Dr. Eric Helms Answers: How Do You Build Muscle Without Gaining Fat?

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If you want to know what science says is the best way to build muscle while gaining as little fat as possible (or none), then you want to read this interview with Dr. Eric Helms.

Key Takeaways

  1. For your first few weeks of lifting weights, it’s likely that you’ll gain strength quickly without gaining much muscle.
  2. As you become more advanced, gaining strength becomes more and more important for gaining muscle, and vice versa.
  3. If you haven’t built much muscle in a while, chances are good you need to work harder (get stronger) and/or increase your training volume.

Bulking is a controversial subject.

On one hand, bulking has earned its place in the canon of bodybuilding. “You want big muscles?” A century of meatheads have asked. “Then you’d better have a big appetite.”

On the other hand, it’s earned its fair share of criticism. “You want to gain a ton of fat and little muscle?” A legion of modern fitness gurus retort. “Then listen to the meatheads.”

Who’s right? Well, in cases like this, it’s best to take a close look at the scientific literature.

One guy who knows the research on this matter better than almost anyone else is Dr. Eric Helms.

In case you don’t know Eric, he’s a member of the 3DMJ coaching team and is himself a professional natural bodybuilder and strength athlete, as well as an author and credentialed scientist with a number of peer-reviewed papers under his belt.

According to Eric, the short story is that some fat gain is inevitable during a proper bulk unless you’re completely new to lifting weights and proper dieting.

That said, you aren’t doomed to gaining tons of fat during every bulk once you’re past the newbie stage. You can gain significant amounts of muscle without gaining large amounts of body fat, and it’s not as hard as many people think.

Here’s Eric breaking it all down …

Mike Matthews: What are some of the common mistakes that people make when they go, “Okay, I don’t need to be super shredded anymore, and I want to really focus on gaining muscle and strength.”

Then where does it kind of go off the rails from that point? What have you seen in your experience?

Eric Helms: Sure. It typically comes down to basically 2 different camps, and they’re normally differentiated by who do they follow?

So, you’ve got people who came up reading muscle magazines or the 2017 equivalent and they are basically following bodybuilders, typically they over do it. They’ll kind of go on a “see diet,” a “see-food diet.” Where they’re eating everything, they’re gaining a lot of weight very quickly and they go on basically a GOMAD diet.

Or, something where they’re eating everything and they’re gaining a lot of weight in a large part of it is body fat, and very quickly they’re running out of room to continue bulking.

They may be putting on effective muscle mass, but the timeframe that it can last before they start getting uncomfortable with their body is short.

Mike: Can you talk a little bit more to that point of that timeframe? Is it just about comfort, because I’ve spoken with a lot of people that say they   don’t really care.

They just think if that’s what it takes … like, if I just have to kind of be a little bit disgusted with myself for half the year, then I’ll do that, but is it just that? The psychological or is there also a physiological element there?

Eric: There’s definitely both.

If you’re a drug-free person with any kind of experience underneath your belt, the amount of muscle mass you’re going to be able to put on and the rate that it can get put on is typically slower than what you might be told in the mainstream kind of body building information.

So, you’re going to have the idea that you can put on a pound a week and have that be relatively clean weight. When in reality, it might be more like a pound a month that’s going to be “clean” [muscle, not fat].

Mike: Would you say, is that for beginners or intermediates, that number there?

Eric: Really the range I like to use is about .5 to 1.5% of your body weight per month is a decent rate to try to focus on gaining.

Mike: Okay, and you’d say the newer you are, the more you’re going to be on the higher end of that?

Eric: Yeah, basically it scales to you’re training age. So, the faster rate you gain, you should be lowering your training age because the closer you get to your genetic ceiling, the harder it’s going to be to put on muscle at that rate. So, definitely.

Mike: Cool.

Eric: Yep. That’s the one big issue, is on that side of the fence. On the other side of the fence is people who kind of came up following like, you know, Martin Berkhan or basically anyone who’s talking about how to be lean all the time and how to get six pack absolutely.

Their problem is that they often don’t have a base at all. That their first introduction to fitness was trying to get leaner.

Whether they were overweight or not, or just not as lean as they wanted to be. The physiques they saw, the information that was emphasized to them was always, “here’s how you can maintain leanness or get lean in the first place and do it with less effort.”

They’ve never actually had a proper true period where they’re trying to gain muscle, and they’re often not satisfied with the results when they cut, because they’re … they don’t really have a lot of muscle to show for it.

Mike: Can you just speak quickly to why the … I mean, it’s … when you say “lean gains,” you obviously think of Berkhan, but that is kind of the concept, right? Is that like you can keep your body fat at 10% and still gain muscle, why that doesn’t work as well as many people hope?

Eric: Yeah. Certainly. Well, I think the big problem is that a lot of people just want to have a certain level of leanness in their mind because they’ve been told it’s maintainable.

So, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Skyped with someone for a consultation and they tell me, “Hey, this is my fourth time trying to cut down to 8% body fat.” Each time they get there, but then they can’t stay there.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: They think it’s their approach. That if they’d just use a different diet or if they reverse diet or if they, what have you. They’ll be able to maintain it, but in reality it’s just like “Dude, your set point is like 15% and until you accept that, you’re just going to be struggling and focused on food and then not making great gains and having relatively suppressed hormonal system and sleeping poorly.”

So, it comes down to they have to A, accept that their “walk around physique” may be just not quite as lean as they hoped, which could take years for some people.

Mike: Not Insta-worthy right?

Eric: Right, yeah, you know. So, not something people like to hear, but something they need to hear if they actually want to make progress.

Mike: Right.

Eric: Then the second part of that is relevant to what we’re talking about, is that they can learn that a 15% body fat physique in this example, is going to look better over time if they actually put in the years.

Actually spend some time not trying to cut, but actually building a good physique, and someone with a lot of muscle mass at 15% body fat looks pretty good. You know, that’s the type of person that would definitely be comfortable taking their shirt off at the beach.

So yeah, these people would typically spend much more time cutting than they have actually gaining and normally I talk them into going right … they need to set a minimum time ratio—a  limit of time spent in a surplus versus time spent in a deficit.

I normally tell them the minimum should be like 4:1. So, for every four months of time spent in a surplus, it’s one month you’ve earned yourself a deficit.

Mike: Yeah, I like that. I’m sure you get asked about mini-cuts and mini-bulks a lot. I know I do. I’ve spoken a bit about it, written a little bit about it, but actually probably would be good to just have one single article I could send people to because I still get asked about that in my experience.

It just doesn’t work well, and I don’t know actually if there’s … if this is something that you would probably be able to illuminate more than I would, but it seems like there’s something to momentum when you’re in a surplus.

After it takes a few weeks, it seems like for your body’s muscle building machinery, so to speak to really be firing on all cylinders.

It’s not just like the first day that you’re in a surplus all of a sudden you’re able to … you’re really feeling it in your workouts and you just … you know what I mean? It takes a few weeks, but if you’re always flipping between deficits and surpluses, it seems to screw that up.

Eric: Yeah, I mean, I can’t think of any physiological reasons as to why the first few … the early part of a lean gaining period wouldn’t be effective, but I know people if they have unrealistic expectations of one of these shortcuts … let’s say you take that approach.

That 4:1 approach, and you do four months of time spent in a gaining period and then a one month cut. Not a whole lot is going to happen in a month, and if it does, it’s probably not a good thing. It probably wasn’t just fat.

Mike: You’re talking about … you can take off a few pounds, like.

Eric: Yeah, yeah. If you lost 10 pounds in a month, that probably wasn’t all fat.

Mike: Right.

Eric: Unless you just have amazing fat loss genetics, and so I think the way I try to sell these mini-cuts if you will. Is that it’s to allow you to continue goal in your surplus afterwards.

So, it’s controlling fat mass accrual in the process of a long-term gain period versus right, I bulk for four months now I’m going to get shredded in a month.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: That’s often the next pitfall that you run into from the people who kind of come from that “I want to be lean all the time crowd.” It’s because that’s still part of their goal.

Even if they’ve come to accept that maybe they need to try to be not so lean and they need to spend more time building their physique that’s okay, I’ve done that. Now can I get back to what I want to do?

That’s when you’ve kind of got to convince them, like “Look, if you want to do a photo shoot. If you want to do a competition or if you want to get ready for something. If you want to give yourself kind of a goal, we can do that, but we need to have a longer cut to do that and we need to get you built up so that when you do it, you’ll look good. This little one month thing is just to control fat mass weight gains while you’re building your base.”

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, totally. It’s that work you have to do up front to kind of … I mean, you can look at in the perspective of if it’s a lifestyle thing or use a financial metaphor or whatever metaphor you want to use, but it’s just that work yet that you have to put in.

You just have to put in your time and yeah, things aren’t the way you want them to be for … it could be a year, it could be two years depending what the person … how they want to look, but then the payoff is, “Okay, you’ve done that and now you’re in that position, right?”

“Where you can … if you want to stay lean year round, then there’s, of course, a trade off, but you can do that now. Yeah, you’re not going to stay 6% year round. At least not naturally, but if you really want to have the beach body or whatever, but you have to pay the price first.”

Eric: Yeah and I don’t even think you’re going to be staying 6% year round if you’re on Gear. That’s not going to help you.

Mike: Oh yeah, and it’s not good for you, but go scroll around Instagram and you’ll see it. There are guys doing it.

Eric: Yeah, well, I mean, there’s no reason that just like hopping on Gear is going to help you be leaner.

Mike: Oh, sure.

Eric: It’ll help you hold a little more muscle or anything like that, but I have talked to people who are like … they end up going down the drug route just because they can’t figure out how to do it and they think that’s magic, and I think that typically does more harm than good.

Anyway, that’s just not really my bag anyway. So I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert there, but yeah, yeah, you’re 100% correct, that we can make an entire podcast about people who are attempting to maintain a leaner body weight than they probably should. That is realistic and that is probably more of a psychological issue than it is anything else.

