I think I just wrote the most controversial article of 2014…
It’s addressed to fitness models but really it’s for anyone who “lifts weights” and wants to grab attention with their shirt off…
I learned many of these mistakes the hard way.
Poet Archibald MacLeish said, “There’s only one thing more painful than experience and that’s is not learning from experience.”
Without further ado and in no particular order…
1. Low carb diets.
Carbs are muscle sparing and the fuel you need to kick ass in the gym. I dieted down to 4.8% bodyfat (according to a DEXA) while tapering my carbs down from 250 to 150 grams of carbs a day until the week before the show. There is one catch: You need to give yourself enough time.
2. Extreme diets.
I have no problem with an extreme diet if it’s in context to look great for a Vegas pool party in a few weeks. However, diets low in calories restrict your body of too many nutrients and prevent you from training hard. Training hard allows you to BURN the fat off your body, not STARVE it off.
3. Initiating at too low of an overall intake.
A common recommended energy deficit is 500 calories per day. In other words, if you’re taking in 1500 calories per day, you should burn 2000 calories per day, creating a 500-calorie deficit.
However, at such a low calorie intake, you’re likely missing out on many of the macro and micro-nutrients that will help you to lose fat. If you shoot for a calorie intake of 2500 calories instead (this is just an example) and a calorie expenditure of 3000 calories, you’ll be getting much more of the nutrients needed to work harder, to balance hormone levels and burn that stored fat. How do you do this?
Up the intensity level of your workouts and increase your calorie intake accordingly. Then, make your food choices as nutrient-dense as possible.
When you cut calories too drastically, a chain of events are set off that can actually slow fat burning.
First, your thyroid reacts by holding on to as much fat as possible. Also, your leptin levels will decrease, further slowing fat loss. Some people can actually gain fat on a very low calorie diet because of this cycle.
As suggested above, it’s better to lose fat by increasing the frequency or intensity of your physical activity and up your calorie intake, not decrease it. I have never had to take a client under “calorie intake 9-11x body weight” and if you have a coach taking you lower, FIRE THEM.
5. Worry about the competition.
Other people are NOT the reason you lose. If you don’t win it’s because you disqualified yourself.
6. Believe you can transform your body alone.
Here’s the cold hard truth and I don’t say this to try to sell you something: If you’re able to transform your body by yourself, you did not set your goals high enough. In other words, you’re aiming too low. Good physiques are achieved alone, GREAT physiques are not.
7. Wasting your time debating with science geeks (especially, when you should be in the gym).
Debating with a science geek (or anyone for that matter) is a revolving door. It does not expose weakness of arguments, it confirms personal bias.
Plus, everyone knows the only way to win a debate online is to post more links from PubMed faster than the other guy and the person who leaves the most links and posts lasts, wins.
In other words, the guy who has nothing better to do with his time, always, wins. Don’t be that guy.
8. Not increasing protein intake to maintain muscle mass.
Research has shown that when you are cutting calories, you have to increase your protein intake to avoid muscle catabolism, especially if you’re training at a high frequency and intensity (this does not apply to guys who don’t train with a set of brass balls)
If you’re normally taking in 1g per pound of body weight, you may need to increase that to 1.5g per pound or even 2g, reducing your other macros accordingly.
9. Focusing on your calorie count more than the hormonal implications of your food.
Hormones have such a profound impact on your metabolism that how a food affects your hormones is far more important than how many calories it has.
For instance, if you’re allowed 200g of carbs per day, getting those grams from high-fructose corn syrup is going to demolish your fat burning potential (and your health), whereas getting them from sweet potatoes and berries will help both.
Yes, calories matter and must be reduced gradually to sustain fat loss but don’t get so focused on calories that you lose sight of the importance of nutrients.
Fitness models that do not eat meat simply look soft and lack muscle hardness and can’t remember the last time they woke up with a pitched tent.
The truth is, unprocessed, naturally fed meat is extremely healthy and there is an abundance of evidence-based reasons to eat meat (and be proud of it). I consumed a different red meat source at least twice a day up until the day of my competitions. I’ve learned I simply look like crap without meat in my diet.
11. Cheat meals you haven’t earned.
Until you achieve 10% body fat (as a male) and around 16% body fat (as a female) your body has not earned a cheat meal. I will say, psychologically, scheduling one treat meal a week can go a long ways for many clients I’ve worked with so this one is not a black and white case.
12. Skipping meals.
“Meal frequency doesn’t matter blah blah blah” so the experts say. The only guys who believe this are those who live in textbooks and are Certified Keyboard Warriors.
Skipping meals is one of the worst things you can do. Waiting too long to eat puts your body in starvation mode and eats your muscle for fuel. Not only this but your blood sugar drops and the temptation sets in to eat any food in sight later that night.
