Featured story October 4, 2013
The Saw films' unspeakably gory medieval death traps and hopelessly terrifying choices between life and death redefined both physical and psychological torture for a generation. But as creative and complete as the terror was in these movies, the bad guy forgot one very powerful and compelling torture tactic: dieting. (Pause for chills, gag reflex and token horror score.) Most of us want to grow bigger and stronger without having to deal with that dreaded four-letter word, diet. For many, dieting by itself is blood-curdling terror in its basest form. But it doesn't have to be that scary.
By making 12 simple adjustments to your everyday approach to nutrition and training, extreme diets and deprivation can be things of the past. You won't be living off pizza, but some simple tweaks can add up to a lifestyle change that helps you strip away fat and keep it off for years to come. Want to play our game? Here are the 12 simple rules.
As long as you're training hard and not going overboard in the calorie department, there's nothing wrong with consuming carbs. (Yes, there's a "but" coming.) But if you eat carbs by themselves, you're asking for trouble of the fattest kind. Carbs consumed alone, without an accompanying protein source, rapidly digest into glucose. This triggers a rise in insulin, stoking the appetite and slowing the fat-burning process. Research shows that protein helps curb that rapid conversion, so it should accompany carbs at all of your meals, small or large.
Still hungry after your chicken and brown rice dinner? Reaching into the fridge for another helping of both before you slip into bed probably isn't the best idea. When you sleep, you burn less fuel (unless you're doing cardio at midnight like a precontest Jay Cutler), so eating carbs before bedtime can cause a fat-storage increase. Better to go to bed with just a small protein meal. And don't eat carbs within the three hours before bedtime: Snoozing on a stomach full of carbs can also interfere with the release of growth hormone (GH), an important factor in building muscle and burning fat. Stick with small portions (20-30 grams) of lean proteins, such as low-fat cottage cheese or a casein protein shake.
Some research shows mildly dehydrated individuals demonstrate up to a 2% decline in metabolism. That may not sound like much, but in the long run it can mean the difference between looking like a Muscle & Fitness cover model and a walking piñata. In fact, a 2003 study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that drinking half a liter of water raised metabolism by 30%. The body is comprised of about 70% water, making H2O consumption key to normal body functions and metabolic processes. It also helps promote a feeling of satiety, keeping your finger off the speed dial to your local pizzeria between meals. It's also common for people to mistake thirst for hunger, which can lead you to look for more food rather than pouring fluids down your gullet. Try to drink a half-liter of water several times a day between meals. The trips to the water closet will seem worth it when you're ripped.
Fats are important for health, but they are calorie dense: 9 calories per gram of fat as opposed to 4 calories per gram of carbs and protein. If you really want to get shredded, you need to limit them to some degree - particularly the saturated fats found in beef and dairy. Saturated fats are essential for keeping testosterone levels up, but they also get stored preferentially as bodyfat. Limit your beef intake to one serving daily and eat more fowl and fish. Consuming more monounsaturated fats (from nuts, olive oil, avocados) and polyunsaturated fats (fatty fish) is a good idea because they're preferentially burned for fuel, not stored as fat. Keep total fat intake to 20% or less of your total daily calories.
Are you less or more busy than you were five years ago? Lotto winners aside, most of us continue to heap on new responsibilities each year, making meal-skipping a harsh reality. Missing meals, however, impairs muscle growth and causes blood-sugar levels to fall, initiating a binge-inducing increase in appetite. One way around the problem is to use protein powders or ready-to-drink (RTD) cans of protein. They're quick and easy, and they provide a steady supply of amino acids to help build and preserve muscle. A continual influx of amino acids also blunts appetite, making you feel fuller longer, which helps you control calorie consumption and, consequently, bodyfat.
Breakfast, more than any other meal, sets the metabolic pace for the day. It's the meal that's least likely to be stored as bodyfat, actually supports metabolism and helps you control your appetite throughout the day. Skimp here and chances are you'll be starving by mid-afternoon, making you far more likely to make a poor food choice (Burger King, anyone?). So go ahead and have an omelet loaded with low-fat or fat-free cheese and grilled veggies. A study out of Saint Louis University (St. Louis) from a 2005 Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that those who ate eggs for breakfast consumed fewer calories throughout the day. Hell, you can even splurge on some whole-grain pancakes - go light on the syrup - or opt for a small whole-grain bagel and a banana to go with your eggs.
