If I could show you a way to burn more fat and gain more muscle at the same time, while reducing your hunger and improving your adherance, would you be interested in finding out more about it? If yes, stick around and continue reading this article as I have some interesting ideas for you.
I am very happy that we have evolved from the period where everyone believed that you have to eat every 3 hours to speed up your metabolism and maximize muscle protein synthesis for best results, but now I see another extreme where it is believed that nutrient timing is not important at all. Total daily energy and protein intake is what only matters according to some.
I personally disagree with this, as we have clear research showing benefits of eating more than once a day. On top of this, try consuming 150 g of protein in a single meal without feeling like throwing up afterwards! It is simply impractical.
Another often overlooked element is calorie allocation, depending if it is your workout or rest day. Since your workouts can spend anywhere between 300 - 500 kcal per session, it makes sense to have a higher amount of calories during these days where they can be put to a good use. On the other hand, eating the same amount of food on rest days does not make much sense either as it can easily be stored as fat due to lower activity level.
Now, the biggest question is how much does this matter and what are the effects of this?
Macro nutrient timing
Out of all three macros, protein timing is by far the most important when it comes to favorable body composition. Workout days will keep your muscle protein synthesis higher, meaning your body can put to use more protein for building muscles. This is called anabolic window. However, instead of lasting for an hour post workout, as it was believed for many years, it typically lasts for 17h - 24h for intermediate and advanced lifters. This can increase even further for beginners to up to 48 h post workout.
What this means is that your protein intake should be higher during this time to maximize your muscle growth capacity. The thing is, because of the anabolic window that can last of up to 48 hours, you should not purely think of calendar days for nutrition, but instead arrange your meals by anabolic window meals and meals that are outside of the anabolic window.
More specifically, you want to synchronize blood hyperaminoacidemia with the time that your MPS ceiling is higher. Your blood needs to have a sufficient amount of amino acids at any time after a training session to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
For example, if you train in the evening, your anabolic window will be spanning across that evening and the first half of next day. Even if the next day is your rest day, your protein intake should be higher in meals 1 and 2 as they are within an anabolic window, and lower in meals after that. Because of this overlap, you should not be thinking purely in terms of rest days and workout days.
What is the evidence for this? Burk et al. (2009) compared 2 groups, where the only difference was the timing of a protein supplement of 70 grams of protein. One group received it closely before the workout 8 hours after awakening, while the other group received it right before going to sleep after the workout. As a result, the second group gained significantly more muscle mass than the group receiving it midday.
What about carbohydrates and fats?
Protein sparing modified fast
While protein timing becomes very important as you progress to intermediate and advanced level, carbohydrate and fat timing is of less importance. To be more specific, fat timing is not important at all, while carbohydrates depend on the type of activity you engage in.
During rest days, it is best to minimize your carb and fat intake for maximum fat loss effect. This method is called protein sparing modified fast. This is a form of an aggressive calorie cycling in line with your anabolic window, where you go really low on meals outside the anabolic window, and really high on calories with meals inside your anabolic window.
What you are trying to do is basically create a weekly energy deficit by going very low on 2 to 3 days in a week. For example, if you are working out 4 times in a week, you could be implementing PSMF on at least 1 day, and possibly even 3, depending on your goals. This frees up a lot of calories to be used on workout days that can be put to a better use and give you more energy. This can also result in a favorable body re-composition.
If you are having problems with appetite, aggressive calorie cycling can help you keep your appetite in check as well. According to research, alternating dieting days with 75% energy deficit low calorie days does not affect subjective appetite levels at all. Interestingly, even the activity level is not reduced, and after you finish your aggressive cut day, sleep completely resets your appetite, meaning, there is no super-compensation the following day.
How to properly set up PSMF day
Ideally, you want to keep your protein intake the same as other days, which is 1.8 g per kg of body weight, while minimizing your carbohydrate and fat intake. On top of this, you want to meet all your micro-nutrient requirements and fiber intake. This means that you should rely on high quality protein sources that do not include any fat such as: chicken, lean beef, tuna, low fat cottage cheese, egg whites, and whey protein. Your vegetables should cover most of your micro-nutrient and fiber intake during that day, and also give you a lot of food volume to keep you full. Think of chicken and tuna salads without any dressing, low fat yogurts, and a lot of egg whites. Certain protein sources like Beef can help you cover a lot of your micro-nutrients as well, as beef is a rich source of many minerals and vitamins such as: iron, vitamin b, zinc, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, niacin and thiamine.
The number of calories can be determined simply by calculating your protein intake and multiplying it by 8.3. Going below 8.3 is not really sustainable for most people. For example, lets say you have an individual with a body weight of 75 kg. His daily protein intake should be 1.8 x 75 = 135 g. You then multiply that number with 8.3 to get 1,120 kcal as a daily recommended calorie intake for a PSMF day.
Psychological advantages of calorie cycling
Studies have shown that calorie cycling has an advantage over linear diets when it comes to adherence. There has been a year long study with a 2 day a week PSMF, where participants only had 500 kcal on those 2 days and they had a similar adherence to another group that has been in a constant 25% daily deficit. This is just extreme example of a PSMF approach, I usually never go below 1,000 kcal with my clients on a PSMF day, and I usually restrict it to only one day per week.
Why is the adherence on average better with calorie cycling? Because people can see results quicker, which motivates them to push forward. Another advantage is that it offers you high calorie days that are particularly enjoyable. You simple are in a position to increase your calories on workout days where you will have much more carbohydrates and fats. This can result in some delicious meals if you are creative enough when cooking.
Another advantage of calorie cycling is that it can motivate you to go to the gym and train because you get to eat more on those days. As soon as you finish your workout, you can have a nice quality meal with lots of protein, carbs and come healthy fats.
Even from an evolutionary point of view, calorie cycling is more natural as food was never always available, not before the agricultural revolution that changed everything.
Humans and their predecessors evolved in environments where they were challenged intermittently with: 1) food scarcity; 2) the need for aerobic fitness to catch/kill prey and avoid or repel attackers; and 3) exposure to biological toxins present in foodstuffs.
Accordingly, the environment and the lifestyle that people had in the past helped humans to enhance the functionality and resilience of the cells and organisms.
As a consequence of the modern 'couch potato' lifestyle, signaling pathways that mediate beneficial effects of environmental challenges on health and disease resistance are disengaged, thereby rendering people vulnerable to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neuro-degenerative disorders.
Great food options for rest days
Lets have a look at some of my favorite food options that I usually recommend to my clients and make them part of the diet plan.
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