As I was eating my lunch in the Labrada Nutrition company lunchroom one day and an interesting thought struck me. There I was, seated amongst a number of my managers, eating a broiled chicken breast, brown rice, and steamed vegetables. I looked around approvingly, as each person was eating similarly in a healthy manner. If there is one thing that we believe in at Labrada Nutrition, it’s feeding our bodies correctly! We often eat together, and the commonality of our diet provides an unspoken bond, with each man providing a part of the support network that pervades our company. If you work here, you are in shape. If not, it’s only a matter of time. It’s contagious.
Anyway, back to my thought. We were discussing the progress that one man was making in lowering his bodyfat, when he commented that he used his strength in the gym as a gauge of whether he was losing weight too quickly. Voila!
Suddenly I was back in my competitive bodybuilding days, dieting strictly for an upcoming Mr. Olympia competition. Whenever I competed, I kept a detailed logbook which contained everything: my daily food intake, my supplement intake, and of course my workout.
Keeping a daily log (I call it “the bodybuilder’s diary,”) helped me to make minute changes to my caloric intake on a daily basis. On days on which I trained major body parts such as my legs, I would increase my intake of complex carbohydrates slightly to accommodate the increases energy demands. On days of rest, I would trim back the caloric intake accordingly. The logbook made it possible for me to keep track and modify my diet as I needed, ensuring that I got into great shape every time.
“Later, whenever I had to diet down for another bodybuilding competition, I would refer back to my logbook. Getting in shape became like following a recipe.”
What ultimately determined what my caloric intake was on any given day however, was my strength in the gym. Hearing one of my managers bring strength as a gauge of caloric intake up in the lunchroom conversation that day made me realize that I had never before shared this very important tip with my Lean Body Coaching Club members.
A number of you are in the process of either getting into shape for the first time or getting back into shape, so I think that the timing on this tip is perfect.
Let’s look at why you should use your strength in the gym as a gauge for determining how many calories you should be consuming.
You have two goals as you embark on your program of getting into shape:
1) Strip unwanted bodyfat off
2) Maintain/build lean muscle tissue
To strip bodyfat off, you use a combination of:
a) Lowering caloric intake through diet.
b) Increased caloric expenditure through weight training and cardiovascular exercise.
To maintain/build lean muscle tissue, you :
a) Stimulate it through resistance training (weight training; I call it “bodybuilding!”).
b) Consume sufficient calories to support muscle function and recovery.
c) Consume sufficient protein.
If any of these three factors are amiss, YOU WILL LOSE MUSCLE TISSUE. And muscle tissue is your metabolic engine, enabling you to burn lots of calories, even at rest.
Muscle is your friend. Get used to it. And if you are female, don’t be afraid of it. Don’t worry, you’re not going to wake up looking like Arnold or me one morning. Muscle gives the body the contours that are so appealing to the opposite sex!
OK, now let’s back up a bit. To strip unwanted fat off, you must lower caloric intake; but to keep muscle tissue, you must consume sufficient calories. Isn’t there a contradiction there?
No. The answer to this seeming paradox is “balance.” That is, you must reduce calories slightly in order to create a caloric deficit that your body will hopefully pay for in stored bodyfat; but the caloric cut back cannot be so great that you force your body to access and breakdown muscle to meet its energy needs.
So you must walk a fine line between taking in too many calories (not dieting hard enough) and not getting enough (dieting too hard.) How do you gauge how much is enough?
By your strength in the gym! Strength is a good measure of whether muscle tissue is being lost (not enough calories, or over training), or being maintained/built (sufficient calories, proper amount of training.)
Let’s look at the practical application of this rule.
You are following the Lean Body Challenge diet faithfully. You have cut back your fat calories; you are providing your body with one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day; you are taking in what you believe to be a sufficient quantity of complex carbohydrates. You are training with weights. You are doing your cardio work.
The bodyfat is melting off. You are looking better with each passing week.
Then all of a sudden, you “hit the wall.” You stop making progress.
You find your strength waning in the gym. Perhaps you shrug it off, but the following week, you find that you are rapidly losing strength.
Chances are, your body is tapping into your muscle stores to make up for its energy needs. Your body’s first interest is “self preservation.” It does not care how much muscle tissue you carry. It does however, care about surviving. If you are not taking in enough calories, it will tap body fat stores to make up the caloric deficit. (You want this. It means you are stripping bodyfat off.)
But if you have cut your calories back too hard (or are not taking in sufficient protein [If this is the case, check out our selection of High Protein Diet Supplements]), not only will your body tap its bodyfat stores, it will break down muscle to use for energy!
This is especially common in low carb diets, where insufficient carbohydrates are consumed. OK, so how do you reverse the muscle loss? By increasing calories in the form of additional complex carbohydrates. The trick is to not over do it. What I recommend for anyone who finds themselves losing strength in the gym is that they increase their complex carb in take by 10-20% for several days, followed by a reassessment.
If your strength comes back, then everything should be back on track. If your strength has not come back, increase the complex carbs again. It may require a day or two of really increasing the complex carb calories to get back on track.
Once back on track, resume your diet, and continue to carefully monitor your strength in the gym. With a little practice, you will get the hang of this, and it will provide you with a valuable tool that will keep you progressing, week after week.
Yours for a Lean Body,
Your Lean Body Coach™