The Quick-and-Dirty on Calorie Intake, and an Evening Iron Session

Calorie intake as it relates to phenotypical expression; to cop a phrase from Robb Wolf: “Holy Cats!”  I really have nothing but the deepest of sympathies for people who do not happen to make Paleo/Primal, Physical Culture their geek-out hobby – I can only imagine what it’s like to stumble into this arena trying to find a sane voice.  Who to believe?

Bottom line, folks:  calories do matter – they’re just not the end-all, not the full story.  Taube’s axiom of “a calorie is not a calorie” is true, to be sure; it should not, however, be considered as license to unmitigated gluttony, free of consequences (especially fat gain).  Calories ought to be considered as the co-stars of a jam-packed, star-studded stage, wherein insulin could be considered the production’s glamorous diva.  Ok, that’s about enough of that analogy…

Skyler Tanner has posted a nice observation on gross calorie intake vis-à-vis its effect on body composition, with some poignant takes on how his own body reacted to a few weeks worth of decreased caloric intake as a result of his recent vagabonding expedition around central America.  Now, I don’t bring this up to throw Skyler under the H8R bus (don’t be hatin’!) – being the naturally lean guy he is, who’s free to engage in extended leisure travel – no, the reason I bring this up is that it’s a perfect example of the fact that as people drop weight, at a certain point, calories will have to be restricted to reach ultra-low body fat levels.  Now, we can prompt this calorie restriction in a number of different ways, the easiest being to severely restrict all carbs (to the point of going zero carb in some cases) and increase the fat intake.  This approach offers a nice one-two punch, in that fat tends to satiate one’s appetite quickly, and we get a lower insulin response to boot.  Now, at what point calorie restriction  is required to spur further weight drop is dependent upon a multitude of factors, not the least of which are sex, hormone/biochemical milieu, activity level…and on and on it goes.  Sometimes one might even need to increase calorie intake for a short period (to re-vamp the metabolism), then return to a decreased level.  One thing is for certain, though: drill down just a bit, and the weight loss/weight gain game becomes a highly n=1 affair.  For more on that, check out this story, from my friends at Efficient Exercise, in Austin, Texas.

Another reason I bring up the calorie issue is that I have received quite a few questions as of late specifically asking about lean mass gain.  Skyler has stated that he intends to engage in a little n=1, weight-gain experimentation of his own.  And he’s in a perfect position right now to do so, having dropped down to a single-digit body fat percentage.  And again I ask: how friggin’ fair is that?  The guy returns from an extended vacation to find his bodyfat chillin’ in the single-digits?  Ok, so how about we drop the hate-fest for the lucky guy, and set about monitoring his upcoming weight-gain technique and following his progress?  Can he pull-off some sizable lean gains without tacking-on too much in the way fat gain and/or water retention?  I’ll bet the (organic) farm that he can.  Skyler is an experienced trainer and, bottom line, he knows what in the hell he’s doing.  I think we’ll all learn a thing or two from his experiment.

And along those lines, here’s a way-cool web-based BMI, Waist/Height Ratio, BMR, %BF, Surface Area, and Willoughby Ideal Weight and Waist calculator that Skyler alerted me to.  My own numbers (6’-0”, 205lbs, 33” waist) equate to a pretty good return, especially if I focus on the “Willoughby Ideal”, and ignore the “establishment’s” BMI recommendations.

Tuesday Evening’s Workout –

reverse lunge + (btn jerk): 95 x 10 (10); 165 x 6 (6); 175 x 5 (3).  I then put 195 on the bar and hit 3 more sets of 2 in the btn jerks.  On each set, I completed the lunge reps on each leg, then, after a quick breather, moved into the btn jerk reps.

Notice I only did three sets of lunges.  This is in deference to the amount of biking and sprinting (coupled with the hip-dominant Oly-derivatives) I do during the spring, summer and fall; I don’t want to tumble into the dreaded overtraining hole, so *usually* I’ll opt to drop the 2nd “to failure” set if I’m following a classic APRE leg scheme.

