In my past posts I've talked about carb cycling for fat loss. I've had great success with carb manipulation, even for gaining lean muscle while keeping my body fat levels quite low. That being said, I haven't done any major carb manipulation so far this summer, and I'm getting good results. Even better, I'm feeling more focused, with more energy and concentration -- in short, I feel like a normal, sane person.
Sadly, this is not how I feel when I drop my carbs. I become irritable. I feel lethargic. And I don't have much of an attention span. All of this is bad, since my work requires my mind's full capacity and alertness.
There's always going to be some sacrifice and compromise while dieting. But I don't think mental concentration has to go out the window. If you're like me, and your job is very cerebral, then I would not recommend low-carb dieting or cycling of any sort.
This is what I've been doing the past few months. I focus on total calories and let the macros fall where they fall. For example, I'm currently aiming for 2350 calories Monday to Saturday -- then I have an all-out cheat day on Sunday. I'm not counting protein, carbs, or fats, but I normally consume around 100 grams of fat, 140 grams of protein, and 200 grams of carbs. Staying at 200 grams of carbs seems to be the magic number of optimum brain functioning. The high fat also helps keep my body anabolic.
So, if you're suffering from a low-carb diet, try focusing more on total calories and find a carb intake that keeps you and your brain happy.
The cardio you do.
Whether it be running, cycling, swimming, elliptical, jumping jacks, complexes with an olympic barbell, skip rope ...
So, the "best" cardio is relative to you, and it ultimately comes down to what you enjoy doing the most. Since you need to do cardio consistently to get the best fat loss results, there's no point in doing something you hate --- because the more you hate it, the more you will make excuses not to do it.
My preference is running outside. Why? Am I a masochist? Maybe, but that's beside the point. For me, running is meditative. I go for nice quiet streets or trails. I find it relaxing, and I always feel energized afterwards. Best of all, I don't have to do it at the gym.
I can anticipate your next question. How should you do cardio? Low-intensity? high intensity? intervals? ... I don't think it matters. I've tried everything, and I can't say which style or method of cardio is better. Which brings me back to my main thesis: *** Do what you enjoy. ***
What's more important is that you do what you enjoy regularly. By regularly, I mean 5 times a week, or more. If you're new to cardio, start at twice a week and build up from there.
Another question: When should you do cardio? Before weights? after? eight hours apart? twelve hours? ... You can probably guess my answer. When you want to. As long as you're actually doing cardio, I don't think it matters when you do it. So just figure out what time you like best. For me, I like training weights in the morning or early afternoon, and then jogging outside early evening.
I'm out of questions. If you have any more, feel free to ask.
I can see people are eager for more details...
Here it is: --- The Ascent Ab Diet Formula: ---
Out of your *total* caloric intake for the day, your carb intake will be:
High-Carb Day: 60%
Medium-Carb Day: 40%
Low-Carb Day: 20%
Daily caloric goal: *1500 cal*
High-Carb Day: 900 cal = 225 g
Medium-Carb Day: 600 cal = 150 g
Low-Carb Day: 300 cal = 75 g
Mon-Wed: High-Carb Day: 900 cal = 225 g
Thurs: Medium-Carb Day: 600 cal = 150 g
Fri-Sun: Low-Carb Day: 300 cal = 75 g
As for calculating all of this, I like to use Fitday.com, a free online calorie log. At first it's a bit time consuming, but once you have your data base it's just a matter of a few clicks and you have your daily macro totals. Another method is just to write it down on a pad of paper, and find out the calories from what you eat. Either way, you will have to get into the habit of measuring your foods. I've never weighed my foods, so I don't think that's necessary.
Try starting the cycle at the your maintenance level. Then go down 100 calories every week or so. Once you are 200 calories below your maintenance level, start to incorporate a weekly "refeed" at your maintenance level. For example, if your maintenance level is 2500, and you've dieted down to 2300, incorporate a re-feed at 2500, once a week.
Here are some tips for using the Ascent Ab Diet (I just made that up):
Don't worry about protein and fat macros. They will shift from day to day. What you need to focus on (and count, obsessively) are your carb macros and your total daily calories.
