I was shocked when I discovered -quite by accident- that one of my favorite investors, John Hussman, maintains a website for health and fitness. He advocates for the popular ‘Body For Life’ program developed by Bill Phillips. John’s website is located at HussmanFitness.org and is worth a visit for you. Below is from the excellent Q&A section:
Q John, I’m very interested in what you wrote about various foods being treated differently by the body. I have spent some time over the past few weeks searching for scientific studies of this nature. Are you able to supply some reference information that I can review?
A Thanks for your note. There’s increasing evidence that the same number of calories can have different metabolic consequences for muscle gain and fat loss. This effect is mainly related to high glycemic vs. low glycemic carbohydrates (my main page has more information on these). The early studies were done on animals. For instance, a 1998 study in Journal of Nutrition found that high glycemic diets trigger significantly higher levels of fatty acid synthase (FAS) – an enzyme that increases the number and size of fat cells. High glycemic diets also lead to excessive insulin secretion, which increases fat deposits as well.
The two most interesting human studies appeared just last year. In one (Archive of Pediatric Medicine, 2000), patients were split between two diets – a low glycemic diet versus a low-fat diet (no exercise protocol in either). Those in the low glycemic group lost a significant amount of fat weight, while those in the reduced-fat group actually gained. Both results were highly significant statistically.
The other is from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000). Subjects were put on a reduced calorie diet which was either high-glycemic or low-glycemic. Now, as you know, when you restrict calories significantly, the body tends to respond by slowing its metabolism. What’s interesting is that resting energy expenditure declined by fully 10.5% with the high-glycemic diet, but only 4.6% with the low glycemic one. Further, nitrogen balance was significantly more negative in the high-glycemic diet (negative nitrogen balance -> muscle loss), while leptin (which regulates appetite) was higher.
In short, there’s increasing evidence that the same number of calories in the form of low-glycemic carbohydrate has significantly different metabolic consequences than high-glycemic carbs. High glycemic diets seem to result in more fat deposition, higher instability of blood sugar, greater appetite, and a tendency toward muscle loss.
Hope that answers your question. Good Luck! – John
Q It’s so wonderful to find a site like yours. Now I know that there are others out there having difficulties also. My problem is that the fat is not coming off. After reading all your information, I think its that I’m not eating enough calories. On my first try of the BFL program, I was eating the 6 meals/day and 2 of them were Myoplex shakes. About half way through the program, I was losing muscle. I completed the program but with unsatisfactory results. I have only decreased my body fat by 3%. I recently tried the Atkins ‘Induction diet’ and that didn’t help either. I was doing the 20 minutes interval training but felt it wasn’t enough. I am very, very frustrated – frustrated to tears but I won’t give up because I want to lose the fat. Fat has been a problem all my life and I’m sick of it. I want to be thin, fit and healthy – for life. Please help me.
A I get over 500 hits a day on this site, and about 100 e-mails a week. Yeah, some people have real difficulties with fat loss. But everybody seems to believe that they’re somehow a special case. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not unusual. So let’s look at your very common problem.
First, there is only one reason you’re not losing fat. And that is that you are not creating a persistent caloric deficit. If you burn more calories than you take in, you’re going to lose fat. The way to do that is to focus on the deficit itself – not just on eating less, and not just on exercising more. You have to focus on keeping a gap between those two.
Unless you do this consciously and plan carefully, this is very difficult to do. Here’s why. There has been a series of articles in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with research on what’s known as a “set point”. Basically, an individual’s set point determines how quickly the body will defend its energy stores. If you experimentally overfeed athletes so that they gain weight, their bodies go into hyperdrive. Their appetite decreases, they feel warmer because the body burns off the energy (which releases a lot of heat), and it takes a much higher level of intake just to maintain that extra weight. That’s a low set point. The body wants to go down to a lower weight, so it becomes very inefficient at storing energy. It even wastes energy as heat (thermogenesis).
Overweight and obese people tend to have higher set points, particularly if they’ve been struggling with weight all their lives (as you have). If they try to dramatically restrict their calories, they’ll become very hungry, their metabolism will drop, and their body will start defending fat, even to the point of destroying muscle (the same way you toss cargo off of a plane if you’re too low on fuel). Take it to an extreme, as in anorexia, and the bodyfat percentage actually rises while muscle and vital organs are destroyed. In the first 5 days or so of fasting, your body will consume about 0.8 pounds of muscle per day. Don’t do unbalanced things like Atkins either. As I note on my main page, humans are at the top of the food chain because of their incredible ability to adapt to their environment. That means that if you’re going to lose fat, you’d better work with your body rather than against it.
Let’s take two overweight people with high set points. Pat drops caloric intake down to 800 calories a day, mostly carbs, and does enough activity to burn 1800 calories a day. Terry drops caloric intake only to 1400 calories a day with a good amount of protein, and does 2400 calories a day of activity. Both have caloric deficits of 1000 calories a day. Who burns more fat? One might think the answer is “equal”, but one would be wrong. Pat’s body is going to revolt by becoming very efficient at storing fat. The 1000 calorie deficit is going to be achieved by destroying muscle. In contrast, Terry’s body never perceives a fasting state. The 1000 calorie deficit is going to come primarily from fat stores. The result will be fat loss of about 2 pounds a week. The scary thing is that on the scale, Pat will probably lose more weight initially, since it takes about 4 pounds of lean muscle to provide the same amount of caloric energy as 1 pound of fat. That’s why bad diets can be so seductive. In general, adults should not reduce their caloric intake below about 10 calories per lean pound (scale weight minus fat weight) except under the advice of a physician.
So how do you lower your set point? You’ve got to do three things to convince your body it needs to burn fat as energy, rather than defending it:
1) Raise the number of calories you burn, significantly, and chronically (meaning just about every day)
2) Increase protein intake, while keeping carbs high quality (oatmeal, potato, brown rice, Granny Smith apples, and whole grains rather than white bread or simple sugars). Simple sugars kick your insulin up, which causes your blood sugar to crash soon afterward, so your body feels a stronger need to defend its fat. The only time to have high-glycemic carbs is within 90 minutes after an intense workout.
3) Monitor your caloric intake carefully, but don’t drop it significantly below BMR (9 calories per pound of lean bodyweight may be slightly below BMR, but is acceptable). Preferably divide across 6 meals a day. When you don’t try to starve yourself, the body perceives less need to hoard energy in the form of fat. And again, if your meals aren’t spaced too far apart, your blood sugar never crashes.
If you’re working out daily and holding your true caloric intake near or slightly below your BMR, you’re going to lose fat.
Remember, your metabolic rate is driven by three things: BMR which you increase by gaining muscle, unrestricted physical activity (UPA) which you increase by exercising and other activity (take a walk, take the stairs), and thermal effect of food (TEF) which you increase by dividing your daily caloric intake into small, frequent meals.
It’s not that your metabolism or genetics are bad. It’s just that your body seeks equilibrium or “homeoestasis”, and establishing a set point is one of the ways humans have survived on the planet.
Let’s review. Don’t take your caloric intake dramatically below BMR. The composition of your nutrition is crucial. Studies show that if you restrict your calories without substantially increasing your protein, your nitrogen balance is much more negative. That means you lose muscle easier. So you should make sure that you get about 30% or more of your calories from protein (a gram per lean pound daily will do that nicely). You shouldn’t severely restrict carbohydrates, but protein intake is essential.
You’ve also got to increase the efficiency with which your body burns stored fat. The intensity intervals are excellent for that. For those with high set points, it also means tweaking the aerobics (educated opinion). Some people with low set points get very fast fat loss results with just 3 of the 20-minute aerobics sessions a week. But the higher your set point (which is whatever your body has adapted to over the years of yo-yo dieting and other abuse it’s gone through), the more the tweaking can help, in my opinion. The morning workouts on an empty stomach are also useful, but if your schedule just can’t accomodate that, just make sure to wait about 2-3 hours after a meal before doing the aerobics. I try to be very clear on this site about what is fact and what is educated opinion. The tweaking is my opinion, but I also get dozens of notes back telling me it’s working.
So remember, what you’re trying to to is expend energy without ever giving your body a signal that it has to defend its fat stores. You do that by keeping your calories in the area of your BMR, keeping protein intake at 30% or somewhat higher, choosing high-quality low-glycemic carbs, eating 6 meals a day without very long spaces between them, and tweaking the aerobic activity.
In my own experience, there is one sign that may tell you it’s working. You may tend to break a light sweat about 20 minutes after meals, particularly those containing carbohydrate. You might not experience that, but if you do, it’s outstanding. Do that for a few weeks and let me know if it helps! And watch those tears. You gotta get tough. Best wishes, John
Q Hi John, Excellent site!! I have a question about cellulite. I have it and HATE it!! I am thin-5’6″ 122 lbs. but I have major cellulite on my buttocks and it’s now creeping down my leg. I have been told I can’t ever get rid of it and can only stop it from getting worse. Is this true? I truly appreciate any feedback you can provide.
A First, cellulite is simply skin dimpling which occurs when connective tissue is overwhelmed by fat deposits. The medical literature doesn’t say it is permanent, or that you can’t do anything about it. Rather it says there is “no topical medication or manipulative process to which advanced cellulite visibly responds”. Topical medications are basically creams and such, while manipulative processes are things like massage. These approaches are trying to get at the cellulite from the outside-in, and yes, that’s a losing battle. But you’re not doing that are you? You’re working on changing your body from the inside-out. Now, even though you’re thin elsewhere, you do want to work specifically on fat loss, and some of the tweaking on my page will help. The weight training will also help, by building firm new tissue under the skin. This is not something that’s in the literature, but it’s clear from the experiences of people like Kelly Adair. It certainly wasn’t hopeless in her case. Again, I think the “cellulite is hopeless” notion is widespread precisely because everybody wants a magic lotion instead of working on transforming from the inside-out. Hope that helps! [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John. Thanks for all the support you’ve offered all of us on the program! You probably haven’t heard this one before. I think I have the fat gene. Practically everybody in my family is overweight, and though I feel infinitely stronger on BFL, I’ve been disappointed in my fat loss. Do you think my problem could be genetic?
A Actually, there are several genes that have been given the distinction of the “fat gene”. One codes for a substance called “leptin”, and is referred to in the literature as the “ob gene”. Leptin is one of the factors that regulate appetite and activity level. There’s a particular strain of mice that lack the leptin gene, and they have voracious appetites and become very obese (hence the “ob”). But in studies of thousands of obese humans, none have been found to have particularly low levels of leptin, and the genetic defect has been found in only two human subjects. So the leptin gene is a non-starter.
The other primary “fat gene” codes for “beta-adrenergic receptors”. This one is more credible as a potential problem. One of the ways that the body regulates energy expenditure and thermogenesis is by releasing chemicals that stimulate those beta-adrenergic receptors. If the receptors are faulty, the signal to “burn fat” is weaker. The question is “how much weaker?” Well, the faulty gene is found frequently among the Pima tribe, which has been studied extensively. Pimas with one faulty gene typically have base metabolic rates (BMR) about 50 calories lower than expected, while two faulty copies result in an average 80 calorie shortfall daily. Now, you might think that’s not much. But do the math: holding dietary intake constant, a 50 calorie shortfall in daily caloric burn leads to about 5 pounds of fat gain a year. Normally, the body regulates appetite and activity levels so that caloric intake and expenditure are within about 10 calories daily, on average. That’s an incredible and underappreciated marvel of science, but it’s also a pain if you want to lose fat through diet-only or activity-only programs. The body simply adjusts the one you’ve neglected, to maintain its “set point”.
So, in the event that you do have the “fat gene”, you’re talking about something on the order of 50 to perhaps 80 calories a day, which is hardly going to stop you from making progress if you’re carefully limiting your portions, training with weights, perhaps tweaking the aerobics, and being careful to maintain a reasonable level of activity during the day.
From the notes I receive, the two primary causes of slow fat loss are insufficient aerobic activity and “portion creep” – underestimating the number of calories you are really consuming. So most people get good results by either adjusting their caloric intake (with a preference for low glycemic carbs rather than high glycemic ones – except after workouts), or tweaking their aerobic output. Remember, focus on the caloric deficit. In addition to that voluntary physical activity, building muscle also raises your base metabolic rate.