Certainly I think it’s important to present it as a settling point. You know, the body fat you can maintain, and probably a settling point range that can change over time because a big part of that is not just physiological.

It’s also psychological and sociological and as you get better at, like you said, incorporating new habits into your lifestyle, you may find you can maintain a lower body fat percentage.

That’s something that does take time and it takes years of kind of incorporating different habits when you go out to eat, tracking, adopting “intuitive behaviors” that are actually heavily learned and integrated and not really that intuitive.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: Then maybe, you know, a 15% moves down to 12% in a few years of you being in and that’s cool. I’ve actually ran into a few people who can maintain lower than is probably ideal for gaining muscle mass and they have to become aware of that.

That they are actually quite controlled and they manage their environment very well, but at the cost of maybe holding on to more muscle or being able to build more muscle. So, that’s always something to consider, and by far I’d say those two kind of “camps” are where the two mistakes.

The two biggest mistakes I run into and I’m either finding myself convincing the permanent bulkers to take a little more control and a little more patience and be a little more moderate in their approach to gaining. Or, I’m convincing the six pack abs year round crew that maybe they need to have more realistic and individualized expectations for themselves.

Mike: Yeah, makes sense. So, what about on the other side of the coin, on the training side. Are there any common mistakes that you see there?

Eric: Yeah, I think more often than not on the training side people just think that there needs to be a huge difference between what they’re doing when they’re cutting or bulking. Really the principles remain the same.

It’s just that, you know, you can probably handle a little more volume. You can deload, just not quite as frequently. I mean, there’s some really old school thoughts out there that you need to be lifting heavy when you’re bulking. You know, like fives and sixes and eights.

Mike: Yep, and then you go light when you’re cutting so you really bring out the muscle definition and all that shit.

Eric: Yeah, exactly. And then I don’t know how worthwhile it is busting that myth because I think that, that’s more like an early 2000 to 90’s things. I just don’t run into a lot of people who still think that.

Mike: That’s like my first cut, when I first picked up … when I first lifted a weight, I think that was pretty common, like, that was what you did. You asked someone in the gym. That’s what you do but that has-

Eric: Same, yeah. That was, for me that was like 13 years ago. The last time that it  was probably a rather popular belief.

So there’s that, but basically the principles of training remain the same in a deficit or a surplus, because it’s always doing the same thing. You are creating a signal for muscle gain, and that’s either supported by your nutrition or it’s not and it’ll be more or less effective because of that, but it doesn’t really change it.

Then you just have to think about, “Okay, is my recovery going to be hampered from my nutrition or will it be aided or at least not hampered.” That should dictate some of the decisions you make in terms of how you modify your training volume, intensity, frequency, et cetera.

Mike: Have you seen … like something I’ve seen is not working … not doing enough actually. Like trying to follow a very minimalist program while bulking. I mean, in some cases it’s bad where it’s like a program that’s just upper/lower, that’s it.

Two workouts a week, and yeah, they’re longer workouts and they’re rather intense workouts, sure, but it’s still just two workouts a week while bulking or maybe three, max of four.

Anyways, to that point of where I’ve seen that, I don’t know if you’ve seen that where it’s like, “Okay, if you really want to maximize, you’re going to have to work a bit harder, you know what I mean?” Especially because you’re not brand new to this.

Eric: Yeah, again, it seems to come down to where they get their information from.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: So, like kind of what goes hand in hand with some of the Martin Berkhan inspired kind of approaches. I don’t want to sound like I’m hammering Martin Berkhan, but really there’s been a lot of off-shoots from him. There’s been a lot of people who basically copied what he’s done.

Mike: Actually, almost copied pasted actually in some cases.

Eric: Literally, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what I’m talking about.

Mike: Absolutely.

Eric: Again, their approach is what he used, which makes sense for what they’re doing. Like, if I’m trying to maintain a low body fat and I’m always in like kind of a maintenance phase at best or a cut.

Then I probably do want to take a lower volume approach and maybe focus more on my tension stimulus. That’s a fair argument, and so you’ll see that. You’ll see the, I train three times a week in alternating upper/lower fashion and I use 3 sets of 4 to 6 per muscle group and that’s it. One exercise.

That’s probably an adequate stimulus to maintain for an intermediate person, but for the average person with a couple years under their belt who’s looking to optimize muscle gains, it’s just not enough volume.

It might be decent for strength gain, but I’d like to see someone getting at least 10 sets per muscle group per week spread across at least 2 sessions per week as a decent kind of starting point.

Then from there if we’re progressing, that’s fantastic, but modify if it doesn’t change. So that does happen. It’s not … again, it’s kind of specific to that crowd.

On the other end of the spectrum you get the people who came up listening to IFBB pros and depending on who they’re listening to, they may have kind of this not really focused on progressive overload mindset.

