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Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 3

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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.

But this is purely short-term, in the first few days to a week of a diet.  It’s why weight loss between the diets is often different even if true fat loss is not.

But in terms of true fat loss, if the total tissue lost is the same and LBM sparing is identical, fat loss will be identical.

Phosphatidyl Serine and Cortisol

Hi Lyle, I have a question regarding PS as a cortisol blocker/reducer. I know from reading a lot of your work, a large deficit raises cortisol, and a lot of activity raises cortisol, and nut jobs like me seem to do both even though the facts tell us not to. At any rate, do you believe Phosphatidylserine could reduce cortisol enough to keep water retention from masking fat loss? And if so, what would be a needed dose of PS, and how and when would you take it? I am aware it is a very pricey supplement, but so are a lot of other things.

Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is an odd supplement.  It got super popular early on and then just kind of disappeared.  I’m not sure why though.   I had actually put a short section in the women’s book about it and then took it out; it’s too obscure.    PS is a phospholipid that may actually change the membrane structure in the brain that was found early on to reduce the cortisol response to certain kinds of stresses, including exercise.  I don’t know off hand if it has been examined relative to dietary restriction I kind of doubt it would impact that as much (it seems to be impacting on more, active stresses, for lack of a better phrase).    It might also reduce resting cortisol levels.

Is it strong enough to impact on the potential water retention from hard dieting and exercise?  Maybe.    To be honest, I’d rather see people not combine big deficits and lots of activity in the first place but there are situations where that just can’t be avoided (and some people start out with more mental stress than others which raises cortisol to begin with; rigidly restrained dieters are an example).

So far as dose PS is a fairly bland, tasteless powder that mixes fairly easily; it’s primary drawback is being somewhat expensive. It’s been thought that PS may provide faster results if it is loaded first at 800 mg/day for two weeks before moving to a maintenance dose of 100-300 mg/day. Alternately, a dose of 300 mg/day can be taken daily. Over time, both will have the same impact.

Plateau in Weight Gain

Message    Dear Mr. McDonald I’ve successfully used your advice in my journey with weightlifting and nutrition. Since of December 2015, I gained about 10 kg in weight (from 58 to 68) with almost no change in body fat while using your routine Generic Bulking Routine. Since the end of November, I stumbled upon what you might call a plateau. While eating a decent amount above of my TDEE (2213 calories, eating at 2761 calories), I struggle to gain weight, breaking the 68 kg limit. I’m 95% sure (100% would be ridiculous) that my food intake measurements are correct and that my daily average is 2761, with a standard deviation of about 50 calories. In addition, I changed my TDEE every time I gained weight to make sure that that number was correct. I’ve read your article Not Losing Fat at 20% Deficit, What Should I do? – Q&A where you state the following: I have known people who have to go to 8 cal/lb (often with an hour of activity daily) to lose fat at any reasonable rate, etc. Is it possible that the reverse effect can happen with people who are trying to gain weight? Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Absolutely this is possible.  Because just as the body adapts metabolic rate downwards with diet, it can adapt it upwards (to at least some degree) with increased food intake.  As a quick review, total daily energy expenditure (TDEE, the number of calories burned in a 24 hour span) is made up of 4 factors: RMR, TEF, TEA and NEAT.   And all four can go up for several potential reasons when calories are increased or weight is gained.

RMR is resting metabolic rate and represents the number of calories burned by the body at rest and may make up 60-75% of TDEE.  It is primarily impacted by the amount of lean body mass although other factors such as hormones play a role here.  RMR will go up as total bodyweight and muscle mass go up although the resting calorie burn of muscle is actually quite low (about 6 cal/lb).  So gain 10 lbs of muscle and you might burn 60 calories more at rest.  Hooray.  More contentions is whether there is an increase in RMR above what would be predicted for bodyweight and for the most part, it either doesn’t occur, is fairly insignificant or is very short-term (in one study, it went up by about 100 calories in the first 2 weeks of 8 total of big time overfeeding).

TEF is the thermic effect of food, the number of calories burned in processing of food. This is typically taken as 10% of total calorie intake (this might go to 15% if protein intake is particularly high) and increased food intake will mean a higher TEF.  Thing is, it’s pretty insignificant.  At 1000 calories above maintenance, TEF goes up by maybe 100 calories.  But it does contribute to all of this.

TEA is the thermic effect of activity, the calories burned during formal exercise.   TEA can vary enormously from zero calories per day (no formal exercise), up to hundreds or thousands of calories per day (endurance athletes may burn 1000+ calories in a long workout).  This too goes up with weight gain.  A heavier body will burn more calories during exercise so that will also go up.  Since TEA is a conscious thing, whether or not the total amount of exercise goes up depends on the person.  There may also be changes in muscular efficiency here which would impact on the number of calories burned.   Frequently people both train more and more intensely when they are eating more and this would mean a higher calorie burn.

Finally is NEAT which is non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  Originally this referred to unconcious movements that burned calories but now includes any activities which aren’t formal exercise (I.e. gardening, walking from the car to the store).  NEAT is the most variable of all the components and two people can have NEAT that varies 2000 calories per day from highest to lowest.  This tends to be dependent on lifestyle and environment.

In Western environments, NEAT tends to be much lower than in less modernized environments and people who work manual labor jobs burn more calories than someone who sits in a cubicle all day.  But this tends to be where major changes occur with weight gain and some people upregulate NEAT enormously as they eat more and gain weight.  And this can offset weight and fat gain pretty significantly (in one study, overfeeding by 1000 cal/day increased calorie expenditure via NEAT by as much as 700 calories in some people).

In most cases, it’s changes in NEAT that are having the biggest impact during both weight loss and weight gain.  People move around less when they are dieting (often to the tune of several hundred calories) and may move around more (depending on luck of the draw) when they are eating more.  In my experience and opinion, the typical ‘hardgainer’ is often the guy who just won’t sit still.  They are the guy bouncing their leg and fidgeting all the time and this can burn an enormous number of calories.

And the consequence of all of this is that TDEE has to be considered a moving target rather than some static number.  And yes, for some people, this can result in enormously high calorie intakes to gain weight.

As a final note, in general there is a linkage between changes in TDEE and appetite/food intake.  The person who tends to show the highest increase in TDEE with overfeeding often has their hunger shut off.  And frequently, they aren’t eating as much as they think they are.   Because just as dieters often under-report their food intake, the typical person who can’t gain weight is often overreporting what they are eating.   And since their appetite tends to shut off, food either has to be force fed.

Or use the McCallum Get Big Drink.  Which is only half a joke as calorie dense liquids are much easier to get down (and don’t blunt hunger) as much as whole food.  For people with enormous calorie requirements, it’s often the only way to get enough calories.



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