Is it Calories in vs Calories out?
Is it purely hormonal?
Is it both?
Confused? You probably are if you’ve listened to all the conflicting advice out there.
Today I want to show you a couple of videos by 2 people I look up to in this area. Gary Taubes, author of ‘Good Calories Bad Calories‘ and Dr. Doug McGuff, author of ‘Body By Science‘.
I’ll then give my own take on the fascinating info these guys share. Let’s take a look…
Now To McGuff
Now, let’s look at Taube’s comments.
* Calories are not that important. It’s where those calories come from that’s more important because of the effect they have on the body’s hormones
* Refined Carbs and sugar cause a quick spike in insulin. Insulin makes you accumulate fat in the fat tissue, especially for those people who are genetically predisposed to getting fat.
* Example: If you give a lean person insulin they will put on fat, even if they don’t eat anymore than they normally do. A higher percentage of those same calories are now being diverted to fat storage.
* Because you are shunting off these calories into fat storage, you’ll have less energy/feel lethargic, and/or eat even more to try and compensate for these ‘lost’ calories. Hence the cycle perpetuates itself: you get fatter and feel lazier.
Now to McGuff…
* Fat loss is a hormonal event.
* The ‘Calories Out’ side of the equation cannot be significantly affected by exercise. Therefore in terms of fat loss, exercise is not that effective. Example, you can’t eat a 300 calorie slice of pie and then burn off 300 calories on a treadmill and think that you’ve broken even. [this was one of the points I made in my ‘case against cardio‘ article. It’s also why there isn’t a lot of cardio recommended in Total Six Pack Abs.]
* Our hunter/gatherer bodies are simply not genetically programmed for the abundance of carbohydrate in our modern-day diets.
* Body fat storage is predicated by the hormone insulin.
* Once your muscle glycogen levels are full, any excess glucose will be stored as fat.
* To mobilize body fat (use it for energy) your insulin levels have to drop. Even in a calorie-deficit, your body will be physiologically unable to mobilize body fat if your insulin levels are too high. [note: I think it’s in Good Calories Bad Calories that Taubes gives examples of obese people who are drastically under-eating and not losing any fat].
IMPORTANT: Remember that our intense resistance workouts deplete our bodies of glycogen. This is like draining the storage tanks. We can therefore enjoy a carb-up period (as in MANS) or eat more daily carbs on a lower-glycemic plan (like GLAD).
I’d like to wrap up commenting on these videos by restating something Taubes talked about.
The reason we do science is because we often see that that which appears to be ‘common sense’ is totally wrong. Yes the carbohydrate hypothesis is counter-intuitive and the calorie hypothesis seems like common sense, but it’s right. This also applies to training for muscular hypertrophy and spending as much time as possible in the gym. The more you bust your ass, the bigger you get, right? Definitely not. Like Taubes said, this is biology. When we look at how the human body works, it takes quite a small amount of high-intensity work to stimulate the adaptation we desire, not ‘a lot’ of work (regardless of the intensity). Furthermore, it takes more rest than work to build muscle. Counter-intuitive? You bet, but it’s right!
If you want to stabilize insulin and pack on muscle without adding fat, GLAD or MANS is for you. Both of these strategies have now been used by thousands of people worldwide, many reporting back simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain. See these 2 US soldiers for a GLAD example, and the testimonials page for many MANS examples.
If you want to prioritize fat loss and get RIPPED, opt for Total Six-Pack Abs. Wondering how come you can’t just low-carb your way to 8% body fat?
It’s vitally important to understand that BOTH Taubes and McGuff are talking about taking a person from overweight to a normal weight range. The argument is basically that if you achieve the correct hormonal balance through diet, the body will shed its excess fat, something it stored due to a hormonal IMBALANCE.
In my opinion, it’s a very different story going from obese to normal, and normal to ripped. In short, the OPTIMAL way to do the latter is a COMBINATION of striking the correct hormonal environment AND a calorie-deficit, which is, in essence, the TSPA program.
Again, many have reported simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain, though much more fat loss as you would expect. Mark Webb and Armin are only 2 of the guys reporting this on the Total Six Pack Abs page.
THT is simply the weight training routine that is used in all programs (some slight tweaking in Total Six Pack Abs).
