I get it, the title doesn't make any sense. It seems like a paradox. It seems like the two concepts of eating more, and getting leaner contradict each other.
Why is this the case? It's so simple, I'll answer for you.
You've been lied to.
As you've heard before, misery loves company. This plays out in the health and fitness industry all the time. Everyone who is miserable wants you to be miserable with them. Your friend Jane who is on the 500 Calorie Diet (where she idiotically eats 500 calories per day) wants you to eat 500 calories per day, too. And you're just sitting there like.. "You know what? Screw you and your 500 calories, Jane. I'm perfectly happy enjoying Ben n Jerry's, delicious salads, and Pizza Fridays."
And you should be. Getting lean, burning fat, building muscle, and catching looks on the beach doesn't require you to suffer. It doesn't require you to cut anything out. It doesn't require you to live at the gym.
Heck, that's the case for all of the clients at Poehlmann Fitness. I love seeing the reactions at first.
"Wait, you want me to add food?"
"Wait, you're going to start taking my cardio down?"
"Wait, I can eat foods that I enjoy?"
The looks on their faces are even better. Especially when Holiday season rolls around and they slowly turn their confused face into a joyous smile, jump, and cheer saying "I CAN ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS!!!"
Once they get over their confusion and shock, most all of them come back to me with the same question:
"Can you explain how that's supposed to work"
So that's what I'm going to do for you today. I'm going to explain to you how I make all of my clients' lives more enjoyable as they get closer and closer to their goals.
All of the clients that I work with come from a wide range of starting points. Some of them have been working out for years and have a good amount of muscle mass. Some fiddle with different training programs every month and can't figure out what's best for them, and some haven't been active in the last 10 years of their life. Regardless of where the individual is coming from, a foundation needs to be build that is going to enable them to have a sustainably healthy body and lean physique.
If we're talking in terms of building and maintaining a lean and sexy physique that doesn't require the endless demand of intense activity every day in order to maintain it, weight training and eating to increase lean muscle tissue is going to be the best way to set yourself up for success.
I know that this is going to trigger all of those cardio-heads out there, so I'll say this:
Cardio isn't bad, and I'm not against it. A lot of my clients do cardio on the side because they enjoy it. However, I do not believe that cardio is the best way to build a lean body with a well-working metabolism and I'll explain why.
Metabolic Rate and Muscle
It is known without a doubt that having more muscle on your body is going to increase resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy required to maintain weight while sedentary). This has been shown in numerous studies (specifically using this one for this article) (1) over a long period of time. It is irrefutable. My body is going to require much more energy to maintain its weight than a 180 lb male with 20% body fat. Therefore, I can get away with eating more calories than the other individual (remember weight gain comes from eating more calories than you burn). Sure, there are most definitely some genetic aspects that play a role in metabolic rate, but there is no doubt that you can increase it by putting more lean mass on your body. So at this moment the questions is now "how can I increase muscle mass on my body?"
Resistance is the answer to the question above. Before I continue on I want to make sure that you completely understand by the term "resistance". Any type of resistance can help your body adapt in order to build more muscle. Bands, machines, and free weights are all great examples of resistance training. Heck, even bodyweight movements involve resistance because gravity pulls agains you during the movement. Although there are a few different types of resistance training, working with free weights is one of the best ways to increase lean muscle tissue because of the volume, intensity, angles, and other things you can apply to it without being restricted. For example. You can only move so much weight (your bodyweight) during a pushup, but more resistance can be applied in a dumbbell bench press because of the availability of different weights. Anyway, the point of resistance training is to send a signal to our bodies that's going to cause it to adapt to the load by increasing its strength and muscle mass.
Along with resistance training, eating an adequate amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in a caloric surplus is important when it comes to building muscle.
Don't be mistaken. It doesn't require a significant change in muscle mass in order to increase your resting metabolic rate. Even a few pounds of lean muscle can make a big difference. Having said that, ladies, you don't need to worry about looking like a shemale (is that PC?) on gear from lifting weights. In fact, you'll look lean, toned, and sexy instead. I promise.
Cardio and Adaptations
I'm sure at this point you've asked where cardio plays a role in all of this, and I'll explain. But before I do so, I'd like to talk to you about what happens with your body when you are performing cardio so you understand some of the simple science.
Remember just a minute or two ago when you were reading about the body adapting to resistance training by increasing strength and muscle mass? Good. It's the same concept when you perform cardio for a period of time. When you perform cardio (especially low intensity, steady state cardio) you're sending a signal to your body that's going to cause it to adapt. This time, the adaptation is different. Your body now knows that in order for it to be better at that cardiovascular exercise, it needs to get rid of weight (including muscle) in order for it to be more efficient. It asks your metabolism to be more efficient too. Not only does a decrease in muscle lead to a slower resting metabolic rate, but a more efficient metabolism is going to hold onto calories better. In short, cardio is telling your body to be more efficient, and your body can be more efficient by decreasing it's lean muscle mass and decreasing resting metabolic rate.