Mike: Yeah, a two hour arms day of like …

Eric: Yeah, yeah. I’m not a weightlifter. I don’t care about how much weight I move or get from point A to point B. I want to feel the muscle work and I’m like, “Well, okay, so long as you can do that and have an objective system for progressive overload over time I’m fine with that, but-

Mike: I mean, it’s kind of like however you want to tell yourself that’s cool, but as long as we’re doing this over here. So, however you want to think about it.

Eric: Yeah, totally. It’s not like they don’t make any valid points. Certainly you want to make sure that you’re not just throwing tin around and just lifting as heavy as you can all the time. I mean, it’s not A or B, it’s finding … like, okay, I do want the target muscle working, sure, and progressive overload is the key critical component to progress.

So, how can we systematically ensure that occurs? That’s basically the two things you don’t see, is people doing too little like you said or just doing everything, but without structure.

So, I think just generating structure in general is typically very helpful to people who have been struggling with actually building muscle.

Mike: Okay, and anything regarding cardio? Do you come across that? Doing too much or you know?

Eric: Well, often your female listeners, this is relevant to them for the most part in my experience Also again, I’m just hammering the lean gains crowd, Martin Berkhan people.

Mike: I can see the headlines now. I can see the fake news now.

Eric: The funny thing is, this is nothing that Martin has really directly promoted. It’s more of the audience he attracts, and I think that’s something anyone who puts out information is going to be … I would say a victim to, to some degree or at least be aware of.

Mike: Sure.

Eric: That the information you put out will not always be received in the way you want it to be. It will often sometimes be used by people who kind of already have that filter and bias and want to basically keep doing what they’re doing without changing anything.

Until they really start to run themselves into the ground or see a lack of progress, but anyway, yeah, so I often run into females who are a little intimidated by the prospect of putting on some body fat and are often doing a lot of cardio. Probably more cardio than most of your average male fitness person would do during a cut.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: Just kind of as a baseline. So, cutting that down is really, again, getting around kind of their psychological fear of, “Well, if I don’t do this what’s going to happen?” Same thing with the guys who are very focused on the found of six pack abs, so that is one mistake.

Then sometimes in the modern age you’ll run into people who are very sedentary, and they’re a student and they take online classes. Or, they’re an office worker or really they just don’t have much energy expenditure and you actually do need a little bit of cardio in there just to kind of have a consistency of energy intake. Or just make it easier for them not to gain weight too fast.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: That’s actually something that is pretty specific to the individual as to far as to what their baseline activity is. You know, how sedentary they are in their life.

Mike: Yeah, would be relevant to a lot of people listening. I know a lot of people are in that position where most of us work at a desk, you know?

Eric: Yep, exactly. So yeah, and sometimes people create the scenario like you said, but if they’re only training twice a week they feel like they have to do cardio to not-

Mike: Just to be able to eat some food.

Eric: Right, but if they already go from say 2 hours of training a week to 4 hours of training a week, all of a sudden … and not that they should do that overnight.

I would say to kind of give a little disclaimer to people who are listening to this going, “Oh, I’m not training enough.” It’s like, build up like 10% more volume over time. Add 1 session.

First, I’d take the 2 sessions, like you said, that may have a lot of time spent in them and just break those up into 3. Then from there if you’re still not gaining at an inappropriate rate or if you’re still plateaued then you could make like a 10% increase in volume.

Mike: Yeah, so like people listening … let’s say if you’re doing an upper/lower, maybe you could turn that into a push/pull/legs type of setup to break it up into 3 for example?

Eric: Certainly. Yeah, and then if you wanted to get that frequency up a little higher you can go Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and then go push/pull legs and then have a full body day on Saturday or Sunday.

Or, something like that with lower volume and a little heavier weights and then get a little more volume on the other days. That way you’re hitting that kind of 2 times per week frequency, strength and hypertrophy stimulus. All that good stuff.

Mike: Yeah. Cool. Okay, good. So I think those are the major mistakes and just kind of misguided ideas that people have. Let’s circle back around and talk about how to do it right. Do you want to just start on the diet and nutrition side of things?

Eric: Certainly, yes.

So, I think the big one is realizing that there’s a direct relationship between the calories you take in and the rate of weight that you gained. So, if our goal is to gain .5 to 1.5% of our body weight per month, that’s really less than .5% of our body weight per week.

So the average, let’s say 170 pound male, that’s not a lot of body weight you’re trying to gain per week, but if you need roughly a 500 calorie surplus per day to get roughly a pound of tissue gained. That means you’re only going to want like a 100 to 300 calorie surplus depending on how big you are to start, and what your training age is.

So if you’re 5’6″ and you’re an intermediate, it’s going to be a small surplus. If you’re 6′ and a beginner, sure you might have like a 400 calorie surplus to get you in the right position.

Then the second question becomes, “Okay, well if I’m only trying to gain a little bit of weight over time and it’s a small surplus. How do I even track that?” The way to do that is looking at longer time periods. So, I’ll often tell people to look like at like a 14 day body weight average and compare that to the next 14 day period.