I wrote this article because I thought the 2 videos above summarize well the carbohydrate hypothesis. I hope you found it helpful. 😀
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Yeah, I can attest that a low carbohydrate diet will help you lose weight. About a year ago I weighed in at almost 390 pounds. Since then I’ve cut carbohydrates and started to work out at a gym, and now I weigh a paltry 220 pounds, the lowest I’ve ever been as an adult.
Cutting carbohydrates and sugar is one of the healthiest choices I’ve made in my life. I personally can’t wait until all this work leaves me looking like Mark!
Dr. Atkins has said this for decades. It’s not the calories, or even the fat intake, it’s the refined carbs that is making people fat. I’ve personally lost 80 lbs in the last 6 months doing Atkins.
Interesting thought came to mind, what if a person ate very simple carbs (like pasta, etc) but did so in very minute quantities spread out over the day. Would this be the best of both worlds? I mean, glycogen isn’t merely sitting stale in your muscles, liver and brain, right? It’s dripping out whilst one is in a sedentary state and it’s pouring out during intense physical activity.
Simple example: I have a frozen Lean Cuisine (Chicken breast with angel hair pasta and a list of other ingredients) which comprises 34 grams of net carbs. It has 19 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat. If I ate said frozen meal in 6 portions spread out over time, I’d have approximately 1 gram fat, 6 grams carbs, and 3 grams protein for each meal. This would seem hardly enough to create a spike in insulin such as that of eating the entire meal in one sitting. Can you have your cake (literally) and eat it too? If I had a cookie and split it into pieces, could I not eat it and get virtually insulin related effect as the ratio to glycogen loss to glucose level would be balanced, if not in a deficit?
It’s an interesting thought I must say.
This is one of those things where I feel like I must’ve been doing things wrong. In your article, you DO suggest that a low-carb diet alone won’t help you lose weight–hormones are important, too. So, my hormones must be out of whack, and from something other than what’s in my diet. I tried to do the low-carb thing for 3 months and was SLUGGISH the whole time. I lost 7 lbs, sure, so there’s that, then. But is it normal to be perpetually tired? I wasn’t starving myself, either. I’d eat ’til I was just full.
Maybe I should go see my doctor… :-/
Having done low carb before, including Marks MANS, I can tell you that some people need more carbs than others. You may need to add a few carbs per day and see how your energy level goes. Some people can eat as much as 50 grams a day (spread out) and still be in fat loss. Just a thought.
@Andrew I felt sluggish and crazy when I first started the diet as well. After a while my body adjusted to the diet and I felt normal. It’s important to continue the diet for a prolonged period of time so your body can get used to running like that. I’d give it a month or so of solid non-cheating and see if your energy levels increase.
Also, peanuts are your friend. They have a lot of dietary fiber, which somewhat counteracts the carbs in peanuts for the most part (and are high in fat, which helps with the energy levels)
@Andrew Mast…I did just what you talked about with the cookies. It can be done. I divided out a whole tube of ice cream but only ate it little by little, no spikes and no fat. In looking back over the week at what I had ate, I was amazed at what I had eatten. The only problem was, once you start eatting sugar, your body wants more of it. If I am on no carbs or less than 20 grams a day, I dont want the sugar, but if I start going to 50 grams or more carbs then I start wanting more carbs mostly sweets or simple carbs. It really is amazing how one can turn on and off switches that control different aspects of whats going on in the body.
A great read Mark
I’d love to be able to see my abs but the fat there seems to be the last to go.
I’ll watch the full videos when I have time.
If you’re having energy problems while eating low carb, make sure you are getting enough fat. You absolutely have to. You can’t eat low carb and low fat, your calories will plummet and you’ll be suffering. I recommend raw almonds, by the time you factor in fiber and calculate net carbs, a handful is only about 3g of carbs. But it’s an easy 300 calories with plenty of healthy fat. When I low carb I’ll grind up 2 scoops of almonds at a time for close to 700 calories and put them into a shake. Feeling sluggish on low carb is “normal” as your body adjusts, but if you feel terrible the entire time, I would bet you aren’t getting enough fat, or calories in general.
Taubes just did an interview on the Underground Wellness podcast last night. You can grab it for free on iTunes. Thanks for the post Mark, spot on as always!
