might the most appropriate depending on the circumstances. In reality there is a wide grey area and some over lap between the two, and for most people the best strategy will be somewhere in the middle but perhaps leaning a little towards one or the other. Unfortunately, what most people are doing elsewhere is an anorexic approach based continually reducing levels of energy intake while increasing levels of energy expenditure.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating.

All of a sudden I'm wondering to myself, are we talking about an intuitive approach to sports nutrition, or a sports nutrition approach to intuitive eating?

Either way.

A successful approach to intuitive eating will result in simply having consistently appropriate eating habits that meet your nutritional requirements without exceeding your energy requirements. In other words, eating habits that leave you satisfied, but not stuffed. If you run a little late for a meal or a little short on calories, you get a little reminder in the form of hunger signals, and you respond accordingly.

Without repeating too much of literally every other post I ever published and being redundant, the method is simply to calculate a conservative estimate of a barely adequate energy intake, set whatever meal schedule seems most appealing, and plan accordingly with a selection of foods both of the delicious and the nutritious varieties.

Being of conservative estimate of barely adequate, we anticipate that if training is consistent and as proficiency improves, we anticipate that increases will be required, and assess progress and hunger signals for signs that it is time to do so. If they are not forth coming, perhaps we start dropping a few hints to give the body the idea "there is more here if you can use it, just ask".

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity.

For more advanced and elite athletes and in particular for those where a history of eating disorder or body image issues are less of a concern, this approach would entail calculating a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity, deciding upon the appropriate increments and the schedule upon which to increase intake to that amount, and then simply following the strategy diligently.

Once that conservative level has been achieved and maintained for a suitable duration, the situation can be assessed with a view towards increasing further still to a less conservative, or even a more adventurous estimate of the greatest amount that the athlete can utilise and benefit from.

Update: The DHPT Punctuated Periodisation Protocol for optimal fueling. 

Perhaps this is only for the people who are really extra enthusiastic about working to more advanced strategy, but this graphic represents the new "Interrupted Energy Restriction" based strategy, designed to build confidence & condition while working towards those optimal and maximal levels of fueling.

This is for the more ambitious people, and it's just one more reason why I'm the Innovator In Sports Nutrition, just like it says on the t-shirt!

Sports Nutrition For Serious Fitness Enthusiasts

Diet culture really has no place in the world of fitness enthusiasts. Your nutritional habits do have to be appropriate at the very least, or more optimal if you are ambitious &/or competitive.

Unfortunately what most people are instructing or advocating on their social media pages is actually an anorexic approach. All of those infographics we've seen lately, instructing people to get into deficit and continually slash intake further and further any time progress stalls while also increasing energy expenditure... literally those are anorexic and bulimic messages and approaches. We must reject them, and we must practice sensible, sustainable and appropriate sports nutrition strategies to actually meet our energy requirements to produce our best athletic performance and condition and our best quality of life.

Calories In, Calories Out; Maintenance or plateau?

A little infographic I whipped up, talking about Calories In / Calories Out, "maintenance" calories and weight loss plateaus.
It is a lot more complicated than people seem to think, too complicated to cover all the basis in a simple infographic but I tried my best.
Conventional thinking seems to be that if your weight is neither increasing nor decreasing, then whatever you happen to be doing now is "your maintenance" level of calorie intake. Whether that is working to / restricting to a particular calorie limit, or otherwise. If you're not losing & not gaining weight you're "at maintenance".
This can be problematic in cases where you have active people who are working to calorie limits and not seeing progress. Whether that is "weight loss progress" per se or whether they are already at around an appropriate goal weight but perhaps not at goal condition. The conventional (lack of) wisdom dictates that if you're not seeing fat loss progress, you're "at maintenance" and need to cut lower to get back into deficit.
Not necessarily so, and in my opinion, observations & experience not even the most likely explanation.
In actual fact, "maintenance" is not some pin point specific amount above which you'd gain weight and below which you'd lose fat. In actual fact there may be quite a wide margin between where (at the higher end of the spectrum) your intake is not high enough to gain weight, but is too high to draw from fat stores, and (at the lower end of the spectrum) your intake is insufficient to facilitate improvements in condition via prioritisation of lean mass, and your productivity & performance at training as well as your Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is sacrificed in preference to drawing from fat stores.
Somewhere in between is an optimal range of calories where you can expect improvements in performance, energy & resources to be used to support increases in lean mass (at best) at the expense of fat stores or at least while not adding to them.
TL;DR it's like I've been saying for YEARS now and a few other people are starting to catch up to; you require an adequate but not excessive amount relative to your requirements as primarily determined by your amount of & level of proficiency at training, amongst other things. When you cease to see progress you must assess the situation accordingly rather than just assume that you need to eat less. And you do have options other than "bulk w/ fat gain via calorie surplus" & "cut w/ lean mass loss via increased calorie deficit".