Bottom line – you shouldn’t let concerns about the “fat gene” slow you down. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, Do you have any advice for people who do long distance running? I’m training for a marathon. Thanks!
A Thanks for your note. As you already know, too much cardio can work against muscle gains. If you look at marathon runners closely, you’ll notice that almost all of them have gaunt, almost emaciated upper bodies. That’s because the body responds to severe glycogen depletion by using protein for fuel. The long duration also raises cortisol levels. If you’re going to run long distances, you’ve got to defend that muscle.
For starters, on any run that’s going to extend for more than about an hour, you should plan to take some sort of easily digested carbohydrate supplement about the 1 hour mark. Your local running store may have more suggestions than I do – but a basic carbohydrate gel should suffice. I also think that an immediate protein supplement after your run, say a scoop of Precision Protein, can also help to defend against muscle catabolism after a long or intense workout. Betagen works along the same lines too.
A good running book will take you into more detail on training for specific distances than I can in a short answer, but do try to include some longer duration intervals, a few steep hills, and explosive force exercises such as jumping (up and down, side to side, one leg to another) to improve your “kick”. Good luck! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John – My question is on my free day, should I also try to count my calories? If I have 2 cheat meals, and one is a banana split, how bad is this going to hurt me? I have a hard time being totally devoted on my free day, too. I have to have a couple of treats. Thanks!
A You don’t have to rigidly count calories on the free day, but be aware that you’re not going wild. I’ve heard so many people saying that people are advising them to totally pig out on the free day, and it just isn’t so. Not if they want to lose fat. You don’t really want to go a whole lot over 1.5-1.7 times your BMR, but that’s not likely unless you’re consciously going wild. A banana split is fine. A chocolate bar is fine. Pizza is fine. Enjoy them without even one guilt pang. Just don’t eat all of them 6 times a day. Aerobic “tweaking” can also help the fat loss. Also, you don’t have to follow the 6 meals a day plan on your free day either, but you’re less likely to over-binge if you do eat regularly. And just as a sidenote, this may not happen, but if it does it’s a good sign: Be aware of how you feel about half an hour after eating that banana split. If you break a light sweat after eating a carbohydrate treat, it’s a good sign, because it signals that your metabolism is in high gear. Try to eat a modest, balanced protein/carb meal about 2-3 hours afterward though, to keep your blood sugar from crashing after that initial rush. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John – The site is great! Do you have any insight on how to prepare for “after” photos? I start week 11 tommorrow and was wondering if I should do anything different in the last couple of weeks?
A 1) Extend the aerobics sessions, still no more than 20 minutes of intensity intervals, but you can tack on as much as 25 minutes of moderate activity to the end to get lean in the last 2 weeks. DO NOT start doing aerobics sessions or other high-intensity workouts 2 or more times a day. You’ll totally wipe out your glycogen and your muscles will look flat as pancakes.
2) Restrict carbohydrate intake modestly about 3 days prior to your photo shoot, sharply 2 days before your shoot, and most of the day before the shoot. That will deplete your glycogen and you’ll drop water weight fast, so you’ll look more “cut”. (Each gram of glycogen binds to several grams of water. This is why Atkins dieters who restrict carbs seem to lose weight so fast – but it’s nearly all water).
3) Now, that glycogen depletion is going to start flattening your muscles out too. So, the evening before the shoot, do one last aerobics workout and follow it with high carbohydrate intake. In an old issue of Muscle Media, Bill recommended a couple of bowls of fruit loops (I’m serious). The sugar intake will be grabbed voraciously and preferentially by the muscles. So your muscles will be pumped with glycogen, but you’ll still look lean.
4) IF you don’t have any cardiovascular, pregnancy, lactation, or other pharmaceutical issues, you may decide to use NWB (Natural Water Balance) starting 2-3 days before your photo shoot. NWB is a powerful herbal diuretic containing dandelion root and a number of other ingredients to prevent potassium depletion. (Diuretics that don’t spare potassium can give you a heart attack). DO NOT use it for more than 4 days, and DO drink about 2-3 glasses of water each time you take it. That may seem counterintuitive, but if you restrict your water intake, your body will do EVERYTHING it can to retain water. The only time you want to keep water intake somewhat low (but still drink some) is the morning of your shoot.
5) Don’t severely restrict sodium until the very day before your photo shoot. Same reason. Your body will fight back and you’ll look puffy.
6) The morning of the shoot, do about 20-30 minutes of weight training to hit every part WITHOUT overly depleting your glycogen. That will leave the muscles with a good pump. Follow it with a carbohydrate snack like an oatmeal cookie with a little water.
7) Don’t do a bunch of goofy shots where you look like you’re trying way too hard to flex a particular muscle. Pleasant, confident, energetic shots in relatively normal poses are best.
8) SEND ME THE PICTURES! One of the BEST things about doing this site is the success stories and Before/After shots I get. They make all of this worthwhile.
Good luck! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I’m doing everything in the book and I’m not losing weight. I think my metabolism just doesn’t work with this, and I’m about to give up. What now?
A From the thousands of notes I’ve received, the only significant metabolic problem I’ve seen is undiagnosed hypothyroidism (rare, but worth mentioning, and there’s a section on hypothyroidism further down on this page). Assuming this is not the problem, my question is this: Give up for what alternative? As I note all over my site, the combination of aerobic training, strength training and balanced nutrition is the single most effective way to lose weight, gain muscle and increase fitness. So if this isn’t working yet, you’ve got to make it work. Otherwise, in Porter Freeman’s words, you’re rushing to the grave. So I can give you some good advice and motivation, or I guess I can point you to a good undertaker… The good news is that I am absolutely certain that you are making progress, even if it’s not evident in the “external” measurements – mirror, calipers, scale, etc. I’ve just received far, far too many notes to believe otherwise — people who were frustrated and a little unsure, but persisted and wrote me back with outstanding results. Some of them also posted similar notes in my guestbook. Listen, you all have written me thousands of notes. So two things I know for sure are that 1) it’s not unusual to get frustrated and 2) if you stick to it and understand what to tweak (all on my main page), you will succeed at this.
The only variables you can change for fat loss are these:
1) caloric intake (preferably near, but not dramatically below your BMR)
2) increased activity (tweaking by adding extra aerobics of moderate intensity)
3) metabolic enhancement (intensity, intensity, intensity, Phen-Free for thermogenesis, balanced meals at regular intervals, lots of water, Betagen to reduce muscle catabolism, striving for a “personal best” during each weight training workout, etc).
The trick is to focus on the caloric deficit – the difference between the calories you take in and the calories you burn. You should have a pretty good idea every day of what that deficit is (if you’re working out daily, your burn is about 1.5 times BMR). You should be extremely careful that you aren’t underestimating your calories (research suggests that people who report difficulty losing fat typically underestimate their true caloric intake by about 40% on average). If you want to lose fat, you have to plan and keep records of exactly what you eat every day.
I’ve seen notes from people speculating about their metabolic rate being low, their genetics being bad, and so on. More likely, their portions are creeping up too much, they have sedentary jobs, or they have high “set points” which can generally be fixed with a little aerobic tweaking. When researchers talk about genetic and metabolic differences, they’re hardly ever talking about differences of more than 10% between “slow” and “normal” individuals. Even if your muscle mass is severely reduced, the reduction in metabolic rate is never more than 30% (since my calculator factors in lean weight, it tends to pick this up anyway). That means that even at relatively low level of activity, you’d still burn about your BMR in calories daily (normally people burn about 1.3 times BMR at normal activity levels). So as long as your caloric intake is near BMR, adding activity will generate fat loss. Maybe not as fast as somebody who has a lot of muscle, but you will lose fat. It doesn’t matter who you are. So no complaining about bad genetics and slow metabolism. Just keep at it.
That’s all you can do. From my experience and the notes I’ve received, most people are capable of doing more than they initially believe. But in the end, those 3 things are the things to focus on for fat loss: caloric restriction (not dramatically below BMR), increased activity, and metabolic enhancement. You can succeed at this. And you will. Good luck! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I love your site! I was wondering what your opinion was on how to modify the BFL program while pregnant or lactating. I know it’s important to not go above a certain heart rate so I don’t think the 20 minutes HIIT will work. What do you suggest? Also, I’m concerned about hitting a 10 with the weight lifting, especially when I’m farther along. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
A Thanks for your note! There is a lot of research that supports the conclusion that healthy women (no cardiovascular risk or threatened premature labor) can perform sub-maximal, moderate intensity exercise without jeopardizing fetal health. Women who engage in moderate intensity aerobics typically have slightly higher birth-weight babies than those who have either sedentary or very high intensity activity. High intensity, anaerobic exercise is another issue. Though there is little demonstrated evidence that high intensity work is harmful, the medical journals generally concur that “women should be advised to avoid anaerobic training such as sprinting and interval work during pregnancy.”
Aerobic exercise typically increases the oxygen reserve available for the baby in the first two trimesters. However, that increase is reduced later, leading to the conclusion that “maternal exercise may present a greater physiologic stress in the third trimester.”
So far as weight lifting is concerned, keep in mind that in addition to being an anaerobic activity, the concentric portion of weight lifting generally causes a brief spike in blood pressure. A study in the journal Birth notes: “Evidence suggests that weight-bearing exercise produces a greater decrease in oxygen reserve than nonweight-bearing exercise. Furthermore, to maintain a heart rate below 140 beats per minute during pregnancy, the intensity of weight-bearing exercise must be reduced.” On that basis, I would suggest that any weight-training be done with very low weights and higher repetitions, so that it more closely resembles moderate aerobic training.
I know that there’s a real urge to get going on this program right away, but during pregnancy, your body is doing such an important job that it’s essential to put other considerations on hold.
Once the baby is born and you’re recovered from childbirth, you can start kicking the intensity up. If you’re breastfeeding, remember that human milk has a high fat content, which generally means that mothers will lose fat faster while lactating than not. It’s not the time for diets that are highly restrictive in fat though, since the developing nervous system is sensitive to fatty acid deficiency. One thing I would recommend for lactating mothers on this program is to take about 6-8% of daily calories in the form of essential fatty acids – olive oil, refrigerated fresh-pressed flaxseed oil, or perhaps a mix such as Udo’s Oil.
The use of supplements such as Betagen and Phen-Free are typically discouraged for lactating mothers. I’d probably also wait to take aspartame-containing products such as Myoplex. The aspartame doesn’t concern me typically, but I’m always more cautious when babies are concerned. I haven’t seen reports of damage from any of these supplements, but clinical studies of non-essential supplements are never done on infant populations. You just don’t want to do anything that could interfere with the highly sensitive neurology of a newborn.
The bottom line is fairly simple. This is one of those times in your life that belongs to somebody else, so do everything you can for the baby, and deal with the bodyfat later. A typical, healthy baby is a joy. But I’ll tell you a secret. The other ones are too. In any case, do everything you can to give it the best start possible. Best wishes, John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I just found the section on tweaking the BFL program on your website – -it made me feel immeasurably better! I wanted to do more cardio but was afraid to because I didn’t know how to go about it. I have one question–I have stuck to this program by the book–haven’t cheated once, carefully monitor my portion sizes, haven’t missed one workout and I reach my high points. What in the heck do all those people in the book DO to look like Meagan Brunner or Kelly Adair!?!
A I haven’t talked with Meagan Brunner, but she said in an interview that she and Jamie were very careful about portion sizes throughout their programs. Kelly Adair basically did more aerobic activity than 3×20. As I note on my page, she never did more than 20 minutes of the high-intensity intervals, but she typically did aerobics 4-6 times a week at some level. For instance, she often worked out in the morning, and added 10 minutes of moderate activity (or maybe just walking) to the end. Then later that day, she often went rollerblading with her daughter and husband. Her husband Rockett told me it was like a scene from the movie “Shane”, where he would be left behind calling “Shane! Come baaaack!”. I really do believe that if you tweak the aerobics carefully (using Phen-Free before those workouts if it’s appropriate for you), and maintain that daily intensity, you’ll see a significant change in how your body adapts. So you’re on the right track. Keep me posted! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John, Mine is not a question so much as it is clarification. You say level 9 & 10 shouldn’t leave you gasping for air. Especially the last 20 seconds of my “10” minute, I’m sucking wind harder that a Hoover. When I get off the Stairclimber not only am I toast but my legs are wobbly (even after level 5 for a minute). I thought that was the point – extreme exertion? BTW – Great site!