Then you’re working with … let’s say you’re trying to gain a pound a month. You can look at a 14 day average and see whether or not you’re up half a pound, or close to it. Say .4 to .6 or .3 to .7 pounds and if you’re in that range then you’re thumbs up.

You’re in the sweet spot. If it’s too low or too high then you can make a small calorie bump by say like 50. Or something like that. Just kind of nudging it in the right direction because you’re not looking for too much.

Mike: Just to that point for people listening, the problem with this in particular with just trying to use the mirror is, you’re not really going to see that much of a difference week to week if you’re not tracking your weight.

Like what you’re talking about. Especially with working on an average like that and you’re just trying to go off of do I look bigger. That’s not going to serve you very well.

Eric: Yeah, I mean, honestly the last time I was able to look in the mirror as a drug-free lifter and assess whether or not I was bigger was the first year of my training. Then after that I really can’t … I kind of have a moment of like of reflection where I go, “Wait a minute. I’m 215. Last time I was 215, I couldn’t see my abs.”

So I’m like, “Oh okay.” So that’s the kind of thing where … that’s like years apart where before I noticed gains or the other scenarios are when I actually diet down for a bodybuilding show.

There’s no body fat to obscure my physique at all. I can look from 2009 to 2007, 2011, 2009 and see what progress I’ve made, but obviously that’s not a way to assess for the general pop. Like, was your gaining phase successful? Well, just diet down until you’re shredded, and then you’ll see.

Mike: Then you’ll see.

Eric: Just take 6 months after you’re done bulking and then get cut. You know? That’s probably not a useful kind of tool to put in your tool belt.

So, yeah, when assessing progress primarily what you want to focus on is the ingredients that will result in gaining muscle mass rather than just “Am I gaining muscle?”

Are you in a surplus so you’re gaining tissue? Do you have an appropriate amount of volume, and frequency, and intensity in your training program, and is progressive overload occurring? If those three things are happening, then you can probably be sure that the most percentage of that weight you’re gaining that can be lean muscle is.

If you’re not satisfied with it, and you’re doing everything right then it’s just a matter of coming to terms with the fact that you’re not a beginner anymore, which is tough.

I remember when I … I thought I was doing something wrong for many times when I moved from the beginner to the intermediate phase and often I was because I was still a relative beginner and didn’t know what I was doing, but many times I was changing things just because I was still expecting to gain like a newbie.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: Falling in love with kind of the training approach I had at the start, because that was the rate of gain that I was now accustomed to and expected and  being frustrated by anything less than that. That is quite the mental hurdle for people moving from the kind of honeymoon phase.

So just something to think about for people who have been lifting for maybe more than six months seriously and they’ve just started to notice that the progress is not the same that it once was.

So on the nutrition side, the first piece is really making sure that your surplus is appropriate.

Probably not as much as you think in how you track that as by say looking at say 14 day averages or even monthly averages and making small changes over time to push you in the right direction or pull you back if you’re gaining too quickly.

Then, you know, I don’t know that you really need to track your protein, carbs, and fat. Like I would probably recommend that for anyone doing a serious cut, but I would say you want to make sure that you are getting in at least enough protein during this period. Also eating a relatively healthy diet.

So I tend to focus more on, “Okay, am I getting at least roughly say .8 grams per pound of protein?” More is fine. Then am I getting in a serving of fruit and vegetables each for every 1,000 calories I’m consuming as a minimum?

Certainly, you know, more than that extra credit is fine.

Mike: Do you even go a little bit further and choose your fruits and vegetables specifically? Or, are you just looking for like, “Ah, I’m just making sure I get some leafy greens and a variety of fruits.” Or?

Eric: I’m a big fan of just variety is the spice of life and to ensure you’re covering your bases nutritionally. Yeah, I’m not one to tell people like you have to get an apple, a banana, berries, etc, because you know these phytonutrients.

More so, it’s just a matter of variety is good. Probably want to have kind of that decent 80/20 rule. Where 80% of your foods are single item ingredients, “clean” if you will.

Mike: Stuff you don’t have to produce. It doesn’t come in a package.

Eric: Exactly. Exactly, and then you have the 20% is whatever you want really. So long as you’re still meeting those requirements of getting your micronutrients, getting enough protein, and gaining weight, which is basically your surrogate for energy surplus.

Mike: Right.

Eric: You know, going back to the issues people have. Sometimes they’ll come to me and they’re eating too clean, and they’re eating too high of protein.

A high water, high fiber, high protein diet is one of the most satiating diets you can have and satiation is useful to a point, but when you’re actually trying to gain weight, that can actually become a barrier.

So, sometimes I will tell people, “All right, I want you to eat no more than .8 grams a pound of protein. We’ll put you at kind of the lower end and let’s go from like an 80/20 to like a 70/30 and get some more, Chipotle in there or whatever we need to do. Burrito gains.”

So, what do we need to put down so you can gain weight more easily? More palatable foods essentially. So, some of the opposite rules to what you’d probably want to do while trying to avoid excess fat gain or actually trying to cut.