What can we learn from fad dieting cults?

If there's one thing I'll say about the fad diet cultists on the internet, it's that they're annoying and stupid.

No I'm just kidding. I mean... some of them apparently do very well with whatever approach they're taking, but even the others will show up on pages run by people who've had more success than them, who's clients are seeing better results than them, or who are just plain happier doing something else...and they'll insist "no, you need to do your research and get up to date. This thing that I like is the only thing anyone should be doing and the only thing that anyone should be advocating, promoting or instructing".

Now... what we KNOW is that any approach will work if it involves a change in eating habits (and perhaps activity levels) which results in total energy intake going from excessive to not excessive. For SUSTAINABLE results, that change in habits needs to also be sustainable, and it is important that the new energy intake is "adequate". Going from excessive to insufficient won't be sustainable and is counter productive.

No matter WHAT the approach, that's what it comes back to.

However, diet cultists will insist "no, it is NOT about calories it is these specific food choices and you couldn't be successful any other way". Or the more moderate variety might say "well sure, it does come down to non excessive calorie intake but with any other set of choices or schedule you'd inevitably end up over eating" because fructose or insulin or whatever else. Which... as 9 times out of 10 they'll be arguing with someone who's actually doing several of the things they're saying can't be done, with a greater level of sustained success... it's really demonstrably ridiculous.

"Just try it though" they'll still insist. Even though you say you're happy and enjoying what you're doing now AND seeing great results... "just try the thing I like instead" as if you owe it to them to validate their opinion or something.

People are FANATICAL about these approaches and while my personal observation is that most of them don't seem to have a much better level of success than your average crash dieter of the conventional variety... there are some notable exceptions.

So... is it possible, could it be conceivable that there IS something more to it than just "more appropriate energy intake"? And if so what can we take from that and how can we apply it to what we do, promoting and practising non restrictive approaches? 

Here are the things:
  1. although the reasons are false, people have reason to believe "this really is the best way and the only way I'm likely to succeed". And you might even add "the only way anyone else deserves to succeed" as well according to some of them. 
  2. people become heavily invested in and identify with the approach. They join "the tribe". 
  3. at least in some cases, the people seem to believe that eating a certain way makes them better than everyone else. 
So in short, it has less to do with the specifics of the diet or the accuracy of the beliefs people have about the diet, and it is more to do with how they FEEL about & identify with the diet and the collective of other people following it, and how that may be conducive to consistent and enthusiastic adherence. Or perhaps in some case "strict and disciplined adherence by force of will". Screw that though in my opinion.

While we practice evidence based, individualised approaches to sports and general nutrition, the main thing we can take from the above is the importance of being heavily invested in the approach and the process, and beginning to identify with it. Not in the sense of being a conformist with a "tribe" mentality, but in the sense of people who are successful with a training goal or some other passion in life. It is just a part of who and what they are, to show up and train, to practice their instrument or their forms, to spend time in the workshop or the art studio. At a certain point training becomes a part of your identity and your nutritional habits while not being obsessive, restrictive or anxiety inducing are habits you have structured and developed in much the same way that you have structured and developed your training strategies. 

So, you're heavily invested in, you identify with, and you have solid reasons to believe "this is what will work best for me in meeting my needs to pursue my goals". And why? Because you set it up with that purpose in mind.

To most consistently meet your requirements, it needs to be on the schedule that best suits you, with more of the foods that most appeal to you. Which is not to say that this can't evolve or needs to be rigid and unchanging, but why would you even consider trying something other than "what best suits my schedule to meet my needs with more of the foods that most appeal to me"? 

Crucially though is point #3.

Rather than doing something with the deluded notion that it makes us better than everyone else, our motivation should simply be to enjoy working to a strategy with a goal of being the best version of ourselves, according to whatever we've decided for ourselves that this would mean. 

Self development is the goal. Not to fit in and conform, not the approval or appeasement of others at the expense of your own ideas and individuality. Self development and self determination.

That's what I think, anyway.

The Case Against Taubes

Fuck Gary Taubes, honestly. This was a great post.

There are far more intelligent options available to you than "bulk & cut".

This is an updated version of an infographic I made a while back that you might have seen already.