A Thanks for your note. The point of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) isn’t so much to cause extreme exertion. You want a well-focused effort to go above the lactate threshhold, so that you’re challenging your anaerobic systems. More simply, you’re trying to drive the body to deplete its glycogen stores. As one report puts it:
“Studies indicate that the high-intensity portion of the workout demands so much quick energy that the body does not have stored sugars and carbohydrates left over. This may stimulate the body to metabolize fat in what might be termed the “afterburn.”
The studies indicate that this afterburn can raise your metabolic rate for as much as 21 hours. So yes, you should be breathing hard, and your muscles should burn by the end of your 10. Wobbly legs are fine. But if you’re audibly gasping as if you’ve been held underwater, dizzy, or unable to maintain balance, you’ve gone beyond challenging your CP and lactate systems, and have crossed over into cardiovascular and pulmonary stress. If you’re healthy, it doesn’t do you any good, and it’s downright dangerous for people who are unhealthy or have undiagnosed heart problems.
So there are extremely good benefits in using the high intensity, and you should be working very hard during your high points. But no screeching, audible gasping. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John, My BMR is 1,396. How can I consume 6 meals a day on that low of calorie intake? I weigh 126 and have 14.5 percent of body fat. I want to get the body fat to 9 percent or so. I know I need more calories than that! What and how much should I consume? I run a lot, for fun instead of the short 20 min. workout. Thanks
A That’s your BMR. Some people get really mad at that calculation, and occasionally even write mean-spirited comments because of it. That’s unfortunate, because I’m just here to help. I’ve heard fat loss success stories from as little as 9 calories per lean pound of bodyweight to as much as 1.3 times BMR. For you, that’s an “acceptable” range between about 1100 and 1800 calories. There is no “perfect” number, but for fat loss, I’d shoot slightly below the middle of that range. At even a moderate level of activity, your body burns about 1.3 times your BMR, and in the BFL program (at good intensity, using the interval training and high points in your weight sets) you’ll burn closer to 1.5 times BMR. In other words, if you want to keep your weight the same on the BFL program, you can eat about 1.5 times your BMR. If you want maximum fat loss, target your intake somewhat closer to your BMR, “tweak” your aerobics based on the suggestions on my main page, keep your daily intensity on track, and maybe use Phen-Free. I wouldn’t drop the interval training. By the way, a small chicken breast, a small baked potato, and a salad with low-fat dressing would be about 230 calories. That’s just about the size you’re shooting for if you’re eating 6 times a day at your BMR. A Myoplex lite is 190 calories, so you can add a chunk of fruit or a splash of skim milk and be just fine. Again, though, the BMR is just a ballpark. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John! I’m doing the program as a vegetarian. Is there anything you would advise for keeping my protein up?
A It helps if you aren’t totally vegan, and can include foods derived from milk and eggs. If that’s not the case, then by necessity, the staple is probably soy protein, which you can have in tofu, Boca Burgers, and other texturized forms. So far as soy-protein isolates are concerned, my understanding is that they vary significantly in terms of amino-acid profile. In the March 2000 Muscle Media, Brett Hall R.D. notes that the best of these is Supro brand, from Protein Technologies (a division of Ralston). The Supro is very complete in that regard.
As far as beans, rice and lentils go, be sure to remember that they are higher in carbohydrate than in protein. For example, most beans have about 2-3g of carbohydrate per gram of protein, and rice is closer to 10g of carbohydrate per gram of protein. So in order to get 1 gram of protein per lean pound (which I would suggest on the BFL program), it’s almost essential to supplement with a soy protein isolate or other high protein source. If you’re targeting your protein intake to about 1 gram per lean pound (at least 30-40% of your calories), and your overall caloric intake is consistent with your fat-loss goals, the carbs will work themselves out, so you don’t have to be analyzing the whole diet gram for gram.
If milk and eggs are included in your diet, you’ve got a much wider range. On the whole-food side, there’s egg protein, which gives you a lot of variety itself, and casein protein (cottage cheese). Cottage cheese is digested slowly, and it has properties that help to reduce muscle breakdown (for example, high glutamine content). It’s a great choice for your last meal of the day. I’d definitely include it in your dietary mix, even though Zig Ziglar says “I have found it to be universally true that ‘aint nothin’ but fat folks eat the stuff”.
Whey protein is also derived from milk, and is the key protein source in Myoplex. It has an excellent amino-acid profile, with a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids that are integral to muscle growth. It also has immune-enhancing properties, so is good to include if you can. EAS derives the whey protein from micro-filtration and ion-exchange, which keeps it intact. Brett Hall, a vegetarian, suggests that you try to get a balanced variety in your protein supplements, and he shoots for an equal ratio of soy, whey and casein proteins, with egg whites (or egg-beaters) as an additional whole food source. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, I am doing well on my program. The problem both I and my husband have is lower back pain. When lifting, we use a weight belt to support our backs, but we have noticed that for our crunches we can’t use the belt. We both experience lower back pain during the abs exercises. My husbands pain is excruciating. His back bothers him for awhile afterwards. Mine is not so bad and stops hurting after I finish my crunches. Any ideas of exercises to strengthen the lower back?
A I’m glad you’re using weight belts. Not only do they protect the lower back, they also make you look more imposing. When I started wearing one, people would jump off the equipment whenever I seemed to be waiting, which was hilarious. A 6-inch width will help, but just make sure it’s relatively snug and not loose. As you get stronger, gradually reduce your use of the belt, since the belt slightly reduces your abdominal development.
If your husband has excruciating back pain, be absolutely sure he’s doing his leg exercises in proper form, which may be a hidden issue. If either of you repeatedly feel a shooting pain down or numbness in either of your legs, you may have sciatica, which is caused by disk pressure. Often it goes away with 3-4 weeks of rest and basic nonsteroidal treatment such as Advil. Also, do a “straight leg” check: lie down, extend one of the legs, and raise it up. If you feel a lot of pain doing that, it can also be a sign of disk pressure. Those are things you should check with your doctor about. As for reducing general back tightness and pain, I’m not convinced you want back exercises as much as stretches. Here are the ones I use.
Lie on the floor with your back on the ground. Pull your knees up, holding your legs in the pocket behind the knees, and pull your chest up toward the knees gently. This isn’t a crunch, but a stretch. Breathe deeply and relax. Repeat that, gradually trying to bring your knees in toward your chest. But don’t bounce or strain. Do it about 5-6 times.
Lie on the floor with your pelvis against the ground. Push up with your arms, still keeping your stomach on the ground, so you are gently bending your back toward the ceiling. Focus on relaxing the lower back. Hold – again, don’t bounce or strain – and then go back down. Repeat that a few times, going just a little more each time, but never straining the lower back.
Put a pillow on the floor, and rest your right knee on it. Put your left foot in front of you, so your left knee is bent at a right angle. Now, push your pelvis forward, so you start to feel a stretch in your right quadricep (the front of the right leg). Do that several times, focusing on the stretch, and the slight forward movement of the lower spine. Repeat that with the other leg.
Do those stretches before your crunches, and in the evening. If you stretch in the morning, be very very gentle, since the back tends to be tighter and the disks more hydrated at that time. Also, when you do your crunches, your lower back should never leave the ground. Rather, your rib cage should move in toward the pelvic bone, and your lower back should press into the ground, while the shoulders only move a few inches off the floor (more on that in the abdominals discussion on my Q&A page). Best wishes and good luck! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John…Wonderful site and VERY informative. There has been a question floating around our Yahoo club about Aerobic activity in the morning, on an empty stomach versus the afternoon. On line of thinking is that if you do enough activity to burn (example) 300 calories, then it doesn’t matter when you do it. I was hoping you could clarify this for me. I do my aerobic solution in the mornings, but I would like to post some viable information to the club. Any help would be great!
A OK. First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy is neither created nor destroyed, only converted from one form to another. Second Law of Thermodynamics: That conversion is never 100% efficient.
When you do aerobics at a relatively high level of blood glucose, your muscles are fueled directly by their existing glycogen, and by the glucose in the blood supply, which is fine. When you do the aerobics at a lower level of blood glucose (in the morning, or a few hours after your previous meal) the muscles have less of a supply to work with, so as your muscle glycogen gets depleted, two things happen. 1) your body has to replenish the glycogen by converting free fatty acids, which means that the enzymes responsible for “lipolysis” become more active. As Covert Bailey puts it, “you become a better butter burner”. And 2) the replenishment of that glycogen has taken a longer path. Food that you previously ate that was first converted to fat (never 100% efficient) then has to be converted back from fat to glycogen (never 100% efficient), and then burned as energy in the muscles (really inefficient, with 60-70% expended as heat). So by doing the aerobics on lower blood glucose (not too low or you’ll get dizzy) you condition your fat-burning enzymes and expend a little extra energy on the back-and-forth conversions. That, by the way, is also why you wait about an hour before eating carbohydrates in particular – you want the glycogen replenished indirectly, through lipolysis, rather than directly through intake. As I explain on my main page, there’s increasing evidence that leucine intake (no carbs) immediately after intense training can help muscle synthesis. So if you eat anything, go for a protein powder high in “branched chain amino acids”. Precision Protein (ion-exchanged whey) is a good choice. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi. I love your site. I just received my BFL book today and I’m excited about the program. Can you possibly tell me where you got the info on too much aerobics causing protein breakdown? I mentioned to the trainer at my gym (he has a master’s degree in exercise physiology) and he never heard of it. Of course, maybe he was asleep that day :-)! Thank you.
A One source is Wilmore & Costill, Physiology of Sport and Exercise (1999): “Attempts to perform large amounts of high intensity training can have negative effects on adaptation. The energy needs of high-intensity training place greater demands on the glycolytic system, rapidly depleting muscle glycogen. If such training is attempted too often, the muscles can become chronically depleted of energy reserves. When the training load is too intense or the volume of training exceeds the body’s ability to recover and adapt, the body experiences more catabolism (breakdown) than anabolism (buildup). We cannot overstress the importance of designing training programs to include both rest and variation in the training intensity and volume in an effort to avoid overtraining and chronic fatigue”.
That, in a nutshell, is why the high-intensity aerobics are limited to 20-minute sessions, 3 times a week, and the resistance training should not exceed an hour. As I note on my main page, there is some tweaking you can do on the aerobic side, but it’s only advice I would give to someone whose primary goal is fat loss).
A few other useful notes from Wilmore & Costill (a great physiology book):
“Numerous studies have shown no significant differences in improvement between athletes who train with typical training volumes and those who train with twice the volume (training conducted twice a day instead of once a day)”.
“For fat loss, resistance and endurance training is most effective. Resistance [weight] training promotes gains in fat-free mass, and both resistance and endurance [cardio] training promote loss of fat mass. As a final point, a balanced diet is, of course, essential. When severe (very-low-calorie) diets are followed, much of the weight loss that occurs is from water, not fat. Most severe diets limit carbohydrate intake, causing carbohydrate stores to be depleted. Water is lost along with the carbohydrates, exacerbating the problem of dehydration. Also the increased reliance on free fatty acids can lead to ketosis, which further increases water loss”.
So on the nutrition side, the balanced combination of protein and carbohydrate is essential. If your main goal is fat loss, you should skew your intake *slightly* toward more protein and less carbohydrate, and if your main goal is muscle gain, you should just skew your intake toward *more* of both. I’ve seen people doing really counterproductive modifications to this program. Except for the very minor tweaking I’ve noted, depending on whether the main goal is fat loss or muscle gain, I wouldn’t modify the BFL program much at all. It really is a well-structured program. Hope that helps! Best wishes, John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, I am a 50 year old female. 5’2″ I’m in week 9 of the program. My stats after 9 weeks are as follows:
Body fat: Start 32.7%, now 30.5%
Weight: Start 136, now 128
Muscle: Start 91.6, now 89
Fat: Start 44.4, now 39
I have lost approximately 9 inches. I am following the program to the letter with my eating and exercising. I don’t understand why I continue to lose muscle. What am I doing wrong? I was told to add an additional carb to my first two meals, which I have done for the last 1 1/2 weeks, but I’m still losing muscle. I have two Myoplex Lite Shakes a day, plus 4 whole food meals. I’m going by portions only. I believe I’m taking in about 1200-1400 calories/day. Is there anything else I can do to continue my fat loss but also increase my lean muscle? I’m still flabby and can’t really see any muscle definition at all. When will my legs start to firm up? I’m ready to give up but I’ve been told I could see major results in the last 4 weeks so I plan on sticking with it. I’ll be so disappointed if I don’t see better results at the end. I’ve worked so hard on the weight training only to continue to lose muscle. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Your articles are great.