Following the lunge/btn jerk combo, I played around with some single leg good mornings into a high box step-up – just some explosive, bw stuff.  My legs were pretty well dusted from the lunges and jerks, though, so I kept things quick & explosive and didn’t add any additional loading.  I did a total of maybe 20 reps each leg, at bw.  I really love this movement, though I haven’t done them in quite a while.  Check out coach Jimmy Radcliffe explaining and demonstrating the movement progression here (via Jason Glass Performance Lab):

I’ve been doing a lot of high-rep, feet elevated, push-ups lately, so I decided to throw the body a curveball and hit it with something I do rarely – machine flyes.  This particular pec-deck is of the “straight arm” variety (versus the variety which places the arm/elbow at a 90-degree position).   Anyway, it offers a nice change-up every now and again.  Consistency of movement, especially within the same rep range and intensity, is just another of the many factors that can lead to overtraining, and just the kind of easy-to-fall-into rut that I avoid like the plague.

Atlantis pec-deck: 150 x 12; 210 x 7; 225 x 7+; 225 x 5+

A Couple of Workouts, a Lost Day, and a Weight Gain Question

I recently received a skinny guy weight gain question from across the pond.  Someone from The Tree House Press asked, via Twitter, the following (in summary):

RE: Carbs and bulking up – You got your size pre paleo; what would you recommend for a 150lb male wishing to add size?  I’m out of whack with the good carbs, to be honest, oats are awful for my IBS…

So here’s the thing: I weight the same now, at 45, as I did back when I was playing college football twenty some-odd years ago.  Now, I don’t know what my body fat was back then – it certainly wasn’t high, mind you – however, I can you that I’m much more cut these days.  Same bodyweight, more cut…at 45.  I’ll let you do the math.  The Paleo lifestyle does a body good.  Not only that, but you can gain some serious lean mass, and drop fat, by following the Paleo Way’s very simple dictates.

Gaining weight is a highly n=1 proposition, and different tactics need to be employed depending upon one’s underlying physical make-up.  The one universal, however, is that the body – regardless of it’s underlying make-up – must receive an adequate dose/frequency stress stimulus in order to signal the need for lean tissue growth.  How that dose is delivered, though – in order to be most efficient and effective – is were the variability comes into play.  It’s my belief that the “eat to grow” mantra is a bit incomplete.  In my years under the bar, I’ve observed that the mantra ought to be “properly stimulate growth, then eat to accommodate”.  Not as sexy sounding, but it is the truth – for quality, lean tissue accumulation, at least.

Again, we must first begin any weight gain quest with the delivery of a proper stress stimulus, however, the most efficient delivery mechanism will vary depending upon the individual’s physical and psychological underpinnings.  For instance, I’d take a mesomorph who wants to gain weight in a completely different direction than that of an ectomorph (for a quick discussion of body types, check here).  As an example, in my experience, most mesomorph-types have superior recovery ability and therefore can handle more training volume and frequency.  Ectomorphs, on the other hand, usually have suppressed recovery attributes and usually fare better on HIT-type programs (lower volume, more infrequent workouts).  The key in either instance is to dose (inroad) the body with adequate stress, while allowing for enough recovery (or timing the next stress dose) so as to catch the crest of the supercompensation wave.  This isn’t at all rocket science, but again it’s a highly n=1 property.  The point here is that we first want to signal the need to put on lean tissue, then eat so as to support that endeavor.  For more, check out this previous post.  Although geared more toward weight gain in an athlete, there’s still some good information there for someone interested merely in aesthetics (i.e., lookin’ good nekkid).