That’s one of the things that’s kind of been lost in the kind of new age. If it fits your macros, is that sure you can fit anything into your diet, but do you want an entire diet of highly palatable foods that actually makes you hungrier or less satiated? That makes it actually harder to follow your diet.

Mike: Starves your body of vital nutrients that keep you disease and dysfunction free. If that matters?

Eric: Yeah, it should, it definitely should matter. Some people will find crazy ways to … “I get my fruits and my vegetables. I take a greens supplement and a multivitamin, and then I have ice cream for 3 to -40% of my calories.”

Mike: That’s actually common. So, if you want to speak to that quickly. I mean, I see that all over, especially on social media. That’s what they tell themselves, I don’t … that’s even going a little bit further honestly. What I see more of is Chipotle over, and over, and over, and ice cream, but multivitamin. You know what I mean?

Eric: Yeah, yeah. If there was a time to do that, it would probably would be during a gaining phase for someone who struggles to gain weight. That would be a decent remedy to that.

Mike: This is not just like daily life …

Eric: No, daily life, I wouldn’t advise that. If you truly can find a way to get all the phytonutrients, your fiber, and have decent nutrient spread to ensure that all those new and phytonutrients are in there, and micronutrients are covered.

You’re getting blood work done to confirm it, and you feel good. Fine, go for it, but I have a tough time believing that’s actually occurring.

Mike: Yeah, that means that you have to eat certain kinds of foods, right? Especially if we’re talking soluble fiber, fruits and vegetables. Where else are you going to get it?

Eric: Correct. So, yeah. Anyway, food quality is important, but don’t forget satiety, that’s the wrap up to that little rant we both had.

Mike: I want to say one more thing on that.

Eric: Go for it.

Mike: I think it’s also funny that it’s in a lot of cases, people are … it’s almost like they’re gloating about how they can eat this or eat that. Or, it’s become the cool thing, especially on social media, to kind of eat like shit, but at least stay relatively lean. Or, have some sort of a physique.

Other people will celebrate it and yeah we need more of this. They tell themselves, “I’m just not going to feel guilty about food anymore. I’m just going to eat the fucking hamburger every day. Now I don’t have any psychological associations one way or another.” It just macros and shit.

I think that it’s … I would challenge someone like that to eat … to almost do like a Whole 30. You have to eat “super clean” for 30 days. That actually takes more, I think that should be more celebrated, because you can learn a bit.

You learned dieting 101, and now you just eat a bunch of shit food because you can. I don’t understand what’s cool about that, it doesn’t require anything. It doesn’t require any willpower, it doesn’t require any … it’s just stupid. It actually requires ignorance really of how the body works and why nutrition is important.

So, I almost want to create a more flexible, not retarded Whole 30 and make that a thing. Here’s a challenge, how about you eat really, really well for 30 days. Then you might actually be surprised at how much better you feel. You know what I mean?

Eric: Yeah. I look at that a lot of the time, I probably sound like a parent with a teenager. I go, “Oh, look. They’re in that phase.” That’s what I think when I see those posts, because I remember going through the same thing when I first started. Where I had certain misconceptions about what I had to do nutritionally.

What my primary variables I should focus on, and when I really realized, “Oh man.” A huge part of it does come down to calories in and calories out, and having a good macro spread, and being consistent with that. Realizing that I didn’t have to eat just a list of six foods.

So, you tend to extreme go to the other way, and then you may even feel like resentful towards the fitness industry that told you, you had to eat broccoli, chicken, rice, oats and-

Mike: Tilapia.

Eric: Yeah, and cottage cheese, but only after 8 PM kind of thing. So, you go on this, “look what I can do” kind of thing, and it’s very much akin to when you know you’re freshman year of college and you start to read about US foreign policy.

You become basically a revolutionary for at least a semester before you get that out of your system. So, I see it as kind of the same way, and sure. That’s fair enough. I think there was a time when it was valuable.

My colleague and close friends, and business partner, Alberto Nunez was the guy who popularized the pop tart in the fitness industry. By just taking pictures of eating it on a regular basis, and in 2007, 2008, 2009 that really was challenging the idea that you could never have anything that wasn’t on the approved list.

I think he saw value in right, I’m leaner than … the leanest, everybody. There was kind of this message, “Yeah you can get lean with If It Fits Your Macros, but you won’t ever get to top tier pro level physique.”

Mike: I remember that. Yeah.

Eric: Yeah. There was this kind of internal fight and I know that some of the people on the side of trying to share the meals they had when they were eating dirtier or just kind of going “nuh-uh.” Just trying to challenge some of the preconceptions people have. I think there was value in that.

Mike: For sure.

Eric: I don’t know that anyone really … anyone informed still thinks that you can’t get lean unless you’re eating really, really clean food. I don’t know if there’s value in it today, I think moderation should be emphasized more rather than bouncing between the two ends. So, I largely agree with you.

Mike: Yeah. I remember when a lot of that stuff was going around actually from Alberto. He must have been prepping for a competition because he was skeletonly, it was ridiculous.