A AAACK! If there’s one statistic that is least reliable in this whole thing, it’s the muscle change calculation. The reason is purely mathematical. Here’s what’s going on. The muscle change figure is the difference between two numbers, both which are small in comparison to total body weight:
Muscle change = Scale change – Fat weight change
For example, if you’ve lost 7 pounds on the scale and you’ve lost 9 pounds of fat, the muscle change would be -7 – (-9) = +2.
The problem is that anytime you take the difference between two small numbers, relatively minuscule estimation errors can lead to dramatic changes in the final calculation. To see this, go ahead and weigh yourself and calculate your lean weight change. Now go and eat a meal with 2 glasses of water. Now weigh yourself and calculate your lean weight change again. Your body fat reading didn’t change, so congratulations, you’ve just put on about 3-4 pounds of lean weight. I’m not trying to be cute here – I’m trying to demonstrate how sensitive and inaccurate the lean weight change calculation can be, and why you should take it with a grain of salt until the numbers are significant relative to your body weight.
And it’s not just scale weight that throws off the calculation. I don’t care how you measure body fat, the higher the level of bodyfat, the larger the range of error. Figure +/- 1.5% is common. To calculate your lean weight change you need 4 figures: starting bf%, ending bf%, starting weight and ending weight. You’ve got 4 separate calculations, all with small estimation errors. Do a calculation that requires all of them together, and the estimated change in your lean weight can be off, easily by 3-4% of body weight, and sometimes more.
Here’s my bet. At a lean weight of 90, 62 inches and 50 years of age, your estimated BMR works out to about 1160 calories a day. Figure your caloric use on the Body-for-LIFE program at about 1.5 times BMR, and you’re probably burning about 1750 calories a day. At a caloric intake averaging 1300 a day, you’re running a daily deficit of about 450 calories a day, which suggests to me that you’re losing just under a pound of fat a week. At 9 weeks in, a typical woman with your stats, following the program closely, would have lost about 9 pounds of fat and gained a few pounds of muscle. That suggests to me that you should have lost about 6-7 pounds on the scale, and you’ve actually lost 8, so maybe you’ve only gained a pound of muscle instead of 2-3, but I strongly doubt that you’ve actually lost muscle on this program.
Alright, now that we’ve done some damage control, let’s see what we can do to bump that muscle gain higher. I don’t think the extra carbs are doing you a favor. Skewing your intake toward more carbohydrate than the BFL program suggests will cause greater variation in your blood glucose and insulin levels, which will actually work against fat loss and muscle gain. But don’t go too far the other direction either. If your main goal is fat loss, with some muscle gain, you should eat balanced meals but biased *slightly* toward more protein than carbohydrate.
Now, on the training side, I’m going to stress this again. Muscle growth is triggered by hitting peak intensity with which the muscle is contracted. Make sure that in EVERY workout, you pick one set in each exercise that requires your muscles to overcome a resistance they have never overcome before. That may mean adding some extra weight to your set of 6, adding 2 extra reps to your normal set of 8, or adding a little weight and an extra rep to that last set of 12. But every workout, every exercise, pick one of those sets to go beyond what you’ve done before. If you do that consistently, then over a period of a couple of weeks you’ll be able to up the weight on the whole sequence: 12, 10, 8, 6, 12 and compound set of 12.
For the legs, you should add an exercise that works several groups simultaneously – preferably the leg press or squats. But be careful to learn proper form, don’t curl up your back, and don’t let your knees move past your toes. The legs will firm up partly from muscle tone, but also largely from fat loss, which is already underway.
I’ll tell you something right now though. If you let your short term results determine whether you stick with this program or not, you might as well sell everything you own, take the money to Vegas, lay it on the line and yell “Come on, seven!”. Because I can’t tell you whether you’ll see a dramatic change in the next 4 weeks or not. If you don’t, and you quit because of that, you’ll be losing as much as if you bet your life on 7 and the dice come up 9. You’ve got to make the decision to stick with this no matter what. My guess is that the program is working just fine and that your stats are getting in the way of recognizing that. If you study the research, you’ll find that this combination of cardio, resistance training and proper nutrition is hands-down the best program to increase fitness and reduce some really ugly health risks. So if this program isn’t working for you, you’ve just got to make it work. And again, my bet is that it’s working just fine. Give it time, watch your portions, have a goal for each workout and a set for each exercise where you go beyond, and you’re going to do just great. And I’m expecting an update from you about 4-8 weeks from now. Good luck! Best wishes, John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, Wanted to get your opinion on testing bodyfat. Purchased a Tanita bodyfat monitor with the dual mode (adult/athlete) and was wondering if you had an info on these. They suggest that you use the scale in the evening, having not exercised or had anything to eat or drink for about 2-3 hrs. My understanding was that you should weigh yourself first thing in the morning but according to Tanita your body is dehydrated at this time and will not give an accurate reading. Ex: Yesterday afternoon bodyfat was 24%; this morning bodyfat 30% using the athlete mode. There is about a 6% difference (higher) using the adult mode. Any suggestions?
A Yeah, the Tanita monitors can vary a lot, depending on whether you’ve exercised recently or not, how much fluid you’ve taken in, etc. I’m not thrilled with them. Evidently, if your resting heart rate is 60 and you’ve been exercising 5-10 hours a week, Tanita says the “athlete” mode is appropriate. But my inclination is to think that if you’re starting from a relatively sedentary level, the athletic mode lead you to estimate too low. The Tanita has the benefit of “objectivity”, but I’m actually not convinced that body fat is so precisely distributed that you can get a true reading of total body composition from the bioelectrical impedance of the thin layer of tissue at the bottom of your foot. In any event, the trend will be the important thing. I’d actually keep 2 readings – one using the Accu-Measure or Slim-Guide (my favorite) calipers and one using the Tanita. Never let those two meet, because you’ll get confused and frustrated. More discussion on calipers – and instructions on using them – further down on my Q&A page. The individual readings will vary by the day, sometimes by an amount enough to make you scream if you take them too seriously. So graph them on a chart, and just look for a discernable downward trend in the peak-to-peak (or trough-to-trough) readings that you get over a period of weeks – that will give you a much truer reading than the one you get on any particular day. Also remember to take your waist measurements, which may indicate loss of “visceral” fat in the abdomen, which isn’t always captured by other methods. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John – The problem I am having is not eating the 6 meals, but eating them without them running too close together. I’ll eat while I’m working and sometimes I get interrupted and my meal can take an hour to eat. Is that a problem? I was also wondering about snacking on veggies. Is it okay to snack at anytime of the day as long as its on celery, carrots, cucumbers etc. or are you supposed to be going without anything between meals?
A The point isn’t so much to choke down 6 meals, hell or high water, but to eat regularly. If you’ve waited 4 hours to have a meal, you don’t make up for lost time by having your next two meals an hour apart. As far as the meals go, the essence of “grazing” as Bill calls it, is to eat carefully limited portions of high quality foods, but frequently. See, when you eat a big meal, your blood sugar rises and that blood sugar gets invited into the cells. So a few hours later, you end up with low blood sugar instead. That causes your body to start scavenging protein. So it rips the nitrogen off of amino acids and says “Fine. Good enough”, and you start losing muscle (technically, you’ve induced a “negative nitrogen balance”, which is what a lot of restrictive diet programs do). It certainly won’t hurt your results by eating your meals in smaller portions and more frequently, so long as you’re not having long skips between them, and you’re keeping your overall intake on target. As for nibbling on veggies, go right ahead. Again, more frequent is fine, as long as you carefully limit the overall intake. It’s the big meals, and the long fasting between them, that causes the peaks and troughs in blood sugar so detrimental to protein synthesis. Hope that helps! Good luck – John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I am 5’6″ and weigh 193 lbs. Since beginning BFL I have gone from 41%BF to 30%BF. When the figures were broken down I ended up at 135lb lean and 58lbs fat. I am small boned. I am very proud of that muscle. At 57 years of age I never had any muscle before. However, I really think I need to lose the extra body fat and I don’t believe I need to gain more muscle. What modifications should I make to my program to reach my goal? I am diabetic, now controlled by diet and exercise most of the time. I have doctors approval for this program. My doctor is supportive but not knowledgeable about the program. He is just delighted that after 2 years of working hard with me to change my body things are finally happening again. Before that I would get someone to drive me to the Y and they would lower me into the pool with a sling. Now I can do the BFL program. So what do I do? How can I dump the fat without increasing the muscle? Thanks, this old lady appreciates your input.
A Here’s my take. First of all, it’s GREAT that you’ve been doing this program. I have another section in my Q&A page on diabetes & BFL too. Now, as far as the muscle gain is concerned, I think it’s still essential that you get part of your intensity from weight training, as it will accelerate the fat loss even if you think of it purely as an exercise (not to mention the metabolic requirements of the muscle). But since you don’t want to add significantly more mass, we want to shift your training toward higher repetition and lower weight, so you’re training your “aerobic” slow-twitch muscle fibers, rather than causing hypertrophy (excessive growth) in the “fast-twitch” ones. So when you weight train, I want you to change those sets of 8 and 6 into sets of 10 repetitions. And rather than focusing on maximal contraction and “burn”, I want you just to focus on breathing deeply and aerobically while you do those sets. That will emphasize the fat loss more than the fiber growth. Finally, remember that pound-for-pound, muscle is about 5 times more compact than fat, and rather than being a weight that your body has to carry around, muscle helps to support and strengthen your posture and bone density. So don’t be scared of muscle growth, but we can attenuate it by focusing on higher repetitions and lower weights. Hope that helps! Good luck – John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John, Thanks for the excellent information on your site. A question about heart rates: I’m 42, male, 5’10” 180 lbs. and spent 20 years in the Army. During any type of running, my heart rate has always been in the 170 – 185 range which all the books say is too highfor my age (even when I was 35). I’ve never experienced any discomfort with this other than breathing hard. When I retired, I bought a polar monitor which verified my pulse readings. When I run, I’m exercising way beyond the “70 % or 80 %” MHR which are the recommended zones. And I don’t have to sprint to get my rate up there. 9 or 10 minute miles do it. Do you see any problems with this? I also notice that I sweat a lot more than others. During PT runs, my gray tshirt is absolutely saturated with sweat; while others have a ring around the collar and under the arms. Any connections? I’m now a police officer and Swat team member so fitness ain’t just a wannabe; it’s a gottabe for me and my team members. I’m in week 4 and working it. Believe me we appreciate all your hard work on the research you’ve done. Thanks
A Boy, apart from the 20 years in the Army and slightly more Swat team experience, you sound just like me. Seriously, I think we have what Covert Bailey calls “Kawasaki” hearts, as opposed to the slower “Diesel” variety. My heart rate also goes beyond the tables and I get just soaked, so there may very well be a connection (probably heat dissipation), but I’d have to research it to get a firm answer. Because heart rates vary more than those heart monitors seem to assume, I prefer to gauge intensity by breathing and “comfort level” – my 6 and 7 are “conversational” – breathing deeply, but able to carry on a broken conversation. My 8 gets some extra “push” and “bounce” to it, and it takes me just out of my comfort level. A 9 gets me winded and produces a “burn” in my legs by the end of it, and a 10 is the highest level I can sustain for a full minute without gasping as if I’ve been held underwater (i.e. no undue cardiovascular or pulmonary stress). Those reference points let me gauge my intensity even if I’m running with a stopwatch. Now, since I’ve got some heart history in my family, I got an echocardiogram done before I started, but assuming you don’t have those concerns, I can tell you that those heart rate tables do seem to be “averages”, and that some of us fall outside that range, just like the tails of a bell curve. Hope that helps! Good luck, and may you always be safe out there. Take care – John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, We are currently doing Tae-Bo for our aerobics, but I’m worried that we won’t get the results we desire as quickly as we would with other methods. We do it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, eating about 1 hour after completion. The workout has varying levels of intensity ranging from a 4 to a 10 and are about 20-25 minutes long. Do you have any suggestions?
