What exercise & nutrition regimens really work?
December 16, 2011 3:21 AM   Subscribe

Truths about working out and nutrition?

The internet has so many "get big fast" schemes and there are so many mixed reviews about benefits of certain kinds of food as well as workouts and etc.

What I want to know is... what really works?

I am aware that depending on your workout goals and your own genetics that your body reacts to things differently, what I want to know is what works for what goals?

(I know this is quite the topic to cover, but it's definitely worth discussing)
If you have any background in Kinesiology, personal training, or as a nutritionist/dietitian, your contributions would be GREATLY appreciated.

*Vegan-ism vs. Eating meat vs. Vegetarianism (I hear a lot about how some say going vegan makes them feel a lot more energized, but is this a placebo effect? or is it actually proven?)

*Your views on amount of protein and carbohydrate and fat intakes (Obviously it varies according to your workout goals and body type, but what works specifically for those kinds of goals?)

*Your view on supplements? (Preworkout, post workout, during workout, types of protein, BCAAs, etc.)
posted by Trinergy to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's not that straight forward.... According to Gary Taubes the scientific establishment on nutrition is "pathological." That is, they are part of the problem. See 01:40:15-01:43:15

However, some nutrition resources that I found interesting and informative are:
*Gary Taubes (see his books)

*Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Dr. Robert H. Lustig

*LCHF & Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:45 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

If anyone really knew the "truth" about this, there wouldn't be scores of fad diets and exercise regimes that come in and out of fashion every few years. For me, losing weight and getting fit boils down to "eat less, exercise more." If you eat less, you'll lose weight. Maybe you have to eat a little less, maybe a lot less, but it'll come, and most diets boil down to that. If you look at people who are good at what they do physically, you'll notice that they devote lots of time to doing that thing. Cyclists ride. Runners run. Triathletes try (joking! They swim, ride, and run. A lot). Football players play football. Usually, pro athletes also add some weight training and supplemental cross-training to what they're doing, too, in varying degrees (weight-lifting is anathema to most cyclists because they don't want any muscle gain, the exception being track cyclists).

So, eat less, exercise more. I should publish a book on this.
posted by The Michael The at 4:20 AM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

To get bigger you have to eat more calories. Fats are twice as calorie dense as other foods. If you want your muscles to get bigger you need to work them and eat sufficient protein. Sufficient is far less than the protein supplement company will tell you but likely far more than a regular diet. Real muscle builds slowly and body building is perhaps the ultimate endurance sport - it takes years to get really big. Creatine works, but you may overload your tendons etc. and hurt yourself. All the rest of the supplements are more marketing than reality. Spiking your insulin immediately post workout probably helps build muscle. Eating protein post workout seems to help with quicker recovery. So, eat more to get big, but if you want to get big and lean then be patient and eat more well while working hard.
posted by caddis at 4:22 AM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: Protein intake should be approximately 1g/lbs bodyweight or more. If you're very obese, you don't need that much (your fat doesn't need protein).

Most people do well on a 40/40/20 %Protein/%Fat/%Carb split. Concentrate your carbs to after your workout where they'll be put towards muscle glycogen instead of fat. Ideally after your workout you should get in some protein and carbs. This can be through supplements or whole foods, it really doesn't matter.

Vitamin D3, fish oil, and ZMA are the most valuable supplements you'll ever take. The rest of the stuff is gravy and dependent on your individual needs and training program.

It doesn't matter how many times a day you eat. Do whatever works for you.

Start your calories at 1.2-1.4xBW. Monitor weight at that level for a week or two. If you're not losing and you want to, cut some out. If you're not gaining and you want to, add some to that.

Weigh and measure your intake when tracking calories. People are terrible at estimating and nearly always underestimate how much food they're eating.

Fat loss is 90% diet. You can't exercise away a bad diet (unless you're Michael Phelps). Exercise makes your body look good when you've lost the fat by adding muscle tone. The actual fat loss itself will come about through dietary changes.

For the best body composition results, weight train large, complex lifts (squats, deads, presses, etc) at reps of 4-6. Bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, that type of isolation work should come after your big movements and be done at higher reps, 8-12.

If you are a newbie and not adding at least a little weight to your lifts every workout, you're not pushing yourself hard enough.

