Published: 2023-03-06 (last update: 2023-11-02)
Many comrades want this information, but do not know where to get it. In this way we are bringing it to them if they happen to read ProleWiki.
The fitness industry is dominated by reactionary content and personalities. With this guide, you are sure it was written by a communist and will not contain unwelcome anecdotes.
And of course, fitness is important to all communists for a variety of reasons.
Civilise the mind, make savage the body.
- Mao Zedong, on Physical Education
Why this guide?
This guide is not aimed towards communists specifically -- the principles apply to everyone similarly. However, arguments can be made as to why a guide on a communist encyclopedia is important and interesting:
- Many comrades want this information, but do not know where to get it. In this way we are bringing it to them if they happen to read ProleWiki.
- The fitness industry is dominated by reactionary content and personalities. With this guide, you are sure it was written by a communist and will not contain unwelcome anecdotes.
- And of course, fitness is important to all communists for a variety of reasons.
Do you have questions about this guide, or do you have a question it doesn't answer? Feel free to make a topic in the talk page or DM me on discord if you want to stay private.
What is this guide based on?
This guide is based on my own reading and experience based on several years. I take a scientific approach to fitness and nutrition (the latter especially), and I read the scientific studies. With that said, scientific studies in these two fields are very specific in scope and I myself do not know each and every single one of them that exists. It's important not to infer too much into what studies don't say.
Without further ado, let's delve into the guide.
Why learn about nutrition
Nutrition, or dietetics, is important for anyone wanting to improve their fitness condition. We will come back to a definition of fitness, but I generally define it as any physical state one wants to achieve. Some people need/want to gain weight, and some people want to lose weight. They are at completely opposite ends, yet their state of being converges because the principles of weight gain and weight loss remain the same.
It is also important to learn about proper nutrition, in my opinion, because there is so much bullshit being sold by an industry that has been making a lot of money on telling outright false advice to people. We aim to set the record straight.
Whatever your fitness goals, they happen mostly through your diet.
Types of nutrients
The first thing you have to learn is what nutrients are and how they work.
We talk often about macronutrients, from the Greek large or big. Macronutrients are found in large amounts in food, and as such form the bulk of what we eat. Chemically, they belong to one of three broad categories because their molecules share similarities in their structure and atoms. These are:
Fats, contrary to popular belief, are needed by the human body. This makes sense as they are a macronutrient. If they were unequivocally bad for you, how would they be present in such large quantities in food?
The idea that fats were a cause of weight gain came about in the 90s from the sugar lobby, who successfully campaigned to reduce fats in food and replace it with their sugar. We'll look into the science of calories a bit further down, but essentially nothing "causes" you to gain weight per se.
Fats are broadly broken down into three categories:
- Unsaturated fats: these are generally considered healthy. One example are omega 3 fats (also called fatty acids), which are unsaturated and essential to your body (we define essential in the next section).
- Saturated fats: these are not necessarily unhealthy per se, but you should limit your consumption.
- Trans fats: these raise your bad cholesterol level and lower your good cholesterol level, and so should be generally avoided entirely if possible. Fortunately they have been severely limited legally and will be found mainly in hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) oils: look for that on the packaging. Trans fats also come from animal fat (dairy or meat), but they don't appear to be as hazardous to your health as hydrogenated oils, which are man-made. Regardless I would suggest you try to cut out trans fats as much as possible.
(you will find examples of healthy foods that are high in unsaturated fat and have little to no other types at the end of the Nutrition section)
Carbohydrates are essentially sugars. When you consume carbohydrates, your body breaks down the glucose part of the molecule and assimilates it. Therefore all carbohydrates you consume will eventually be broken down into glucose by your body, which is a form of sugar. All nutrients ending in -ose (glucose, fructose, lactose...) are sugars and are very close chemically (glucose and fructose "only" differ by one atom) -- but your body will still break them down into glucose to use them.
We can denote three types of carbs:
- Sugars, which are "simple" carbohydrates, already close to their pure glucose form. Cane sugar or beet sugar (white sugar) are simple carbs. They are also found as fructose in fruit.
- Starches, which are more "complex" carbohydrates. Their molecule is essentially a chain of glucose strung together, and your body will have to do more work to extract the glucose.
- Fibers. Fibers are technically a type of sugar, but your body is unable to process it and therefore will extract almost no nutrients from it. Fibers are important, as your doctor has surely told you, and are also an easy way to feel full without actually consuming calories.
We will look at proteins a bit differently. Protein is a molecule made of amino acids. There are 140 amino acids in natural existence, of which humans use about 20, and of which 9 of the latter (50%!) are essential. These 9 are:
It's important when consuming protein to consume essential proteins and understand what that means. Essential protein, or essential nutrients, means that your body cannot synthesize them by itself and so you need to consume them from outside sources.
Ultimately, protein is simply a combination of amino acids that chain together to form what we call protein. With this, we can create a protein profile, which essentially tells us just how many milligrams of each amino acid is in a certain food item.
You might also come across the term complete protein, which means that a protein contains all 9 essential amino acids. One such protein is whey (non-vegan), which is the most famous protein supplement -- but we will talk about dieting options later on.
Non-essential proteins are synthesised by your body and so there might not be any reason to consume them from outside sources. An example is collagen, which you can get as a supplement, but is also naturally found everywhere in your body. Some studies show that a supplement of collagen will be used by the body (in improving skin elasticity and longevity), and another study shows that collagen is about as good as whey when it comes to fat-free mass synthesizing (in elderly subjects). This means that non-essential proteins are not entirely useless as a supplement or even in food, but should not be relied on entirely (it's literally a matter of life and death).
Protein is generally healthy. There is one (to my knowledge) known problem protein can lead to, which is that it is absorbed in the liver. If you have a liver condition, high protein intake in such a case is dangerous -- you should contact your doctor to find a solution. Otherwise, people with healthy livers will have no problem eating as much protein as they want (although we will look into proper amounts in the fitness portion of this guide).
We will quickly cover micronutrients. Whereas macronutrients are found in large quantities in foods, micronutrients are found in (very) small quantities. These are vitamins and minerals. While all micronutrients have a different healthy quantity threshold in the human body, for most of them you only need milligrams.
You will find a table detailing the recommended daily amounts of micronutrients on the right and as you can see, these are outright impossible to calculate in a day-to-day setting. Who can count how many milligrams of vitamin A they ate on a day-to-day basis?
Therefore, for proper micronutrient consumption, I would suggest firstly diversifying your diet very widely, and then try supplements and see if you notice any difference after a few weeks.
Micronutrients should not be ignored on the basis that they are counted in mere milligrams. These are essential to your life -- you would die without proper vitamin or mineral intake.
An easy way to diversify your eating habits if you struggle with that is to snack on a different thing every day. One day it can be a banana, then an avocado, then a fried egg, etc.
Supplements are a gigantic industry and not all are equally good. Omega 3 supplements (an unsaturated fat and essential nutrient to the human body), when tested in labs, read out a "TOTOX" (total oxidation) index. This index indicates how oxidized the oil is, which makes it pretty much dead as far as nutrient absorption is concerned and outright unhealthy. Therefore two omega 3 supplements might not be equal, as one might be more oxidized than the other.
There is also the concept of bio absorption, which essentially measures how much nutrients your body is able to get from something you consume). Magnesium oxide supplements for example have terrible absorption, whereas magnesium bisglycinate have much better rates. Essentially, your body gets more magnesium out of it per gram ingested. The rest just goes through your intestine and out.
Therefore, you should do your research before trying out supplements. While I have tried different supplements myself, I can't really write about specifics as virtually all micronutrients (and macro!) are found as supplements these days. Don't hesitate, however, to ask a company to provide you with their lab tests results if you're interested in a supplement. If they refuse, that's a red flag.
One supplement that is very popular on the market these days but that I do not recommend is BCAAs. BCAA stands for branch-chained amino acids, a collection of 4 amino acids that are supposedly very good for muscle building. Yet if you've been particularly attentive while reading this guide, you might have noticed already that amino acids is what forms protein. As such, there is no reason to be consuming BCAA, which are just 3-4 of the 9 essential amino acids, when you could be consuming complete proteins instead.
If you want an effective, all-encompassing fitness supplement, look no further than:
Coffee (and a word on caffeine)
Coffee is a great supplement. Not only because of the caffeine which will improve your performance at the gym as well as your focus and cognitive abilities, but also because it contains a lot of other components which overall help as much -- if not more -- as any pre-workout powder you can get on the market. Coffee, it seems, has also been shown to help with weight loss in human trials, but the mechanism itself is unsure.
As for caffeine itself, I urge everyone to be careful around it. Firstly because caffeine behaves differently in different people, and secondly because there is such a thing as a maximum recommended daily dose. A dependency to caffeine can form quickly and will make you seek more caffeine each time to get the same effect. This, thankfully, can be entirely cured by cutting caffeine for a time.
The EU health union recommends no more than 500mg of caffeine a day -- that's 5-6 cups of coffee. Pre-workout powders usually have 200-300mg per serving, and so you should never overload your pre-workout shakes.
Caffeine overdose is no joke. People have died after loading up on pre-workout (past the recommended dose) and hitting the gym. Even people who were generally healthy, or thought they were healthy.
That is why the supplement I recommend most, next to protein powder, is a simple cup of coffee right before you leave for the gym. It's cheaper and will work probably just as well as pre-workout (many market supplements are also severely under-dosed in other aspects and amount to little more than sugar, calories and caffeine, which is a further reason to not recommend them).
Let's talk steroids
I also need to make an aside to talk about steroids, and specifically anabolic steroids. The reason for this is because they have jumped in popularity in recent years and are often promoted for people who want to achieve bodybuilding goals fast.
Steroids are a class of molecule following a certain pattern (like everything else we've seen so far), and some of them are anabolic, meaning essentially that they promote muscle growth. These steroids get turned into testosterone in your body again through the process of synthesis -- breaking down the molecule and extracting only a part of it which gets rebuilt into another molecule, in this case testosterone -- which allows you to put on more muscle mass (and faster) than is otherwise naturally possible.
