Fasted vs. Fed Cardio for Fat Loss: Which is Better?

Fasted vs. Fed Cardio for Fat Loss: Which is Better?

Rationale for fasted cardio for fat loss

A common strategy among those competing in aesthetic sports (e.g. bodybuilders, fitness competitors etc.) and those competing in weight class sports (e.g. boxing, wrestling, judo etc.) is to perform cardiovascular exercise after an overnight fast, waiting until after the exercise bout to consume breakfast. The basic premise for this practise is that low levels of glycogen (and/or glycogen depletion during the exercise bout itself) and insulin, shift energy utilisation away from carbohydrate for fuel, thereby allowing greater mobilisation of stored fat that can be used for fuel (fat oxidation).

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Beetroot Juice: Endurance athletes’ elation or another flop? (Guest Post by Mark Funnell)

Beetroot Juice: Endurance athletes’ elation or another flop? (Guest Post by Mark Funnell)

It seems like you can't open a cycling magazine, read a running forum or speak to an endurance enthusiast without being drawn into a discussion about beetroot juice. With article headlines such as, “Power to the beetroot - PB up, BP down” and “Beetroot Juice: The Drink of Champions” becoming evermore common, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the research and determine whether these claims are justified. As such, the aim of this article is to discuss all things beetroot and try to find out if it really is “The Drink of Champions”.

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An Objective Review of John Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading (Part 2)

An Objective Review of John Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading (Part 2)

The Limitations of CBL

Some general concerns with CBL

Firstly, I don’t think that eliminating carbs all day is needed for most people, and is potentially detrimental to some, especially those who generally don’t feel good on low carbs, or athletes with high carb requirements. Given the requirement to train in the late afternoon/early evening, CBL is also not practical for those who train in the morning or afternoon. However, Kiefer does address this issue and adapts CBL for people who have work/family commitments that would clash with early evening training. To me, this somehow contradicts all what is said in the rest of the book with regards to physiology and circadian rhythms.

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How to miminise fat gain during the Xmas period


Due to the large quantities of not so good food within reaching distance over the Xmas and new year period, as well as the volume of parties and other social events, this part of the calendar is a difficult time to maintain bodyweight. As such, the purpose of this article is to suggest some tips to avoid sabotaging your diet over the festive period.

During this time, most people usually fall into one of two categories. The first type of person (the obsessive type) carries on the way they did the other 300+ days of the year and doesn’t gain an ounce of fat. They felt miserable and deprived over Xmas, but at least they still have their six-pack! The other type of person, completely caves into temptation and eats everything in sight, and more. They end up gaining a significant amount of body fat in as little as a couple of weeks, which can often take a few months to shift with anything but extreme dieting. This type of person has a great time over Xmas but pays the price come new year. These type of people are also seemingly responsible for the sudden January ‘spike’ in gym memberships.

For those of you who want to have your cake and eat it (no pun intended), this short article will hopefully give you some tips that will allow you to have a certain degree of flexibility within your diet and enjoy the festivities, without the unwanted fat gain. Nothing in this article is new, in fact, many of these ideas have been discussed in detail elsewhere; I can remember Lyle McDonald even writing a similar article a few years ago on this very topic. You won't find things like “keep your eye on the prize”, choose to lose” or “Just say NO” here. What I’m attempting to achieve is to combine some science and a little common sense, to allow people to eat more of what everyone else is having without worrying too much about the consequences. Contrary to several claims in recent years, ingesting more energy that is expended over a protracted period is basically what fat gain boils down to. Therefore, the following strategies all work by minimising the chances of overeating.

1. Eat lean protein and vegetables prior to (or at) the event before tucking into more calorific food. Given the satiating power of lean proteins such as chicken, turkey and some fish (e.g. cod and tuna), consuming some protein will curb hunger somewhat before you move on to more calorific mains and desserts, leaving you less likely to overeat. Adding some veg to this protein snack/meal will add to the satiating effects of protein.

2. Try intermittent fasting. Though there are many approaches to intermittent fasting, arguably the most popular interpretation is that of Martin Berkhan from LeanGains. His approach involves fasting for 14-16 hours everyday, leaving the person with an 8-10 hour window to consume all their food for the day (typically to the tune of 2-3 larger meals). Assuming the party will be in the evening, an individual would fast (or only consume lean protein and veg) during the day then consume all of (or the majority of) their calories that evening. If they will be eating the bulk of the food during the day there is no reason not to fast (or just consume protein) for the rest of the day, or even the following day. Using this protocol, unless the person eats everything in sight, it is unlikely that they will consume much more than their maintenance caloric needs, if at all.