A Thanks for your note. I think Tae-Bo is a great workout – like Covert Bailey says, the best exercise is the one you’ll do, so if you enjoy it, keep it up. That said, I’d really like to see you doing at least one of your cardio workouts using the specific intensity pattern in Bill’s book. It’s effective to challenge your lactate system, but in order to know that a 9 is a 9, you have to have a clear idea that you’ll be doing it for 1 minute, and that when you’re doing a 10, it’s the highest level you can sustain for a full minute (without gasping, of course). I would think it’s harder to do that if you don’t know how long a given period of intensity will last. If you can manage to regulate that intensity so you are challenging yourself, feeling a burn near the end of your 9, getting “active recovery” after that 9, and having sufficient warmup and warmdown, then the Tae-Bo will be effective, but it just seems harder to get at all that if you’re not totally in control of the activity. Hope that helps! [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I work with a trainer about once a week for lower body workouts, ’cause they are SO hard and I just can’t push myself in the way he does. He is a very good friend of mine and has a killer body, so he obviously knows something about training. He is very excited about The Challenge and wants to help in any way he can. However, he has several opposing views from Bill’s. First, he does not want me to take a free day and he wants me to do cardio everyday. And since I am lifting so much heavier weight than before, I am only doing one muscle group a day.
I know that either way I will see improvements, as my eating will change drastically, but which way is faster? Are his ideas wrong or bad for me? I guess I just don’t understand how “less” cardio can be “more” improvement. And how important is the free day?
A OK, here’s the deal. Your friend is probably more buff than I am (but I’m catching up!), so he’s done something right. And he can definitely show you proper form, which is a great asset. As for following the program, I’ll just focus on what the research suggests and let you make up your own mind. First, even if you are targeting fat loss, I wouldn’t do intense aerobic activity every day – too much will cause protein breakdown at a time you’re trying to build new protein. The intensity intervals are going to generate a lot of metabolic changes and improve your lactate tolerance (byproducts of anaerobic exercise), which will both speed your fat loss and improve your lifting ability. As I note on my main page, my opinion is that you can add as much as 20 extra minutes at moderate intensity after your intense 20-minute session, and a longer-duration workout (no high points) on your free day. That’s 4 aerobic workouts a week already. But if you really want to do some aerobics every day, I’d just add a little 8-10 minute, moderate ride on an exercise bike (more like a ride around the park than a workout), which will keep you revved. And if you’re doing all that, PLEASE get enough sleep, and skip the extras if you don’t feel totally rested. The last thing you want to do is to overexert yourself, and then lose 3-4 days of intensity because you’re out with the flu.
In terms of muscle gain, you’ve just got to remember that muscle building is based on peak-intensity, not duration. It really is the one set you do at a weight you haven’t experienced before that triggers the adaptation. Now, if you want more size, you might go 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and then a compound set of 12 at a different exercise, and make sure that those very low rep sets are at high weight. Anthony Ellis finished each body part with just 1 or 2 reps. And Abb Ansley would finish his chest workout with a single eccentric rep. In any event, pick one of those sets in each workout to push to a higher weight than you’ve done before, and pretty soon you’ll be able to up the weight on the whole stack.
As I note on my page, weight training just isn’t an endurance sport, so you shouldn’t focus your whole workout on a single group. Just stress the muscle, and in at least one set, try to overcome a resistance that the muscle hasn’t experienced before. Then do your compound set, focus on the contraction, get a good burn, and move on to another body part. By focusing the whole workout on one group, you’re actually guaranteeing that you’ll never hit that brief overload that gets the job done, because your muscle glycogen will be tapped out far before the workout is over. For that reason, I’d definitely shoot for at least 3 body parts per workout, which is still a small number.
Finally, as far as the free day goes, I took two modest free meals a week (usually 2-3 slices of pizza, or a meal out with my family), and that seemed to work well for me. After a while, food just stopped being “recreation”. You certainly don’t have to overdo the free day, but done modestly, it does keep your body from sensing a fasting state, and so ironically it may help to keep your metabolism up.
The bottom line is that Bill’s program will work with zero modification, so I really don’t think it helps to tweak it too much. The changes I’ve mentioned are consistent with the physiology behind the program, but that’s about as far as I would stretch. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q John, I am 3 weeks into the program and I am concerned because I am eating two Myoplex deluxe meals a day, and I am on the size and strength program. Can you be on this program and be trying to lose fat too? I am at 232 lbs. age 35, height 78″. I calculated my lean mass at 172 lbs. and my BMR at 2051. So that put me somewhere in the neighborhood of 1720 – 3280 calories needed daily (minimum to maximum). I figured I needed to lose 1.5% body fat a week to get to 8%, but how many calories should I be eating daily?
A Gosh, I wish I was so tall. Thanks for your note. Figuring 1.5% bodyfat loss per week, you’re targeting something close to 3.5 pounds a week in fat loss, which is pretty aggressive, but feasible given your height. My guess is that you’ll lose some water weight as well, so you probably can get away with a bit less than that. But on the basis of 3.5 pounds a week targeted fat loss, even a high burn of 1.6 times your BMR is 3280, minus 3.5 x 500 = 1530 calories a day target intake. That’s below your BMR, and also below 10 calories per lean pound, so that few calories for a guy like you would create a risk of muscle loss. You’re better off tweaking the aerobics higher than cutting calories lower. When you’re targeting aggressive fat loss, you can still get muscle gains, but you don’t want to drop dramatically below BMR, because then your body will start scavenging protein to make up the difference. With a modest tweak to the aerobics, even 2000 calories a day should get you where you want to be. Let me know how things go. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John, Your website is fantastic! It is clearly a motivational tool for those of us who have tried many programs in the past but got discouraged to soon to continue. I’m finishing up my 4th week. My main concern is that about 1 1/2 hours after my evening meal, which usually consists of chicken or fish, potato or sweet potato, and veggies, I am having a Myoplex lite pudding. Will this interfere with what I want to achieve since there are carbs in the Myoplex? Thanks for your help,
A There are some people who say that carbohydrates are more fattening at night than at other times. That’s not true. The real issue is that carbs (particularly simple sugars) lead to an initial rise in blood sugar, that triggers the release of insulin, which knocks on the cell doors to let the blood sugar in. So high carbs lead to an initial rise in blood sugar, a rise in insulin, and then a plunge in blood sugar, so that you are a little hypoglycemic by morning. Since your brain cells can’t store sugar, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can give you the shakes. Low blood sugar may also lead your body to scavenge protein in order to create glycogen. So lots of carbs at night, particularly sugars, tend to work against muscle growth. That’s why extreme carbohydrate restriction such as the Atkins diet can also lead to muscle loss. My favorite late-night meal is low-fat cottage cheese (for protein) and an apple (for carbs). Both are metabolized slowly, so you get through the “fast” at night without triggering an insulin rush or compromising protein synthesis. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John. Thank you for such a great website. I am in the middle of week 10 and just had my body fat tested. I am a 5’10” female, 37 years old. When I started the program 10 weeks ago, I weighed 139 and tested 19.8% bf. Now I weight 131 and have 17.5% bf. Only half of what I lost was fat. I want to increase muscle size. I think I need to gain weight in order to gain muscle, but I don’t want to gain fat. While I feel like I am reaching my 10’s, I haven’t seen significant progress in the amounts of weight I can lift nor have I seen any great muscle growth. And I still seem to have a layer of fat covering my muscle definition (if it is there). I am eating about 1800-2000 calories a day, taking Phen-Free on cardio days, BetaGen 3 times a day, two Myoplex Lite shakes per day, and 1 tbs of flax seed oil per day. I hope you can help. Thanks!
A Nah, you don’t need to gain weight to gain muscle. My bet is that your starting bf reading was a little low. You haven’t lost 4 pounds of lean mass on this program. I doubt that you’ve actually lost muscle on this program. As I note in another section of this page, the muscle gain figure is easily the least accurate. Your BMR is a bit under 1400 calories a day. Your probable caloric burn on this program is just about 2100 calories calories a day. At 1800 calories of daily intake, that gives you a caloric deficit of about 300 calories a day, which would work out to roughly 0.6 pound of fat loss per week. My guess is that your daily deficit is actually closer to 400 calories a day, which would give you 0.8 pounds of fat loss a week, and 8 pounds of fat loss in 10 weeks, which is what I think has probably happened.
Very simply, if you want to lose more fat, you need to create a greater caloric deficit. Period. An aggressive fat loss target would shoot for 1100-1400 calories a day, which is reasonably within your BMR. Since you want significant muscle gains, I’d shoot closer to 1500-1600 total.
On the weight training side, try this. For every body part, you are doing 5 sets of a primary exercise, then 1 set of 12 as part of a compound set. Now, there’s no way that you’ll consistently be able to add even 5 pounds to every one of those sets without going to failure too early or introducing improper form. So here’s the key. In every workout, and for each body part, I want you to pick one of those sets (preferably the set of 8, or the set of 6), and either raise the weight or raise the number of repetitions beyond what you’ve done any time before. Just on that one set. For instance, in a given exercise, you might have done 30/12, 35/10, 40/8, 45/6, and 35/12 last time. This time, do something like 30/12, 35/10, 40/8, *50/6*, 35/12, or replace the (40/8, 45/6) with (*45/8*, 45/6), or the (40/8, 45/6) with (40/8, *45/8*). The point is that every workout reaches a little higher than you’ve ever reached before. There’s no better way to increase your strength than that. Also, if you’re really interested in growth, you can replace that last 35/12 with 2 short, high weight sets to really stress those fast twitch fibers, such as 50/4, 60/2, then immediately to that different compound exercise for 12, and make it burn. Follow it up with a meal about an hour after that weight workout. I really don’t like all of the major modifications people seem to be trying with the BFL program (some are really terribly counterproductive), but these small changes are consistent with the science behind the program.
The bottom line is that for the fat loss you need to create more of a caloric deficit, which means slightly smaller portions and modestly increased aerobics. For the weight training, you’ll only increase your strength and lifting capacity if you go at it incrementally, but in every workout. You really will reach your goal if you stick to those targets. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I have almost given up on finding an answer, this is the last time I plan to ask anyone so I am sure hoping you can help.
I gained 40 pounds about 4 years ago after stopping smoking and beginning estrogen treatment for an early menopause. My weight before the sudden gain was about 135, I am 5’8 and currently 49. Since gaining the weight I have tried everything to get it off. Nothing works. When I read about the Body for Life Program, something clicked, I knew it was the answer.
I have been following the program like it was a religion and had 100 percent faith in it. I have just begun week 10, I hate to say, I have not lost one pound or one inch. I am doing everything the book says, I have called the EAS people, I have discussed it on the Yahoo Body for Life Clubs, no one has an answer. Do you have any recommendations for me? Do you know of others with this problem? How can it be that there are not changes. I am very confused. I appreciate any help you can give me.
A First, let’s start with your confidence in this program. If you lose confidence, it will creep in to sabotage your results in all kinds of ways. It’s important to understand that this combination of aerobic and weight training is absolutely the best combination for you. It’s clear that you have some challenges, because in general, estrogen therapy does not prevent the gain in fat and the significant loss of lean body mass that takes place after menopause. That said, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Here’s why.
Consider the research: “An exercise program for menopausal women that includes both aerobic and resistance training may prevent or relieve problems such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, muscle weakness, osteoporosis, and depression.” (Journal of Ob. Gyn., 1990). “Low lean body mass can be improved by increased physical activity. The effects of an intervention program on body composition can be masked if only body weight or BMI is measured. The effects of physical activity were more profound in postmenopausal than in premenopausal women, and estrogen use had beneficial effects on body composition.” (Am Journ of Clinical Nutrition, 1999).
If this program isn’t working for you, we’ve got to make it work, because the combination of aerobic and weight training just can’t be beat. Now notice that statement: “The effects of an intervention program on body composition can be masked if only body weight or BMI (body mass index) is measured”. That means, quite simply, that you should get that damned scale out of your house as if it was a dead rodent. Look, you know how much you weigh. So now I want that scale in the trunk of your car for the next 4 weeks. I’m serious. Order the Accu-Measure or Slim-Guide caliper from www.bodytrends.com (both about $20), and go through the notes on my Q&A page on how to use it. That’s the only measure, besides your own feelings of well-being, that I want you to use. I’ve got both calipers. The Accu-Measure is easier to use and has better documentation, but it’s more susceptible to “pilot error”. The Slim-Guide is clunkier, but I get more consistent readings with it.