It is important to talk about such substances openly, as people deserve to be educated on this so they can make an informed decision. Steroids will be available on the market whether I talk about them or not, and so I prefer to talk about them correctly. This is not what I see from most proponents of steroids, who irresponsibly tell teenagers (who are in their prime years to be building muscle already and don't need substances) to get on steroids or SARMS (a non-steroid substance that also turns into testosterone in the body, but has barely been studied in humans).
Steroids essentially unlock your muscle-building potential, there's no question about that. You will also need shorter rest times and could essentially work out your entire body every single day of the week with their help. You will not only put on muscle mass very rapidly (very), you will also be able to put on more mass than anyone in the world who doesn't use such substances.
Steroids also let you put on muscle even if you don't work out (this has been studied), but it would be a missed opportunity to get on a damaging substance and not use it to its full potential.
But they are also very dangerous, even when taken responsibly. The most responsible one can be with steroids, according to medical regimens being given out by doctors nowadays, is to get on a cycle of maybe 5 months, stopping for 6 months to a year, and doing that for no more than 5 years in your life. Once you are on the off cycle (the period without steroids), you will lose some of the mass you put on and once you stop steroids for good (if you stop, they can be addictive psychologically), you will never have this mass again. This is why many athletes are now on steroids 24/7 -- Instagram models are one example -- and never stop taking them in their life so they can maintain their physique throughout their entire life.
Anabolic steroids increase the risk of heart disease (heart diseases are always major and dangerous, there is no "safe" heart disease), increase the risk of infection by interfering with your immune system, increase the risk of liver disease and can interfere with your physiological system. Read more here.
Essentially, there is a question I ask people when they ask me about steroids: what is your goal? Are you going to compete, or do you just want to reach your goals faster? If the former, this is unfortunately the reality of the fitness competition field under capitalism nowadays and any serious competitor will start taking substances if they want to win. If the latter, why? You will have to work out for the rest of your life anyway and you will eventually reach your maximum potential even under steroids, so what would be the point of taking a shortcut? If you have reached your natural potential and now feel like you want to reach the next step, then I doubt I can tell you something you don't know already.
If you are looking at steroids as an option, I can only suggest you educate yourself properly on them and don't shy away from looking at the side effects and risks associated. They have destroyed lives before, especially when used improperly.
Which nutrients are bad?
It must be understood that no one nutrient is unequivocally bad and must be avoided at all costs. It would be actually very difficult to avoid them entirely as for example, saturated fats are found alongside unsaturated fats in most foods. The key word is quantity. Minute quantities of trans fats will not damage you. However, to eat healthy, you should aim to reduce trans and saturated fats and look towards consuming mostly unsaturated fats.
There is no such thing as bad sugar: all carbs are eventually broken down into glucose, which is a molecule the body can use. While I recommend starches over simpler sugars, what matters is the overall intake of such sugars -- they will be broken down into glucose eventually. The reason (from what I can tell) that starches can generally be consumed in greater quantity than sugars is that starches also contain fibers which the body doesn't digest. This means when the packaging says 25 grams of complex carbs, you might actually just absorb half of those (the packaging should also say "including fibers", but doesn't always depending on the country).
There is also no such thing as bad protein (in the course of eating normally), except that you should aim for essential amino acids to have a balanced diet. Thankfully, because humans are quite unique, pretty much every food source will have essential protein in it -- but it won't necessarily be complete protein. If you remember, complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids. Peas, for example, contain some essential amino acids, but they are not complete protein.
There is technically bad protein, known as prions. Prion disease is what mad cow (if you lived through the 90s and remember that) was actually called. Prions are proteins which are harmful and can actually replicate: they will cause other healthy protein around them to become prions. There is no cure for prion disease if you catch it (but it's not like you'll instantly catch prion disease the moment you consume prions either, but maybe check that with a doctor and not a random guide on the internet).
Understanding essential and non-essential nutrients (this is primordial)
The second important thing, which we mentioned when talking about protein, is the concept of essential vs non-essential nutrients.
Fundamentally, the human body is capable of producing some nutrients itself, known as synthesis (meaning to transform two or more components into another one).
However, there are some nutrients we are not capable of producing. Other animals, as well as plants, can synthesize them, but the human body cannot. These are the healthy omega 3 fats, most vitamins, and most amino acids. This means if something is essential in nutrition, you must consume it from an outside source to bring it to your body so it can use it.
Collagen for example, which I mentioned earlier, is considered non-essential not because you can live without it (you can't) but because your body will make it by itself as long as you eat food. The distinction is important to understand: essential means you can't make it yourself inside your body.
This means you must maximise your intake of essential nutrients (to recommended dosage levels), this is the basis of eating healthy.
Where to go from here
There is a lot I cannot cover in this guide regarding nutrients, as I want it to be as easy to follow as possible for day-to-day life. I am also not a biologist and could not go into the atomic details of nutrients and oils. We could go deep into maths and bio absorption but I think there is no point to that for such a guide.
The bottom line is that all macronutrients that we denoted as healthy can be consumed in any amount, with the only limiting factor being calories, which we will look into right now.
The second thing we have to understand about nutrition is calories.
Scientifically, calories are a unit of energy. 1 calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water (equal to 1 millilitre of water) by 1 degree Celsius. This is an older unit, and the scientific community now uses Joules, which you might see sometime when looking up calories.
Regardless, calories are still in use for food specifically and will generally be more understood by people than Joules.
There is a very simple principle in regards to calories and the human body. Your body consumes a certain amount of calories every day just by existing, which is essentially energy your body needs to live -- this can be your heart pumping blood, your stomach producing acid, your kidneys filtering blood... literally everything your body does requires energy of some sort to do it.
If you give your body more energy than it needs to function, it will have to find a use for it. It can't just make it disappear by magic. In the human body, this translates into the creation of fat storage. Fat has a very high energy potential, and so this is what evolution has decided would be best for us to store energy.
Therefore we can deduce a simple mathematical rule. If you eat more calories than your body expends, you will gain fatty mass (the distinction with fat-free mass will be important in the fitness portion). If you eat fewer calories than your body expends, you will lose fatty mass (although you will also lose some fat-free mass unless proper precautions are taken). Unless otherwise specified, from now on when I mention mass or weight, I will always be talking about fatty mass.
Regulating your body weight -- at least the fatty cells -- is as easy as that, technically speaking. In reality, it can be a difficult road that we will detail in a dieting portion later on.
Empty and "full" calories
There is somewhat of a "pop science" concept known as empty calories, which are very interesting when one starts looking at their nutrition from up close.
So-called empty calories are called that way because they don't make you feel like you've eaten anything. These are generally liquids (supposedly an evolutionary holdover so that we can drink as much water as we need) -- alcohol is very caloric, by the way -- and a deadly combo known very well to fast food and snack companies of fats, salt and sugar (which I call FSS).
This combo essentially does two things: it is on the one hand very tasty and addictive and, on the other hand, it is packed with calories but will not satiate you in any way.
The FSS combo is theorised to be an evolutionary holdover, as these foods would have been difficult to come by in older times, but are packed with calories -- as such your brain would tell you to eat all of it because you wouldn't know when you'd find such a source of calories again. Thus there is a mechanism in the body that makes them feel "empty" so that you can eat all your supply.
Empty calories however are still calories, and "empty" just refers to the fact they will leave you still hungry.
On the contrary, "full" calories like fibers and protein make you feel full with less mass than starches would, and as such leave you less likely to snack on something later. They are also very important in a dieting plan.
Calculate your calories
The first step if you are interested in taking control of your nutrition is to start counting your calories. This will help you understand how much you might be eating in a usual day (most people are very bad at counting their calories in their head, and so am I!), and also how many calories your body actually needs.
There are a few different algorithms to calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), but most calculators are based on the Miflin-St. Jeor formula, so any calculator (such as this one) will do.
Personally however, I find that these calculators tend to overestimate one's TDEE. I would suggest leaving your activity at the "sedentary" level, even if your job has you on your feet all day or you go to the gym three times a week. We will go into more details on this in the dieting section.
You should get a number around 2000-2500 calories (or kcal in metric; 1 imperial calorie = 1 kcal metric calorie. I will only be using calorie to mean kcal in this guide).
There is also a basal metabolic rate, which doesn't take your lifestyle into account (for example if you walk 10000 steps a day), but only what your body consumes for its processes, as if you were laying motionless in bed for an entire 24 hours.
I would also suggest downloading a calorie counting app such as MyFitnessPal or LoseIt (although be wary of their privacy policies). With these apps, you can input every single thing you eat by scanning the barcodes on the packaging and it will count calories as well as macronutrients for you. This is my preferred method of weight monitoring, and some people might feel differently about it, but I always recommend people start counting calories for a few days or weeks in the first stage of their diet to understand just how much they actually consume in a day. And then keep at it because it's really the only rational way of knowing exactly how much you eat.
Fun fact: when sleeping, your body burns calories at a third of the rate as when you are awake. This has no consequences on weight loss and weight gain plans, it's just an interesting fact. If you sleep 16 hours a day, maybe it might make a difference though (if you're the one in a million person to whom this is relevant, then sleep less to burn more calories!)
I find fat cells very interesting in their functioning, and I want to detail them a bit so that you can better understand how putting on or losing weight works.
As you can see from the diagram, a fat cell is essentially a balloon that fills a reservoir with fat.
Some have theorised that this is the reason it is more difficult to lose weight than to gain it, as these cells are not destroyed when you lose weight -- they just empty the reservoir. Thus, once created (when there is a need to stock fat in your body), these are essentially never destroyed (they will stay in your body for years) and are simply waiting to be filled up again. However, I am unsure about the validity of this theory.
Aggregating all that we have learned so far, we can already answer the first question people have when they start dieting: "Will this thing make me fat?"
And the answer is no, nothing inherently transforms into fatty mass in your body. You can eat whatever you like provided you take its calories into account.
Weight gain and weight loss
The second concept we have to see then, which I suspect is what most people read this guide for, is how to lose weight or, conversely, how to gain it.
It is important to understand, before we being, that dieting -- no matter which of of these two goals you follow -- is a long process and is never truly over. If you do not adopt your dieting habits into your daily life, you will eventually have to run your diet again in the future; it could last 3 months, or it could last 2 years, but you have to be on the path to durable change.
Fundamentally, the concept is as simple as exceeding your TDEE to gain weight, and staying under your TDEE to lose weight. While anecdotal, a professor showed his students every year that he could lose weight by just eating twinkies (a highly-caloric processed snack food). Your body, as far as fat mass is concerned, only cares about calories.
