Is Cardio the best way to lose weight? Does eating smaller, more frequent meals speed up your metabolism? Is eating before bed bad for you? Unfortunately we are awash with many half-truths, myths and fallacies in the world of exercise and nutrition. It is important to cut through the noise and ensure people are receiving good quality information. Here is part 1 of a set of questions I received from clients and gym members and my responses to them. I hope you find them helpful. Part II will follow soon.
Question: Is eating in a calorie deficit a hindrance to building muscle? A: Yes. It is much easier to build muscle when there is an abundance of calories (according to Lyle McDonald you need approx. 2,700 calories to build 1lb of muscle tissue). So eating in a slight calorie surplus will provide a better environment for muscle growth. However, that isn't to say you can't build muscle in a calorie deficit - you definitely can. All that is required to build muscle is an adequate amount of protein, an adequate amount of energy, and the stimulus to build. So a well constructed training program will provide the stimulus. The optimal environment for building muscle is one where there is an abundance of circulating amino acids (protein) to use to build tissue. However, protein is not just used to build bigger muscles. Protein is used for growth of other tissues in the body, such as skin, hair, nails and organs for example. If the body doesn't have enough protein, then it won’t preferentially build muscle tissue over the repair process for other more essential bodily functions. So, if looking to maximise muscle growth, having an abundance of energy and protein is essential, conditions made much easier in a calorie surplus. The decision about whether you should be in acalorie surplus or deficit comes largely down to current body fat percentage. For guys, a body fat between 9-15% appears best for nutrient partitioning. For females a percentage between 14-22% is good. If you are outside of these ranges then trying to gain muscle by using a calorie surplus will likely result in a greater amount of fat gain than would otherwise be desirable.
When trying to build muscle you generally wouldn't be as aggressive with the surplus as you would with a calorie deficit to lose fat. When bulking, aim for small increases in weight (0.5-1% of total body weight per week) whilst monitoring body fat levels to ensure you aren't just getting fat!
Question: Is cardio the best thing for losing weight? A: No, ensuring you are in a consistent calorie deficit is the most important thing. The inclusion of cardiovascular activity can help to form part of this but it can backfire as well in the following ways: 1) It may lead to reduced NEAT throughout the rest of the day. 2) It may increase appetite leading to increased food intake. You could use either HIIT or LISS for cardio, depending on current training program, gender, lifestyle, preference and availability. Both have their benefits. HIIT is more time effective, more effective at retaining lean muscle mass, but on flip side. greater chance of injury, more stressful and potentially more of an interference effect with your other training. LISS is less taxing, potentially stress-relieving, but more time consuming and presents a higher potential risk of losing muscle mass. To conclude, the best scenario for weight loss is, a calorie deficit with adequate protein and some form of resistance training.
Question: Weight training is only good for building muscle? A: No. There are many benefits to lifting weights beyond building more muscle tissue. Including:
- Improving strength of not only muscles, but also tendons, ligaments, bones etc. In fact poor bone mineral density is a huge problem for adults as they age and weight bearing exercises is one of the best ways to improve BMD.
- Improving the structural balance of the body
- Improving posture.
- Increasing muscle can be highly beneficial as it will increase your BMR, leading to a greater ability to burn body fat. You will expend more energy at rest.
- Lifting weights increases insulin Sensitivity which helps improve your ability to tolerate carbohydrates
Question: Is eating just before bed bad for you? A: No, not in terms of body composition, which is primarily determined by overall, long-term, energy balance. However, there can be a logic to setting parameters around when you eat your last meal of the day, especially if late night snacking is a problem for you. However, in terms of comfort, you may want to leave a little time between eating and going to bed as you can disrupt your sleep if you aren't comfortable when going to bed.
Question: Does eating more frequently speed up your metabolism? A: No. If person ‘A’ eats 2,000 calories across 3 meals and person ‘B’ eats 2,000 calories across 6 meals there will be no difference in the amount of calories spent digesting and absorbing this food. Eating more frequently does not confer any benefits. Eat an amount of meals that best suits your lifestyle. I recommend consuming anywhere between 3-6 meals per day.
Question: Do women respond better to lower weight and higher reps compared to men? A: When it comes to training, there are several differences between the sexes, including: -
- Women require less carbohydrate and protein than men in their diet. As a result this gives them more room to consume more fat, which can be beneficial from a hormonal perspective.
- Women are more resistant to fatigue than men. This means they can tolerate higher rep work better than men can.
- Women can handle more training volume than men. This is largely due to the fact women have more oestrogen. Oestrogen is an anti-catabolic hormone that aids in muscle repair and prevents muscle breakdown during exercise. This allows women to train with a greater training volume without becoming over-trained.
- The female nervous system is not so efficient as it is for men. Men are more explosive than women. As a result women tend to do better with low intensity steady state cardio than high intensity interval training.
- Women tend to be able to tolerate a greater frequency of training then men due to their better recovery.
So, whilst heavy strength training for women can be extremely effective and should be utilised, it can be seen that (in general) women will respond to higher reps, higher volume and greater frequency of training compared to their male counterparts.
Question: Are protein smoothies ok before training and also on non-training days ok? A: Yes. If you’re eating food then Thermic Effect of Food (calories burnt digesting and absorbing the food) is higher and whole foods will be more satiating. As a result whole foods always reigns supreme, especially when eating in a calorie deficit to achieve fat loss. However, pre-training smoothies/shakes can be advantageous due to ease of digestion or for anyone who struggles to consume their daily calories as whole food.
Question: Does fresh lemon and water first thing in the morning speed up metabolism? A: No it doesn't speed up metabolism in any meaningful way. However, taking lime or lemon with water first thing in the morning with some himalayan rock salt has been found to have a few slight benefits on digestion as it increases production of stomach acid. Whether it has any meaningful impact or not, there are no downsides to doing this and may increase your overall water intake which is a benefit! See here for more details on the benefits to starting your day with lime/lemon, salt and water first thing.
Question: Does Apple Cider Vinegar speed up metabolism? A: No. However, Apple Cider Vinegar has been found to act as a mild appetite suppressant, delaying gastric emptying, so it can be useful to consume between meals, especially when dieting.
Unfortunately we are awash with many half-truths, myths and fallacies in the world of exercise and nutrition. It is important to cut through the noise and ensure people are getting good quality information. Here is part 1 of a set of questions I received from clients and gym members and my responses to them. I hope you find them helpful. Part II will follow soon.