That was a great summary of the whole science of fat loss. I’ve read both BBS and GCBC. Both fantastic reads and both are spot on. GCBC in particular is essential reading for a complete understanding of the whole subject of the science and the politics of diet.
Keep up the good work Mark. Surely the message will get through eventually. Ancel Keys has a lot to answer for!
Hi Mark, just wanted to thank you for sharing those videos. I’ve followed the low/no carb approach for awhile, and I thought I understood why I lost bodyfat with that diet, but these videos really spot-lighted the science for me and made everything so much clearer for me.
As always, your insights into diet and muscle building astound me, so keep up the awesome work!
Low carb does have to be done correctly. The most common mistake I see people make is trying to make it low fat as well. This really seems to hurt people and bottom out the weight loss. I believe the body goes into starvation mode and slows the metabolism down to “save” itself. Make certain you are getting enough fat, and if the number is pretty moderate then up you fat intake for a couple weeks and see if there is an effect.
Also, the second big issue I see is sometime people don’t eat enough. Perhaps simply because they are not very hungry, or because they are trying to “optimize” their weight loss. I personally know someone that struggled with Atkins for a couple months before talking to me about it. He was “optimizing” and keeping his net carbs below 10 a day. I suggested he up it to 20 and give it more time. A week later he was losing weight. I’ve known people who actually accelerated their weight lost by increasing their carb intake 10 or 20 carbs. Everybody is a little different.
A final note, if you are constantly tired you may want to look at your sleep. A cheap digital recorder might be a nice investment to record the sounds of you sleeping. Sleep Apnea can be a real killer, literally, and make you pack on weight. I know this from experience…..after I had a sleep study I found I had extremely severe sleep apnea. Treatment for that literally changed my life. Weight dropped off like water. Energy soared. So if you think you might have sleep issues: wake up a lot, have to pee durring the night, sweat heavily while sleeping, bad snoring, coughing and or gasping in sleep…..get it checked out. A study released last year suggests that some assumptions concerning Apnea are wrong. It is generally considered that being fat gives you Sleep Apnea….though now this study suggest that for SOME people (not all) the Sleep Apnea is what is making them overweight. Then the fat contributes to the Apnea and it becomes vicious cycle.
i read all ur articals and they are indeed very interesting.
I am doing regular weight training /Cycling for last 3 years..but i am getting thin,instead of getting much of muscles…body tone has improved…i feel healthy but no out put if i see lookwise
Hey there is a lot of talk online about nitric oxide and its benefits to building muscle and losing weight. What do you think about that Mark? Is it safe?
Peach it brother. Get everyone on low carbs…then hopefully the price will drop and choices increase 🙂
I have never in my life written into anyone to commend them on an article that I have read (probably something to do with only being able to type at two words per minute) but I found this article of yours to be the most inspirational article that I have ever read and I would like to thank you for your time and effort that you put into these articles.
to seriously want to lose weight, you need to eat less and burn more. thats it. simple as that. your body wont go into starvation mode unless its literally starving. that is if you have no more body fat left and your body is eating its own organs to survive. that said, i believe its a balance of hormonal control and a calorie deficit to achieve fat loss week on week. if your interested in looking into eating a balance of healthy food and good tasting food, i recommend going to brad pilon’s blog.
talks about myths on metabolism and how to sustain your muscle on lower calorie deficits. and that obtaining your muslce has little to do with your nutrition. its pretty interesting stuff…
@Andrew Mast. Basically what you’re talking about is the Glycemic Load. If you ate a meal of steak with butter and some cauliflower, you’ve got a GL meal of 1 (possibly zero). If you were allowing a GL of 15 per meal, then yes you could have some high GI carbs along with the meal.
That’s why I put together the GLAD diet. Low carb is only a QUANTITATIVE measure. Low GI is only a QUALITATIVE measure. Low GL is both. You are measuring the glycemic impact of the meal as a whole. 15 GLs simply means that the whole meal was the equivalent of consuming 15 grams of glucose as far as blood sugar and insulin response is concerned.
@Andrew. It could be something you need to see your doctor about. On the other hand you need to assess your own carb requirement. Some people can thrive on virtually zero, some need 100g or maybe more (less if you have a dedicated period for carbing-up).
