Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 3

So another dig into the mailbag to save myself having to think of another feature article to write.  The three questions today have to do with fat loss and muscle sparing, phosphatidylserine, cortisol and water retention.   Finally is a look at causes of a plateau in weight gain.

Dietary Deficit and Fat Loss when Muscle Sparing is the Same

Hi Lyle. A nerd question: Since the only two things in human body which can: 1. store energy 2. be able to gain and loss in a huge range all year long (compare to glycogen which could only be gained and lost in a small range), are fat and muscle (is that ture?). So is that true all diet would result in exactly the same amount of fat loss, if 1. the deficit is the same and 2. the muscle loss or protection is the same? Ignoring all other factors like insulin level?


Short answer: yes-ish and I say that as I’m going to actually address a question that you didn’t actually ask.

Sort of by definition if the total actual tissue loss is the same and lean body mass (LBM) sparing is identical, actual fat loss will be the same.  It has to be.  If 10 total pounds of tissue is lost and both diets only allow 1 pound of LBM loss, the other 9 lbs has to be fat (ok, something truly screwy could go on such as loss of bone or organ mass but it’s usually pretty small).

Now, if you want to be pedantic and look at weight loss, this isn’t necessarily true.  This is why I was using the odd term tissue loss.  Because part of total weight loss is not actual tissue loss but things like glycogen, water, food in the gastrointestinal tract and such.  Those will vary depending on diet, a low-carbohydrate diet will cause glycogen to become depleted, water and minerals to be lost and since carbohydrates are the primary source of the food residue that comes out the other end, that will also be decreased. Ketogenic diets may cause a loss of water weight of 1-15 lbs in the first several days for example.


Pre- vs. Post-Workout Nutrition – Q&A

Question: If protein and other nutrients take time to be broken down and utilized, does it really matter whether or not you have a PWO meal, if you’ve had a large meal relatively soon before your training?  In other words, can a Pre-workout meal be just as beneficial as a post-workout meal (if not better)?  Isn’t it important to have AA in your blood stream when training? And if there is a designated time for digestion, wouldn’t the other nutrients effectively help recovery, even though they were consumed before hand?

Answer: As usual this is going to be one of those longish ‘it depends’ kinds of answers and I’m probably going to go way off track in trying to answer it.  As I discussed in The Protein Book, some recent research certainly suggested that pre-workout nutrients (carbs and protein, and I’ll assume the combination from here on out) were superior to post-workout nutrients in terms of promoting protein synthesis.

Other research wasn’t so positive but it did look like having nutrients in the system during/immediately after workout might be better than waiting until afterwards.  Some of it depended on the form of nutrients (especially protein consumed); in one study immediate pre-workout essential amino acids (EAA’s) were better than post-workout EAA’s.  In another, a whole protein taken right before training wasn’t superior to post-workout; this may have been an issue of digestion time.

I would note that protein synthesis isn’t the only goal here; maintaining high levels of training intensity during a workout is also key and pre- and/or during-workout nutrition can benefit folks there as well.  A complication of that research was that most of it was done fasted, that is first thing in the morning, after folks hadn’t eaten for many hours.  While that is relevant to some people (e.g. those who train first thing in the morning), many if not most trainees will have eaten something prior to the immediate pre-workout period.  This complicates issues.

And the general picture that seems to be developing is that if someone is in the ‘fed’ state, that is they have eaten within a few hours of their workout, pre-workout nutrients don’t seem to provide any major benefit.  This mainly has to do with the slow digestion time of whole foods.  A relatively ‘normal’ whole-food meal is still releasing nutrients (carbs and protein) into the bloodstream as much as 4-5 hours after you eat it.


Macronutrient Intake for Mass Gains – Q&A

Question: I’ve seen your articles outlining the differences in macronutrient ratios for dieting  (basically the difference between carbs and fat once protein is set), but I’m  wondering if the same applies to gaining muscle mass.

Is there an optimal macronutrient ratio for mass gains?

Answer: Certainly there are some general tendencies in terms of setting up macronutrient intake for mass gains and I discussed many of them in some detail in The Baseline Diet 2009 Part 1 and The Baseline Diet 2009 Part 2.