That is not to say you should not eat a balanced diet however, which will help you manage your diet when it gets tough mentally as well as build muscle (and avoid losing it) if you are interested in that.
The more you "overeat" (over your TDEE), the faster you will gain fatty mass, right? And conversely, the fewer calories you eat under your budget, the faster you will lose mass, right? Well, not entirely. Your body is a complex collection of processes, which form what we call the metabolism. Tiny changes in the availability of one vitamin can have noticeable effects on your psyche and organs. What I'm saying is that for all intents and purposes, the human body cannot be reduced to just mathematical formulas and theory. In other words, you cannot just eat as many calories as you want to pack on a lot of weight or not eat anything to lose weight rapidly. We will detail this a bit more in the next subsections.
There is a tendency by fitness writers, in my opinion, to set aside the psychological aspect of dieting in favour of the pure mathematical formulas. "Just eat within your budget day after day and stop bothering me" types. This is not helpful, as much of dieting is attributed to your mental state and your capacity of being able to not cheat on your diet or eat that one extra bite when you're already full instead of throwing the towel.
Read the packaging labels
Before we get into weight gain and weight loss in details, one thing that is absolutely crucial is that you start to read the packagings. These days in every country there is a nutritional content table on every packaging (and for fruit and vegetables, you can find it online). Read that label, especially the calories per 100 grams. This is more difficult in the USA because the food lobby doesn't want people to make informed choices on what they eat so that they will keep buying trash food and as such they are only required to show a "per serving" label. Servings do not amount to anything and it is crucial to have an objective baseline to compare foods between, such as 100g.
You can see such a label on the right, although it gives energy in kilojoules (1000 Joules) instead of calories.
Keep in mind: these labels only indicate the values for what's in the packaging when you buy it. If you cook fries in a deep fryer, you will add calories from the oil on top of what your frozen fries packaging says (I switched to an air fryer and I know it's a meme but seriously one of the best decisions I ever made, it does more than fries too).
In this one, fats and sugars are detailed so that you can follow your consumption of saturated and trans fats as well as simple, processed sugars. We see that there is a total of 89.4 grams of carbs on this label, for example, of which 25.1g are sugars -- those molecules that end in -ose. I'm not sure if everyone realizes that this is over 90% sugar (could be pasta, but it's likely just a template label), but with enough practice and time reading these labels, you'll realize this kind of thing instantly and will be able to make more informed choices.
This label will become your best friend whether you are trying to gain or lose weight, and especially if you are on a workout routine. Again, this is all to help you understand just how much (or how few!) calories you eat each day.
Weight gain is advised in some cases and those that struggle with it have often have issues with feeling full too quickly, which prevents them from eating more than they are used to.
In bodybuilding, there is the concept of bulking, which we'll look at in more detail later. It's basically a phase in a bodybuilding programme where the recipient eats more calories than their TDEE (in a controlled manner) so as to create mostly fat-free mass (muscle) while reducing the gain of fatty mass. This is done through the copious consumption of protein -- again, we'll look at this in more detail later.
To gain weight, you should set a calorie budget between 250 and 500 calories above your TDEE. Having a fitness routine while on this diet will be beneficial to you, as it will allow you to pack on some muscle while gaining weight, and as such both are not mutually contradictory.
There is no need to go overboard when gaining weight, 500 calories above your TDEE is amply sufficient and should let you gain around 1 kilogram of mass per week. And if it's not, it's better to try a lower quota first and move it up as time goes (to potentially 750, or 1000 calories) than the other way around. This means if you need to gain 10 kilos, you'll be done with it in just 2 months and a half at a 500 calorie surplus. This is sort of a pet peeve of mine actually, as, like I said, people are terrible at estimating how many calories they eat in a day. As such I see loaded (= on steroids) bodybuilders, who have an entirely different metabolism, tell beginner athletes to just eat eat eat without worrying. This is unhealthy and counter-productive, as they will pack on very little fat-free mass compared to the fatty mass they will gain.
In terms of bulking, there is also the concept of "dirty" bulking. This is when one eats empty calories so as to pack them on easily. This is generally avoided by bodybuilders as you will mostly put on fatty mass and will not get proper nutrients (e.g. simple sugars, non-essential or very little protein, trans fats). However, if you are only looking at gaining fatty mass and struggle with eating more than you are used to, then this can be an easy way to add more calories to your diet: drink soda, and eat fast food (which relies on the salt+sugar+fats combo I mentioned earlier).
I have another healthy option for weight gain however: virgin oil, especially olive oil. This oil is high in unsaturated fats (provided it is uncooked), and is 100% fats, which are the most calorie-dense nutrients. Adding just one or two tablespoons of oil to your meals will quickly let you consume 100-200 calories.
You can also add nuts: they are very healthy in good fats and protein, while packing a lot of calories (more than 500cals per 100g of nuts).
Weight loss works on reducing your calorie quota under your TDEE. Generally, it is recommended that you don't go below 1500 calories per day (for men) or 1200 calories (for women). With that said, I am not one for policing and if you feel like going down to 1000 calories a day, it is up to you. I have done it at several times as I enjoy some of the benefits (knowing you can conquer your hunger, feeling more energised in the early days as overeating can make you lethargic) without noticeable side effects.
Barring medical conditions (I am not a doctor), you will know soon enough if you are putting yourself in danger and the fix is easy in a weight loss setting: eat more again. However, I would not recommend a 1000 calorie diet to be sustainable as your body will quickly get used to it and slow down its metabolism to work with its intake. This is essentially the phenomenon known as "starvation mode", which is often exaggerated in popular media. Your body wants the amount of calories it's used to having, and if you don't give it, it will give you cravings so you go back to eating. That is why 1500 calories is more realistic, so you don't slow down your metabolism too much, which will stop your weight loss.
At best, you can hope to lose 1 kilogram of weight per week (2.2 pounds) if you follow your programme correctly and don't cheat: reduce your TDEE by 500, and that's your budget for a 1 kilogram loss. Weight loss is terrible for the first two weeks, as you will not be losing any fatty mass (mostly water weight which you will gain back) and you will feel hungry as you adjust to your new life for the foreseeable future. But after those two weeks, you will certainly find that you suddenly adjusted to your new diet and it will become almost second nature for you.
A good diet is one that doesn't leave you hungry all the time. You will likely have to power through the first couple of weeks, but after that it becomes much, much easier.
My advice is to eat bananas. Bananas are great for cutting hunger, and I always jump on them when I start a diet (known as "cutting" in the fitness world). My second advice is to not be tempted, and as such do not buy snacks at the store, do not even go into the aisle.
Speaking of cutting, if you are on a muscle-building plan while losing weight, you need between 1 and 1.6 gram of protein per kilogram of body mass to maintain most of your muscle. Otherwise, you will lose more fat-free mass than you intended to while losing weight, whereas what you want is to maximise fatty mass loss instead. If you weigh 80 kilos (times 2.2 for pounds), that means you should try to eat between 80 and 128 grams of protein every day. I am aware that for some people, this is simply impossible because if you weigh let's say 120 kilos (264 lbs), it is borderline impossible to eat a whopping 200 grams of protein per day while staying under 1500 calories. 120 grams of protein in this scenario is much more realistic.
At some point, if your diet has gone on long enough (8-12 months), you will likely plateau. I'm saying likely because it's an established phenomenon, but the causes and each person's response is different. Essentially, your body got used to the new calorie intake and has adapted your metabolism (the collection of processes that go on inside your body at any given time) to live with it. That's right, your body is used to the 1500 calories you've been giving it and thinks this is its new life.
A plateau can mean two things: either you're good with your weight and stop the diet there, or you still have some loss you want to do and in that case, you should lay off the diet for a few weeks, go back to your actual TDEE, and then after 2-4 weeks, start the diet again to break through the plateau.
(The reason I don't cover plateauing in the weight gain section is that to my knowledge, plateauing doesn't happen in that case).
We will go over these numbers more in the fitness section of this guide. We will also be looking at how to effectively lose weight while on a physical exercise regimen.
How to weigh yourself
Surely there is no method or science to weighing oneself, right? It's just a matter of getting on the scale and looking at the number.
Well, the bad news is your weight fluctuates wildly throughout the days (and even during the same day). You can show a 2-4 kilo difference from one day to the next, which will not only falsify your progress but also demoralise you.
The best way to weigh yourself is naked (clothes can add a few kilos of weight), and pick the same date and time every week, preferably first thing in the morning after having gone to the bathroom and before having eaten anything.
There's not really a reason to weigh yourself every day, once a week is more than enough. As we've established, you will realistically be losing or gaining 1 kilogram of body mass per week at most. This means weighing yourself every day would only show a falsified difference of 150 grams on the scale.
Then, track your weight. I used to do it mentally before I got an app and it worked just as fine (it's really just one number every week). Tracking your weight is useful to follow your progress as well as the speed of that progress week after week. If after a month (remembering the initial 2 weeks during which nothing happens) you're only losing 500 grams a week when you were aiming at 1kg, then you know to reduce your calorie budget a bit more. If you've made a 1kg loss week after week for months, but now can't seem to lose more, then you know your body has adapted to this new condition and you need to put it on hold for a few weeks before going back at it.
Looking at some diets
It is no surprise that at a time where food production is industrial, there is also an associated industry full of diets with catchy names and dubious effectiveness. Here below I list some diets that I have heard worked for some people -- I have not tried all of them myself.
Ultimately, any diet is good if a) you make progress on it and b) it is sustainable. Everything else is just details. That's why I'm a big proponent of trying out different things until you find something that works well for you. This can be a long process, and you should stay at least a couple weeks on a diet before moving on for physiological reasons we outlined above in the weight loss section.
Some diets that I know people have reported success on for weight loss (assume I have not tried them until otherwise specified):
- Volume eating: this is my own diet which relies on eating low-calorie foods so that you can eat more overall volume. I generally look at foods that have fewer or around 100 calories per 100 gram: vegetables, lean meat, non-fried foods, etc. Anything above 350-400 calories per 100g is cut out entirely.