Eric: Yeah, man. Jacked Holocaust victim.

Mike: Alright, cool. That’s the calories, that’s the macros, a bit on the nutrition side. One other thing that might be worth touching on quickly is … just because I’ve come across, and I’m sure you have as well, where people … if you’re going to go and eat out.

They don’t quite understand how many calories are in a lot of restaurant foods and because they’re bulking and they feel like they don’t really have to watch things as closely. They fuck up in that way, and they don’t realize that, yeah that dinner was good. That was like 6,000 calories with fucking 300 grams of fat. You know what I mean?

Eric: Yeah, that’s the easiest way for shit to sneak up on you is that palatable food in restaurants typically has just the average person I’ve talked to, twice as much calories, and twice as much fat typically. You can sneak in oils.

Mike: And butters.

Eric: Yeah. Portion sizes, people will eat what’s on their plate for the most part.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: Regardless of the plate size, we don’t really eat just purely by what makes us satiated. Unless we’re very aware of that, and are training ourselves to do that.

So, even those of us in the fitness industry who probably won’t ever become obese are still affected by that to some degree.

Mike: Right.

Eric: So, you looking you up a meal at Applebee’s on my fitness pal, maybe right, but it’s not like the line cook in the back is going … he’s making your pasta dish and then he goes, “Hold on, let me check MyFitnessPal. Oh, that’s right this should only be 1200 calories. This one’s actually 2,000, I need to remake it.”

No, you’re going to get a 2,000 calorie meal, next time you might get 1800. Next time after that might be 2100 calories. So, the people at restaurants are not busting up the food scale for you.

Mike: Yeah, their job is to make the food taste as good as possible, and that means oil, butter, cream as a base. Whenever you can work those into things they get tastier.

Eric: That’s right. So, and not that you should be bringing a food scale to the restaurant, it’s just you need to have some system of accounting for that.

Mike: Right.

Eric: Now, if you’re tracking your body weight over time,  you will very quickly realize your mistake, because it will go up faster, but you don’t want to be the guy or gal who is finding out after the fact.

Or, not knowing where that’s happening, if you’re constantly thinking that I’m doing a good job when I go out to eat, I’m tracking it. Maybe I need to modify my nutrition outside of the restaurant, you’re basically aiming at a secondary culprit to the problem.

If you’re eating let’s say 5000 on that day, like you said, and only 1500 of it is outside of a restaurant. Trying to produce 1,500 slightly is going to have a much smaller impact than trying to reduce 3,500.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: So, yeah.

I would say there’s nothing wrong with eating out, you just need to have a realistic idea of what is actually in what you’re ordering. Probably still order from the healthier, smarter options for the most part.

Just so that you can be a little more confident that your tracking is accurate, because really it’s the mixed dishes with a lot of fat and butter. Or, oil, cream, etc.

Mike: Or, certain meats, obviously sausages, bacon, and ground beef.

Eric: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative), very high in fat. Exactly, and that’s where it gets stuck in. It’s easy to estimate the protein or carbohydrate content of a meal out, it’s difficult to estimate how much fat is in there.

That’s typically where you’re going to be surprised when you see the macro shit, like whoa that’s twice as much fat as I thought.

Desserts too can be really a lot more than you think.

Eric: Right, yeah. For the most part if someone who is careful about their food intake and they’re very conscious of trying to gain muscle and keep their body fat level under control. Appetizers and desserts should be a rare thing, not the common thing.

Mike: Right.

Eric: It will just help you meet your nutrition targets. Unless you’re someone who just has a ridiculous energy expenditure level, then it’s really … it might be a matter of eat what the hell you want, and then make sure you’re getting enough. That’s not everybody, and it certainly is probably the exception rather than a rule.

Mike: Totally. One other thing that’s just probably worth throwing out there that I would like to do is, I do all of what you’re talking about, but then also sometimes I’ll be thinking with the restaurant we’re going to and what would I think I want to eat.

So, sometimes I will kind of just eat my protein, eat some vegetables, maybe a piece of fruit just keep my … like I’m coming into the dinner with my protein more or less handled.

Maybe I’m a little bit short, because I usually like to eat some protein anyway, but I’ve saved a lot of my carbs and fat. I will do that, it’s not something I would do regularly, but if it was like one day and I’m like I would like to go maybe 2500 calories from this.

Regardless of how I get there, that’s also something that you can do. I wouldn’t say it’s something you want to do frequently, in terms of multiple times a week, but sometimes I do that.

Eric: No, that’s a very useful tool. If you know you’re going to go out to eat for dinner, and it’s probably going to be thousands of calories, then you can have protein and oats for breakfast and then-

Mike: I would do a salad with chicken.

Eric: Exactly, a salad with chicken is exactly what I was going to say. With not too much salad dressing or a light salad dressing, and then you have a lot more flexibility when dinner time comes.

Yeah, instead of a pre and post workout meal you just do a shake of whey earlier in the day if that’s between lunch and dinner.

Mike: Yep.