However, those articles were meant only as a starting point and there is actually a fairly wide variability in what might or might not be optimal for a given individual.  Part of the problem in answering this is that folks have made a lot of different approaches work to greater or lesser degrees and, just as with fat loss dieting, you can usually find someone who’s succeeded with just about anything.

While that doesn’t mean that ‘everything works’, what I do think it means is that there is sufficient variability between people to make absolute statements about optimality rather incorrect.  As I recently rambled about, a lot of it simply depends.  Never forget the Importance of Context.

With that said, let me look at some of the issues that go into determining what might be optimal for a given individual.


Although you asked about macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat), I have to at least mention caloric intake. In the same way that generating fat loss requires the creation of a caloric deficit, gaining any sort of body mass (whether muscle or otherwise) requires a caloric surplus.  Many trainees seem to think that they can gain muscle on air and wishful thinking (and maybe creatine) and fail to gain any appreciable muscle mass for the simple fact that they aren’t eating enough calories to support growth.


2 on 2 Off Training Frequency for Mass Gains

Question: What do you think of a 2 on 2 off upper/lower split so you train everything evenly at every 4th day.

So Monday: upper, Tuesday: lower, Wed/Thurs: off, Fri: upper, Sat: lower, Sun/Mon: off.

It requires more freedom in scheduling, but just curious if you thought this type of consistency was somehow advantageous as opposed to the every 3rd/4th day inconsistent recovery…

Answer: The above question actually came up in the comments section of Training Frequency for Mass Gains but I thought it was worth addressing in full.

Before actually addressing the question in terms of the frequency issue, let me make one comment about the above schedule.  Depending on what movements are being done, especially on the lower day, doing upper body the day before lower can be very problematic.  If someone is going to squat or deadlift on lower body day, fatigue in the back and shoulder girdle from the upper body day can cause real problems on the lower body day (clearly if other movements are being done on the lower day, this is far less of an issue).

There are two solutions to this.  The first is to switch the days and put lower body first in the sequence and upper body second (this raises a second issue which is that fatigue from heavy lower body work often makes upper body go poorly but training is nothing if not a series of compromises).  The second is to use a slightly different split.  Doing chest/shoulders/triceps on Monday and legs/back/biceps on Tuesday and keeping that sequence avoids some of the problems although day 1 ends up being a lot easier (and usually shorter) than day 2 (which can be murderous).

Ignoring that, let me get back to the original question about training 2 on/2 off across an 8 day training cycle and the relaive optimality (or not) of that type of training.   And the short-answer to the above question is that…it depends.  Yeah, not very useful so let’s look at some of the things that it depends on and give the long answer.


Squat vs. Leg Press for Big Legs

Question: I was wondering if, for hypertrophy purposes, there is any real advantage using bar bell squats instead of leg presses. Looking at things from perhaps an oversimplified perspective, the leg press seems to have the same joint movements and muscle lengthening/stretching as the squat – plus it’s a lot safer for the lower back.

I’m guessing it may come down to maximum load that can be moved. But can people squat more than they can leg press? Also, I’d be surprised if it were practical to use loads >1RM (negatives) for a squat, whereas on a leg press machine with a partner or two it is quite easily done.

I’m thinking the squat just ‘feels’ harder because of all the stabilizers that are used and there is more need for proper technique to make it safe. I know a lot of power lifting purists will scream that the squat is the king of exercises, yada yada yada, but for leg/glute hypertrophy, what is the advantage? Some people also seem to think squatting causes more testosterone and or GH release but is there any solid evidence of this? I would doubt it.

Answer: First and foremost, while I’m sure my answer will offend the hardcore/hardheaded lifters, there is no requirement to perform squats (back or front) to build big legs (or even build leg strength).  I know that this contradicts everything that has ever been written on the Internet but the idea that someone must squat to get big is mainly a lot of macho nonsense.

Historically, the reason that squats probably became popular was that, early in the days of weight training, that’s all there was to do.  Leg presses didn’t exist (at least not in any form that wouldn’t cripple you) and if you wanted to train your legs that pretty much meant squatting.

Which isn’t to say that squatting isn’t an excellent exercise.  It has arguably been responsible for more gains in strength and size than almost anything else.  But it’s not the right exercise for all people; and it’s certainly not required to get big or strong legs (it’s worth mentioning in this vein that the Australian track cycling team, which absolutely dominated the world scene for a few years there, used the one leg leg press as their primary leg training exercise).