So now that we’ve established that you have to stay on this program (unless you just want things to deteriorate, which you don’t), and that quitting is not an option, let’s figure out why the results aren’t showing. I’ve seen more than a few notes similar to yours, so I can already tell you some good news. You are getting results, whether you can see them or not. As the research indicates, it’s just not so easy to measure the effects on your body composition from the scale, and if you’ve got a long way to go, the mirror won’t be friendly either. You’ll certainly see improvement, but until your fat percentage gets closer to 20%, the areas that always looked too fat will still look a little fat.
But let’s go on the assumption that the results are too slow in any case. There can only be one reason – you’re not creating a persistent caloric deficit. Either your caloric use is lower than normal, or that your caloric intake is higher than optimal. If we give both of those a nice kick in the pants, you’re going to get results. There just isn’t any way you can’t. But you’ve got to focus on the deficit, not just eating less, and not just exercising more.
First, aerobics. Let’s try a moderate tweak first. For the next 4 weeks, I want you do several things.
1) Add 10 minutes of extra, moderate aerobic activity after your 20-minute workout.
2) On your free day, do 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobics, with no high points.
3) Try to use two different aerobic exercises a week, such as treadmill one time and exercise bike another time. It’s best if you move your arms too, so grab a couple of light weights and get the whole body moving.
We’re going to leave your weight training alone. Just be sure that you actually can’t do an extra repetition after your final set of 12. If you can, you should be using a little more weight. Challenge yourself, but keep proper form and don’t strain.
Now the intake side. Again, I’m not asking for 12 weeks. Just 4.
1) Your BMR is about 1300 calories. On your regular days, I want you to average 1200-1400 calories total. That works out to up to about 220 calories per meal. A can of tuna in water is 110, a medium potato is about 100, and some lettuce with low-fat dressing makes up the difference. A Myoplex Lite with a splash of skim milk or a small chunk of banana is about 220. That’s a meal, and you should schedule 6 of those – one every 2 1/2 hours or so. Notice how a “meal” does not mean a big plate full of food. But you do get 6 of them.
2) Here’s where you’re going to throw something at me. No more than 1.7 times BMR on your free day. If you prefer, instead of a free day, you can plan 2 free meals during the week. Let’s define a free meal as something like this: Big Mac, fries and a milkshake, or 3 slices of pizza, a salad, and a slice of apple pie a-la-mode. Two of those a week. Doesn’t matter if you have them on the same day or different days, but only two between any Sunday – Saturday period. I can’t stress enough that those two, specific and still-limited meals are the only times you should deviate from a 225-230 calorie meal.
3) The only fatty acid I want you to take is CLA (about 20 calories in 2 capsules, two times a day). No 450 calorie doses of flaxseed oil. Not now, anyway.
And that’s it. Just for 4 weeks. Yes, the extra aerobics mean a bit less muscle growth, but the extra energy expenditure will be greater than the metabolic needs of that a little extra muscle anyway. The lower caloric intake is the other half. Look, if you’re not getting fat loss, then you’re not generating a caloric deficit. It’s that simple. Trying only to restrict calories or only to increase energy use won’t work. The single best way to get that deficit going is to push the expenditure up a little and the intake down a little. Moderate changes in both add up to a major change in the difference – the deficit – and that’s how you’ll jump-start your results.
I hope you’ll pop me a short e-mail and let me know how you’re doing. It was your idea to make me the last person you ask. I’m glad you did. Now that I’ve invested in you, I’m counting on you to see this through. Don’t give up! Best wishes, John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John! I have insulin dependent diabetes and am doing the Body for life program, gently at first. I’ve had my stress test and my doctor say’s it’s OK. Anyway, after I did my aerobics today, my blood sugar was off the charts! What’s going on? Do you have any advice for diabetics on the program? Thank you for all the information!
A Thanks for your note! First, I’m glad to hear you did the stress test, which is essential for diabetics over 35 who are thinking about this program. As usual, let me preface this by saying that I’m not a physician, but you knew that.
Here’s what’s going on. In typical individuals as well as diabetics, intense exercise causes a 7-fold increase in glucose production, and a smaller 4-fold increase in glucose utilization. For that reason, intense exercise creates hyperglycemia (very high blood sugar). Now, normally, the body also raises the insulin level in the blood, so glucose levels return to resting levels about an hour after the workout. Because of the inability of insulin-dependent diabetics to generate this increase in insulin, the higher blood glucose can last for several hours. And we’re talking numbers at 400 and up, compared to the normal 70-120 range. For that reason, it’s important to monitor blood glucose during intense exercise programs, and the insulin dose and carbohydrate intake should be carefully adjusted based on the blood glucose response to the various workouts. My guess is that you’ll reduce the glucose spike by doing your workout in the mid-afternoon, before a meal and before your insulin typically peaks. Trying to counter a bigger spike with insulin, after the fact, may leave you hypoglycemic a few hours later. It will probably also be much trickier to get it right if you work out first thing in the morning. While the morning workouts are helpful for typical individuals, they aren’t crucial.
In general, as long as proper precautions are taken to prevent hypoglycemia, diabetics can get the same benefits as nondiabetics. The program, and particularly the intense weight training, should not be done by diabetics who have proliferative retinopathy (which creates the risk of vision loss), hypertension, cardiovascular problems, ketoacidosis, or uncontrolled diabetes. It’s important to know of any potentially harmful diabetic complications. You checked with your doctor, which was absolutely the right thing to do.
OK, now the good stuff. With those precautions in mind, the research indicates that increasing physical activity is safe and does not result in an increase in hypoglycemic episodes. Best of all, the Body-for-LIFE program, combining both aerobic and strength training, could be considered the best overall exercise regimen for diabetics, according to the research. Just be sure to ease gradually into it, so you can get a better prediction of your body’s response to the increased level of physical activity.
This from the journal of Diabetes Education (19:4, 307-12): “Resistance training may provide physiologic benefits to the individual with diabetes that, in some cases, may equal or exceed those gained through aerobic training. These benefits may include improved blood lipid profiles, increased absolute left ventricular wall contractility, decreased resting blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, improved glycemic control, improved muscular strength and endurance, and increased bone and connective tissue strength. By utilizing a combination of aerobic and resistance training, the individual with diabetes experiences a more comprehensive exercise program that can improve most areas of health and physical fitness.”
Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John – I bought the AccuMeasure fat calipers and the instructions say to only measure the suprailiac. I want to get the most accurate measure and I know that there are other places to check but don’t know what they are or the equation for final body fat. Can you help at all?
A Thanks for your note. Typical sites are the back of the upper arm (over the tricep, taking the fold vertically as if you were pinching the tricep), the front of the upper arm (over the bicep, vertically ), the subscapular (the back slightly below the shoulder blade, taking the fold at a 45 degree angle, along the line from the opposite shoulder to the nearest elbow), and the suprailiac (the side of the waist, just above the point of the hipbone) In order to do the sites other than the suprailiac, you have to have someone else taking the measurements. You then take the sum of the measurements at all four locations, There are entire tables for the multiple measurements, which have hundreds of entries.
You really don’t want to know what I think is “fun”. Just for fun, I statistically reduced the standard Durnin & Womersly data into the best functional forms I could estimate. I got a 99% fit for both the men’s and women’s data, so my formulas will be pretty accurate within a fraction of 1%. ln( ) refers to the natural logarithm, which is one of the functions on any good calculator. “Sum” is the sum of the 4 readings: tricep, bicep, back and waist (which will range anywhere from 18 to 200 mm).
Women: Fat % = 11.91 x ln(Sum) + 0.0442 x ln(Sum) x Age – 23.54
Men: Fat % = 10.32 x ln(Sum) + 0.0657 x ln(Sum) x Age – 27.03
For readings from the suprailiac only, the best functional form turns out to be quadratic. Using M as your suprailiac reading in millimeters, my estimated formulas (extremely accurate, thank you) are:
Women: Fat % = 1.223 M – 0.0134 Msquared + 0.124 Age + 6.07
Men: Fat % = 1.378 M – 0.0174 Msquared + 0.213 Age – 5.84
Yeah, that’s a plus 6.07 for women and minus 5.84 for men. Hey, you asked. I just run the numbers…
Remember, when I say “accurate” I’m talking about how close my formulas come to those tables with hundreds of numbers. As for getting an accurate read from your calipers using just the suprailiac, go through these directions step by step.
With your right hand, pinch the skin on the knucle of your left middle finger. Really. Look at it carefully – that’s a skinfold. just 2 layers of skin over each other.
Alright, now turn your left hand over, and pinch the lower third of your middle finger (the fleshy part at the bottom). That’s *not* a skinfold – there’s too much tension in the skin to get a true layer-over-layer fold, so you’re catching all sorts of tissue in-between.
Now go to your waist, in a straight line up from your right leg and above the tip of your hipbone, and grab as much as you can of that love-handle with your whole left hand. That’s *not* a skinfold either – you’re catching a lot of tissue in between, and you don’t have a true layer-over-layer fold.
Finally, take left thumb, and either your forefinger or the first 2 fingers, and pinch that love handle again. Now pull it outward away from your body, and wiggle it between your fingers for a second. Still holding that fold firmly, take the jaws of your caliper and set them about a half-inch from your fingers, and close the calipers. Hold the calipers alongside your waist like you’re reaching for your 6-gun, rather than at a 90 degree angle to your body. You now have a skin fold between the calipers, and even if you try that 3 or 4 times, you should still get roughly the same reading. You’ll get a slightly different reading if you do the left side of your body rather than the right, but the difference should be pretty consistent. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi, John!! Thank you for such an interesting web-site. I have been on the Body for Life Challenge for 5 months now. I’ve gone from 23% body fat down to 17% (last time tested was over a month ago). Anyway, I was just wondering if you could shed some insight to me on Flaxseed Oil? I’ve been hearing alot of people talk about it and wanted to know what you think. They say it doesn’t have calories, despite what the label says. Besides losing more body fat, I have Crohn’s Disease and have heard that Omega 3 helps to keep the symptoms maintained and Flaxseed has Omega 3 in it (?). Is this something I should be taking or is it just a waste of money?
A Thanks for your note. Yeah, Eskimos seem to have lower incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, thought to be linked to omega-3 consumption. The studies between that and Crohn’s disease are a little bit controversial, but there’s no evidence I’ve seen of any negative effect.
This from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. My notes are in brackets [ ]: “n-3 fatty acids have antiinflammatory, antithrombotic, antiarrhythmic, hypolipidemic [fat loss], and vasodilatory properties [i.e. generally good for blood circulation]. These beneficial effects of n-3 fatty acids have been shown in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and, in some patients with renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most of the studies were carried out with fish oils [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)]. However, alpha-linolenic acid, found in green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, rapeseed, and walnuts, desaturates and elongates in the human body to EPA and DHA and by itself may have beneficial effects in health and in the control of chronic diseases.”
So essential fatty acids can be useful, especially if you have Crohns disease, but they do have calories. You can certainly use them, but don’t cut your regular caloric intake far below BMR so you can add the extra oils. If you take them, take them as an add-on.
I’ve seen the claims that EFAs have zero calories too, but here’s my information. First, it’s true that long-chain saturated fatty acids are not well absorbed by the body. So the caloric content actually absorbed is less than the standard 9 calories/gram measured by burning fat. EFAs are considered long-chain, but they are by definition polyunsaturated, so their absorption is higher. But even when you look at fat substitutes such as caprenin (a cocoa-butter substitute high in behenic acid, a long-chain saturated fat), you’re looking at a nutritive content of about 5 Kcal/g. Ditto for a number of others. Olestra is close to zero, but only because the long-chain saturated fat is chemically bound to a sucrose molecule, which makes it impossible to be transported by the gut (the process is called “esterification”, so olestra is quite literally a polyester. How scary is that?). A 1999 article in the Journal “Lipids” also reports a caloric content of 5.36 Kcal/g for a mixture of long- and medium-chain triglycerides chosen specifically to reduce gut absorption. The absorption of flaxseed, sunflower, sesame and medium chain triglycerides is better. That’s what’s in Udo’s Oil, for example.