- Keto: revolves around cutting out carbs to around 10% of your macronutrient intake and replacing them with fats and protein. This forces your body into a ketosis state which makes it use fat for fuel instead of carbs, and should therefore help you lose weight faster. I am unsure of the validity of this theory as ketosis is a natural process, but there's no denying it will help you lose weight due to calorie intake. Still, some people might prefer it for various reasons.
- Intermittent fasting: aims at helping you manage your caloric intake easily through fasting. You decide on times you are allowed to eat (between 8 am and 4pm for example), and you can eat anything you want during that time, and you are not allowed to eat anything outside of that time. Many people have reported huge success on this diet, I think it is helpful for people that tend to overeat without realising it.
- High-protein diet: If you remember the 1g-1.6g of protein I recommended earlier, this is essentially its diet: eat a lot of protein. Protein helps make you feel full and is essential to muscle synthesis. Unless you have kidney problems, there is no such thing as too much protein.
A more rational approach that I've talked about at length already is calorie-counting, but I know not everyone has the patience or propensity to do that, which is one reason intermittent fasting sees so many adherents. With a calorie-counting app installed, input everything you eat in a day and plan out your meals beforehand. I use LoseIt, as it allows me to follow my calories as well as my macronutrients day by day. It shows me my calorie budget as well and I can plan my meals for the whole day in advance.
For weight gain, I am only aware of the GOMAD diet: a gallon of milk a day. Since liquid calories do not register as fulfilling hunger in our body, you can easily get calories from drinking caloric liquids such as milk. However, it is a gruelling diet (or so I've heard from people who went on it). In my opinion, although your mileage may vary, you are better off applying the tips I detailed in the weight gain subsection: include nuts and olive oil in your diet, they are a great way to gain extra calories with very little mass.
I would avoid all brand diets such as Weight Watchers or Atkins. They are a business first and foremost and their programmes don't provide any benefits you couldn't get by following this guide (however, the social aspect as well as other benefits such programmes let you access is something to consider as well).
What should you eat?
Such lists of foods high in certain nutrients can be easily found on the Internet, but I will list some vegetarian and vegan foods that are often left out of these lists. These foods will also be useful for the fitness portion of this guide, especially around protein.
- Fats: Unsaturated fats, although watch your amounts as fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient. Foods include nuts (although very calorie dense), virgin olive oil (uncooked), avocado, fish, peanut butter (if pure, and also high-calorie)...
- Carbs: Complex carbs (starches) and fibers. As you don't digest fibers, they essentially have 0 calorie content when it comes to consuming them. Foods include rice, whole-grain pasta, beans, chickpeas, potatoes and sweet potatoes...
- Protein: all protein is good (your body will use it one way or another), but you should aim for essential protein to maximise your potential. Foods include all animal and animal-derived product (meat, fish, eggs, cheese -- but not butter), soy beans (unprocessed they are as heavy in protein as beef), chickpeas, lentils...
Nuts and seeds fit in all three categories at once. However, they are very high in calories (more than 500 calories per 100g) and as such, don't seem sustainable to me on a weight loss plan. On a weight gain plan, however, they can be very handy.
And of course, vegetables need no introduction. They are very low in calories and will hit all your micronutrient (as well as your macro goals, compared to their calorie count). There's a reason your doctor tells you to eat vegetables. Fruit is also a healthy choice, but you should be careful of their sugar contents on a weight loss plan as some fruit is very high in calories (e.g. dates).
Avoid the salt+sugar+fats combo, but you can eat calorie-dense food on any diet of your choice if you want to because at the end of the day, physiologically, your body only cares about calories when it comes to losing weight. If you plan for a pizza (almost 1k calories) or a dessert, you can have anything you want and still lose weight.
What is fitness?
Earlier on, I defined fitness as any goal you have for your physical body. I stand by that definition, as I don't believe in policing people's choices and that they know what is good (or not good) for them -- provided they are properly educated, which is not the goal of the food and fitness industry.
To some people, this means reaching a healthy weight. To others, this means getting absolutely shredded. It means being more active during the day, doing cardio, sleeping better, having more energy, healing an injury... there is no one goal under the umbrella term of fitness.
To me, fitness can be achieved in any number of ways. While gyms have exploded in popularity in the past few years, any sort of physical activity helps achieve that "fitness" goal. This can be achieved through walking, running, or playing any other sports.
This guide, while applicable to any fitness goal and method, will focus on muscle building as it is what I am most familiar with. That is not to say, however, that you should absolutely go to the gym to get bulky (or strong, as we will see the two are slightly different in methods). By all means, go for walks (10k steps a day), go for runs, join a basketball club!
The benefits of exercise
People who do not exercise generally believe that the benefits one draws from exercising stop at physical changes. You put on muscle, you get leaner, and that's about it.
But there is more to it than that. When you exercise regularly, a lot of processes happen inside your body and your brain. It is not uncommon -- and indeed that is my case as well -- that exercise helps you sleep better, makes you happier, makes you more confident, and generally improves your life for the better. Perhaps that is why, in our late stage capitalist societies, gyms have seen a sharp spike in popularity.
As such, if you are dieting, I cannot recommend enough that you also exercise on the side, 3-4 times a week. It can only be beneficial.
The basics of working out
There are three components that go into your performance at the gym and in muscle building. In order of importance, they are:
As you can see, exercise comes last. That is because without a proper basis with the first two components, you will not achieve anything worthwhile at the gym. Getting 8 hours of sleep at night is the most important criterion, and then comes your diet -- we've touched on bulking and cutting earlier, but will talk about it again in this section.
Exercise is of course an integral part of any workout plan -- that's the whole "working out" part. To that end, I have two different programmes that I have used myself and highly recommend.
But before getting into them, it is important to understand what exercise does. Essentially, doing something physical repeatedly will make you better at doing that specific thing. Some of that training is transferable to other disciplines -- like how boxers, who punch all day long, will necessarily develop the upper body muscles needed for pull-ups and therefore will likely be passable (if not good) at rock climbing, for example. This is the concept of transferability, and something that is good to keep in mind for beginners (and can be used effectively by more advanced athletes): doing one thing will not shoehorn you into just that one thing, but will help you do other things as well.
Regardless, a boxer will mainly be good at punching things and a rock climber will mainly be good at climbing rocks. A bodybuilder will have a high muscle mass (fat-free mass), and a strength athlete will find it easy to carry heavy loads.
The two programmes I have tried take place in a gym setting. One will focus on making your muscle fibers strong, and the other will focus on making your muscles larger (hypertrophy).
If you have no idea where to even begin, I would actually suggest joining a Crossfit gym -- and a good one. That is actually how I got my start in fitness some years ago, and I was lucky to have good coaches who knew their job and could teach me good exercises as well as proper form. I did Crossfit for one year before deciding that I would like to focus on hypertrophy and joined a gym instead.
Video tutorials on proper form
An aside before we delve deeper into the fitness portion. I recommend two Youtube channels when it comes to learning form in a video format:
- Scott Hermannmade very good quick tutorials some 10-13 years ago that I have used myself when figuring out a new exercise, especially when it's 5pm and you're at the gym with a new routine hogging a bench to figure out how you're supposed to pull off a double kettlebell snatch.
- Athlean X has been in some controversy for using fake weights, but his info is still solid. Mostly focused on bodyweight and longer videos where he goes into details, but very solid.
I also recommend you watch Shredded Sports Science who is not only entertaining, but also holds a degree in the field and so he actually reads and understands the studies he talks about.
Resting and splitting
Resting is also essential to proper muscle growth, and so I will talk about it now. Muscle building happens not when you are training, but when you are not training -- that is, during your sleep.
For this reason, it is well-known that if you train a muscle group (let's say your pectoral muscles), you should give them at least a full day of rest before training them again. If you train them on Monday, do not train them on Tuesday and only go at them again on Wednesday.
People that want to train 4 or even 6 days a week split their workouts differently. On day 1 they might train the upper body, and on day 2 they will train the lower body, which allows them to go to the gym potentially every day of the week.
For the purposes of this guide, we will not be going too far into splits (though you might want to look up PPL [push pull legs] and upper/lower splits). Remember to give your muscles a full day to recover and grow before training them again.
Should men and women train differently?
The fitness industry, having found an easy target in the uninformed (because nobody is getting fitness and health lessons in school), also found many grifts to detach people from their money by selling them things they don't need that will only marginally help them for the wrong reasons.
One of these was to differentiate workout plans between men and women, so that they can sell a differently-priced programme and supplements to both segments.
Truthfully, there is no difference between men's and women's muscles. They are the same fibres. What differs is mostly the inherent muscle mass between both sexes as well as societal expectations of what a man and a woman should look like.
As such, the programmes I list below will apply to both men and women equally.
As a man, I've talked to women who were worried about hitting the gym and becoming bulky and huge (something men conversely usually desire). I have always told them there is no risk to that: nobody looks like Mister Olympia after grabbing a barbell once. It takes years of work before big changes can be seen, especially if one doesn't use steroids.
There is also a tendency in both men and women (non-binary people seem immune to it thankfully) to downplay the amount of effort one puts into their workout. I guarantee you that both the guy with big arms and a 6-pack and the woman with a bubble butt and strong core put in the work to get those results, it didn't come naturally to them.
What about trans people who want to hit the gym?
I have had difficulty finding information in regards to strength or hypertrophy training for trans people and as I am not trans, cannot speak of my own experience.
However, from what I could find (which I urge you to double check), it goes as follow:
if you are trans, you can of course train. If you want to avoid bulking up (for trans women for example), you should remain at "low" weights and not progress on them too much (i.e. adding more weight than the last time each time you go to the gym). This will help "tone" your muscle, which is essentially the first stage of muscle building when you start to get some definition but not much mass. As hormones change your body's response to training, you will normally be able to start training like any cis person of your gender.
You can calculate your working weights by calculating your 1RM (1 rep max). Here's a calculator, just put in how many reps you have achieved and at which weight and it will tell you how heavy your maximum potential weight is at your current level. Then, just calculate a percentage based on that 1RM. For proper growth, we usually go at around 80% of the 1RM. If you cap your weights at 50-70%, you will see less progress.
In other words, if you pulled off 5 deadlift reps at 90 kilograms, you should be able to get 1 rep at 100 kilograms. Then, based on that 100 kilogram, we would tell most people to do their sets at 80 kilos, then 82.5, then 85, etc. If you want to purposely cap your progress, then you would do your reps at say 60 kilos, then 62.5, etc.
