The week that was, in internet land – Volume 11

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How. – John Bohannon
And this is why you don’t trust the media about nutrition stuff.

Vegetarian top athlete gets rhabdomyolysis – Ergo-Log
Moral of the story: don’t be vegetarian.

Starting off right – Paul Carter
Advice for new lifters.

What supplements should you take – Bryan Krahn
More awesome from Bryan Krahn.

Why you need strength training to lose fat for good – Phil Heather
Weights good.

Overstressed and overeating – John Berardi
Oh hello, article written about me. And probably lots of you too.

The week that was, in internet land – Volume 10

The hard road of betterment – Paul Carter
A wise man knows he knows nothing.

How eating better can make you happier –
Yup. Eat less crap and you will feel less like crap. Amazing.

The science behind caffeine –
Apparently less is more. Guess I should take this IV out then.

Is uncertainty in complex disease epidemiology resolvable? – Wasim Maziak
Remember what we said about science being hard?

Why Fitspiration Is Killing Your Motivation – Lawrence Judd
We like this a lot, even if Lawrence totally spells his name wrong. Focus on the process, not the goal. We’re not saying it’s easy, but it’s pretty much the only way to make sure you actually make it to your goals.

You won’t believe how hard this is! Do you make this mistake?

One day you will read in the news that eating eggs has been linked with cancer and you shouldn’t eat them. Then six months later you will hear that they are a better cure for what ails you than unicorn tears – which makes most people think that scientists have absolutely no idea what they are doing. Is salt worse than cyanide? Or is it a miracle cure? JUST TELL US THE TRUTH!

Well, science is hard. Like, really hard. Designing a study, controlling as many of the variables as you can think of, and ensuring the compliance of the study subjects is hard enough when you are dealing with rats. When you add humans into the mix it gets so hard that I’m surprised that anyone even bothers.

Also, what is even harder than regular science, is statistics. A lot of the studies that are quoted in the media, and even the ones that are published in prestigious journals like Nature and Science, can have glaring statistical errors, omissions, or things that don’t make sense. Many results that are “statistically significant” are in all practical terms, pretty much a waste of time. Conversely, many effects that don’t reach statistical significance might actually be of use. But all of this is really hard to know, even if you have been trained in statistics and study design. If you want to learn more of this kind of thing, Alan Aragon’s Research Review is a really good resource. Also, Statistics Done Wrong is a really good layman’s resource.

What generally happens is a study gets published, some intern getting paid exactly nothing and with the scientific knowledge of pond scum reads the abstract or a press release and says “hey, there’s a story here!” The journalist then reads the summary of the abstract, and writes an article on it. This is how “in elderly untrained subjects (n=17), increasing protein intake above deficiency levels via ingestion of whole eggs increases protein synthesis” turns into “SCIENCE SAYS: EAT EGGS AND PUT ON 10LB OF MUSCLE TODAY!”

Or someone took the data from a huge long term study of like 60,000 people over 20 years, and found out that red meat consumption is correlated with a statistically significant increase of heart disease risk. Well, it also turns out that per capita cheese consumption is almost perfectly correlated (r=0.9471) with the number of people who die by becoming tangled in their bedsheets1. If you dump enough different variables into a big bucket of data, some correlations are going to drop out the bottom. Doesn’t mean that they actually matter.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it means that you can probably trust that anything you read about nutrition or exercise in the mainstream media is complete crap. At best. If you do the exact opposite of what they tell you to, you probably won’t be in any trouble at all.

If someone is telling you that you need to do anything other than eat a diet consisting of mostly whole foods most of the time, and try to not sit on your ass all day, they are selling you something. Just watch what commercials after that segment to see what it is.


Yellow Coconut Curry Squash Soup

Having trouble losing weight? Turn your meals into things you can’t possibly overeat.

Believe it or not, I was also a Chef back in the day. However, I managed to both escape the industry and kill those memories with various substances so it doesn’t come up much. But here’s what I just finished making for dinners for the rest of the week.

Yellow Coconut Curry Squash Soup
– 2 whole spaghetti squash, seeded and pre-roasted
– 800g chopped or shredded or pulled cooked chicken
– 160ml tin coconut milk
– 1 cup skim milk
– about 400g (1/2 bag) of frozen cut green beans
– Madras yellow curry powder (or other curry powder you have) to taste (I started with about 2 tbsp, then added a lot more because I love curry)
– salt/pepper to taste
– water to thin so you don’t scorch it

Put all of the stuff in the pot except for the green beans and chicken. Add water to desired thickness. Season and bring to a boil. Blend with an immersion blender (stick blender) or an actual blender. Don’t burn yourself.

Add green beans and chicken, bring back to a boil.

Try to eat 1/4 of the batch like you’re supposed to because you are dumb and planned out your macros that way.

Total time in the kitchen, start to finish, including all prep: under an hour. The bulk of that was stirring the soup so it didn’t burn.

