Sunday, June 01, 2008

How to Workout On Eat Stop Eat

There are many personalities in the fitness industry who are promoting the combination of 'fat burning workouts' with 'muscle building' nutrition.

When it comes to improving the way your body looks, I think this a completely backwards approach. Not only do I think it is backwards, but I believe it is highly ineffective.

Here's why:

It is very difficult to lose weight with exercise alone. It doesn't seem to matter if you using long distance running, interval training, high-intensity weight training or any combination of the three.

Despite what people tell you when they are pushing their "ultra fat burning workouts", the simple fact is exercise alone is a very poor stimulus for weight loss. Even if the workouts are metabolically demanding, the effect they have on calorie burning is actually pretty small.

Even the calorie burning that happens after hard workouts is only an extra 8-10 extra Calories per hour, and typically does not last the 24-36 hours that some authors say it does. The research on the benefit of this type of after-exercise metabolism boost is inconclusive at best.

There is also very little proof that any sort of eating style can actually build muscle. Again, I know lots of companies and people who promote certain methods of eating to gain massive amounts of muscle mass, but this just isn't backed by science.

I've been in full research mode now for the last 6 months working on my new book "How much protein?" and let me tell you, I am very disappointed with the lack of evidence that is available for any muscle building diet advice - This even includes ideas as simple as "eat an extra 500 Calories a day to gain muscle". Diet seems to have very little to do with muscle building.

Now, when you put these two concepts together you are in a real messy situation.

You are eating to gain muscle...eating multiple times a day, high protein, a little more calories than 'maintenance' and you are working out to burn fat, doing fancy weight training circuits, combined with cardio intervals, and lots and lots of ab exercises.

Since neither approach is effective, you end up spending a lot of time in the gym, and even more time planning your nutrition and worrying about macro-nutrient ratios and when to take your supplements. despite all of this hard work you still end up seeing very little results.

A much better approach would be to eat for weight loss, and workout to build or maintain muscle.

Research does support the rather simple concept that eating less will cause you lose weight. And that muscle building workouts will preserve muscle mass, even when on very extreme diets, thus ensuring that the weight you lose is from body fat.

This is why Eat Stop Eat involves a combination of fasting and resistance training. It is the combination of the two that leads to optimal fat loss with the least amount of physical or mental work.

So simply, the most ideal way to improve the way your body looks is to-

Eat for weight loss and exercise to build muscle.

It sounds ridiculously simple, but in reality it is very difficult to do. We are constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest new way to burn fat in the gym and it is very easy to get roped into this way of thinking.

The best advice I can give you if you are looking to change the way your body looks is: Keep your workouts simple and geared towards building muscle. Let your diet take care of your fat loss.

To accomplish this you have to follow a couple simple rules:

  • Switch from high reps to lower reps (if you have been doing 15-20 rep exercises try increasing the weight and moving to sets of 5-8 reps)
  • Remove most isolation exercises from your workout and use total-body multi-muscle movements.
  • Get rid of crunches and sit-ups from your workout and spend that time on larger multi-muscle movements.
  • Change your workouts frequently
And for your diet:
  • Find the easiest possible method that allows you to eat less than it takes to maintain your current body weight, and use that method. (I know there are many other diet tips for improving your health, but for weight loss, I feel this is the only one that is truly important)

If you are someone who is stuck in the rut of spending hours in the gym every day and trying to eat in a way that supposedly maintains or builds muscle, try switching your approach and see what kind of an amazing difference it can make.


PS- Once you have conquered the mindset of eating for weight loss and exercising for muscle building then adding in additional exercise like intervals or metabolically demanding body weight exercises may speed up the fat burning process, but only if you have the first two steps set into motion.

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Brad Pilon said...

Quick comment,

I am only talking about the goal of improving the way your body looks in this post. If you are training for an athletic event then you may need to alter your training to improve specific areas of your sport.

But for the rest of us, this simple approach is what I beleive to be the most effective way to improving the way you look.


Anonymous said...


This is so right on.

Thing is, we learn it from the time we're kids ("eat all your dinner, so you can grow up big and strong"). That implies that food is causal to growth, but that's a cause/effect reversal. Growth hormone causes us to grow and build more muscle. Eating more is an effect, in response to a higher baseline metabolism.

I like to use the analogy of a skyscraper. If the raw material cause the growth, then one presumes you could just pile up raw material and have a skyscraper. Instead, you need construction workers (analogous to GH), and the more of them and the more they work, the more raw material (food) you'll need.

Here's the thing: I made good but slow progress from last May '07 to the end of the year on a Paleo diet with twice weekly intense workouts, but I was only doing half upper body per session (30 minutes). Then at the first of the year I began the fasting, and that's when muscle growth and huge increases in strength began to really accelerate. Then I went to full body every time, and I concentrate on legs, chest, back and shoulders. Little else.

This stacks the deck in my favor for GH release:

1. fasting.
2. short, intense, big muscle workouts.
3. 10-12 hour deep sleeps a couple of times per week.

My personal trainer jokes with me: "dude, you're getting huge. You must be eating, like, 8 meals a day."

"No; 10. I set the alarm twice in the middle of the night for meals -- just like a growing infant," I joke back.

Anonymous said...


I wish this could become common knowledge with the the excersise and a lower calories diet. I stopped doing cardio work except for walking and my results are amazing. I also get really made when i see people doing high reps for " Fat loss" what a crock. I keep my reps to no more then 10. If i get 12 in a workout then the wieght goes up. I assume people do lighter workouts because they think with less calories they will become tired. I joke all the time that i'm going to Go For a Run which i think is utterly useless unless your an athlete or running away from a rabbid dog haha.

I tell people weights to keep the muscle on and a proper low calorie eating style to knock the fat off. The only other way is to have really good genes.

Good posts i'm glad i found this and your book. Excellent references.