Cardio is great and should be done for overall health. Excess (hours and hours) of cardio is counterproductive to people who don't enjoy it or aren't endurance athletes. Ultimately it will add on extra stress to your body without much additional muscle mass or calorie burn. A beginner should get in at least three cardio sessions a week, it can be intervals, steady state, whatever, it doesn't matter provided you're getting your heart pumping. Do cardio AFTER weight training.

Re: Vegetarianism/Veganism. Many people feel better when they switch to these diets because they stop stuffing their bodies with processed crap and start eating more vegetables. In general it is difficult to get enough protein on these diets, and often people resort to soy which is a pretty terrible protein source (especially if you're a guy). An "optimal" fitness program will include meat to ensure adequate protein intake and the other nutrients it brings, but ultimately people should pick the diet that is keeping them healthy and they can stick to.

It can get infinitely more detailed but I'm going to guess you're asking after generalities for the beginning exerciser.

Really, it all boils down to eat less, exercise more, and the rest are tricks to make these things easier and help you progress faster. People want to make dieting complicated but unless you're a bodybuilder trying to cut to 5% bodyfat or whatever it doesn't need to be.
posted by Anonymous at 4:26 AM on December 16, 2011

40/40/20 %Protein/%Fat/%Carb split

posted by the cuban at 4:38 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should know that this is a highly controversial topic and that you will not get any definitive answers and will have to mostly find out for yourself what works. There is lots and lots of misinformation about diet and nutrition, not only on the internet, but also in books. Nutrition is just really hard to study because there are so many variables. I liked this paper for a bit of background on why it is so hard to give dietary recommendations.

If you have any science background you may like CarbSane's rebuttals of many of the claims of low-carb promotors including Taubes. I don't agree with everything she writes, but it's interesting nevertheless. Jack Norris is a great source about vegan health. Here is an article from him (which links to other articles) about soy and one about protein in a vegan diet. It is not difficult to get enough protein in a vegan diet (even without soy), especially if you are a very active man.

About feeling much more energized on a vegan diet: I think that's partly placebo, and partly just because the standard western diet is so sad that most people will feel better with any improvement, be it low-carb, low-fat, veganism, or paleo, or gluten-free, because with all those diets you also throw out lots of junk food. Often those benefits wear off over time, and then people try something else and tout the benefits of how great that diet is.

You may like the book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise which is written by an actual scientist. A quote: Contrary to popular wisdom the amount of protein in a typical North American diet is more than enough to build muscle with any strength training program.
posted by davar at 4:54 AM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes. People often feel better when they cut out processed food and factory farmed animal products, which are (sadly) also fed a terrible diet of processed food.

Can't speak to the rest.
posted by jbenben at 5:31 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by the cuban at 7:38 AM on December 16

With the exception of people doing hard training or people who do stuff like construction work, yes, really. Most people in the developed world are way too sedentary to need much in the way of carbs (though when you hit the withdrawal period it sure feels like you do). Carbs aren't evil or anything but they're not really doing much for you if your day is mostly spent in a chair.

But, as all things nutrition, your mileage may vary.
posted by Anonymous at 6:27 AM on December 16, 2011

You may like the book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise which is written by an actual scientist. A quote: Contrary to popular wisdom the amount of protein in a typical North American diet is more than enough to build muscle with any strength training program.

The guy has a PhD in physics, not medicine or nutrition or any health-related science.
posted by downing street memo at 6:39 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally agree with jben.

My own personal fitness/weight management realities: I am a 5 ft 2, 104 lb, size 2, 30 year old woman who has been vegan for 16 years.

1.) Being vegan keeps you fit, strong and healthy as long as you watch your carb intake and supplement with B12. You will lose weight and have better skin, also.

2.) White flour/white sugar/soda/trans fats and alcohol are poisons to avoid.

3.) If you want to lose weight, specifically if you want to be *cut*, you have to cut calories. The results really are 80-90% to do with dieting and the rest is exercise-- any variety of lifting and cardio will get you there. The formula is basically: calories deficit plus lift three days a week, throw in a little cardio to warm yourself up beforehand. Excess carbs should be cut, but you don't have to go crazy.

4.) The myth of "starvation mode" keeps a lot of people from achieving their goals. If you create a calorie deficit while incorporating exercise (specifically resistance training, which has been shown in multiple studies to keep the metabolic rate higher than cardio), your metabolism will hum along just fine, and your body will not go nuts/shut down. Your body only truly goes into "starvation mode" when you hit 4-5% body fat.

