Thursday, March 29, 2012

How to Sync Diet with Exercise

Exercise is for muscle, bodyfat percentage is mainly about diet, walking is for digestion.

I have talked about the division of macronutrients, and about specific foods; now I will address another important - but little-recognized - issue: timing. The conventional concept is to eat as close as possible to the same macronutrient division at every meal, every day. As you will see by the end of this article, that couldn't be more wrong; in fact, it's a nutritional disaster.

Exercise is for Muscle

This does NOT necessarily mean getting "big, bulky muscles"; even if you don't want big muscles, you should still lift weights and/or do endurance exercise. While normal cardio burns more calories while you exercise, the afterburn ends within an hour; whereas, with weight-lifting (can be bodyweight exercises like push-ups, crunches, and squats) your metabolism will be turned up for up to 24 hours afterwards, as your muscles and systems recover.

To keep muscles small, keep reps per set either very low or very high. Lift explosively/never grind out a rep, for strength and for CNS health (hat tip: Christian Thibaudeau).

Bodyfat % is Mainly about Diet

I covered this in the two articles linked above ^, except timing (see below).

Walking Is For Digestion

The human intestines are 25-30 feet long, with many turns; there is no pump to move the food along, so you need to walk for the digestive system to function properly. Also, excretion of solid waste is one of the body's main detoxification pathways; if the food backs up in the digestive system, the toxins back up into all the tissues of the body.

Walking for digestion should be done at low- to medium-intensity. It's not about huffing and puffing to burn calories; that will only increase cortisol, which shuts down the enzymes that turn on your fat-burning hormones, leaving your body to cannibalize muscle. Three hours per week, spread over at least three days (e.g., a half-hour per day six days per week).
Everything else “cardio” does, weight-lifting does better.


Work out at least two days per week, but never two days in a row (recovery's where you make your gains!).

If two days per week, could be:

  • two full-body workouts
  • upper/lower split
  • push/pull split
  • one full-body, one endurance (walking, hiking, biking, etc.)
  • circuit-training one day, heavy singles the other (my fav!)

If three days per week, could be:

  • two full-body, one endurance
  • one full-body, two endurance
  • upper/lower/endurance
  • push/pull/endurance
  • circuit/singles/endurance


Aha! The moment you've all been waiting for. The piece de resistance!

Pretty much everyone should carb up pre-w/o; at least 50 g carbs, could easily be 100 or more (depending one your size and what you're going to do).

Everyone should also eat a high-protein diet post-w/o; there is a 4 hour recovery window, but there is also a 24 hour recovery window. Try to get 100 g pro between working out and the end of that day, then another 100 g pro the next day before 24 hours since you started exercising. Your muscles will suck up that pro at a much higher rate than normal in that period. (Those numbers are for an average size man; women probably more like 70 g instead of 100.)

Everyone should significantly reduce pro intake outside of that 24 hour post-w/o window. Once the skeletal muscles have fully or mostly recovered from the w/o, the rate at which they suck up protein goes way down. Outside of that window, you're not gaining muscle anymore; you just need enough pro to maintain your gains. If your intake remains high, most of the "extra" pro can be converted to glucose and burned, thereby preventing the burning of stored bodyfat. (It is this reduction in pro outside the recovery window which brings the average pro per day down to about 20%, as I noted in my macro division article.)

Now, here's where it gets a little bit complicated.

Those who inherited a need for a high carb/low-fat diet should absolutely get carbs with that pro post-w/o; that's no change, as they need a high carb intake pretty much all the time.

However, those who inherited a need for a low-carb/high-fat diet should definitely not get a lot of carbs post-w/o; they should remain low-carb all the time - except for that pre-w/o meal.

Most people - who inherited a need for something close to 40% carbs/40% fat - should basically be front-loading their carbs, and going lower-carb at night. Always HC/LF at breakfast, always LC/HF at dinner. On workout days, HC/LF at lunch; on non-w/o days, LC/HF at lunch.

Intermittent Fasting

The name "intermittent fasting" can be a bit of a misnomer. It doesn't have to be intermittent; it can be on a consistent schedule. It really should be called "frequent, short-term fasting." Never go more than 24 hours without eating (if possible); it's after that mark that most people start to lose muscle. One or two meals on fasting days is highly recommended.

Frequent, short-term fasting's main benefits:

  • gives your digestive system a rest
  • improves insulin sensitivity
  • improves leptin signaling
  • decreases inflammation
  • autophagy

The info on timing of diet, to sync it up with exercise, is very conducive to frequent short-term fasting. As long as you get your pre- and post-w/o nutrition correct, you have a ton of flexibility with what & when to eat - or even not eat!

Mark Sisson has done several good pieces on the health and fitness benefits of fasting, especially the autophagy. Just copy "intermittent fasting" and paste it into the search box on his site.


  1. Anonymous7:56 AM

    Don't bodybuilders do a lot of reps with low weight? Isn't that the most effective way of building muscle size? Not strength, I understand.

    1. @Anon,
      Lifting explosive makes muscles stronger, time under tension makes muscles harder, med-high reps (8-12 per set) makes muscles bigger. When I said "very high reps" I might 20+ per set.

      "Low" weight is relative. Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler might squat 10 reps per set with 300 - 400 pounds; that's much less than powerlifting recordholders, but certainly not low to most people.

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