If your daily caloric intake for maintenance is 2500, for example, you will want to start dieting at 2400, and slowly reduce your intake until you get the results you want (the lowest I go is 1800, but only for a week or so).
The carb cycle I recommend is simple. You will have different "carb days". A high-carb day will be 300 grams, a medium day 200 grams, and a low day 100 grams. I recommend three high, three low, and one medium. But find out what works for you. If you are carb sensitive, you may need four low carbs days, or two medium carb days. If you aren't carb sensitive, you might only need one low carb day.
Here's a tip: Plan your low carb days when it's easiest to go low carbs. For me, that's the weekend, because I can stay at home cooking meat all day long. For other people, it will be during the week. Find out what works for you.
That's it. Now you just need to commit to it!
During the summer season, I will cycle my carbs throughout the week. A sample week looks like this:
Monday: high carb (300 grams)
Tuesday: high carb (300 grams)
Wednesday: medium carb (200 grams)
Thursday: low carb (100 grams)
Friday: low carb (100 grams)
Saturday: low carb (100 grams)
Sunday: high carb (300 grams)
Iâ€™ll shift my protein and fat ratios accordingly, but generally I like to include a lot of healthy fat sources in my diet (youâ€™ll see me eating lots of natural peanut butter, almonds, whole eggs, and extra lean beef). When Iâ€™m dieting I also like to eat lots of salad greens and steamed veggies with my meals (broccoli is my favorite). I also make a point of drinking lots of water, at least 1.5 gallons per day.
To make dieting easier, I alternate between meals based on whole-foods and meal-replacement powders. Hereâ€™s a sample â€˜medium carb dayâ€™:
-- 7:30AM: 1 scoop whey-powder, 1 apple
-- 10:30AM (after workout): 1 scoop whey-powder, 1 scoop casein powder, 1/3 cup organic quick oats, 1 tsp. cinnamon (all mixed together in a bowl with some water)
-- 12:30PM: 1 scoop whey-powder, 1 scoop casein powder, 1/3 cup organic quick oats, 1 tsp. cinnamon (all mixed in a bowl w/ water)
-- 3:00PM: 1 cup chicken breast cutlets on a whole-wheat pita
-- 5:30PM: 1 can tuna mixed in salad greens
-- 8:00PM: omelette (4 whole omega eggs, with 1 tsp olive oil added to the pan), salad greens
-- 10:30PM (before bed): 1 scoop whey powder, 1 scoop casein powder, 1/3 cup organic quick oats, 1 tsp. cinnamon (all mixed in a bowl w/ water)
** Total calories: 2168 **
Fat: 59.6 grams
Carbs: 174 grams
Protein: 259.4 grams
Dietary fiber: 26.3 grams
The year-round basics include: Muscle Milk (any kind of chocolate flavor), Purple Wraath, Wild Salmon Fish-oil.
Sometimes I use Super Pump, All-Max Glutamine and Creatine, Green-Mag, GABA.
I get asked this question a lot. And I'm always embarrassed, because my answer is the same each time.
--- I don't have one. In fact, I rarely do any ab work. ---
What?! Yes, it's true. I train my abs when I want to -- sometimes that means once a month, other times every day.
I'm also embarrassed by the fact that my ab workout is so simple, so utterly devoid of anything fancy. I usually do one set of lying leg raises, between 50 and 100 reps. --- Just one set. --- On rare occasions I might do some crazy hanging side twists, or something like that. I can't remember the last time I did crunches.
I believe that direct ab work is the most overrated thing in bodybuilding. That being said, my preference is for higher reps, and I like exercises that focus on the leg raise (any variation will do, but my favorite is the lying leg raise -- because you're lying down, so you can do it in your bedroom or living room, and take a nap afterwards if you wish).
Suppose for the sake of argument that someone really discovered the best workout routine. Say it was backed up by years of scientific research and first-hand experience. It guarantees the best possible results — for everyone. But there’s one catch: It’s as boring as hell.