3. Employ a degree of ‘damage control’. Lyle McDonald used this term in relation to dieting in his book A Guide to Flexible Dieting. It ties into the previous point about not eating everything in sight, or until you feel like you’re going to burst. Oftentimes, when people eat something they think they shouldn’t, they gorge on whatever they were eating until they consumed the whole thing. They see themselves as a failure for breaking their diet and somehow rationalise to themselves that “If I ate one piece of cake, I might as well have three”. If you go to a party or meal, eat what you want, but stop eating when you’re satisfied. There is no point going eating beyond hunger just for the sake of it, you’ll probably just regret it in the long run. Basically, eat what you fancy, enjoy it, don’t feel guilty, and don’t be a pig about it.

4. Eat out. This ties in with the last point about damage control. If you’re at a friend’s party it is much easier to eat several pieces of cake or whatever else takes your fancy. However, if you’re at a restaurant, you can only imagine the awkwardness of ordering three desserts.

5. Go deplete some glycogen. In addition to increasing fat oxidation, depleting glycogen prior to an event or meal will increase the likelihood that the carbs you consume will be stored as glycogen instead of being used for energy or possibly being stored as fat; it’s almost like you are getting those calories for free. To deplete glycogen, you’ll need to increase your training volume leading up to the event. This can be achieved by performing more reps (8-12 per set) and more sets (4-8 depending on how many body parts you’re training). Something akin to German volume training should do the trick. Otherwise you can simply get more running or cycling miles in at a decent enough intensity (two or three extra hard 60 minute efforts should almost empty muscle glycogen stores, assuming you aren’t compensating with food intake).

One of my favourites, a gin and slimline

6. Go for the low calorie option. Again, this ties into point 3 about limiting the amount of damage. Go for low fat versions of cakes and other desserts. For alcohol, opt for spirits with a diet mixer to get as drunk as you desire while consuming the minimal amount of calories. If these options aren’t feasible you could always host your own party.

In conclusion, these are some simple strategies that anyone can employ to ultimately prevent overeating over Xmas, or in similar situations at other times of the year. Though each point will work alone, they can be combined to increase their effectiveness. For example, performing depletion work, while intermittent fasting, followed by eating out will almost guarantee that you won’t overeat. In fact, chances are that you’ll lose body fat with this approach. There are other things you can do, but for the most part, I feel that these are the most effective without being too restrictive. As a final pointer, it would be best to steer clear of the bathroom scales since bodyweight tends to fluctuate independent of actual fat mass due to variations in sodium and carbohydrate intakes. This water retention may lead you to believe that you’ve gained 3kg of fat in a couple of days, however, such a feat would require a daily energy surplus in excess of 11,000 kcal!  By following some of these principles, the worst/least common case scenario is that you gain a pound or two of fat, which is far better than ten. This isn't a bad price to pay for an enjoyable Xmas, and you can be back to your pre-Xmas body composition by mid-January.

What is my natural muscular potential? Part 2

In part 1 of “what is my natural muscular potential?” I introduced two models of natural muscular development, which were both derived from natural bodybuilders. In this second and final part, I’ll use a real-world example and see how my stats measure up to both models. I’ll also talk about limitations to these formulae, as well as giving a brief outline of what it takes for someone to reach their muscular potential.

A real-world example

To give you an idea of what these numbers actually mean, I’ll run my own stats through both models to see how close to my genetic potential I am.

My stats:

Stature – 181 cm (5’111/3”)

Body mass – 76.5 kg (168.3 lbs.)

Body fat percentage – 8% (ish)

Lean body mass – 70.4 kg (154.8 lbs.)

Ankle circumference – 8.25”

Wrist Circumference – 6.7”

Bicep circumference – 15”

Using my stature, wrist and ankle circumferences the Casey Butt model predicted my maximal natural lean body mass to be 75.9 kg (167 lbs.).

Since my current lean body mass is roughly 70.4 kg (155 lbs.), this equates to 92-93% of my genetic potential based on this equation.