5.) Excess salt should be avoided.

This is how I stay fit.
posted by devymetal at 6:45 AM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nthing that there's no universally agreed-upon One True Diet. But if I could give people just one piece of nutritional advice, it would be to eat foods that are as close as possible to how you'd find them in nature or on the farm. In doing so you avoid nearly all of the nutritional bogeymen (trans fat, added sugar, salt, white flour, etc.).

As for working out: again, YMMV, but no matter what you do, you should always be challenging yourself a little bit. Not enough to make you sick or injured, but just enough so you're continuously improving.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:15 AM on December 16, 2011

Another bit of anecdata:

I've been vegan and prior to that, vegetarian, so long that I'm not really sure of the energy difference between a vegan diet and one that includes meat.

BUT when I've gone raw I feel a huge difference-- I am so energized I even stay awake late at night, very rare for me.
posted by devymetal at 7:17 AM on December 16, 2011

I think the only universal nutritional truth is that everyone is different and requires different nutritional/exercise regimens. And it takes a while to find the one for you.
posted by gaspode at 7:25 AM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

With the exception of people doing hard training or people who do stuff like construction work, yes, really.

But isnt the OP asking about nutrition in the context of working out?

Havent you mixed the fat and carb % up? Shouldnt it be 40% carb, 20% fat?
posted by the cuban at 8:02 AM on December 16, 2011

Eat better (not perfectly). Exercise more (not constantly). I'm short on time, personally - so I look for time efficient exercises. 100 burpees a few times a week is more than enough exercise for just about anyone asking a question like this.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:08 AM on December 16, 2011

Find a registered dietitian in your area, preferably one with a masters degree. We are the only medical professionals with a significant about of nutrition and weight management (that's up or down) training. No gimmicks, no diets, no woo, just advice on what the medical literature shows to actually work. Here's an RD finder.

If you want to go it alone, there are two good resources. For training advice based on science there's Dr. Mirkin. He has an email list/ezine you can subscribe to. Him and his wife are in their 70's and they cycle competitively, and he enjoys keeping up with the literature and explaining new findings to a lay audience.

And finally, Krause's Food and Nutrition Therapy (or the previous edition here) has an excellent, clear chapter on weight management packed with citations from the literature. It also has several chapters on basic nutrition, but the rest is not really relevant as it deals with specific disease states. Best to find it in your local library and read through the chapter there rather than buy the whole doorstop of a book.
posted by antinomia at 8:37 AM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

But isnt the OP asking about nutrition in the context of working out?

Havent you mixed the fat and carb % up? Shouldnt it be 40% carb, 20% fat?

First, the 40/40/20 or 40/20/40 splits are pretty arbitrary. General rules of thumb to go by.

I recommend people start out with lower carbs if they have no athletic background because initially they won't be able to train hard enough to feel severe effects from lack of carbs (unless they're lean already). This is not to insult anyone, it's just that when you are relatively new to starting a serious workout program your body is just not physiologically set up to work that hard. Your motor neurons aren't trained to fire in synch, your cardiovascular system can't handle very long efforts, and in general you're not terrifically strong (in a relative sense) so you can't put that much stress on your body. This is one of the reasons behind the mythical "beginner's gains"--beginner's gains are going through a period of rapid physiological and neuromuscular adaptation where your body is finally learning to work correctly. At first it simply isn't able to operate at a very high intensity.*

For example, a beginner will be sweating and gasping same as a more experienced trainee, but the beginner can pull a personal record deadlift or do an all-out sprint and work out for another hour or two, whereas the effort will leave a more trained person wiped.

Anyway the result of this is that for a good while into starting training sedentary people don't need that high a level of carbs to sustain continued gains, and from a body fat perspective would probably do well to aim lower with them. The exact timescale will vary a lot from person to person.

*"Intensity" here doesn't mean psychological effort, but how physiologically close you are to working near your "true max"--the highest effort your body can sustain before totally falling apart.


Anyway OP, as you are already seeing there is a lot of different opinions on what constitutes "Truth". What I state is the stuff I've seen work in training and/or backed up by papers.
posted by Anonymous at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, I just want to thank everyone for the contributions thus far.