The "fuel gauge" graphic to the left represents what your current level of fueling might be, relative to your energy requirements as defined on the right. What I've added is the highlighted rectangles.

I've been a little irritated a few times recently to see people who should know better advocating for very low calorie "cutting" diets for females with fat loss goals. Even more so when the suggestion is that the only alternative to extreme calorie restriction is to "bulk first", for some reason.

Bulking and cutting might be required when your goal is to be a massive body builder or to compete in sports at a higher weight class. For people with a fat loss goal, you most certainly do not need to "bulk first" and actually increase levels of body fat. As I talked about here and on facebook recently, bulking & cutting is rarely an appropriate strategy for a female client whether a beginner or a more advanced athlete. At least, not in the context that people usually employ it.

The problems with how people usually bulk & cut:

In theory and when done properly, when bulking you accept that you'll gain some fat as you add lean mass and increase strength, but hopefully the amount is minimal, depending on how much mass you intend to add.

So, for most people that's a period of getting further out of shape before they get to get into shape. Especially if you're a woman reading this, how do you REALLY feel about the idea of getting further from goal condition (aka fatter) before we can get into leaner condition? Not so great right? Psychologically it is pretty hard to deal with, especially when you switch gears to cutting mode and all of a sudden become all too aware of how much more fat you have to lose and how much further you are from your goal condition than when you started. It's that "my god, what have I done?" feeling and it blows.

So that's bulking and you do add lean mass but also fat mass. Then comes cutting, when you restrict as far into calorific deficit as is necessary to lose fat mass. Again, you accept that you may lose some lean mass but ideally the idea is that you lose mostly fat mass and minimal lean mass.

In actuality though... when you restrict further and further into calorific deficit, your body finds it preferential to squander lean mass rather than to draw any more from fat stores than it absolutely has to. Performance at training and Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is also sacrificed, as you just aren't taking in enough energy to function on.

Now... why this is particularly problematic is that I keep seeing people who should know better telling people, and even with audacity to tell ME of all people, that when people are not seeing results in fat loss, regardless of how far in deficit of a sufficient level of energy intake they already are, if they're not seeing fat loss they need to slash intake even further. This is madness.

Further, I'll suggest from my observation that many people's supposed "bulking" period is really just a stint at working to targets that are "barely adequate" as per the chart. So in this situation there's no period where the body actually gets to prioritise putting energy and resources into the muscles and into lean mass where you want them, while drawing more from fat stores. At all points you're only at various levels of "conserve energy and survive as best you can under the stress of this level of activity".

This is why people might do a bulk every winter and a cut every spring, but over the long term they don't really produce any improvements in condition. They just end up back where they started, because they restrict to a degree that does not support an increase in lean mass, assuming they even achieved any increase the previous season anyway which they may well have not.

Basically, you have a period that involves adding fat mass, and a period that involves squandering lean mass. How does that sound like a strategy that is conducive to your condition goal?

You have more options in nutrition strategy than just "bulk or cut".

For some reason, not a lot of people seem to get this, and even more baffling to me, many of them are actually hostile to the concept. However, it's important to understand that just because you are not currently producing any changes in condition, this does not necessarily mean that you are "at maintenance" and that any increase in energy intake would mean "caloric surplus" and be "bulking".

You have better options, but it takes more competence than the average so called "macros coach" appears to possess. Bulk and cut... calculate an amount that's clearly too much and have them get fat working towards that, then calculate an amount that's insufficient at best, and keep slashing further until they develop an eating disorder. Pffft. That's garbage.

Wrapping this up, part 1: Winter Strategy. Performance & Anabolism. 

Assume we're talking about serious people who's level of activity is consistent, but who are not seeing improvements in condition. They may be paying no attention to their eating habits & energy intake, or they may have some sort of idea they're working to. They may have habits and levels of energy intake that are consistent, or they may have eating habits and levels of energy intake that are erratic. In any case what we can logically infer is that they do not have eating habits that result a level of energy intake such as is required to produce those desired changes in condition as an adaptation to training.

In a more advanced and experienced athlete with greater amount of time spent active and a greater level of prowess at training, the prospect of over eating other than while deliberately bulking is somewhat implausible. Even in beginners, my observation is consistently that if people are trying to "diet" or "eat clean" or even if they think they are doing IIFYM in accordance with their own estimations or even working to targets they have paid for... they're restricting to a level of energy provision that is insufficient to facilitate improvements in condition.