Another big mistake people make is eating too little fat on a low-carb diet. Fat is your energy source when low carbing, just like carbs formerly were.
@Murray. It’ll get through eventually. In the meantime, a simple way to promote it would be to share this article via the social bookmarking icons at the bottom of the post (hint hint). It really does make a difference guys 😉
@Shounak. You mean you’re doing a lot of cycling as well as weight training? That’s hurting your gains. Cycling has nothing to do with building muscle.
That’s why you’re getting thin, not bigger. Download my free book and cut out the cycling.
@Michael. While I haven’t done any specific research into it, people having been building large muscles for many decades before those supplements came along. I’ve never used any N.O. supps and am not planning on doing so.
@JT. That’s a big part of the problem. The market just doesn’t cater well for low-carbers. If the popularity increases, I’m sure it will though.
@Sean. Thanks very much for that. It means a lot.
And thank you to everyone who has left encouraging comments. I’m really glad the article helped you get your head around the issue.
Hi their all. I’ve scanned through most of what you have been blogging about, and I must commend you on a good job as you do some nice research with the limited scientific resources that you have. That being said, and don’t take this as a completely bad thing, medically your claim is outdated. As for Dr. Atkins, a study has proved his theory and method to be highly destructive with regard to the bodies natural physiological function and purpose. To contribute to this blog however, I want to state that calorie monitoring is by far not only the most effective but in the same breath the safest as well. Remember, steroids are effective, but are they safe for the body? So lets not get carried away too much with efficacy and forget safety. Hope I helped shed some light on this issue. Enjoy
Incredibly information post. There is so much hype about avoiding calories and burning off what you eat, it is great to see some information to really balance out what to really consume. Thanks
I have a question that I am confused about.
When a person is eating low carb, less than 20 grams a day, what calorie intake should they be at if they weigh 195 lbs at 6 ft tall, in order to loose fat?
I’ve read the book GCBC book. The definitive work on the subject of the whole low calorie low fat diet rip off. That’s a good video clip, kind of encapsulates all in the book. I’ve followed the eating regime and some solid workouts now for a couple of years and at fifty I have never felt or looked so good. One observation though, I like to get a good eight to nine hours sleep a day and feel I need it but whenever I go on holiday as I did last week with my GF and I load up on carbs, and beer, my energy levels go way up. Five hours sleep is all I need and there’s lots of activity and at night time too!!!!!! Could that be because of the sudden hit of carbs?
It is not about calories, you can and should just forget about counting them, ignore them completely. Eat low carb, healthy natural food until you are full.
Thanks for this article/post. Great to watch those videos.
So, I reviewed the good Doc’s book (Body by Science; from the second video) and he’s a big proponent a paleolithic diet and of “The Big 5” workout. Basically, one workout a week consisting of 5 compound movements (leg press, shoulder press, lat pulldown, seated row, and chest press). Each exercise consists of only one set of slow reps. The reps are supposed to be of a specific time length, but are supposed to be as slow as you can and still keep a continuous motion. The point is to maximize time under contraction and that only one set is needed (basically, per week) and to maximize rest. The whole workout takes 15 minutes a week.
Mark, what’s your thought on this type of workout? One set per exercise and only working out once per week? Search youtube for his big 5 workouts if you want to see an example.
Personally, I don’t think I could stay out of the gym the other 6 days a week, but if it’s effective, I might give it a try.
I would like to know what study showed this. No offense, but every time anyone has quoted “a study” to me that proves Atkins is horrible they have never been able to back it up. I have never been able to find any studies with HEALTHY individuals (no kidney/liver/digestive issues) that showed any health risk with Atkins.
Agree with Alex, please share your wisdom with some real links and some real proof. Do you mean to tell me that my ancestors who basically lived low carb (lots of fish, meat and animal fat) and had the worlds highest life expectancy, were doing it wrong? That acriculture, growing corn, refining it (basically destroying it) etc. has been a huge health boost over eating natural foods (vs food products or factory made empty calories). I have done low carb with amazing results, both with regards to energy and fat loss and I was way above the calorie count that I was consuming before I started low carbing. How do you explain that, if you truly believe in calorie counting.