Just so everyone knows a little more about me:
I am 20 years old, Male, Ectomorph body type
13% body fat, 160 lbs, 5'9" (Some stubborn fat on the stomach)

I've been on and off about working out for the past 4 years.
I've tried many many exercises and different workout regimens
As of now, the most effective routine I've had was just using compound weight exercises 4 times a week (deadlifts,squats,bench,pull ups) and little cardio
While eating a strict steamed vegetables and chicken breast diet
I only managed to keep this up during the Summer (since I had nothing but work to commit to) and saw massive gains

Now that I have more responsibilities, I can't really afford the time and money to go to a gym.
So as of now I'm only doing bodyweight exercises at home 3 times a week (push up variations, pull ups,squats, deadlifts with dumbbells) and 30 minute HIT cardio boxing on the side.
And my diet consists of anything I can really get my hands on. (I currently also drink home-made Kefir yogurt in the morning and before bed)
It has only been 2 weeks and I have to say that I am much more toned, but not getting as big compared to when I stuck to my gym routine in the summer.
I've been considering going Raw/vegan for a while but haven't really found enough evidence for me to feel motivated enough to completely change my diet.
In terms of supplementation, I've tried Vega, Whey protein, and Fish oil. As of now I'm only using Fish Oil and will probably stop too since I really can't afford it.
So I was wondering what you guys think about supplementation and if it's really necessary to see substantial improvement in performance/recovery, and physical gains?

And if you guys have any suggestions about my workout or etc, feel free to chime in as well!
posted by Trinergy at 10:46 AM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: ***Sorry, I am Mesomorph.
posted by Trinergy at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2011

You'll find some interesting stuff on this blog

If you have space for it, check Craigslist and get some weights at home. Being able to simply go down to my basement to workout instead of hauling myself to the gym has made all the difference for me in sticking to my workout. There are some exercises I can't do (squat racks are expensive but I'm working on it) but I'm so much more consistent about it that it's a net gain for me.
posted by VTX at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2011

1.) Being vegan keeps you fit, strong and healthy as long as you watch your carb intake and supplement with B12. You will lose weight and have better skin, also.

And yet I know exact 1 vegan who isn't obese, and half a dozen who are. Not to say it can't or doesn't work - of course it can! (Just like nearly any other diet.)

Most of the advice here (and just about everywhere) amounts to: It works for me, so it's the best way for everyone. And since everyone goes about it a little differently, you'll never find a definitive answer to your question.

If you want to get bigger, your best bet is to listen to people who are big. Bodybuilding.com has lots of good info (and even more horrible info -- you just have to choose which forums you visit carefully. I generally stick to the Over 35 forum for more serious answers.)

If you're looking for THE WAY, you're not going to find it because it doesn't exist. Bodybuilders in the past got big on pizza and beer. Olympic athletes washed down burgers with vodka.

It's also less of a science than people like to believe. Getting big and staying fit is actually easy:

*Do the work. Lift the weights. Do the exercises. Stay active.
*Eat what you want within reason.
*Eat a little more than usual. If you start getting fat, cut back a little.

By all means, mimic people who look the way you want to look. Take creatine, drink protein shakes, even go raw if you want (and I recommend it, at least for awhile -- you'll learn a lot). Any of these things might get you to your goal faster or slower, but as long as you follow the above, you WILL reach your goal.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

It really depends on the kind of supplementation you mean. Most people are deficient in vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium, which is why I recommend D3 and ZMA and people see immediate benefits from that. There is enough evidence that fish oil does SOMETHING that if you have the money it's worth it (though how much to take and how often is always a matter of debate).

Whey protein isn't so much "supplementation" as it is a way to get extra protein. Like eating chicken breast but in powdered form.

Like, there are all kinds of supplements for all kinds of different things. But for most people stuff like creatine, beta-alanine, whatever is like this extra 5% that isn't going to be worth the effort unless you have the other 95% complete dialed in--adequate sleep, excellent nutrition, a well-thought out exercise program, whatever.

You're going to find it extremely hard to achieve much hypertrophy with bodyweight only movements because it is that much more difficult to increase the load on the muscles. Top male gymnasts have excellent muscular development in any sense of the word, but it takes them over a decade of work to get there. But if that's your only option checking out beginning gymnastics programs would probably be your best bet, as gymnasts have all sorts of progressions for playing with the leverages of different moves to increase muscle loads. The forums on GymnasticBodies.com would be a good starting point.
posted by Anonymous at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2011

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