Ever thought about the differences the body of a long distance runner vs. a sprinter?
"So does that mean I shouldn't be doing cardio at all?"
Meh. That's my answer and I'm sticking with it. It just depends. If your goal is to run a marathon and absolutely kick tail, then yes you should be doing cardio. If your goal is to be lean, strong, fit, sexy, and healthy for your entire life, I recommend that resistance training is the staple in your programming, and you sprinkle in cardio if you enjoy it or want to use it to burn some more calories here and there. If your weight training is extremely lackadaisical and your heart rate isn't increasing at all either, cardio would be great just for the health benefits alone.
Thus far, you've learned this much:
1. Resting metabolic rate increases with more muscle mass.
2. Muscle mass can be increased through resistance training as well as a caloric surplus
3. Cardio shouldn't be the staple when seeking to build a sustainably lean and fit physique, but it should definitely be sprinkled in.
Now that we know these things, we need to put it all together and develop a takeaway that you can use along your fitness journey.
The Solution: Eat More, Work Less
I know that this sounds crazy and absolutely too good to be true. This is one of those cases where it's real. It's real because in some ways it's a paradox.
The reason my clients love working with Poehlmann Fitness is because one of the first things we do to their nutrition is ADD food. Yes, ADD food.
I do this in order to build a solid foundation. A foundation that has lean muscle tissue and can maintain it's weight at a high amount of calories is going to have the most potential for success when starting the fat loss process.
I'd like you walk you through one of the cases with a new client I picked up not too long ago. This young lady came to me looking for a solution just like everyone else. She was at a plateau forever and she was absolutely sick of it. She kept working harder, taking more and more intense classes, and eating less in order to try to lose weight. All she was doing was repeatedly running into a brick wall that would never cease to knock her right back down.
My job as her coach is to fix that and give her the opportunity to enjoy life again. So the first thing I did was evaluated her nutrition and training for a week. I saw that she was eating around 1100-1300 calories (which is really low), while taking high intensity bootcamp classes up to 5 days/week. Why do you think this is? Because she's been doing an hour straight of cardio, while in a caloric deficit for a long period of time.
So the first move here is to start over and build her a solid foundation. As I explain earlier, I do this by slowing down her cardiovascular activity slowly over time and reintroduce her to resistance training in order to increase her resting metabolic rate. I also add calories to her daily intake during this time.
Over time, I continually add volume (weights x sets x reps) to her training regimen and calories to her daily intake as long as she maintains her weight.
Once she gets to a point where she's eating a lot more and maintaining weight, I'll begin the process of SLOWLY eliminating calories. So with this specific client, we got to a point where she was maintaining her weight at 2300-2400 calories at the same weight she first started at. Keep in mind this is over 1000 calories more than she was eating at the start. Crazy, right? Now she's in a place where we can keep her activity pretty similar and slowly take down those calories. Now that her body is used to maintaining at 2300-2400 calories, a drop to 2000 calories caused her to lose body fat. And it did. So wrap your mind around that. After a while, this client was losing body fat eating 2000 calories as opposed to her 1300 calories before.
Although this approach is much more enjoyable, much safer, healthier, and more sustainable than most, others, it does take a good amount of time for this to happen.
But by the time this client was done with this process, her lean muscle mass increased, her body fat decreased, her scale weight increased (another reason to not care about the scale), and her relationship with her weight, appearance, and self-worth improved. And, she had the freedom to eat more food.
After reading this, I hope that you can leave with some knowledge on how your body adapts to the different signals you're sending it. I also hope that you understand that getting fit and reaching your goals doesn't require you to suffer. It only requires some dedication and consistency.
Speaking of those two things, the Holidays are approaching and it seems to me that this is the time of the year where people think health and happiness can't live in harmony.
As explained in this article, they can. And if you're interested on making those two things take precedence at the same time in your life, apply for coaching from Poehlmann Fitness to get a head start.
Thanks for reading!
1. Zurlo, F, et al. “Skeletal Muscle Metabolism Is a Major Determinant of Resting Energy Expenditure.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC296885/.
Adam is a fitness professional, Chipotle fanatic, and cookie enthusiast based in Fort Collins, CO. After hanging up the baseball cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere.
Adam is an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. His years of experience in fat loss, muscle hypertrophy, and sports performance training have helped people improve in all walks of life. If you're interested in hiring Adam as your coach, fill out an application here.