So it’s one thing to say, correctly, that 9 calories/gram overestimates the “true” caloric content of EFA supplements. But I would guess 5-8 is a closer shot at the truth. There’s just no independent clinical evidence I’ve seen that the caloric content is zero, and certainly none that EFAs are thermogenic (that their intake actually causes a caloric deficit). About the only things that do that are celery and cayenne pepper.
For fat loss, the main factors I’d target are careful portion control, an aerobic tweak, and daily intensity with strong high points. The bottom line is that the main things that will determine your success aren’t in a bottle, but both HMB and omega-3’s can be effective supplements. Depends on your budget. If these are a stretch for you, I don’t consider them essential. But they aren’t what I’d consider a waste of money either. Hope that helps! John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi – My husband and I are at the beginning of week 11 and while we have not seen the dramatic results that the book shows we have seen results and truthfully have reached the goals that we set in the beginning. But since we haven’t seen the dramatic results my husband is wanting to change the routine up and go for the burn out on the individual exercise and I don’t think that it’s best for us to do that. We tried yesterday and it felt very strange, and I couldn’t even finish it. We are going to continue with the program, and know that sometimes it does take a few times in the contest to get those results. Do you have any advice on how to change up the routine so that we are keeping our muscles guessing without leaving the structure of Bill’s plan? Any help that you can give us would be greatly appreciated.
A Thanks for your note. First, it’s important to understand that the pictures in the book look like that mainly because bodyfat has dropped below 10% for the men and below about 16% for the women (women shouldn’t shoot for less than 12%). Those last few pounds have a real effect on muscle definition.
Regarding the training, it depends on what you mean by “going for the burn”. It is absolutely counterproductive to do the entire aerobic workout at an extreme level of intensity, because you make it anaerobic. Think about that carefully. If you are constantly trying to burn more energy than your body can actually accomodate using oxygen, your body switches to anaerobic glycolysis (burning sugar without oxygen) and that creates lactic acid buildup. That’s what you feel as a “burn” in the muscles. The problem is that if you do that for more than about 2-3 minutes at a time, the acidity really builds up in the muscle, and the cells have an awfully hard time producing meaningful amounts of energy. I’m betting that that’s why you “felt very strange, and couldn’t even finish it”. Now, you do want to go for the “burn” so to speak, modestly on your 9 and more fully on your 10, but ONLY on your 9 and your 10. We’re talking 2 minutes of burn, tops.
On the weight training side, it’s ESSENTIAL that you “go for the burn” on your maximum weight of 6 reps, and on the compound set of 12+12. As I note on my page, your muscles grow, not from many, many sets at moderate effort, but from the one set where they have to overcome a resistance (in proper form) beyond what they have become accustomed to. Those earlier sets of 12, 10 and 8 are also critical. The first set of 12 is a warmup and stretch, so you don’t injure yourself (take that risk seriously if you decide to scrap it). The 10 and the 8 also “prime” your muscles and neuromuscular coordination for those very high intensity sets.
The bottom line is this. If you want to look like the pictures, it’s more important to limit your portions as I note on my page, and continue with the daily intensity, because that will force your bodyfat percentage down to produce definition. The intervals of high intensity are also critical, because they provide the stimulus to adapt, and keep your metabolism revved up. But there’s no evidence that inducing a constant lactate accumulation (i.e. a persistent “burn”) will do anything but generate hyperacidity in the muscles, protein loss, and an inability to produce meaningful amounts of energy. The daily intensity is what you are going for, and if you’re really honest about hitting strong 9’s and 10’s, where you really reach into yourself and produce good intensity, there’s no need to try to overload the whole workout.
Finally, if you want to increase “muscle confusion”, make sure to vary the speed of the repetitions and occasionally shorten the time between sets. Also, be sure to change your set of exercises every 4 weeks (even, as I say, as little as changing from flat dumbbell presses to incline dumbbell presses). If you haven’t used barbell exercises yet, your muscles are in for a nice surprise too. Also, make sure you do some “reverse” positions for the upper body exercises. For example, bicep curls with palms facing down (which build up your brachialis muscles underneath the bicep), and tricep cable “pushdowns” where you hold the bar with palms up, straighten the arms, and contract the triceps hard. Grab a book that pictures some of these and explains proper form. There are a lot of exercises you can use to keep those little fibers on their toes. Gosh, that’s a lot… I hope it helps! Best wishes, John [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi! Thanks so much for your article. I really enjoyed reading the scientific reasons why BFL works. I do have a question. My lean weight is 133 lbs. – I rechecked my diet and I seem to intake about 1,500 calories a day with 156.5 g of protein, 155.5 g of carbs, and 34g of total fat, with 12g being saturated fat. I’m not sure what I could leave out except my one glass of OJ and one glass of milk a day. Any suggestions? I find with my current calorie intake at 1,500 if I don’t eat every few hours I feel very lightheaded and jittery. So I am afraid to go fewer. Any input you have would be really great.
A Remember that for women, your caloric needs are a little less dependent on your lean weight, and there’s no need to ride the absolute minimum base metabolic rate. You should be able to achieve your goals with 1500, but don’t go way below BMR in any case. You can kick your fat loss higher by tweaking the aerobics up modestly as I note on my main page, but I wouldn’t go for any major restriction in calories. From your comments, it sounds like you’ve got a touch of hypoglycemia. One thing you should do is lean your intake slightly more toward protein and a little bit less toward carbohydrate. If your interest is fat loss, that dietary composition will help. Another thing which will help significantly is to make sure your carbohydrates are “complex” rather than “simple”. Simple carbohydrates are detached from fiber and are converted to glucose very quickly (measured by “glycemic index” which runs from 0-100). High glycemic examples are white bread (69), white rice (72) and corn flakes (80). They’re metabolized very fast, push your insulin levels up, cause blood sugar to rush into your cells, and then leave you with low blood sugar well before your next meal. That’s why you get the jitters. Even wheat bread (72) is usually just white bread with a little fiber added. The Myoplex Lite bars have less protein and more simple carbohydrate than the shakes, so they can leave you hungry sooner if you’re hypoglycemic. The Myoplex Lite shakes, however, are excellent. For your whole food meals, it may help to choose more complex carbohydrates that are much more closely bound to fiber, such as oatmeal (54), whole brown rice (66), wheat spaghetti (42), and apples (39). You mentioned orange juice – I’d rather see you eat an actual orange (40) instead – again, because the carbs are more closely bound to fiber. You can also add casein protein such as cottage cheese, which also metabolizes slower. By the way, as your last meal of the night, cottage cheese and an apple is the hands down winner, in my view – both are metabolized slowly so there’s less of a “fast”. Try those suggestions first, and if your jitters seem to go down, you can level the calories off a bit. Otherwise, remember that even if your caloric intake is stable, the extra intensity will create a caloric deficit and will help you to lose weight. So it’s important to get that daily intensity, regardless of what you decide with the nutrition. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q I found your website very helpful. I am 25 and weigh 168 with 12.1% bodyfat. I’m in my 1st week of the Challenge. I want to get down below 8% bodyfat, but primarily I need to put on some mass. I’ve been doing Bill’s workouts where you do all of the upper body muscles on one day, and then all of the lower body muscles on another day. I was thinking about doing Bill’s workouts for the first 3 weeks to lose bodyfat. Then I was thinking about gearing my workouts more for putting on size (i.e., using heavier weights, less reps, and doing chest and shoulders one day, back and biceps one day, and legs and triceps one day (instead of ALL of the upper body muscles on the same day). Do you think this is O.K.?
A I wouldn’t completely drop the aerobic conditioning after the first 3 weeks, since it is crucial in improving your overall fitness level and metabolic efficiency, but if you want to concentrate on muscle gains, you can certainly emphasize weight training. For pure mass, you can concentrate a little more on higher weight, lower rep sets to stress the fast-twitch fibers, but don’t completely abandon your slow-twitch guys. Be sure to include “compound” exercises such as squats and barbell presses, which force a lot of recruitment and stabilization in the muscles surrounding the ones you are trying to work. But be extremely careful about your form, and use a spotter. As for the schedule, I think you’ll probably get better results if you don’t mix upper and lower body parts in the same weight training session. The reason is, for example, that working your triceps naturally recruits some amount of shoulder and bicep strength, and therefore reduces the extent of full recovery. I’d rather see you doing weight workouts 4 days a week, 2 upper body (but concentrating on different parts) and 2 lower body. So upper, lower, different upper, different lower, making sure to hit every body part at least once and possibly twice a week. That will allow better recovery. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Thanks so much for your website. I am a 43 year old woman. I have lost 70 lbs over the past three years by changing my life to healthy habits. This includes 4-5 days of 30-60 minute cardio sessions a week and 2-3 days of strength training. I want to lose the bodyfat that I have been hanging on to for a year now. I seem to have reached a plateau I can’t break out of. I am pretty sure the Body-for-LIFE way of eating is going to do the trick.
I have 2 questions. I am a little hesitant about the shorter cardio workouts. Everything I read by fitness and body building women professionals seems to say that for women to reduce body fat we must include long 45-60 minute cardio sessions 2 or 3 times a week. I think I could get real used to cutting back on my cardio times, but it makes me nervous to change as I’m terrified I could pack on bodyfat again. Do women really have long term success with such short cardio workouts?
Question #2….I love using a heart-rate monitor for my workouts. It lets me know exactly where I’ve been. Is there a breakdown anywhere of what your heart rates should be during Bill’s cardio workouts?
A From the notes I’ve received, 3×20 works great for some people, and just isn’t enough for others. It is crucial to hit the 9’s and 10’s for that shorter cardio to be effective. It’s exactly that high intensity that keeps your metabolic rate high long after you finish exercising. Doing much more than 20 minutes of the intense cardio, every other day, will get in the way of your muscle gains. If you need significant fat loss, I would at least tweak the aerobics by adding additional minutes of moderate intensity, as noted on my main page, until you get to your goal. But more than that and the EAS police are going to come knocking.
As for heart rate, because individuals vary greatly as far as heart size and capacity, it’s probably best to gauge your intensity by breathing intake. At a level 6 or 7, you should be able to carry on a broken conversation, but not long sentences. At an 8, you’ll have more breaks but still able to converse. At a 9, you should be somewhat winded by the end, not gasping, but breathing deeply and rhythmically. And of course, a 10 is the highest effort that you can sustain for a full minute, still without gasping, but definitely challenging yourself. It’s that constant challenge that will keep you from plateauing. If you instead do the same workout week after week, year after year, your body gets very efficient at it, and the pressure to adapt is gone. It’s best to vary your cardio workouts between 2 different exercises (say, stationary bike one day, and treadmill on alternate workouts). Again, the variety and intensity is what gets you fit. Ditto for your strength workouts. If you’re doing the same exercises you did 5 weeks ago, or haven’t added any weight in 3 or 4 weeks, it’s time to change the exercises or add more weights. You have to push your body to adapt, and that’s how you’ll break out of your plateau. Hope that helps. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John! I have fibromyalgia and am also on anti-depressants. I am wondering if the Body for LIFE program will be helpful, or whether all this work will be in vain. Any ideas? Thanks!
A Here’s some info on fibromyalgia which may help. The research I’ve seen tends to prefer a two-pronged approach to management, including both physical activity and stress-reduction techniques, either through relaxation therapy or other means. Anti-depressants are one of those “other means”. If you find them helpful, stick with them. You might be able to gradually reduce your dose as your physical condition improves, but check with your doctor.
Physically, individuals with fibromyalgia seem to have a 20% or so reduction in strength at the major joints such as knees and elbows, and the weight training will help there. They also tend to have a lower lactate threshhold, so unless you train that, you’ll tend to operate at a less-than-maximal level of effort. The interval training aspect of the aerobic exercise is exactly how you train that to improve. There’s also some evidence that the muscles have a reduction in high energy phosphates (CP, if you’ve read my web page), so supplementation with creatine, maybe through BetaGen, may be helpful, but that’s a guess on my part. The bottom line is that the exercise will be a little more of a challenge for you, but the fact that it’s more challenging is an argument that you should do it, to train yourself, rather than avoiding it and getting increasingly less fit.