Using the Martin Berkhan model, my predicted maximal natural body mass at 4-6% is 81 kg (178.2 lbs.). When body fat is taken into account, this equates to a lean body mass of between 76.1 kg (167.5 lbs.) and 77.8 kg (171 lbs.).

Again, since my current lean body mass is roughly 70.4 kg (155 lbs.), this put me at 90-93% of my genetic potential based on this equation, which is remarkably similar to that of the previous equation.

Taken together, these predictions sound about right, as I’ve been weight training for about eight years; the last three or four of which have specifically been aimed at muscular development. Given the extremely slow rate of muscle gain following years of dedicated weight training, I don’t expect to be gaining the predicted 5-7 kg (12-16 lbs.) anytime soon. Assuming I could gain on average 3-4 lbs. per year (if I’m very lucky!) this would take me at least another four to five years or so to reach my apparent genetic limit (unless I turn to steroids, then it would be within a year).

Are there exceptions?

Like any predictive measure, there are always outliers. However, these genetic freaks are few and far between and were purposefully left out of Casey’s model since their drug-free status cannot be verified. Furthermore, as stated in part one, these equations were developed using data collected from elite drug-free bodybuilders (i.e. the people who have won the genetic lottery to begin with and have been training extremely hard and consistently for a decade or more). So, if it were possible to surpass these predictions, it would no doubt be a natural bodybuilder and it would hardly be by a meaningful degree. The average gym-goer going through the motions a few times per week can forget about reaching such stats, at least without drugs. That’s not to say these individuals cannot attain visually impressive physiques.

So, for all intents and purposes, these predictions cannot be surpassed. As such, any individual that can be verified to exceed such stats, and isn’t a pro natural bodybuilder with at least eight years of training behind them, is clearly using drugs (whether they admit to it or not). While I have nothing against people who take steroids, I dislike people who claim to be natural when they’re clearly not.

Aside from the dishonesties of some steroid users, some people are genuinely drug-free and “appear” to surpass such predictions. For example, people are notorious for severely underestimating their true body fat percentage. As such, these individuals may think they surpass the predictions (particularly Martin Berkhan’s due to the fixed body fat reference point), whereas in fact, the extra fat that they are not accounting for is assumed to be muscle. Therefore, if this individual actually reduced their body fat to the 4-6% body fat range, they would notice a substantial loss in body fat, which will no doubt put them within their predicted muscular potential.

I should mention that this might not be due to the person lying about their body fat measurement; rather, it is more often than not due to the inaccuracies of the various body composition techniques. For example, after measuring skinfold thickness (assuming the measurements are taken by a competent person), these skinfold measurements are entered into one or more of many equations available for predicting body fat percentage. Such equations are only as valid as the sample they originated from, so it is not uncommon to see body fat estimates for lean individuals deviate by as much as 5% or more, depending on which equation is used, despite using the same skinfold measurements.

So, using a fictional example, say that a person is 6” tall and weighs 87 kg (191 lbs.) and their chosen skinfold equation incorrectly puts them at 6%, this would equate to a lean body mass of 81.8 kg (180 lbs.), which surpasses their predicted natural potential. In reality, their true body fat percentage could easily be 10% due to the lack of validity of the chosen skinfold equation. 87 kg (191 lbs.) at 10% body fat would then equate to a lean body mass of 78.3 kg (172.3 lbs.), putting them within their predicted genetic potential.

Leigh Peele wrote an excellent article about this, which allows people to verify their body composition results via real-life examples of a range of body fat percentages. For example, a bodybuilder at contest condition should set the benchmark for minimum attainable body fat percentages (3-5%), which should make for a more accurate estimation of their own body fat percentage in spite of what the skinfold equation spits out. The picture to the right shows what a minimum attainable level of body fat actually looks like on a natural bodybuilder.

 Limitations of the formulae

These equations were developed using males, for males. As far as I’m aware no such predictions exist for women. However, if they did, they would be WAY below the values outlined here.

Martin Berkhan highlights a limitation to his formula in that it only “assumes average genetics” (which is also the case for Casey’s equation). There are true cases of non-responders to weight training meaning that the notion of a “hard gainer” is indeed correct. As the term hard gainer implies, these individuals have a more difficult time gaining muscle mass, despite appropriate training and nutrition. Because of this, these people may not ever come close to the limits of the predictions outlined in part 1.

