This is the master equation.
This is the formula that sums up what we trying to achieve in our efforts to LOOK, PERFORM, and FEEL the way we want.
Our world lives in a fantastic balance of growth and destruction, and this formula lies at the heart of it.
Worded a different way, it looks like this:
EXERCISE + (SLEEP + NUTRITION) = BODY RECOMPOSITION
What’s it all mean?
Starting with the end product, if body composition refers to the proportion of muscle and fat we carry, body recomposition means to change that relationship. For most people, a successful “recomp” would mean adding more muscle while subtracting fat.
The signal that our body listens to for that to happen is exercise. With this, there are essentially 2 different forms: One that sends a signal to our body to build (ie maintain or grow muscle mass) and one that sends a signal to break down (both fat and muscle).
In order for our body to hear that signal, however, we need to cut out outside noise (other stressors) and provide the means for our body to recover. During sleep is when our body gets to work repairing damaged tissue and making the hormones needed for us to thrive (both in fat loss and muscle growth) and food/nutrients is what our body uses as its building blocks to do that with.
So, as you can see, it’s pretty simple.
==> Provide a stimulus. Provide time and building blocks for recovery. Then reap the adaptation. <==
Let’s get more specific.
END GOAL >>> FAT LOSS
I am NOT talking about weight loss (this is easy: just go to the bathroom). What we really want is not to see the number on the scale move, but for the fat in the mirror to disappear. So how do we that?
We have 3 variables to work with: Exercise, Sleep, and Nutrition.
A + ( B + C) = Fat Loss
We can improve all 3 for optimal fat loss, but we don’t have to.
Here are the options:
OPTION A: MOVE MORE
So before I was talking about the 2 forms of exercise: One that builds and one that destroys.
Well, cardio and aerobic activities are the destroyers. Biking, running, walking, and swimming all fall into this group.
They send a signal to our body that in order to survive and become better at these activities, we have to get smaller. To do this (and depending on the intensity and length of the activity) they will break down both fat AND MUSCLE for fuel.
Most aerobic activities are not body-friendly for this reason, but they can still be used correctly.
Here is a guideline:
- The less intense they are, the more we can do them and the more likely that a large % of the breakdown will be fat. An excellent example of this is walking.
- The more intense they are, the more we should limit them as they will target a lot of our muscle for fuel. An example of this is training for a marathon or running 5+ times a week.
Another side effect of high-intensity aerobics is that they give us cravings in an effort to replace lost fuel. So this is why running to lose weight will literally leave us running in circles (as we run long distances and then gorge on food).
A better alternative is walking every or every other day and doing 1-2 runs a week (if you must).
OPTION B: SLEEP MORE
If you are sleeping less than 6 – 7 hrs a night on average, by increasing sleep to 8 – 9 hrs, your cravings will decrease, your energy will improve, and other aspects of health (such as digestion) will significantly improve. This will all lead to fat loss.
Note: If sleep needs are not met, then exercise is out of the question.
OPTION C: BETTER FOOD
Dieting is the typical approach to fat loss. This is hard to do right as far too many people feel that if they are going to diet than they got to do it hardcore. What’s hardcore? Taking what you used to eat and dropping it by 500 or more calories a day.
This sucks because:
In chronic calorie deficits, our body is going to eat up fat AND MUSCLE for fuel, positive hormones are not going to be made in sufficient amounts, and our metabolism is going in the toilet. In short, life (and your energy) will suck.
A smarter approach is to just eat better foods. With this, we will be getting the right nutrients so cravings will naturally diminish. Fat loss will be slower but so will be muscle loss.
OPTION D (BEST): RESISTANCE + ENOUGH SLEEP + GOOD FOOD
A big problem with losing weight is the chance that a large % of that could be muscle.
We care about this because it is muscle that gives us our shape and curves.
If we lose 50 lbs of total weight (25 of that is fat and 25 of that is muscle), we are just going to become a smaller version of ourselves. But if we can manage to make that 40 lbs of fat and 10 lbs of muscle, we are going to come out with a sleeker, trimmer, tonier look.
So how do we tell our body to lose more fat while keeping the muscle?
- =>> Lift heavy weights
- =>> Sleep 8 hrs
- =>> Eat Better (and slightly less) food
For the first one, we do not have to do anything extreme. Simply lifting weights 2x a week for a full body workout will be enough. Keep the reps relatively low (2-10) and keep the workout short ( within 50 min) and the signal will be sent.
We also want to tell to our body to lose fat. For this to happen, we need to create a teeny weeny caloric deficit. To create this, eat better food (of course) and try going to bed slightly hungry every other night.
Lastly, SLEEP. This is obviously crucial for any positive goal.
END GOAL >>> MUSCLE GROWTH
With muscle (and unlike fat), there is a limit to how fast and how much we can create. Once we evolve past the “noobie gains” stage where putting on 10 – 15 lbs of muscle in a year is feasible, muscle growth can slow to 1-2 pounds a year (if we do everything right) or maintenance (if we don’t).
And as far as the whole “I don’t want to get bulky” debate goes: fat is what makes us bulky. If you are afraid of getting too big. spend time getting lean first (with what I mentioned for fat loss).
Now, when it comes to muscle growth, we have less variables to play with.
Sleep is super important for muscle growth, but by itself, it is not enough to tell your body “to grow“. Eating will do this but without a proper stimulus, the excess calories will just be stored as fat (and not help make muscle). And if we train “bawlz out” but neglect sleep and nutrition, we won’t be going anywhere either.
So, as you can see, muscle growth can be hard.
THE ONLY OPTION: PROGRESSIVE RESISTANCE TRAINING
Muscle Growth for Dummies:
When we lift something heavy (could be a barbell or a fridge), the muscles that we used “tear” and become damaged. This is the stimulus. It is telling your body “Hey bro, we need bigger muscles“. So with enough sleep, calories, and time, your body will allow for that to happen. For those same muscles to grow again, however, the resistance has to become greater. Our body needs a new reason. So we either have to lift a heavier weight or lift that weight more times (sets and reps) to accrue the proper amount of damage (ie another stimulus).
It really doesn’t have to be harder than that.
- Progressively add weight to the bar and attempt to do more sets or reps to continually give your body reasons to change.
- Sleep (8-9 hrs for intense trainees).
- Eat slightly above your caloric maintenance.
For this last one, you cannot grow muscle if the building blocks are not there. Or to put it another way, a construction site can have all the workers in the world, but no building will be built if the bricks are not present.
Now what is slightly above? In terms of calories, 250 – 400 more a day should be enough. In terms of feelings, don’t go to bed hungry.
Also something worthy to mention is the fact that people tend to chase feelings/physiological states in the gym such as making sure they get a pump or making sure they are completely pooped after their workout.
This type of training is only reserved for those that have the ability/capacity to recover. A key question to ask yourself is, “Are my numbers going up?”. If the answer is no, scale back the stimulus.
Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate.
That’s all I have.
Hopefully this article will have left you pondering the stimulus’s you are currently sending with your own training and lifestyle.
And if you can probably imagine, it just doesn’t end with fat loss and muscle growth.