If you are looking to bulk up your muscle mass (for trans men for example), then you should go all out on a training programme: hit the gym 4 times a week, eat your protein, and if you're on HRT and getting steroids, you'll see huge changes very quickly -- for the better.
Everything else still applies. You still need proper sleep, you still need enough protein, and you still need to actually go to the gym.
Regardless, while you are new to physical activity, please do not purposely cap yourself. Body recomposition works both ways and just like I said that you will gain muscle if you train, you will lose it if you stop training sufficiently. Nothing is set in stone.
Cardio and callisthenics
Before we go into the programmes I personally recommend, I want to talk a bit about cardio and calisthenics (bodyweight training).
As I do neither of those two, I cannot recommend a specific programme. However, I can explain some principles for those interested in such a regimen.
With cardio, I recommend HIIT. High-Intensity Interval Training has showed its effectiveness in studies, and is also a fun and quantifiable way to train cardio. In studies, it seems HIIT training brings the benefits of both endurance and high-intensity training (such as jogging and sprinting, respectively)
In HIIT, you alternate between short periods of all-out, intense effort and longer periods of relative calm.
If you run for example, you might sprint as fast as you can for 20-30 seconds, and then jog for 1 minute. Then repeat both for an overall 20-30 minutes.
Cardio is definitely not as quantifiable as strength-training is. Your progress will be felt by pushing your own limits and surpassing them. You set your own goals instead of following a single programme. As you get better at your chosen activity, you will be able to shorten the "rest" periods and make the high-intensity periods longer.
If you are starting out cardio, then definitely listen to your body and eat plenty of carbs (lentils are my go-to choice). Many people get queasy when doing cardio and that is because their body is telling them they don't have enough nutrients, it's essentially a self-preservation measure.
Cardio and resistance training (muscle building)
Resistance training is another word for strength or muscle building, as you use resistance (a heavy weight) in your exercise. There is a myth that you cannot do both cardio and resistance training at the same time, this is wrong. To know that, you only have to look at Olympic sprinters and boxers. Boxers do a lot of cardio -- more than most of us ever do -- and still manage to look buff (surely helped by PEDs however).
Adding cardio at the end of your resistance workout will have benefits for your heart and will allow you to smash personal records -- I set all my rowing records at the end of my workouts.
Endurance training however will eat away at your muscle if you start getting really into it. But we're talking very serious.
Cardio has many health benefits, especially for the heart (which resistance training cannot really target), as well as benefits to your overall conditioning and heart rate. As such, I definitely recommend some cardio work in your routine.
I cannot recommend a specific body weight programme as I have never run one. With that said, body weight training can get very complex despite the apparent lack of equipment and is effective at developing functional muscles, such as a strong core and arms.
It will also naturally "cap" your progress, as you are limited by your own bodyweight and will not be able to overload on most exercises (you can use a belt and weigh it with a plate for pullups for example).
Suffice to say, lighter people will have a much easier time doing callisthenics than heavier people. Doing pullups at 65 kilograms of body weight is much easier than doing them at 100kg, as the resistance does not grow linearly.
In the end, I think the choice between callisthenics and resistance training is very personal as it seems both offer similar benefits to your physical condition and health.
2 programmes for Strength and Muscle building
Just starting out at the gym? Check this section to see which weights you should start at.
My strength programme is the Phraks Greyskull LP. It is named like that because it is based on the Greyskull LP programme, but customised by a user named Phraks. LP refers to Linear Progression, which we'll get into shortly.
Phraks is very easy to understand: as you can see, it fits into this little picture on the right. Essentially, phraks is predicated around three "major" exercises, also called compound exercises because they will train several different muscle groups. These exercises form the basis of any workout programme and for Phraks, they are (links are video tutorials):
- the bench press
- the deadlift
- the squat
- the overhead press
- chinups (like pull-ups but your hands are facing towards you)
- rows (any type you like, I like 45° barbell rows)
In phraks, you have a workout session every two days, 3 to 4 times a week. For example, you could decide to go Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. Then next week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Or you could go Monday, Wednesday, Friday every week.
It would be detrimental to go more than once every 2 days for phraks as it is a full body workout. As explained before, your muscles need at least 24h of rest to properly grow.
You have 3 sets of 5 reps for each exercise (except for the deadlift, as it is a very demanding exercise, and so you only do one set), with around 3-5 minutes of rest time between each set. On the third and last set, you will try to get as many reps as you can above 5.
So for example, on Monday (and referring to the table on the right as day 1) you would do overhead presses, chinups, and squats. On Wednesday you would alternate the first two exercises and bench press and row, then do one set of deadlifts. Then on Friday you would go back to Overhead presses, chinups and squats. And next Monday, because you are alternating the first two exercises, you would do bench presses, rows and squats.
The term linear progression means that every time you do an exercise, you add as little weight as possible to it (usually 2.5 kilos in commercial gyms, as the smallest plates they'll have are 1.25 kilos times 2 because you put one plate on each side of the barbell): you progress linearly by simply adding weight every time.
I successfully ran this programme myself for almost 1 year before hitting a plateau and switching to a hypertrophy programme, and that's why I can recommend this one. With Phraks, you will mostly be creating strength fibres in your muscles as you are stopping after 5 reps, right before the other type of fibre (the one that grows big) gets recruited. This allows you to put on more weight on the barbell, so go for it.
With phraks and greyskull, you can add accessory exercises if you want to, but it's not required and I've never done it. You'll usually be pretty tired by the end of your workout anyway.
Phraks usually takes around 1 hour to complete.
For muscle building (hypertrophy), I have a solid programme without a name that you can find here. However, I changed some things because I didn't like a couple exercises and I wanted to run it 3 days a week instead of 4. The reason for that is that I didn't want to train my legs twice a week due to my body shape. If you want to run this routine 4 times a week, then please refer to the source link.
My revision looks like this:
|Monday||Wednesday (leg day)||Friday|
(Feel free to ask anyone at the gym to spot you, it can be an intimidating exercise)
(Alternate every Wednesday or when you feel like it, but not during the same day)
(if you can't do chin ups, look up negative chinups)
(I'm partial to the 45° bent-over row, but any kind of barbell row is good)
(As a compound exercise, it should be 8 reps. I do 6 instead because squats are very demanding on blood pressure)
(This is a compound exercise, but not one that progresses quickly. You will likely stay at 20-25kg for a few months: it's normal!)
(Alternate every Wednesday)
(The deltoid is a very small muscle, start very light! 1-4 kilos)
(there is a machine your gym might have and you can use a dumbbell or kettlebell to progressively add weight)
(Cable flies are safer and engage your muscles more than bench flies. Start at a low weight, 2.5-5 kilos)
(I recommend the rope attachment so you can flare out your hands at the bottom of the movement)
(I recommend an EZ bar if there is one)
(I also recommend the EZ bar here as well as the video demonstration)
(I have switched the dumbbell flies for the cable flies compared to the original as DB flies are dangerous and not a great workout. I also added a back extension exercise to strengthen my lumbar muscles. Finally, I switched pull-ups for chin-ups as you are stronger on the chin-up and it transfers well on the pull-up).
As you can see compared to Phraks, you have not only more exercises but many more reps as well. The additional repetitions allow the recruitment of the other type of muscle fibres, the ones that grow big under stress.
Like with Phraks, this plan is supposed to be run as a linear progression programme. This means every time you do an exercise, you add as little weight as your gym has available. Either that, or do one more rep on the exercise (then 2, then 3, then up the weight).
It has a good mix of compound exercises, which you do first, then more targetted work (also called accessory), which you do second, and finally finishes with isolation work (biceps, triceps, single muscle groups essentially). It also has a good mix between barbell and dumbbell work -- one of your limbs is always stronger than the other, and this will help close the gap. Finally, this programme has a good mix also between vertical and horizontal work. It's not groundbreaking, but it works.
This recruitment of different fibres does not mean Phraks will not make you gain any muscle mass or that this routine will not make you stronger. They will do both, albeit not as well.
This programme usually takes around 2 hours to complete.
How to track your progress
At this stage, we can now look into tracking the progress we are making no matter the programme we choose.
I personally use a free, no-ads app called FitNotes. It can be a bit complicated at first and has a lot of functionalities you probably won't use, but once you set up your workout in it, you can easily keep track of your workout days, sets, reps and weights. Alternatively, you can set up your own Excel sheet.
Regardless, tracking your progress is important for one (big) reason: it allows you to actually progress. The basis of weight lifting is progressive overload, which is a process I've described in this guide already but have not named yet. Progressive overload is the principle of adding weight to your exercises over some period of time. This stimulation is necessary to promote muscle growth and strength building; if you keep training at the same weights all the time, you'll maintain what you have, but you won't improve.
How to properly warm up
Now that we have looked at various programmes, we need to see how to properly warm up for them. For the longest time, I didn't properly warm up and my sets suffered as a result. I was just fumbling around doing warm ups that I felt were good. After experimenting, I now know what I'm doing and what to recommend.
To recap, what you will be doing is stretching -> warming up with exercises -> performing warmup sets, and then you will do your routine for the day.
The first thing you should be doing once you hit the gym is stretching. You should stretch the body parts that you will be working on that day (refer to the diagram on the right and look up stretches for that group), as well as joints and muscle groups you know you need to stretch. If you often cramp up in the calves, for example, you should always stretch your calves extensively even when you are not training legs that day.
Stretching does not need to be extensive or take long. I usually stretch each targetted muscle group for 15-20 seconds twice.
I also take the time to do some joint mobility warmups. Simply do rotations or circles with your joints -- moving from top to bottom: neck (slowly), shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and finally ankles.
Next, you should move on to warmup exercises. Again taking into account the exercises you will be doing that day, you should do a similar exercise but with very low weights and not too many reps.
A warmup exercise essentially uses a very light weight. As your muscle structure is still warming up, it will feel very heavy already.
I don't have specific warmup exercises to give you but I recommend external and internal shoulder rotations to protect this very complex joint. I also recommend abductor and adductor work before doing squats and deadlifts. For the bench press, I have found that using a chest press machine at a low weight helps a lot with performance on the bench.