Our goal is to indulge our passion for training and to enjoy seeing improvements in condition from season to season and from year to year. I'm labelling this the winter strategy but really it's what you should probably start with immediately regardless of the season if you're currently at that unknown, insufficient or erratic level of intake.

As per the graphic, start at a level of energy intake that you'd consider a conservative estimate of what might be adequate to support goal weight, condition, and level of activity. Even if that goal weight is lower than current weight, and even if that level of intake is greater than current level of intake. From here, increase incrementally towards what your equations would determine is the maximal amount you could put to use in facilitating improvements in performance and increases in lean mass without "bulking" or significant weight gain beyond the weight of more food in your digestive tract.

Understand that although energy intake is significantly increased, we expect to see improvements in condition including fat loss.

Wrapping this up, part 2: Summer Strategy.

As per the chart, I'd suggest the above is a logical strategy for the Autumn (aka Fall) through Winter months. Maintaining that level of fueling means the body has had a chance and had resources available to prioritise increases in lean mass and making more energy available in the muscle cells, at the expense of fat storage. Therefore, by Spring you'll be stronger and leaner than you were in when you started... but you're also in a position to now apply a strategic level of caloric deficit to draw further still from fat stores. Rather than restricting to an insufficient level of intake for extended periods and squandering those lean mass gains the way people often do with a conventional "Spring Cut", we should still ensure we are working to levels of intake that are adequate to maintain performance and lean mass, while drawing further from fat stores to make up the difference.

True words often seem contradictory.

You'll best facilitate fat loss and lean condition by working towards more optimal (aka higher) levels of fueling, especially after having survived an extended period in caloric deficit. However, you'll also best facilitate fat loss by working to strategic levels of deficit, having previously established and maintained a more optimal level of fueling.

You do not facilitate best results in fat loss by restricting to insufficient levels for extended periods, and obviously "bulking" in the conventional sense infers fat gain. Your goal is to enthusiastically enjoy and indulge your passion for training, and to see continuous, on going, perpetual improvements in condition.

Estimating Energy Requirements Of Female Athletes & Why Men Are Shit At It

The following was a suggestion made in a discussion on a certain forum the other day:
"A lot of men do not understand how many calories women need because men in the fitness industry can obviously eat a lot more and be fine."
The context of course was more like "how few calories" rather than "how many".

A Short List Of Links And References.

Further reading for after you've finished this article, but I wanted to include them early on to illustrate why this is a matter of serious concern.

Here's the thing. 
A fit & active male, and especially one carrying a lot of extra muscle mass, will have massive calorie requirements. A younger &/or a taller one would have higher requirements than an older & shorter one, but level of activity and amount of lean mass are by far the greater influences on calorie requirements. And note that I am saying "requirements" as in "they actually require that amount to maintain performance and condition" rather than just "they can get away with it because they're male."
Regardless, it seems to be extremely rare that any males are thinking "well if I can eat 3600 calories a day then so can she" and issuing excessive targets, or anything remotely similar. Rather, quite the opposite is what occurs, with males in particular failing to understand and dangerously underestimating the energy / calorie requirements of females they are advising whether in a professional capacity, a mansplaining capacity, or even just an enabling "no that sounds fine" capacity when a woman is asking for advice about why she's not seeing progress on 1200 calories per day and I'm trying explain that she probably needs about 700 a day more at an absolute minimum.

So what we're talking about here is an observation of a tendency and next will be some speculation on why that might be happening. But also we can probably expect some indignant males in the comments section complaining with strawman arguments like "so you're saying NO men can ever give competent nutritional advice, that's sexist"... to which I point out that not only am I actually a man myself, but... and I mean, I don't who's going to show up, but I put it to you that I'm actually twice the man that any of them are.

With the right equations and some intuition we can accurately predict a person's energy requirements, based on an array of factors. Sex, height & age come into this but perhaps the most significant factors are the amount of lean mass we want to support, and Level Of Activity.

As elaborated upon recently, Level Of Activity refers to all of the following:
  • Amount of time spent active.
  • Frequency and consistency of attendance and participation in training.
  • Quality and efficacy of training strategy.
  • Intensity of effort.
  • Proficiency and prowess at training.
  • Activity levels outside of training.
Emphasis here is on proficiency and prowess at training, and the importance of taking this into account. The amount a more experienced, more advanced athlete requires bares little resemblance to an amount that would be adequate or necessary for a beginner. However, even at a beginner level we should be aiming to facilitate improvements in performance and increases in lean mass. 