This sparks the question, “if there are hard gainers, surely there are easy gainers?”. While there are genetically gifted individuals, in Martin Berkhan’s experience, “high-responders simply gain muscle mass faster than someone of average genetics; the cap for maximum muscular potential (height - 100) does not seem to be raised by much”.

How do I go about reaching this potential?

Now that the limits of natural muscular development are understood, I will briefly outline the steps someone should take in order to get there, or as close as possible.

Perhaps the most important factor in realising this potential is consistency. Despite all the ridiculous marketing claims, the only way to gain muscle quickly is through the use of drugs. It is possible for naturals to gain weight quickly with the use of weight gainers etc. but the majority of this mass will be fat. Any natural who has achieved such stats has been training consistently week in week out, month in month out, year after year, for at least a decade, or close to it. Given the diminishing rate of muscle growth over a training career, a year’s worth of hard work in the gym can bring about a 1-2 lb. gain in muscle tissue after five or so years of training, which can be disheartening even to the most dedicated trainees. Nutrition and training author, Lyle McDonald of has estimated the potential for muscle gain on a yearly basis in table 3 to give people realistic expectations of rates of muscle growth in order to set appropriate training goals.

Table 3. Potential rate of muscle gain per year

Years of proper training Potential rate of muscle gain per year Per month
1 9-11 kg (20-25 lbs.) 1 kg (2 lbs.)
2 4.5-5.5 kg (10-12 lbs.) 0.5 kg (1 lb.)
3 2.3-2.7 kg (5-6 lbs.) 0.25 kg (0.5 lb.)
4 0.9-1.2 kg (2-3 lbs.) Not worth calculating
5+ 0.45 kg (1 lb.) Not worth calculating

Speaking of training goals, a good way to plan for progress is to keep a training log. That way, you can objectively track your progress as opposed to just going in the gym and lifting based on how you feel that day. Following the FITT principle, this progression can be in the form of frequency (how many times per week), intensity (typically the load lifted), type (addition or rearrangement of exercises) and time (volume; set and rep schemes). The concept of tracking progress can also instil a degree of motivation, especially when you see your lifting numbers going up on a consistent basis.

Regardless of the other points above, you can never come close to your predicted muscular potential unless you have a solid training and nutrition regime in place.

Nutrition sets the potential for muscle growth. If adequate calories and protein are insufficient, you can forget about gaining muscle optimally. Calories should be set at just above maintenance for optimally gaining muscle, whereas protein should be a minimum of 2 g per kg of bodyweight, ideally more (e.g. 2.5–3 g/kg). In this article I discussed protein requirements in more depth.

In terms of training, the focus should be on gaining strength in the following lifts and/or their variations at least once per week (preferably in the 6-8 rep range, on average): deadlifts, squats, bench press, press, barbell row and chin-ups; muscle gains will follow. Some direct calf work wouldn’t hurt either. Isolation exercises such as bicep and wrist curls, made popular by drug-fuelled bodybuilders (and what most people seem to do in the gym!), aren’t necessary for the first one or two years of training; the focus should be on the outlined exercises which give the trainee the biggest reward for their time invested in weight training. Isolation exercises may be introduced after this period in order to bring up lagging body parts, but they shouldn’t interfere with progress in the main lifts; they should enhance it, if used correctly.

There is obviously much more to it than this (e.g. optimal set and rep schemes, training frequency, volume, periodisation etc), but this is a good start for beginner/intermediate trainees (and the vast majority of gym-goers) in order to develop good strength and muscle gains.

To conclude, I’ll reiterate that the point of this article is not to appear negative and state what someone will or will not achieve, rather, it aims to provide a realistic expectation of what actually is achievable without the use of drugs. Casey summarised his findings rather nicely, “The equations presented in this text accurately and precisely estimate the weights and muscular measurements of practically every elite-level drug-free bodybuilding champion of the past 61 years…. If the equations were not valid, for any theoretical reason, this simply would not be true. Considering bone structure size and muscle belly lengths they also apply to the average aspiring bodybuilder. It is not my intention to imply that no one will ever surpass the predictions of this text. It is, however, my intention to put what such an accomplishment would represent into proper context and likelihood”.