Perhaps this is what every workout routine shares in common: a total disregard for human psychology. We need to be excited about a program, and as soon as the excitement runs out, our motivation comes to a dead halt. We abandon the program. Maybe we stop working our all-together.
My point is that no matter how effective a workout routine is, if it bores you, it’s useless. I would even go so far as to say that a less effective but highly exciting routine is better than a highly effective but boring routine. The reason is simple. You will remain committed to working out more consistently when you are excited about working out. You will then in time get the results you’re after.
But let’s entertain another possibility. Maybe all workout routines are self-undermining because of this fact: they’re routines. And any routine — no matter how varied it starts off — will become boring. And as soon as boredom sets in, motivation drops. You stop looking forward to going to the gym, or you put less energy and focus in your training. As a result, you don’t make the gains or goals you’re after. It’s a vicious cycle.
Which brings me to my main point. Stop using a workout routine. Don’t stop training, of course. Just stop training along the same set of principles and rules that every program locks you into. Change up your workout frequency, your reps, your sets, your exercises. Or cycle through different routines. Experiment.
But wait a minute. You might be thinking, What if the constant change approach turns into a new program?! What if you become locked into the so-called ‘change principle’? Can we avoid that? Can we avoid the boredom that will inevitably set in from having to always experiment and change things up?
Here’s my solution. If all you’ve been doing is changing your routine, try staying consistent with one program. If you’re always experimenting, then not experimenting will be the new thing for you.
"How do I get a six pack?"
It appears the experts change their opinion on this one every decade. In the 80s articles on getting a six pack were all about ab exercises. Then in the 90s the articles became about diet and weight loss. I think we're still in the 90s now, which is a good thing. Why? Because diet is 90% responsible for revealing your abs (the other 10% is the cardio or fat-burning activities you do). Of course, if you lack ab development, the revelation won't be very impressive. You could diet away the fat and reveal a flat stomach. Which is the goal for most women. But men -- and this is my main audience -- want more than that. They want a defined and sculpted mid-section.
The obvious solution, then, is to do both. Work your abs (for ab development) and then diet to reveal all the hard work.
But now we're faced with a new question. "What is the best ab exercise?"
My answer is simple: weight lifting.
Not crunches, leg lifts, upside down twists, or scissor monkey split kicks. Just plain old weights. With barbells and dumbbells and such things. Any exercise (like squats, deadlifts, rows, etc) that requires you to stabilize your core will, in time, develop your core. But, again, all the core and ab development in the world will not make a difference unless you diet, diet, and diet some more.
So lift weights to develop your six pack. Diet to reveal it.
At my high-school gym there was a picture of Lee Haney doing barbell curls. Underneath was written: "No pain, no gain." That sums up how bodybuilders worked out back in the 70s and 80s. That's old-school, right?
We know better now. Spend less time in the gym. Rest more, sleep more, eat more. This is how you make gains.
And yet, if you push yourself, you're going to get sore, really sore. (I'm talking about muscle soreness, not injury). Yes, you have to sleep enough and eat properly. But sometimes the soreness doesn't go away. Who's to say you're going to slow down your progress if you head back to the gym anyway?
As I write this I'm sore all over. But I'm planning on working out tonight. In fact, I've been sore all week, but I kept working out. One voice in my head told me to stop, rest, take it easy. But I'm making progress. It's visible. I can see it.
Maybe there's some truth in the old-school approach after all. Pain doesn't lead to gains. But to make gains you have to feel some pain. Okay, maybe you have to feel a lot of pain. But the point is: pain is part of the process.
Who do you think has the best aesthetic physique of all time? Of course, Frank Zane enters everyone's mind whenever this question is asked, so to make this interesting, I want to hear some names other than Zane.
My vote: Francis Benfatto in the late 80s/early 90s. This guy's physique has unbeatable symmetry, detail, and mass to create an overall aesthetic appeal.
What's your vote?