Another way to figure out what exercises to do is to refer to the diagram and look up which muscles the exercise you'll be doing that day will train. If you're doing deadlifts, which essentially trains your whole legs + lower back, then I would suggest squats at low weights, hamstring curls (if your hamstrings were particularly tense or inflexible), back extensions to warm up your back...
As far as sets go, I usually do one set of 10-15 reps on each warmup exercise.
Finally, once you start the compound exercises, you should do warmup sets and work your way up to your working weight.
If you are deadlifting for example, and let's say you will be doing 8 reps in 1 set at 70 kilos, then you should work your way up with 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps, 3 reps, 1 rep. This means 5 warmup sets that will start from an unknown (but light) weight, and end right before your actual working set.
In this case you could start at 30 kilos (10 reps), then 40 kilos (8 reps), then 50 (6 reps), then 60 (3 reps), then 65 (1 rep).
Then after that you will pull off your 8 reps at 70 kilos, which is your working set.
Warmup sets, contrary to stretches and warmup exercises, should be done before you actually do the respective exercise for the day. If you are bench pressing and then rowing (like on the muscle building routine from above), then you won't warm up both the bench press and the row and then do your bench press sets. You will warm up the bench press, then do your 3 sets, then warm up the barbell row and then do your 3 rowing sets.
Rest times between warmup sets will vary. I usually take 30 seconds at the lightest weights and my full 3 minutes when I reach the 3 and 1 rep range.
I only warm up for the compound exercises. By the time I reach the accessory and then isolation exercises, my body is properly warmed up from all the compound work I just finished.
Hitting the plateau
You will notice with both these workout routines that you are supposed to add weight to your exercises every time you do an exercise again. Mathematically, this means after a few years you would be achieving world records, which is simply not possible materially speaking. (Adding 2.5 kilos on the bench press every week means that starting with an empty 20 kilo bar, you would add 10 kilos on it every month, which translates to 120 kilos after a year, 240 after 2 years and 360 kilos after 3 years, which is a world record held by someone who has been training for decades).
You will eventually plateau, after around 6 months to a year. This means that no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to perform your sets at higher weights and will have to stay on one weight. Your bench press will stay stuck at 60 kilos and while you might eventually bench 62.5 kilos, you will find it difficult and will not be able to achieve 65 no matter how much you try to.
There are various ways to break through a plateau and with perseverance, you will break it.
You can do a deload -- reduce all weights by 10% and work your way back up slowly.
You can also switch to another programme for a few weeks/months.
Or you can try different sets, such as pyramid sets (8 reps at 50% of your max, 6 reps at 60%, 4 reps at 70%, 3 reps at 80%, 2 reps at 90%, 1 rep at 100%, and then back down again from the 100%). You can also try a rest-pause method (only 30 seconds of rest between sets, and take as many sets as needed to hit your total number of reps, e.g. 24. It's okay if you can only get 1 rep at a time by the end).
How to diet while exercising
This is the big question that we were waiting for, and personally it took me around a year and a half of experimenting to find the proper answer.
When you are dieting (either gaining or losing weight) without exercising, everything is easy: the number on the scale represents your fatty mass and you know exactly what you have put on or lost. You can even use a BMI chart to see where you stand.
Once you start putting on muscle mass, this becomes more complicated. Muscle is a bit more dense than fat (weighs more than fat for a given volume), and it's what we want to be building. This means that once you start working out, you will, after a couple months, essentially have no idea how much fatty mass you have compared to muscle mass.
The BMI chart becomes completely useless the more muscle mass you build, as you can not have too much muscle to be considered unhealthy (that I know of).
You can still try and figure your fatty mass quantity by trying to figure out your body fat percentage, although it is not an exact science by any means. The easiest way is to look up pictures of "body fat percentage comparisons", as there are various picture charts to help you figure out where you stand. Otherwise, you can use calipers on your body -- although they take some skill to use to be somewhat accurate. You can also try to calculate your body fat percentage with online calculators that will have you measure some things on your body, but it takes some skill to know where to take the measurements. Ultimately, I'm a proponent of the visual charts as I can easily eyeball where I stand with them.
Regardless, once you start putting on fat-free mass, you will have to rely on tools other than your bathroom scale to figure out how much progress you're making. Likewise, there is no way to know how much muscle mass you are putting on.
You probably know your body already and I'm not sharing anything new, but you should of course look at body parts that do not generally grow muscle -- your face and cheeks especially can help you gauge if you are gaining fatty mass or fat-free mass. If you don't fit into your clothes any more but don't feel like you've gained muscle (flex in front of the mirror to make sure just how much muscle you've put on), then you've probably gained fatty mass as well. And at that stage, it might be time to look into a "cutting" period.
How much muscle mass can you expect to put on?
Realistically, you can put on around 2.5 kilograms of muscle mass every 6 months. Yes, it's not a whole lot. That's why people that look jacked and shredded will tell you they've been going to the gym for at least 5-7 years.
There is such a thing as "newbie gains" however, a term that explains the rapid hypertrophy and performance gains that new gym-goers experience in their first months at the gym. As your body is not used to this sort of physical stimulation, you will put on muscle more easily than more seasoned athletes. This lasts for a few months, between 3 and 6. This is a prime moment for a cut (read in a few sections below) as in this period, you can lose fatty mass while putting on a lot of fat-free mass. It only happens once in your life. It's also a prime moment for a proper bulk.
If you remain natural and don't take steroids or other PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs), expect to train for 4 years or more to see very good progress. You will of course see progress all the time -- made even more evident if you take pictures regularly, like once a month. But it's important to manage your expectations and realize that nobody gets absolutely ripped after going to the gym for 1 year, not without PED help at least.
Principles to follow
We will shortly delve into bulking and cutting, which we mentioned earlier during the nutrition portion of this guide. However before we delve into the details, I have to list some general principles.
Optimal protein intake
First is your protein intake. As we've explained, protein is the most important nutrient in regards to muscle growth. Without protein, you will simply not create new muscle mass. Studies show consistently that above 1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight (i.e. if you weigh 80 kilos -- or 175 pounds -- you should consume 128 grams of protein per day) you get diminishing returns. More than 2g/kg is almost entirely useless (as compared to 2g).
Simply take your whole bodyweight in kilos (if in pounds, multiply by 0.45) and consume 1.6g-2g of protein for every one of those kilos, every day. This maximises your muscle growth and ensures you are not going to the gym for nothing. Even if you're taking a break from the gym. Even if you're not progressing at the gym. Especially if you are making progress.
The least amount of protein you can get by is 1g per kg of body mass. We look at protein-rich foods later on in this guide. Again, whether you decide to cut or bulk at any given moment, you need the same amount of protein! (1-2g per kg of body mass).
The reason I'm giving such a large range of protein intake is because if you weigh a lot (say more than 100 kilos), it's going to be difficult to consume 200g of protein every day, especially if you are cutting. At some point, unless the only thing you eat is protein powder (you shouldn't do that), you cannot get 200g of protein a day while staying under 1500-1700 calories.
Regarding protein consumption, the so-called "anabolic window" does not exist. Or if it does, it's so small that you'll never fit into it. The anabolic window is, supposedly, a period of time after exercise where your muscles are yearning for protein and it is believed that consuming protein during that short period of time will double its effectiveness. In reality, your body stores protein and consumes it throughout the day (and even makes it itself, as we've seen in non-essential protein). This means you can consume protein whenever you want during the day.
When to consume your protein
While we have seen that the anabolic window does not exist and you don't particularly have to time your protein shake to your workout session, there is some question as to how much protein your body is able to use at once. This is where I need to introduce the concept of MPS, or muscle protein synthesis. Protein, as we've seen, is just a bunch of amino acids bundled together. When you consume protein, your small intestine breaks that molecule down to its amino acids and then transfers those to where they're needed. Then other organs in your body, including your muscles, recreate the protein they need from the amino acids. This is known as MPS: you synthesize (create) the protein needed to make muscle.
The question then is: can there be such a thing as too much protein at once? I.e. a situation where there is so much protein in your body that you can't process all of it, and it just gets passed out?
Common gym wisdom is that you should space out your meals to every 4-5 hours, and consume around 30g of protein each time (to get your quota of 1.6-2g of protein per kg of body weight in a 24 hour period). This is based on studies that show that MPS doesn't increase past that dose. That is to say, eating 30g, 60g or 90g of protein in one meal leads to the same MPS levels.
There's two things being discussed here though. It's pretty well-established that your small intestine will hold on to any excess amino acids until they are needed somewhere else in the body. After all, you use protein for things other than MPS. So if you eat X grams of protein in a meal, you won't pass an "excess" out, you won't dissolve it, you'll just have amino acids surfing around your veins until they get seized by an organ that needs them.
But the question is specifically about MPS. And the studies in question have a problem: they measure MPS after 5 hours at most (5 hours after a meal), and not over a whole day. Since it's established that amino acids stay floating in your system until your body needs them, these studies need, in my opinion, to measure MPS several times over a 24h period. My guess is that the people that were given more protein would show sustained levels of MPS over more hours while the people given a lower amount of protein would see their MPS start to dwindle after 5-6 hours. But that's only my guess.
So, overall, I am still putting this caveat in the guide if you want to take your training really seriously and space out your meals, just in case it's true. Personally, I still progress fine by eating 2-3 times a day with 60g of protein or more in a sitting. But maybe I could maximise my gains by spacing out my meals; the literature isn't really settled on this (at least not until I find one that measures MPS over a whole 24h period).
Should you eat more if you work out?
Simply put, I believe that starting a sport or getting more physically active does not mean your TDEE actually changes. That is because you are only active a few days in the week and for just a few hours (during your workout, which can be at the gym or as a sport). I have looked at very detailed calculations to figure this out; for example, it's true that muscle burns a bit more calories than fat (it requires more energy to maintain itself), but the difference is so small that you can just safely ignore it.
What you can do, if you count calories, is on the days you do get your physical activity, allow yourself 200-300 extra calories. But on rest days, follow your normal TDEE. Like I said in the nutrition portion, I find most TDEE calculators severely overestimate calorie expenditure and for most people, 2000 calories a day is perfect to maintain one's weight (~1700 for women on average). I pick that 300 calorie quota arbitrarily based on what most sports burn in a 1 to 2 hour period. Overall, in a weight loss setting, I would rather remain below my budget than accidentally go over it because I overestimated how many calories I burned. In a weight gain setting, an additional 100 calories is not going to hurt.