When attempting to understand the very low calorie levels I often see males recommend or endorse, I can only imagine that they have entirely failed to take Level Of Activity and Support Of Lean Mass into account, and have based their estimates upon the requirements of a sedentary person. Either that or they've simply looked at the product of their equations, and instinctively thought "but she's a girl" and "but she's trying to lose fat" and thrown the lot out in favour of some arbitrary amount that feels right.

In other words, they don't quite have the balls to stick their neck out and instruct a female to eat that much food and consume that amount of calories. They may claim to coach IIFYM or Flexible Dieting but in the end, the client may as well have just joined a mainstream, commercial calorie restriction weight loss program with one size fits all calorie restrictions... as they are in no way working to an amount that actually reflects their individual requirements.

Here's why though. Or here's a pretty good guess at least.

My observation is that a lot of these males follow a "bulk & cut" body building styled approach, in which you have "calorie surplus to gain weight" and "calorie deficit to lose weight" periods. In theory and when done successfully, the weight gained includes muscle tissue and other lean mass, and the weight loss period takes care of any body fat gained in the process. Perhaps just as likely though is that after the end of a bulking and cutting cycle, you find yourself back at exactly the same weight and same (or worse) condition than you started with.

Now... obviously you can't make blanket statements like this as if they apply across the board, but it appears to me that in a lot of cases, (a) these males in question do not understand anything other than "bulk and then cut", but since (b) a female is always assumed to be in "cutting" mode with fat loss as the primary if not only focus... you end up with calorie restrictions based on wanting to be as far into calorific deficit as possible, and the least amount the individual can manage to subsist upon.

This is... pretty bad. Really quite bad indeed.

Male or female, as a serious athlete competing in sport your priority is performance, and when fueled for performance athletic condition will occur as a side effect or by product. As a serious but non competitive enthusiast, or even as a beginner, here's a short list of things you should be interested in:
  • Improved performance at training & sports.
  • Maintain and increase lean mass, in terms of;
    • Muscle tissue.
    • Bone density.
    • Energy stored within the muscle cells.
  • Variety of, enjoyment of, & positive relationship with food.
  • Physical & mental health.
  • Enjoyment of life outside of training.
Fat loss is likely to also be an aspect of your goal, but the idea should be to pursue all of the above at the expense of fat stores, rather than "fat loss to the detriment of everything else."

You would think it would stand to reason that when athletic performance and condition is the goal, you will require more energy and resources to draw upon than an amount that would sustain an invalid, or an amount that might be necessary to restrict to in order to force fat loss in a sedentary person. You would think so, and while you'd be correct, my observation is that you'd also be in the minority.

Bottom line: You must take Level Of Activity into account when estimating energy requirements for athletes, and bare in mind that your aim is to facilitate improvements in performance and condition.

Observations on advice regarding energy requirements from female coaches to female clients.

Obviously the quality and the nature of the advice given will vary, and we must assess the quality of any advice on it's own merits rather than on the gender of who it has come from. Increasingly and encouragingly, my observation is that a lot more female coaches are against restriction of energy intake or choices of foods in pursuit of body condition goals.

This is GOOD! Although often I'm concerned that the message might inadvertently reinforce the idea that "not restricting" means fat gain in some people. We must emphasise that best condition will come from improvements in performance while being more optimally fueled, and that an active person with these goals requires a greater energy intake than a less active person.

On the other hand though, there's also a tendency with some female trainers & coaches to attempt to normalise their own restrictive eating habits and fat phobia with the same sort of advice described previously, with inappropriately low calorie limits which do not take level of activity into account.

Reiterating the bottom line: there is nothing problematic about having a goal of a leaner athletic condition, but as an athlete, aspiring athlete, or active enthusiast you require appropriate sports nutrition guidance with a focus on improving performance and condition, and not based on "being a girl and wanting to lose weight". And you definitely don't need to bulk first and cut later, unless you intend to compete in a heavier weight class or are actually underweight due to illness or eating disorder.

If you'd care to discuss this article you may do so on my facebook page, here.

Does Movement Screening Predict & Prevent Injury? Masterpost

Credit to Robert Palka who collated all of these links for a recent facebook post.
Could we please stop wasting time and money on the FMS, and move on? I also thought "it worked!" when using it.
A preliminary list of links to research on the effectiveness of the Functional Movement Screen for prediction and prevention of injury.

You Can't Out Train A Bad Diet? Garbage.

We really need to end the notion that athletic condition is associated with food avoidance. Nothing could be further from the truth. And this particular trope as per the title of the piece... it is illogical on a variety of levels.

To begin with; What constitutes a "bad" diet?