Last year I joined my first real gym -- or rather "fitness club." I've never needed one as I always had access to the gyms of the various universities I attended. So I had no idea that getting a gym membership was like passing a serious of psychological tests. I realize that fitness clubs today rely heavily on psychological warfare to get you to sign an outrageously expensive contract and, of course, to keep you at their club for the rest of your life. I found all of this entertaining because the so-called 'fitness tests' and 'analyses' they give are obviously meant for people who've never worked out seriously before. The ultimate aim of such tests is to make you feel incredibly bad about your body, your level of health, and your eating habits. At the same time they are supposed to show you a gleaming pathway beyond all of this misery: namely, their gym and all of its amazing facilities. The more 'problems' they can identify, the more 'solutions' they can offer you -- all with a price tag.
I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with one particularly funny scenario. After a series of questions the girl finally gets me to do a 'fat' analysis by having an 'electric current' run through my body to detect body fat percentage. It said I have 15% body fat. (I swear the thing is meant to give you a higher rating, just so you break down and ask for their help). I told her I was surprised that it came up so high and she asked me if I was 'happy' about it. I said I didn't care about the percentage. "As long as I can see an eight-pack in the mirror I'm happy."
What are "glory muscles"?
First thing's first. What's up with dudes who only work chest and arms? I was talking with this guy at the gym (after I had just finished a heavy squat workout), and he said he started doing leg workouts but then realized he was getting off track. "I just want the 'glory muscles'," he said, "chest and arms." I couldn't believe what I heard. It sounded as if he'd made a New Year's resolution: "I'm not going to develop my entire body. I'm just going to work those 'glory muscles'." My question is: Why? Who are you fooling when you only have chest and arm development? I think everyone responds visually to a proportioned physique. Even if you only workout to be more physically attractive, you still have to work toward a balanced look.
So the answer to my question "What are 'glory muscles'?" is: "Every muscle -- when it is developed in proportion with all other muscles."
So what does it mean to be a "natural" bodybuilder?
You might think this is a simple question with a simple answer: "You're natural if you don't take illegal performance enhancing substances, like anabolic steroids." So far so good. Problems arise when we put too much emphasis on "illegal" in this definition. I've heard lots of people say you're natural insofar as your supplements are approved by state or federal laws. But the problem I have with this definition is that it turns "natural" bodybuilding into something like "legal" bodybuilding.
Imagine for the sake of argument that the federal laws of your country permitted the use of anabolic steroids. On this definition, whatever is legal is good to go. So you can happily stick that needle in your ass and call yourself a natural bodybuilder. "No!" I hear you cry out. "That's wrong." And I agree. Even if it were suddenly legal to take anabolic steroids, I would say taking them would put you outside the "natural" category.
But now we're back right where we started. What is it that makes you a natural bodybuilder? What is it about illegal performance enhancing substances that makes them "unnatural"? You might think that they became illegal for a good reason, which is probably true: you could point out the negative side effects of steroids, the possibility of addiction, etc. But what if (again, for the sake of argument) someone created an anabolic compound with no negative psychological or physiological side effects? Would taking it still make you a "natural" bodybuilder? "No!" I hear you say, "it wouldn't." And I agree.
At the very least, you have to admit defining "natural" is not easy.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before. Some guy in the gym proudly saying he’s “all natural” because he doesn’t use supplements, like whey power or creatine. This is clearly a misuse of the term. “Natural” bodybuilding refers to “drug-free” bodybuilding, and supplements like whey powder and creatine are obviously not drugs. But why do we hear people talking like this? Why do people insist they are “natural” when they’re not taking supplements? I’m not sure it even makes sense, but I could be wrong. Do they mean they don’t take any synthetic products? So they would then be opposed to supplementing with vitamin C? If so, they would not be allowed to eat any food products that contained preservatives or other synthetic ingredients. But then what makes the non-synthetic foods they eat natural? Is it natural to cook your foods? Some cultures don’t think so, and animals (who are in a “state of nature” don’t cook their food. So they would have to go on a "raw food" diet... You get my point. It’s absurd and it doesn’t really make sense to call “supplements” like whey and creatine “non natural.”
Taking my scheduled week off the gym (following basic MAX-OT principles). I do this every 8-10 weeks. It's really a mental break: I come back to the gym with more energy and intensity. And it also prevents over-training and the injuries that come with it.