(Trust me, I’ve raided bulk sections at the grocery store at odd hours of the night because of skipping meals). Plan your meals ahead so you can achieve predictable and consistent results.
13. Too many diet foods.
Egg whites, chicken breasts, whey protein, oh my gawd, I’m getting sick just typing this out. Come on people. If there is ONE skill kids should be required to master before going to college it should be COOKING. Right?
One of the best decisions I made was to hire a professional chef to teach me how to cook. In fact, in a few days I just hired her again for 20 more lessons to learn how to make my food taste delicious and how to cook my meals in bulk.
Dieting is not hard if you know how to prepare delicious food. Plus, it’s healthier and prevents you from losing all your friends because of your nasty gas (not that I would know haha)
I realize this may not be possible for some people who are already extremely pressed for time and barely make time for their one workout. However, this is my “go to” principle for charging up fat loss and I strongly recommend that you try it if at all possible.
Getting two workouts per day does require a commitment, but is workable for many people. This may mean getting your first workout before work and your second one during your lunch break or after work.
To make this work really well, use your morning workout for high weight, high speed, low rep workouts and do your higher-rep, lower weight or lower speed (cardio) workout in the afternoon/evening. Multi day training is super powerful if the workouts are designed progressively and get you ripped to shreds in the final few weeks before a deadline.
15. Counting veggies.
Seriously? Have you ever met a person who’s got fat by eating too many veggies? This is simply impossible.
I think there is only ONE thing all nutrition camps agree upon: Eat more plant-based foods. If you’re new to nutrition, start with a minimum of 1 cup per meal.
If you’re looking to take your physique to the next level, experiment with a minimum of 2 cups of veggies EVERY meal. I guarantee your stomach will tighten up faster than ever.
16. Not getting blood tests.
It boggles my mind how fitness people have no problem spending literally thousands of dollars on supplements (most which have no science behind them to justify their use) and gym memberships each year, but don’t spend a penny on blood tests to see what’s really going on with their hormones and other indicators of health like cholesterol, liver function etc.
This boggles my mind further when it’s these exact hormones that are ultimately responsible for whether or not your efforts in the gym are productive or just busting your ass to no place fast.
Let me spell this out: If your chemistry is off, meaning your hormones are sub par, you can have the perfect macro split, hire the most expensive trainer and take the best supplements and you’ll still spin your wheels with nothing to show.
In short: GET A BLOOD TEST before you waste any more time going nowhere. Blood tests should be done at least once or twice a year.
17. Avoiding hypertrophy based workouts.
Sure, fitness models don’t need to be huge like a bodybuilder but they need symmetry and a degree of muscle mass and you’re not going to get this from swinging a kettlebell, doing crossfit workouts or knocking out a million bodyweight exercises. Those certainly serve a time and place but not when you want to show off attention-demanding muscle.
If you want muscle, you need resistance in the form of good ol’ fashioned (and intelligent) bodybuilding workouts. Hypertrophy based training is what builds the muscle so hypertrophy based training is what’s going to keep the muscle. Yeah baby, that’s where it’s at!
Carbs have two roles post-workout: to stop catabolism and restock muscle glycogen. But if you’re trying to lose fat, you want your body to burn fat as fuel so you don’t necessarily want to top off your glycogen tank.
However, you still want to stop that catabolic process and lower your cortisol level so you still need some post-workout carbs.
Research has shown that 30g of carbs are sufficient to stop that catabolic process. You can get that from a glass of cherry juice or another quick, nutrient dense snack.
Don’t go overboard on your post-workout carbs and you’ll get the help you need with your cortisol levels and still prompt your body to burn fat as fuel rather than stocking up on more glycogen.
19. Thinking you can gain size while keeping all six abs popping.
The only guys who can do this are genetic freaks and “fake naturals” taking a bunch of “helpers”.
If you want to gain size, get comfortable with a 4-pack so you can provide your body with more fuel to train harder and grow.
I gave up on the dream of having abs all year round a long time ago because frankly, I love pizza and wine too much. And I’m personally on a mission to look more like a muscle model, not a fitness model.
20. Hang around guys who train like wussies.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Law of 5?
You’re the average of the Top 5 guys you hang out with most? So if you’re top 5 friends are broke, you’ll be next. If you’re top 5 friends are divorced, you’ll be next. If you’re top 5 friends are fat, you’ll be next. If you’re top 5 friends train like wussies, you’ll be next. Surround yourself with guys who train like lions and that’s right, you’ll become a lion!
In conclusion, it’s been said that:
A wise man learns from his mistakes.
A wiser one learns from others mistakes.
But the wisest person learns from others’ success.
——-End of Article——–
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