Tired of swallowing handfuls of creatine, glutamine, nitric oxide (NO) inducers and BCAAs? Too bad. Fact is, these supplements are beneficial in many ways, especially in helping you grow. When you add muscle, you're not only increasing your metabolism but actually making it more difficult to add bodyfat. If you're already popping and mixing your supps, keep it up. Even better, these muscle-building supplements are also fat-burning supplements. The NO booster arginine increases GH levels, which improves fat-burning. Plus, NO itself has been found to increase fat-burning. BCAAs are helpful for keeping the fat furnace burning hot, while creatine has been shown to not only help subjects gain muscle and strength but also lose fat.
Be sure to use the following supplements to get or stay lean: Arginine: 3-5 grams before breakfast, 30-60 minutes before workouts and 30-60 minutes before bed. BCAAs: 3-5 grams before breakfast, 3-5 grams immediately before workouts, 3-5 grams immediately after workouts and 3-5 grams in the evening. Creatine: 3-5 grams immediately before and after workouts.
Of course, recovery is key when it comes to muscle growth. If you split up your training enough, however, you could end up with six or seven lower-volume, metabolism-boosting trips to the gym per week. When you train, your metabolism burns hotter for a few hours afterward. Training six days a week with shorter workouts - as opposed to three longer sessions when you train 2-3 bodyparts - you'll experience a greater overall metabolic increase. Plus, training fewer bodyparts in a single session helps prevent your body from becoming run-down and overtrained.
The other benefit to more frequent training: glucose metabolism. When you train daily, you coax the body's glucose transport system to more readily take excess glucose from unused carbs and store them as muscle glycogen rather than bodyfat. Try this higher-frequency split:
|3||Legs, calves, abs|
Take half the portion of carbs you typically eat and mix it into 1-2 cups of low-calorie veggies, such as green beans, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers or lettuce. The low-cal veggies replace the higher calorie value in your complex carbs such as rice, potatoes or pasta, filling you up faster and keeping you from having seconds. You have nearly effortlessly saved yourself hundreds of calories over the course of the week.
Sugar-free fiber drink ad campaigns often target the elderly to help "keep them regular." But the idea is good for more than just those collecting Social Security - fiber also keeps you leaner, Mr. Musclehead. Fiber acts like a sponge, attracting water in the stomach, and a greater volume of water in the gut increases the feeling of being full. Fiber also stimulates glucose receptors on muscle cells, which indirectly lowers insulin levels. Research has shown insulin to be a major appetite stimulant, so getting that hormone under control can provide the freedom you need to eat less without feeling hungry and deprived. A simple daily sugar-free fiber drink before your bedtime protein meal (see Rule No. 2) will do the trick. The perk? They actually taste pretty good.
Nothing's more motivating than staring at a less-than-flattering photo of yourself in your Skivvies, belly creeping over your waistline. That's what I look like? Be your own "before" photo. Every 7-10 days, have a trusted and nonjudgmental friend or significant other take a snapshot of you standing or flexing in your unmentionables. Post it where only you can see it each day, lest you become the main topic around your office watercooler. If you're making good gains, this photo will keep you on the path to success, but if you're cheating on your diet and not eating well, it will serve as a reminder that you have to correct your rudder and change course, if you expect to change your build.
If - and this is a big if - you're hitting the mark with most of the aforementioned lifestyle choices listed here, you should work a reward plan into the picture. The reward in this case is to treat yourself once a week by dining out and eating whatever you want - within reason. No, you can't eat 10 chili dogs, but you can go out and order from a restaurant menu and split a dessert with your guest. Part of staying in shape involves giving your mind a break, only to get right back to healthy eating after that meal. It also does far less damage than you might think. When one - not 10 - higher-calorie meal is averaged in over the course of a week, it isn't enough to do any real damage to your waistline.