Fat: 57
Carbs: 179
Fibre: 27
Protein: 185
Cals: 1912

Designing the exercise portion of your plan

There are more ways to train than you can possibly imagine. Thankfully, there are some fundamentals that underlie all of them, which makes things a lot easier.

I can make it really simple for you: you should probably not do Crossfit, and you should lift weights instead of doing cardio if you only have time for one.

Now, I don’t have any personal reason to dislike Crossfit, but for the vast majority of people it seems to give much higher likelihood of getting injured in a minor or major way. There a few reasons for this, namely:

  • Crossfit is based around explosive lifts (clean and jerk, snatch, thrusters, etc), done to something approaching failure. Going to failure on a lift that gets you to lift a loaded barbell over your head is in most people’s mind Not a Good Thing.
  • Training to close to failure in general is somewhat inherently dangerous. When you are fatigued you make mistakes, and the Crossfit mentality is essentially “go till you puke.”
  • Some Crossfit trainers don’t spend a lot of time focusing on adequate training in those lifts, which increases your risk of injury. Some do, but do you know which ones to pick, or how to properly assess this?

There is nothing wrong with Crossfit when it is properly instructed and controlled, but it doesn’t take much to get “Certified” and open your own box. So just be aware.

You should lift weights before doing cardio, both in a timing and priority sense, unless of course you are a pure endurance athlete and feel like looking like one of those kids on the unicef commercials. Cardio is a time sink more than anything else – yes it burns calories fairly effectively, but if you are not pairing it with resistance training, you will probably lost a bunch of muscle with the fat you are trying to torch off.

Some people recommend High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for fat loss, which is somewhat reasonable, but not something I personally recommend. First, it’s ridiculously fatiguing if you do it right, and this only really possible to do about two times per week. World class athletes don’t do it more than a couple of times per week, even when they’re on drugs, and you think you can recover better than them? Didn’t think so. Working out at this intensity isn’t really necessary, ever. If you enjoy it, go to town – but there are much less fatiguing options out there. Like basically every other thing you can do that gets your heart rate up. I personally prefer hitting the bike and holding my heart rate around 160-170 bpm. This is pretty much the sweet spot for maintainable calorie burn that can be done basically every day.

So, weights. They’re good, don’t be scared of them. And just to go completely against the current grain of things, I think machines are just fine too, especially because it’s a lot harder to hurt yourself if/when you fail. You can push a lot harder on a machine and be safe, especially if you are like me and have no friends to spot you.

How should you lift your weights though? How often, and how heavy? This part depends a lot on your goals.

If you are just looking to maintain your muscle mass while losing fat, the basic principle is to maintain the intensity (weight on the bar) while cutting down the volume you are doing (so it’s less fatiguing and requires less repair). Keep doing what you are doing on the same schedule, just do less on any given day.

If you are brand new to training and trying to lose weight, you could probably do reasonably well just squatting and benching a couple of times per week, which would train both your upper and lower body. This would also leave you lots of time to do cardio if you so desire.

For everyone else, the basic principles look something like this:

If you are training for pure strength, you should spend the majority of your time in the 3-5 rep range. True 1RM max efforts are just too fatiguing to do too often. Something like Starting Strength or Bill Starr’s 5X5 routine isn’t a terrible place to start – I cut my teeth on SS, and made some pretty impressive strength gains in a fairly short amount of time.

If you are training for hypertrophy (bigger muscles), the rep range is essentially everything above the strength range of 3-5, so 6-15 (Anything higher than that will still have hypertrophic effects but will have more of a muscular endurance focus.) This is all wildly over-simplified, and there is a lot of overlap, but this is a reasonable approximation for the vast majority of people.

This is traditional bodybuilding type training and there are many, many reasonable variations on this theme that work quite well. Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine, Bryan Haycock’s Hypertrophy Specific Training or HST, and Dante Trudeau’s DoggCrapp are all time-tested options in this area.

There are basically as many ways to structure a bulking routine as there are days in the year. Many people default to a body-part (bro) split. Upper/Lower, Push/Pull, and 4 or 5 or 6 day splits are the most common overall structures. Basically, do a lot more volume than the pure strength guys, with a lower average weight on the bar. I’m currently doing a upper/lower four day split.

How many days you train is up to you, with most strength routines falling in the threeish days per week area, and bro splits generally being more frequent at up to six days per week. Because hypertrophy training is generally less fatiguing overall than strength training, it can be done more frequently. When you hear guys talk about being “completely fried” they are probably powerlifters and have just pushed too hard too long and basically bonked. Fatigue is not just physical but mental as well.

In beginners, volume is the primary driver of hypertrophy, while the biggest driver of strength is neuromuscular adaptations. This means you need to do more for hypertrophy, and you need to give your brain time to figure out what you want it to do for strength.

We’ve talked about goals before. Go set some. But make sure that enjoying your every day workouts is part of the plan, or you’ll crash and burn sooner rather than later.