In other words, if your TDEE is 2000 and you want to lose weight, you will be looking at a 1500cal daily budget. On Monday, as you go to the gym for a few hours, you can raise your budget to 1800cals. On Tuesday, as it is a rest day, you will be allowed 1500cals. This is also true if you are looking to maintain your weight.
If you are bulking however, you need to eat above your TDEE every day, regardless of rest days.
In the fitness world, bulking is a process by which an athlete will eat calories above their TDEE so as to promote muscle growth and gain mass. In this process, which lasts a few weeks to a few months, fat-free mass will be gained if accompanied by a disciplined training regimen (working out 3-6 times a week).
A proper bulk does not need to be difficult, but it must be overseen. You can't just eat whatever to maximise muscle growth, you have to eat "clean", as opposed to dirty bulking. Dirty bulking means to eat whatever you come across, including calorie heavy fast and other junk (non-nourishing, nutrient-poor food).
If you remember the nutrition portion of this guide, you should look for complete proteins, unsaturated fats and complex carbs (starches). Believe me, clean bulking makes a world of difference to dirty bulking in terms of gains, which is the whole reason we're bulking up.
For most intents and purposes, a quota of 250-500 calories above your TDEE is plenty enough for a proper bulk if you don't take steroids or other PEDs. This means if your TDEE is 2300 calories, you should eat between 2500 and 2800 calories every day, even during rest days and the weekend. There's a common belief that you should eat as much as you physically can, going as high as 4000 calories, but this is not supported by research that I know of for hobbyist gym-goers such as ourselves.
The bulking period is also generally when athletes progress the most on their lifts, which ultimately also translates to muscle gain (on top of the extra energy which promotes muscle growth). This is why bulking periods are usually quite long, up to 6 months long.
You will inevitably gain some fatty mass during a bulk, which you will remove by "cutting" it down later on. Bulking is generally considered the "off-season" where athletes do not look their best, and as such most gym-goers do it during the 6 fall and winter months as there are various food-heavy holidays during that time and the wearing of heavy clothes for the weather hides their fat gains. However, you can cut and bulk whenever you want during the year for whatever amount of time you need or want to; what's important is to have some idea of how much you want to bulk (how much mass you want to gain in total).
Cutting follows a bulking season. In that period, an athlete will reduce their calorie quota to 250-500 below their TDEE. That is to say, if your TDEE is 2300 calories, you would allow yourself up to 1700-2000 calories in a day.
During a cut, an athlete will not be making much progress on their lifts, and in fact might even have to lighten the weights a bit. This happens because you simply do not have the energy necessary to keep building muscle mass and other processes in your body that make you strong. That's completely normal, and will happen once you get out of the "newbie gains" which we mentioned earlier. During a cut period, your goal is to remain at a steady weight and not completely lose your progress (so if your deadlift sets are at 150 kilos, try to hit 160, but don't go below 140 by the time you're finished with your cut).
During a cut, it is very important that you maximise your protein intake so as not to lose fat-free mass; what we want to lose is fatty mass. 1.6g, like I said, is plenty enough but, if that's doable for you, you might want to go all the way up to 2g per kg of body mass just to make sure you don't lose fat-free mass. You will lose some unfortunately, but we want to minimise that loss as much as possible.
It can be difficult to hit your protein quota while remaining under your calorie budget. If you weigh 100 kilograms for example, you should consume 160g of protein while still remaining under 1500 calories a day! It can be done however if you prioritize protein-heavy food (with poorer carb and fat contents), which is definitely easier if you are not vegetarian.
Protein powder (whey or vegan powder) is of course the first option as they are usually low in calories and, of course, high in protein (depending on the flavours). You can safely consume it as much as you want, but you should not get all your protein from a supplement. Otherwise lean meat, seafood and eggs are also very high in protein and low in calories. If you're vegan, soy is a miracle -- soybeans actually beat beef in terms of protein content, so you should look at soy that is unprocessed as possible. Lentils are also protein-rich, although a bit heavy on the calorie side, but this can be managed in a calorie-counting plan. Chickpeas are just marginally worse than lentils, and so they remain a good choice to have as well. Broccoli is a so-called "super food", and boasts 3g of protein for just 31 calories -- or in other words, 30g of protein for 310 calories. Finally, as an option, mycoprotein (under various brand names) are also an interesting choice as they are rich in protein and poor in calories. With the increase in mock meat products, we have actually seen high-protein, low-calorie vegan food hit the shelves. But I know not everyone feels the same about these products and so I am just listing them here as a possible option.
Cutting season is generally in the spring and summer months, as that's the time people have an excuse to show off their bodies and the heat of summer generally makes us less hungry anyway. But again, you can cut at any time you want during the year.
What you should not do under any circumstances is start a cutting period without an objective in mind. Reducing your body fat percentage to a certain number is a good goal. Alternatively, reducing your overall mass (weight) to a certain number is also a good plan. But losing weight for the sake of losing weight can set you on a dangerous path to your health. What I'm saying is that at some point, the cut needs to end and there's no reason to keep it going.
Fat is necessary for our body to function as we've seen in the nutrition section, but this applies to more than the nutrient itself: your body needs fat stores. For men, the lowest body fat percentage you can look at is 12% (and still be in what is considered the healthy range). For women, you're looking at 18-21% body fat.
Again, if these numbers don't mean much to you, google "body fat comparison" and you'll find plenty of pictures (that I decided not to upload on ProleWiki) that show picture comparisons for different body fat percentages. It will also clearly show that a woman with a 21% body fat percentage looks as lean as a man with 15% body fat.
Once you reach your objective, you can start bulking again or just maintain your weight for a while.
Addressing myths and corporate bullshit
Finally, in this last section I will address some common myths around exercising as well as corporate inventions made to sell us crap we don't need.
I might eventually incorporate some of these myths in the main guide, so look for them there if they disappear from this section.
Can you tone muscle?
Toning is sort of a misnomer; it actually refers to the first stage of muscle growth, when they start to get some definition but have yet to grow fully into their shape. Toning can be achieved with bodyweight exercise or during any resistance training regimen (gym workouts) and staying at a fixed weight once you get the body composition you want. Toning is a necessary step in muscle growth and doesn't have to go further than that is what I'm saying.
Can you target fat loss?
You can't. Doing ab exercises will not make you lose your belly fat, it will tone your abs. Fat loss is determined by your genetics and your body will decide where it will want to prioritize fat loss. All you can do is operate at a caloric deficit. Since your body prioritises different areas for fat loss, you will not see much change in some body parts until you reach a certain weight.
How often should I go to the gym?
At least 3 times a week to see some progress. But you can go every single day of the week with a proper split. I prefer the upper/lower split, which targets your upper body one day (push and pull) and your legs the other day. This makes it divisible by 2 and allows you more fine-tuning in your workout frequency.
With an upper/lower split, you can go twice a week, four, or six and hit both groups equally. You can go all seven days a week if you alternate your workout every day. Although I would recommend you top out at 6 days a week at most to give yourself proper rest; all that fatigue accumulates over time.
With a PPL (Push Pull Legs) split, you can only divide it by 3, which means you would go either 3 times or 6 times a week. You can go to the gym 3.5 days a week on average if you go every other day.
What matters is that muscle is built while resting, not while training, and so it is fundamental that you do not train the same muscle group two days in a row.
Which weight should I start at for my exercises?
Start with an empty bar on barbell exercises when you're just starting out at the gym and without prior experience.
The more complex an exercise is (the more muscle groups it recruits to do it), the more weight you'll be able to put on. It is completely normal, for example, to be able to deadlift 120 kilos and yet curl only 15 in each hand, as your legs contain huge muscles (and your deadlift uses your whole legs), while the biceps is a comparatively tiny muscle (which you curl in isolation).
For your sets, stay at the same weight throughout each set of an exercise. Even if the weight is too light and the exercise becomes too easy, it doesn't matter as you will be upping the weight next time.
A word on the overhead press
For the overhead press (refer to the tables earlier if you're not sure which one that is), you will probably be unable to lift the empty bar above your head if you're just starting out. This is a difficult exercise as our bodies are just not that strong when we have to push something that's above our head.
To train for the overhead press, I would recommend two things:
- Do as many reps as possible with an empty bar if you can get at least one. Slowly work your way up to a full set over weeks, adding 1 rep every time you start the exercise.
- Start with a dumbbell, which often start at 2 kilos in gyms. You can pick say 10 kilos, and use that with both hands for a set.
- Try a seated overhead press (also called seated shoulder press). This is usually easier.
When I started my overhead presses, I struggled to get the bar up for more than 2 or 3 reps and that persisted for several weeks. This is normal. But keep working out, keep to your routine, and soon enough you will be enough to recruit other muscles that you're training as well to help you lift that bar. Don't force the bar up if it's not moving, you could hurt your back on that exercise.
Something hurts, should I stop? And what about soreness?
There are two types of pain that are a result of muscle training:
- Soreness pain is diffuse, you will feel it across a whole muscle group. This pain is benign.
- The other pain is pinpointed, you can literally put your finger on it. This indicates something else entirely that may or may not be benign.
I am a big proponent of stopping and taking it easy if you notice the second type of pain. The rationale is that if you have to take 5 weeks off physical exercise then fine, it sucks but it's just 5 weeks. If you train during those 5 weeks and make your condition worse, you're looking at potentially months off and lingering pain in the future.
As you get better at your sport of choice and understand your own body better, you will start to know when pain is actually indicative of danger or just a quirk of your body.
Soreness, by the way, will go away as you start getting used to the exercises or generally the physical activity you're going through. I have had times where I could not lift my arms higher than my waist when I was just a beginner, and it happened just once -- after that, your body quickly gets used to a new exercise and you might be sore the first time you do it, but not by the second time. Soreness usually hits worse on the 3rd day by the way.
Can I still drink alcohol while being physically active?
Alcohol, as we previously mentioned in the dieting portion of this guide, packs on quite a few calories that need to be taken into account in a dieting plan.
In a fitness plan, you should be aware that alcohol interferes with muscle synthesis. I don't have an exact plan but suffice to say, going to the bar with friends after your workout might very well negate all the progress you made that day.
