by Chris Shugart T-Nation
1 – Using Diets Made for Sedentary Women
Most popular diet books and weight loss programs are designed with what marketers call an “avatar” in mind. This is the type of person the product is designed for. Trendy diet books and weight loss plans advertised on TV are aimed at one avatar: sedentary women.
Are you a middle-class housewife with 2.3 kids in your 30s or 40s who thinks working out means going for a walk around the block with your gal pals? No? Then why are you dieting like a yogurt commercial mommy? Layperson diets are designed to meet a layperson’s goal: smaller numbers on the scale. Even men have succumbed to body weight obsession, many oblivious to the ideas of body composition and muscle catabolism.
“Hey, I lost 10 pounds!” Yeah, you lost 5 pounds of fat, 3 pounds of muscle, and 2 pounds of water. Congrats, you’re smaller, weaker, you’re producing less testosterone, and your metabolism sucks a little more now. You’ve just gender-reassigned yourself without having to inject estrogen or chop off your penis. Good job on the weight loss, ma’am. Now go watch The View.
Unless you’re grossly obese and just trying to not die within a year, your diet goals probably exceed the capacity of the pop diet’s abilities. You want less fat, but also want more muscle, more strength, and more athletic ability. None of these can be delivered by the frozen dinner nutrition plan your mom uses or the latest Dr. Oz book.
If you need to follow a diet plan to get back on track, make sure it was designed with your “avatar” in mind: a gym-going dude who cares more about looking great and performing well than the ambiguous numbers on a scale. Make sure it takes into account that you want to build muscle and be strong. Hint: Such a diet plan is probably not advertised by a D-list celebrity and does not have a title like “Kale Detox: Tone Your Tummy in Two Days!” This very site is jam-packed with better options. Check out The Simple Diet for Athletes or The Velocity Diet.
2 – Taking “You Gotta Eat Big to Get Big” Too Far
Most men like to eat, and eat a lot. So it’s easy to go too far with a calorie surplus when the focus is on muscle gains. But there’s a difference between eating enough to fuel workouts, recovery, and hypertrophy, and eating so much that you look more like a fat guy with decent traps than a muscular lifter.
Big arms don’t count if three inches of that bigness is comprised of flab. And if you have a growing gut, it’s safe to say that you’ve greatly exceeded the caloric surplus you need to optimally fuel hypertrophy. You’re just layering on stubborn fat deposits and maybe even stretching out the skin permanently, not building muscle.
Worst case scenario, you develop anabolic resistance: the impaired ability to build muscle caused by excess calorie consumption over time. It starts with insulin resistance, segues into leptin resistance, and when full-blown it manifests into excess fat gain, loss of the “pump” when training, stagnated strength gains, inflammation, and even low libido. Losing the excess fat after each mass phase gets tougher and tougher, too, and soon you have that high-belly pregnant look that takes years off your life.
Roughly a few hundred calories over maintenance is all you really need to fuel muscle gains. Think bodybuilding, not belly-building. Use targeted workout nutrition to add this extra fuel, not candy bars and fast food. Food quality matters. Those who say otherwise are selling ebooks and fantasies.
3 – Eating Like a Pro Bodybuilder
Many men get tripped up by mistake number two because they’re copying the diet of their favorite bodybuilder or hypertrophied action movie star. The problem? Well, most men don’t have the genetics of a pro, they don’t do the marathon workouts of a pro, and they’re not using the drugs the pros are using. Heck, even guys on steroids probably aren’t using a tenth of what the pros use. All of those things add leeway to the diet. The pros can get away with crazy diets (at least for a few years) because of the drugs.
You can’t. Follow their muscle gain diets and you’ll get fat and wreck your health. Follow their fat loss diets and you’ll lose muscle… and wreck your health. And sadly, many of these competitive bodybuilders and gurus make a living selling these dysfunctional diet plans to googley-eyed fanboys. And those customized meal plans they sell? Usually they have three or four versions of the same plan with slight variations, and they just email you the one that’s kinda sorta close for you. It’s far from “customized.”
Take the diet advice of pros with a grain of salt, or at least a couple of grams of test. You might be able to pick up a few tips from these guys – many are actually pretty smart – but remember that their plans are just that: THEIR plans. Not yours. Your body is your laboratory and you’ll need to conduct your own diet experiments to find out what works for you. That requires some thought and some work. Don’t like that? Then keep paying someone else for the privilege of being their diet-bitch.
4 – “Cutting” When There’s Nothing Underneath to Show Off
Many men today are under the impression that if they just lose 10 or 20 pounds, they’d uncover a sculpted body worthy of a fitness magazine cover. What they discover afterward is that there wasn’t really anything under that layer of fat worthy of showing off.
It’s understandable. You lift weights, but you’re kinda on the soft ‘n fluffy side. And having visible abs might increase your chances of seeing a woman who’s not on the internet naked. So you go on a fat loss diet. The result? Scrawniness. A weakened metabolism. The inability to eat three carbs at a sitting without gaining fat.
First, let’s remember that those “small” men’s physique competitors in the upper ranks mostly weigh somewhere around 200 pounds, shredded. And most are taller than their stocky brethren in the bodybuilding category. So if you’re a soft 170 pounds you’re not going to be happy being a leaner 150. Muscle matters, not just low body fat. Make sure you have some before adopting a “cutting” plan.