Poor choices of foods.

If it is merely that you don't approve of someone's food choices, that is entirely irrelevant. Those choices fit together into dietary habits that either provide (a) an insufficient amount, (b) an appropriate amount, or (c) an excessive amount of energy relative to their needs as an individual.

Provided that energy provision is an appropriate amount, they can expect to see results from training regardless of anyone's opinion on how "bad" their choices of foods are. Now, ideally we should be including some healthful choices to ensure that we meet our nutrient requirements as well as just energy requirements... with something resembling the "5 + 2" recommendation for vegetables and fruit respectively, but failing to do so would not preclude results from training consistently while meeting appropriate energy and macronutrient provisions.

Excessive total energy intake.

Here's the thing. It's quite plausible that people could show up and train, but have inappropriate eating habits resulting in an excessive total energy intake. As a result, they would not see fat loss.

However, the trope "you can't out train a bad diet" suggests that they could not address this imbalance by increasing their level of activity. That's nonsense. In actual fact, we can expect best results when activity levels AND energy intake are both high. Think of the outrageous diets some famous athletes are known to have... clearly they have "out trained" what for most of us would be terribly excessive.

It's always about context.

What's excessive for an inactive person might be quite appropriate for someone more active. What was excessive when you were inactive might be quite appropriate now that you are more active, in which case you would indeed have "out trained a bad diet".

However, and this is very important;

Your activity levels must be productive and sustainable. We must not fall into the trap of thinking "I'm not seeing great progress, so I'll do twice as much, burn twice as many calories, and then twice as many again until I see results". At a certain point... no matter how enthusiastic or determined or committed or whatever else you feel on day one of this new regime... at a certain point you are going to run out of steam. What you absolutely do not want is to train your body to require that amount of activity just to maintain whatever condition you're in when that happens.

What you want is a serious but sustainable training and activity schedule, and eating habits that meet but do not exceed your requirements. Those requirements may vary subject to your seasonal goals, or they may just fit a vague description of "adequate but not excessive on average".

The contentious exception.

Athletic condition comes out of athletic performance, when a suitable amount of resources are available to facilitate recovery from & adaptation to training. That means energy, and protein. You need energy to perform at training and at sports, energy to recover from training & sports, and protein available to support an increase in lean muscle mass as an adaptation to training.

As discussed, best results will come when the level of activity is high, and level of fueling is also high. This refers to both amount and quality of activity, but we must not always assume that the answer to any lack of continued progress is always to increase activity levels, especially to levels that we can't reasonably expect to sustain indefinitely.

Other than sustainability, there's another reason we shouldn't always assume an increase in activity levels is the solution to any problem, and that is the one form of "bad diet" that you actually cannot out train: a diet of insufficient total energy provision.

You can't expect great results and improvements in condition while restricting to a less than sufficient calorie limit & total energy provision. You will not perform at your best, and you will not have resources available to recover from what you are able to do, or to adapt with the prioritisation of lean mass at the expense of fat mass. Adding more activity when energy intake is insufficient serves only to exacerbate a problem, rather than address and rectify it.

To summarise though:

You can't out train a diet that does not match your energy & macronutrient requirements, but what most people will judge your diet as "bad" for only reflects their own lack of understanding and judgemental self-interest, and is quite irrelevant.

Come and discuss this post on facebook.

Dave's Greatest Hits On Facebook

Some good stuff tends to get lost after a while on facebook, so I thought I'd list a bunch of my favourite posts here for future reference. Generally these will be bullshit busting type posts, because those are always a lot of fun.

This is a work in progress... I'll add some more links to Classic Dave Moments On Facebook as they come to mind.

Bullshit busting posts.

More of the good stuff.
Food FYIs: These proved quite popular recently.

  1. 60 Calories Of Watermelon.
  2. 80 Calories Of Potato. 
  3. 90 Calories Of Ice Cream.
  4. 40g Of Mixed Nuts.

Blocked By Pete Evans:

I wanted to include this very pertinent link to a post I made in the early days of the BBPE page, which was a recurring theme of "we're happy for you if you like paleo but please try to understand why we still want to provide other options to other people"... I would have thought quite a reasonable request, but 3 years later the trolls have not abated. Actually they often use a screenshot of just the first half of this post to suggest "Dave Hargreaves has acknowledged that paleo is healthiest for everyone, why does he object to it now?" and such garbage as per the screenshot from twitter.

Bottom line? They're just shit people.

I'd made some similar posts on my own page with hilarious results prior to this but I can't seem to find the links.

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