Since I don’t have a frame to drape that 150 lbs over, I’m rather limited in my suggestions.  One thing that does stand out is the fact that you’ve apparently struggled with IBS in the past, and that this condition is worsened by the ingestion of oats.  The first thing that I would suggest is that you eliminate all grains and all sugars and move as soon as you can to the full-on adoption of the Paleo way of eating.  Also, since you’re prone to IBS (and inquiring about weight gain), I’d be willing to bet that your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the foods that you do eat has been compromised.  That being the case, along with adopting full-on Paleo eating habits, I’d check into taking some probiotics and/or digestive enzymes until things get back on track.  Robb Wolf and Andy Deas do a bang-up job of covering this topic in episode 29 of The Paleolithic Solution.  The take home message is that if you’re not properly absorbing the nutrients you do take in (which I suspect you’re not), it doesn’t matter what you eat, or even how much – you’re likely not ever going to gain weight until this issue is resolved.  And make no mistake, this is an overall health issue as well as a weight gain/aesthetics issue.

As far as to what foods I’d recommend, within the Paleo window,  to gain weight, I’d say this: emphasize starchy tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, etc.) as a carbohydrate source (and load ‘em up with raw butter), and, if at all possible, get your hands on some raw dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese – whatever you can get.  The caveat is this, however: hammering raw dairy and starchy tubers in the absence of busting your ass in the gym will only make you fat. It’s really that simple.  First and foremost, get your digestive/nutrient absorption issues resolved.  Then, work hard (and according to your physical make-up), and eat smart and within the Paleo umbrella.  Eat to satiation, but don’t force-feed.  Chronic, forced over-eating will make you just as miserable as chronic under-eating.  When you’re hungry, eat – when you’re not (even if you think you’re “supposed to be hungry”), don’t worry about it.  You’re job is to bust ass in the gym, and provide your body with the proper, healthy, nutrients.  You’re body will no doubt take over the internal workings without you having to think about it.  All you have to do on that end is learn to listen to what your body is saying.

The Weekend’s Workouts –

To preface this weekend’s workouts, let me just say that I got hold of some bad food (spring mix lettuce?) on Friday afternoon, and it did a total number on me.  At least I think it was the suspect lettuce – it’s the only thing I ate that was out of the ordinary and possibly questionable.  Or maybe it was just a stray virus, who knows.  In any event, from about noon to midnight on Saturday, I was down for the count and, needless to say, this did disrupt the workout plans for the weekend.  By Sunday I was ok, but still a little weak from the lack of food and probable dehydration that comes from, well, you know…the body’s way of ridding viruses and/or poisons from the system.  Anyway, away we go:

Friday evening –

A short and sweet superset session here.  My plan was to come back in on Saturday and hit some heavy pulls, but…

The cable flye was done as a pre-exhaust for the press, and the arms remained roughly parallel to the ground throughout the movement; my hands traveled a plane from approximately nipple level (at the bottom-out position), to just under the plane of the chin at full contraction.  Two hand positions on the press, the first being a regular grip, the next being a “palms-in” grip.  So, after moving from positive failure in the flye, I hustled over to the press and hit regular grip presses until positive failure, then re-gripped (parallel, palms-in grip) and hit it again until positive failure.  Three sets of this was plenty enough.  The bands made for an increasingly, super-hard press – especially in the last third of the movement.

kneeling cable flye: 60 lbs x 9, 6, 5

atlantis incline press with bands: 180 x 5 (3), 3 (3), 2+ (2)

Ok, so we’ll just call Saturday a “lost day”.  If you’re into astrology, Saturday’s astrological alignment involved a Grand Cross with a full moon.  Hmmmmm…

…on to Sunday –

reverse lunge + BTN jerk: 115 x 6 (5); 135 x 6 (5); 155 x 6 (5); 165 x 5 (4); 175 x 4 (4); 180 x 4 (4); 185 x 4 (2)

reverse grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 70 x 5; 80 x 3, 3, 3, 3

then, a superset of –

feet elevated push-ups: bodyweight x 50, 40, 40

GHR: bodyweight x 20, 20, 20

Hell of a superset to kick things off here.  The reps listed above are per leg, then, in parenthesis, the jerk reps.  No rest between any part of this complex, and just enough rest between exercises to move station to station.