Many people recommend that these guys bulk up before dieting down. And sure, they do need to gain muscle. But skinny-fat guys often have the same underlying issues as fat guys – dysfunctional nutrient uptake mechanisms and poor nutrient partitioning ability. Basically, when they eat to gain size, they gain mostly fat. And when they diet to lose the fat, they look frail. Food seems to be preferentially stored as body fat, not used to build muscle. The solution here isn’t to diet for fat loss or bulk up. The solution is to fix those underlying issues.
Yes, get rid of the obvious junk foods that are problematic for everyone, but don’t “diet.” Instead, fix those metabolically active but broken fat cells with cyanidin-3 glucoside (Indigo-3G®) to selectively increase insulin sensitivity in the muscle. In short, that means your body will more easily release and burn fat while at the same time maximizing muscle nutrient uptake. Basically, food gets “put to work” rather than stored, and you can now build muscle and lose fat without extreme diets.
5 – Drinking Too Much Beer
T Nation editor Dani Shugart spent some time as a diet consultant. Ninety-percent of her male clients lost fat just by reducing their alcohol intake or dropping booze completely. And these weren’t heavy drinkers, just regular guys who enjoyed a few beers after work and while watching the game.
Calories aside, alcohol itself isn’t so much a fat storer as it is a fat burning suppressor. If your goal is fat loss, getting yourself out of that mode for several hours isn’t wise. And heavy drinking has several mechanisms that’ll smash muscle protein synthesis (gainz, bro!) and recovery.
A beer after work or on the weekend obviously isn’t going to ruin your physique, but can you stop there? And if you have the main goal of fat loss, can you accept that this puts a halt to your progress? If you’re trying to hit a certain amount of calories per day, are you going to allot 300 of them to two beers rather than “spend” them on foods or supplements that get you closer to your goal? Maybe your physique goal just isn’t that important to you.
Sure, some can get away with it, at least for a while, and at least when they’re younger. But most men can’t. And many don’t realize it until they’re over 40 and have a very deep hole to climb out of.
Take a serious look at your drinking habits. Try to put aside all that bro-tarded beer commercial bravado and whatever your lame-ass friends may think. Has it gone too far? At the very least, is it hampering your progress? If you must have some after-work stress release or need a social lubricant, and you live in a state where it’s legal, as little as 2.5 mg of THC has all the relaxing benefits and virtually none of the drawbacks as alcohol. And you can even get it in a 2 calorie mint so your lungs will be as healthy as your waist measurements.
6 – Not Learning How to Cook
Mommy isn’t around anymore and now grown-ass men can no longer feed themselves. Sad. Not learning how to cook is like not learning how to wipe your own butt. Is it manly to not be able to prepare your own meals that fit your goals? Are you more “alpha” because you have to depend on others to feed you? Are you smarter for not knowing how do something that’s required every day of your life, a few times per day?
This “skill gap” causes many men to depend on someone else to make their nutritional choices for them, whether that’s a spouse who doesn’t really care that much about your silly goals, some fast food franchisee, or some food manufacturer who’d put crack cocaine in your frozen pizza if it meant you’d buy more. Cooking your own food is a very basic form of self-reliance. If you can’t feed yourself then you’re not only being willfully ignorant, you’re also putting your physique goals into the hands of others – and those people don’t give a shit.
Wise up, man up, and put on an apron. Okay, you can skip the apron. But start working on this basic skill and take back control. The internet is there to help. Be a kitchen beast, not a kitchen bitch.
7 – Becoming Complacent
Poor women. There’s more societal pressure on them not to be fat. They’re pressured to look good, and looking good usually means not being obese. And that’s not a bad thing. “Oh no, I have to keep myself in better shape because society puts more demands on me!” Boo hoo. You know you like looking good, and living longer is a plus. Sometimes outside pressure encourages us to make better choices.
Men don’t experience that pressure as much. Big bellies and man-boobs are part of the uniform for the over-35 guy in North America. It’s expected, and pitiful. Women are often surrounded by other women who are always worried about their bodies or their diets in general. Men typically aren’t. Your friends are kinda fat. They eat plenty of crap… usually while fist-bumping. And your social activities often revolve in part around drinking and eating.
I once had a fat guy tell me it was impossible to clean up his diet because he watches sports with his friends and he “has to” eat game-day food. Yes, he was actually a grown-up and possessed both testicles.
Get divorced. No, not really, but imagine that you are getting divorced. Jolt yourself out of married-guy, dad-bod complacency. That’s right, pretend that after all these years you’re back on the market and if you’re lucky, new eyes are going to be seeing you naked. Maybe younger, sportier eyes. And she expects you to go rock climbing with her. Still happy with the body your dietary choices have provided for you? Probably not. You might adjust your training, but you’ll definitely feel compelled to clean up your diet.
8 – Thinking They Can Eat Like Their Teenaged Selves
High school is over. You’re no longer 17 years old, playing multiple sports, and having games and/or practices for hours almost every day of the week. You’re only that kid in your mind. Most men are still catching touchdown passes and sinking three-pointers at the buzzer, even though their bodies no longer match that mental image.
Even if you train regularly, you’re probably limited on time and have other responsibilities. You can no longer get away with eating for two-a-day football practices that have been replaced by 45 minutes lifting sessions and work stress. Diet must be adjusted for your current needs and current activity level.
Time to eat like a grown-up. Wipe the slate clean. You’re starting new. Remove all ideas about what once worked and about how you used to be able to eat. Stand in front of the mirror naked and tell yourself what THAT body needs. Probably something different that your teenaged body was getting away with.
Fat loss begins in your mind. Clean up the clutter in there with some honest evaluation and you’ll be able to make any good nutrition plan work.