A few other notes from some of the research I’ve read, mainly from Rheumatology journal articles on fibromyalgia:
“Normal muscle metabolism during exercise and no muscle damage after physical activity are reported from recent studies. Since pain may be exacerbated by physical activity, many patients become physically inactive, with possible development of reduced physical fitness.”
“In the long run, fibromyalgia patients who exercise report less symptoms than sedentary patients do. Thus, exercise should be aimed at preventing physical inactivity and improving the patients’ physical fitness.”
“Among a variety of self-directed treatment approaches, aerobic activity was the overall most effective treatment, despite being subject to the most sceptical patient attitude prior to the study.”
“Fibromyalgia patients can undertake an exercise program which includes aerobic, flexibility, and strength training exercises without adverse effects.”
Hope that helps! Please pop me a note after several weeks just to let me know how you’re doing. Best wishes, John
Follow up: “I wanted to say thank you for giving me information on the Betagen and the creatine. I have been taking the Betagen and have successfully stayed off all my pain meds so far !!!! I am feeling better and stronger every day !! I have a lot less pain in my muscles since I started. Here I go into my 5 th week on BFL … I have lost 8 pounds and I am fitting into a size smaller !! Pain and drug free and looking forward to going the rest of my life with strength instead of a quiting attitude … Thank you again!”.
Man, it’s great to get notes like that. John
Q Hello, I loved your article. It really helped me understand how the body functions and why this program really works. I would like to know if there has been anyone on this program with hypothyroidism that has had success, or if you think people with hypothyroidism could have success on this program.
A Several people have written to me about hypothyroidism. The thyroid is responsible for regulating BMR (your base metabolic rate), and is underactive in 5% to as many as 10% of overweight individuals. Hypothyroidism can reduce BMR by about 30%, but mercifully, the body responds to the lower energy demand by reducing appetite accordingly. So although it’s commonly believed that the condition is responsible for weight gain, the clinical research suggests that the most common symptom is just 5-10 pounds of fluid retention, particularly evident in facial puffiness. That said, when hypothyroidism is undiagnosed and untreated, it can be difficult to lose fat, because the body resists the attempt to create a caloric deficit. Again, it’s an issue only in a small proportion of people on this program, but here are some of the symptoms, not all of which necessarily appear. Almost everyone has some of these, but in hypothyroidism, they tend to appear together as a “syndrome”: facial puffiness in cheeks or under eyes (not just pudgy, but a sort of swelling), oversensitivity to cold (need to wear sweaters more than others, etc), dry flaky skin, brittle nails, constipation, thin or coarse hair, fatigue, drowsiness, lack of interest in daily activities, brain “fog”, poor memory, ringing in ears, enlarged tongue, depressed libido, gravelly voice due to thickening of vocal cords, and apnea (for instance, feeling as if you need to yawn in order to get a full breath).
Fortunately, hypothyroidism is easily treated, and since you have been diagnosed, I’m assuming you’re also taking your prescription, which will normalize your BMR. The physicians I’ve discussed this with indicated that when treated, hypothyroidism should not interfere with your success in the program. In fact, a number of people have written me, saying that after being properly diagnosed and treated for hypothyroidism, their progress soared. Here are the main medical issues to look out for, as I understand them. First, you should be sure that you are fine in terms of cardiovascular health – in some extreme cases of hypothyroidism, the heart may become enlarged, and then you need to get advice from a doctor on whether the exercise is OK. Second, after you start the program, you may experience a modest increase in symptoms – that’s probably due to an increase in metabolic wastes in the system, which the thyroid is partially responsible for scavenging. So you want to drink plenty of water and make sure your synthroid dose is appropriate. If you are extremely fatigued, it may be on the safe side to make sure your heart checks out.
The bottom line: if your cardiovascular system is fine, your heart is not enlarged, you are taking your synthroid and your TSH is between 1 and 3 (no more than 4) you can exercise like normal on the BFL program and expect to see good results. Again, I’m not a medical doctor, but that’s the general information I’ve gathered. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Thank you so much for your article and website. You clearly put alot of energy and effort into getting the information out to all of us. It is very much appreciated! For last 20 years I have done weight training and cardio work. In the last year and a half I have been training vigorously in my cardio work, working out 5-6 days for a minimum of 1 hour (weekends longer). I did include interval training. I feel good, but my body does not have that chiseled, defined look. My question is regarding the cardio. I love to take part in endurance cycling of 65+ miles. In addition, I am a snow and water skier, so I generally do that one day per week.
My thoughts were to do something like this:
Monday – weight training
Tuesday – 1 hour spin class incorporating intervals
Wednesday – weight training (as specified in the program)
Thursday – 30 minutes stationary cycling using intervals
Friday – weight training
Saturday – skiing
Sunday – 1 1/2 – 4 1//2 hours of cycling at 60% heartrate to build endurance.
What do you think?
A That’s a lot of cardio. The real issue, though, is that you’re combining long duration with high intensity, and that’s going to compromise recovery. Long, hard aerobic workouts the day after weight training will also reduce the ability of the muscles to repair the stress they’ve endured. For that reason, those workouts will tend to get in the way of significant muscle gains. That may be why you haven’t got a “chiseled” look despite all of the workouts – the underlying muscles of endurance athletes sometimes become emaciated, particularly in the upper body. I’m most concerned about that endurance ride because it’s going to raise your cortisol levels sky high. If possible, try to have the endurance ride after a no-workout free day, and 2 days after your upper body workout. Follow it up with a meal featuring both protein and high-glycemic carbohydrates. Your legs will get enough work even with 1 weight session a week, but you want to avoid emaciating your upper body due to all of the endurance aerobics. In other words, maximize the recovery period after that upper body workout. This is an area where a little extra recovery goes a long way. The research suggests you’ll probably actually build muscle strength and endurance by allowing yourself more recovery at some point in the week. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi John! I was wondering if I should be doing extra on my abdominals? Doing the sit ups that Bill recomends just doesn’t seem enough. I thought that maybe doing more sit ups on some of the aerobic days or even on my day off might help more. Please tell me what you think. Thanks!
A Abdominals and calves don’t have huge metabolic needs, and since they don’t flex major joints, it’s harder to create as much stress as with other muscle groups. So training these two groups more often, as much as daily, is fine. One thing you really want to concentrate on is CONTRACTING the abdominals. The January 2000 issue of Muscle Media has a good article by Shawn Phillips on this. The object of a “sit up” isn’t to sit up. Rather, you want to begin the motion by contracting your abdominals, while pushing your back flat on the floor. Try to pull your rib cage in toward your pelvis. That contraction will force your shoulders to rise up off the floor, but the shoulders and head should slightly follow, not lead the movement. When your shoulders have been pulled about 4 inches off the floor, contract your abs hard, then lower yourself vertebra by vertebra onto the floor. Shawn Phillips advises to lie down on the floor, put your feet up on the bench, a few inches apart, toes pointed into a little “steeple”, knees at a 90 degree angle and pointing to the ceiling, and spread slightly apart. That will focus the contraction on your abs and prevent other muscles from being recruited.
Since you can’t really change the weight your abs are using (unless you’re doing cable crunches), it’s that contraction that makes the sets work. I usually do 2 sets of 12 with feet up on the bench, 2 sets of 12 with knees bent, contracting the abs so both my feet and my shoulders were pulled off the floor, while still pushing my back into the floor, and 2 sets of 12 on an incline board with my feet under the pads, staying in a vertical position and contracting the side abdominals to pull my right elbow in toward my left knee and vice versa. It’s possible to do the movements with no real contraction and no results, or you can focus on contracting those abs and obliques enough to have them screaming after 12 reps. More contraction is better than more repetitions. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Hi. I just started the program and am feeling very weak in the legs. I have done a lot of swimming over the years, but am just starting to train with weights. I’ve read the instructions in the Body-for-LIFE book for doing the leg exercises, but I could use a little more guidance. Any suggestions?
A I expect that having been a swimmer, your arm muscles are better developed than your legs. Clearly, it will be important to put some stress on those muscles. Though the leg muscles, and particularly the hamstrings, do respond well to heavier weights, it’s also a good way to strain your lower back if you let your pelvis rise too much on the lying hamstring curl. Similarly, on the leg extension, excessively heavy weights can put stress on the knee, particularly if it’s untrained. So rather than piling on too much weight, make sure to really CONTRACT the muscles and go SLOW. By the time you reach the 8th or 9th rep in your last 12, and in your compound set (the two combined being your “high point”), you should feel a real burn. It’s at that point you want to make absolutely sure that your form is good – abs tight, lower back straight, etc (since that’s also the point you don’t want to hurt yourself by straining a muscle). On the last 2 reps, the burn usually gets so bad for me that I have to switch to “Lamaze” type breathing : hee-hoo hee-hoo (since the kids were born by C-section, at least somebody got some benefit from those classes…).
It may also help to vary the “pointing” of your toes. Pointing your toes out places the stress on a different part of your muscles than pronating your toes up toward your knees. You’ll generally put more stress on the hamstrings by pointing the toes out. And since the hamstrings are actually stronger on the eccentric move than the concentric, you can even add a little extra weight, do the concentric rep with toes in and then extend the toes on the eccentric part. Go slow on both the concentric and eccentric, and really contract those muscles at the top of the move. Remember to eat as recommended, and go a little easy on the aerobics session the day following your leg days, so you don’t get in the way of muscle gains. Hope that helps! [Back to Q&A Index]
Q Thank you for such an informative article! I have been on the program for four weeks and have gone from 35% to 30% bodyfat! I had despaired of ever losing the weight I put on with my fifth baby but I am very pleased with the results. I was especially intrigued by what you said about fat “coming off in sheets”. Can you give me more information about this?
A Your fifth baby? I’m amazed you even have the time to do the 20-minute workouts. Congrats on your results. On the subject of fat coming off in “sheets”, there’s nothing particularly complex about it – it’s simply that the body does not preferentially reduce fat in the vicinity of the muscles being worked. For instance, TV commercials love to tell you that if you use this or that ab-cruncher, you’ll reduce abdominal fat. The truth, however, is that you’ll strengthen the abdominal muscles and burn a little intramuscular fat there, but any overall fat loss is taken uniformly from all over your body. When your body needs energy from lipolysis (fat burning), it sends out a general signal to mobilize fatty acids into the bloodstream. That signal doesn’t target any particular area, it just says “I need to burn fat”, and takes it from anywhere it can. That’s why you can’t “spot reduce”. Again, you’ll strengthen particular muscles by exercising them, but the fat comes off uniformly. [Back to Q&A Index]
Q First of all, I think your site is amazing. I am following the program and have really stuck to it. I am almost at the end of my 2nd week and I have actually gained a pound. I am a 29 year old female. 5’4 and 136lbs. My body fat is 22%. I am a personal trainer and I understand logically all the things you have said. But to actually gain a pound? It is very frustrating. I am trying to lose 10lbs of body fat. I know that is very realistic because I have just put on this 10lbs. in the last year and a half. Can you give me any words of encouragement? I would really love this program to work. I love the way it makes me feel and I think Bill Phillips and all of the support like this website are wonderful.
A Yes, I’ve heard from more than a few people who have actually gained (scale) weight their first few weeks. Your body is probably not at all used to the strength training and the change in metabolic wastes, and is hoarding fluid. But your body is great at adapting to changes, and will adapt to this too. As I mentioned on my page, the creatine in the Betagen also tends to hydrate the muscle cells (that’s good, but it sure doesn’t make the scale friendly at first). One thing you can do is to buy a pair of calipers. Accu-Measure calipers (better documented but more sensitive to user error) or Slim-Guide (clunkier, but more consistent and the one I prefer) cost about $20. You can get either at www.bodytrends.com, and that will help to track the fat percentage. But even the caliper readings have estimation error, so the readings aren’t of much use until the change is significant as a percentage of total body weight. In any case, I certainly wouldn’t put too much emphasis on two week results, because a lot of fluid volume changes happen then. From this point on, you should get a better read, but the scale is probably the worst way to measure progress. As long as you are hitting the right intensities, carefully limiting your portions, and feeling generally warm and a little sore all day, the program IS working, whether you can see it right away or not. Stay with it, and let me know how you’re doing when you finish your 7th week. [Back to Q&A Index]