In my opinion, there really isn't an "optimal" time to be drinking alcohol after the gym, as your muscle gain is synthesized by the body on your rest days and alcohol will also interfere with your post-workout processes. This means if you work out on a Monday, you should not drink on Monday or Tuesday. But then you work out again on Wednesday, and so you shouldn't drink on Wednesdays and Thursdays and... yeah, you shouldn't drink at all then following that logic.
That said, I don't think you necessarily need to lay off alcohol for good. You can still enjoy it a couple times a week and in moderate amounts (emphasis on the moderate). There will be no more blackout drunk nights out for you, but you can still have a couple shots and beers in the week.
This thing has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, should I eat it instead?
Sorry to bring bad news but no! The glycemic index is not accurate when it comes to the human metabolism due to a fatal flaw.
For those who don't know, the glycemic index essentially analyses various sugar sources and ranks them as per their glucose content. The more a source spikes your glucose levels after consumption, the higher it goes on the index.
But like I said a few times in this guide, every type of sugar gets broken down into glucose eventually. It's just that for some of them, it takes longer because they have less readily-usable glucose. The glycemic index doesn't take that into account.
This means that essentially, all sweeteners (simple sugars) are equally the same in your body. Whether it's honey, agave syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar, or stevia. What might change is their caloric content, which is important in a weight loss diet, but not their overall effect on your health. So yes, honey or cane sugar is not any healthier for you than white beet sugar.
Or in other words, 100g of starches (such as from pasta or rice) is still 100g of glucose down the line and the same as 100g of white sugar, except processed by the metabolism over a longer period of time. This difference is ultimately small, but it does help fight against complications such as diabetes as you are realistically not spiking your blood sugar levels (presence of glucose molecules in blood) with starches. Although the disclaimer applies here: I am not a doctor.
The main reason we avoid added sugars is because they are a very easy way to pack on calories (which is bad for people trying not to put on weight). The second reason is because the sugar lobby has their hands in everything and they are the ones that push for more simple sugars in things that don't need them. The "sugarflation" is documented, the amount of added sugar in pre-manufactured foods has grown each year since the 70s (source for the US, though the inflation is real the world over due to increasingly global supply chains).
Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
This is one of those pervasive myths that we just accept because everyone around us does and it's easy to remember. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
This slogan was actually coined by Kellogg's cereals for a marketing campaign. In other words, they had nothing to back it up. For most of human history (as far back as we can trace), our relations to meal times and meals themselves evolved differently. In this way the breakfast was invented quite late and only became a staple in the 20th century. The ancient Romans, for example, by and large didn't eat breakfast.
People have been praising the virtues of breakfast (it keeps you full until noon, you get hungry as soon as you wake up, you get important nutrients...) for years now, even after it came out that it was originally nothing more than a marketing slogan, which I chip away at with a simple argument: I have not eaten breakfast since I was 8 years old, and it has never been a problem even when I had a more physical job; I don't get hungry before 12-1PM.
For a year I even stopped eating anything except dinner, noticing that I wouldn't get hungry before I actually ate something. And I'm still alive and healthy.
Truthfully your body is not going to keel up on you just because you haven't eaten for 8 hours. We're not that fragile, thankfully. Your metabolism also slows down while you sleep to about a third of its wakeful state, and so you process fewer nutrients while you sleep.
The more important question here is when should you eat (we've covered what you should eat in the nutrition section). Assuming that you are otherwise a healthy adult human, you should eat when you feel hungry or if you want to keep a rhythm to your meal times. You have no obligation to eat when you don't feel like it (but you should still consume your budgeted calories in a diet setting).
Likewise, you don't have to eat anything specific for breakfast. Bacon and eggs were invented by the same guy who came up with the other saying above, Edward Bernays. What did he base his recommendation on? The fact that egg and bacon sales were down in the US, that's it. Follow the recommended nutrients in the nutrition section and eat whatever you like for breakfast if you choose to eat it.
They say you shouldn't eat at night to avoid gaining weight. Or was it you should eat at night to lose weight?
From everything we've seen, this somewhat pervasive argument of course is absolutely false. Nothing particularly makes you gain or lose weight except for pure calories consumed. However, you should know your own body and realise when it gets hungry and why. Some people might start feeling hungry at night, some people might have trouble sleeping if they eat before bed, and other people might just prefer to eat dinner late.
What's important is that you are able to reach your calorie goal in a sustainable manner. If you get hungry before bed and that causes you to go above your calorie budget (in a weight loss setting), then you will need to look for a solution. Likewise, if eating before bed might help you achieve a surplus needed for a bulk, then that's a great time to eat for you!
There's no one right way to eat, as we've seen in the previous myth busted. It's common to eat dinner really really late (between 10pm and midnight) around the Mediterranean for example.
How do I cook nice stuff while still counting calories?
I recently came across this question on the Internet. Someone was asking how do they cook something more complex than 1 ingredient in a way that they can still count calories.
Well, there's an easy way. It's not super easy, but it's the easiest method. First you need an application that can calculate calories for you. Once again I recommend LoseIt as it has a recipe feature (though it's a bit unwieldy).
When making a recipe, you have ingredients to make it with. You also know, from the recipe, how much mass of each ingredient goes into the recipe.
When making chili for example, you need 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 red onion, 1 bellpepper, 2 carrots, etc. You know from easily accessible information (either through LoseIt's database or a Google search away) how many calories each of these ingredients pack. 1 tablespoon of olive oil is around 120 calories, so 2 tbsp is 240 cals. 1 onion is about 45 calories, etc. For the can of beans, you get that information on the packaging itself.
Add all of those calories up for your recipe (taking care to add seasoning and anything else that might have calories) and then, at the end, weigh how much chili (or whatever else) you've made on a scale. If you calculate that your chili recipe makes 2 kilos and comes up to 2100 calories according to the app, then you can just divide these two numbers to get a 100g approximation: 2100 (calories) / 2000 (grams) = 1,05.
Then times that 100 (to get calories per 100 grams) = 105 calories per 100 grams of this chili.
When grabbing a serving of chili, just weigh your plate as you would with anything else. 300 grams of chili on your plate * 1.05 = 315 calories (I wish).
It's a bit time consuming, but you really only have to add the calories up just once: when you make the recipe the first time. After that, just follow the same recipe every time you want to make your chili again. Weighing your plate is really just a formality, it takes 10 seconds at most.
For more involved stuff, the principle is the same. If you make jiaozi, for example, then you know how much dough you've made (and can calculate the calories in that amount, remember that water has 0 calories) and how much filling you've made (and add up the calories as well). Then calculate how much dough mass you use for one dumpling (just weigh one disk on your kitchen scale), and how much mass filling you use for one (just weigh the final jiaozi and subtract the weight from the disk). Then you can easily calculate the calories in 1 jiaozi. If you eat 12 and they're a bit different in size each, it doesn't really matter. It's always going to be an approximation.
I'm an ectomorph, this means I should avoid some exercises right? Unlike mesomorphs.
Body morphology is bunk. It's a made up eugenicist justification to classify people as trustworthy or prone to criminality, invented by psychologist William H. Sheldon.
It's just old rehashed bunk science paraded as something new and exciting for the fitness industry. Anyone can be any of those three body types at various points in their lives.
That's really all there is to say about it. If anyone tries to sell you a programme and starts by asking your body type, you know it's not a good programme.
I follow this influencer on Instagram and they look huge, should I just buy their programme? I want the same physique as them
I've kinda disparately laid out why the influencer industry (along with its supplements and training programmes) contains a lot of bullshit (like maybe 99% of it is bullshit), but I feel I should make it clear somewhere.
Most influencers you see are enhanced, they use regulated substances that are detrimental to their health to achieve their results. It's a business and if you want to stay afloat in a business where others are enhanced, then you need to be enhanced and the cycle continues. Then, they sell you overpriced programmes and supplements (like BCAAs, which we talked about in the nutrition portion of the guide) and "promise" that you'll look like them if you just take these supplements.
And of course they always claim they're natural because if they admitted it, their whole business model would collapse. Very few bodybuilders or ex-bodybuilders have admitted to using steroids.
This is a naturally unattainable physique and ultimately just leads to frustration. You'll hit the gym with expensive supplements, you won't get the same results as Simeon Panda or Jeff Seid, and you'll just abandon your good habit of exercising because you'll think there's no point to it after you don't see a huge transformation after 3 months.
It takes time: people work out for 5-7 years before they actually look "shredded" (muscular enough that on lower body fat levels they look at peak physique). And they don't look like that throughout the whole year.
So what do you need instead? This guide. If you haven't read it yet, start before you spend money on a PDF. I explain everything about proper nutrition and working out to improve your life naturally, without dangerous substances.
How do I know if someone is natural or on gear?
In bodybuilders, there's a very easy way to know if someone takes steroids: their shoulders and trapezes look like they're about to burst out of their skin. But truthfully, I think many people may be on gear and not look like it. It still takes a lot of hard work (both in the gym and in getting your body fat % that low), so much so that I can totally believe many people may be on gear but not really show it simply because they don't put in enough work.
For growth hormones, you would usually start seeing it in the belly; HGH (Human Growth Hormone) swells your organs and your intestines, the biggest organs, start pushing against the abs. It can also be caused by insulin supplements, a popular PED (performance enhancing drug) in bodybuilding, which promotes the storage of fat in the stomach area.
For women, steroid use is often accompanied with a lowering of the voice if taken improperly. This sign however may not point at steroid usage as some cis women just have lower voices.
I'm vegan, do I need to eat more protein? The DIAAS says I can only absorb half of the overall content
The DIAAS, for those who don't know about it, is a score given to various food sources meant to tell you how much of the protein content you could absorb in your body when eating that food, and how much of that protein is just going to waste.
It's originally a tool made to help populations in a famine or otherwise affected by malnutrition get enough essential protein. It's not meant for athletes or even people who are not affected by malnutrition.
Moreover, the DIAAS modelling is lacking in some areas. Most vegetal food tests were done on animals (whose metabolism differ greatly from humans) AND using raw foods. Cooking can "pre-digest" some proteins and as such make them more easily absorbed by the body.
If you're vegan, there's no reason you should eat more protein than non-vegans on that difference alone.