Eric: Then you’re set, and you have a lot more flexibility when you go to the restaurant or at least a lot more room for error. So, yeah those are great practical tools for how to incorporate eating out when you’re trying not to gain too quickly.

Mike: Cool. Okay, great. So, I think that pretty much covers at least the big bold headings of nutrition. Right?

Eric: I would say so.

Mike: Cool. So, now let’s flip to the training side of things.

Eric: Sure.

Training like I said, is not going to be that different than what you would do deficit or surplus. In the end this is the signal that generates the potential to gain muscle.

Mike: Maybe if you wanted to then just drill down, because people can listen to our previous interview and learn the basics. How do things change? Maybe if you want to touch on that. How do things change on the training side of the equation looking at cutting versus bulking?

Eric: Yeah, it’s really just a matter of being slightly, with an emphasis on slightly, more aggressive. When I’ll diet someone for a show, there’s typically a regular deload schedule.

We’re going to deload every fourth week, or something like that because I want to make sure you’re recovered. I’m going to see how much volume I can get away with doing. You know, in terms of not doing too much rather. Basically taking the lower end of volume to ensure that I’m making sure you can recover.

While during a surplus, I would probably be a little more loosey goosey with it, and start with kind of in the middle of a certain range that I thought might be appropriate. Obviously nothing that they had never done before that was totally foreign to them, and a huge step up in volume.

Certainly you’d have more ability to recover from training, so like you said, you can definitely check the last episode.

There still should be regular de-loads, and tapers, and just any kind of method to the madness to where you’re pushing it for a while, and then you’re taking a planned period of recovery instead of just going, “Man I’m weak now. I don’t understand.”

Mike: Which, is a good thing to bring up, because I’m an hour into that. Some of the things I’ll commonly ask if somebody tells me that, if they’re feeling kind of run down, but they’re eating enough food. They’re sleeping fine and whatever, it’s one of the first things I ask.

When was the last time you tried not beating the shit out of yourself and just gave your body a break? In a lot of cases they haven’t deloaded once, or it’s been like 9 months or something of really pushing it.

Eric: Yep.

Mike: Well, there’s your problem.

Eric: Yeah, I typically do every fourth to eighth week in someone’s off season. They will take a period where it is an intended easy week.

Where you’re doing without 2/3 of the volume you’d normally do and RPE, as far you are for failure is maybe one rep further from failure than they would be in their normal training.

Mike: Okay.

Eric: So, that might be just short of failure for someone who’s always pushing it, which maybe you shouldn’t be doing. Or, further and I think it’s a good way to look at is, you’re going to plateau regardless, but you can either plateau on your terms by choice.

Then plateau less frequently in your actual training, or you can plateau and then just try to … the problem is, is what people do once they plateau.

Like, they’ll reach a natural point where their fatigue level is higher than their fitness and they’re like, “I don’t understand. I did 10 reps last week, and then 9 reps before that, 8 reps before that. This week I only did 7, same load and hit failure. What’s up with that? I’m feeling wrecked.”

So, what do they do? They do another set. So, they’ll try to find some way to still induce progressive overload. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great mentality, but the reason why you’re probably making gains and why you’re doing this in the first place is because you always want to push farther than you have previously.

Your body just told you man I’m pretty beat up, I can’t recover and actually perform better than last week. What did you do? You forced another set in there so you actually could progress.

Then that continues for a few weeks until they really go off the rails, and either get an injury or just that they contact you or me and they go I’ve been plateaued for two months. I don’t know what to do.

That’s typically when you go, right well we need to figure out A, some way to get you out of the hole, which is easiest doing a deload. Then B, we need to figure out some kind of method of organizing your training better so that you’re not running yourself into the ground.

So, an easy way is having … think in your head, okay for 3 to 6 weeks I’m going to be pushing to get progressive overload like I normally would. Then at the end of that, I will take a week where I’m dropping my intensity a little bit and my volume by about a third.

That’s just a rough guideline, and you can even focus that towards movements that tend to fatigue you more.

Mike: Yeah, I was going to ask on that. What about exercises?

Eric: Yeah, that’s a great way to do it, especially if you’re like a powerlifter or heavily focused on the big three. People tend to start feeling joint issues quickly.

Mike: That’s how I personally experience when I get to that point where I know that I need to dial back a bit. I start to feel it in my joints.

Eric: Yeah, exactly. So, typically the culprits are your barbell pressing, and then your squat and deadlift areas. You can definitely deload those more. Just do like one set at a low RPE and that will really give your ability to get some of that semi soft tissue to recover, along with the systemic recovery that would come with a deload as a whole.

So, yeah. I think that’s important, it’s probably more important than a lot of other things because if you’re inducing progressive overload and you’ve got a decent set up, like we talked about in our last podcast. The emphasis should just be okay, how do I manage fatigue from pushing?

Mike: Is there anything in terms of exercise selection when your programming a cut versus a bulk, or does that look more or less the same?

Eric: It looks more or less the same. For sure.

Mike: Okay.

Eric: I think a selection for someone who’s focused on hypertrophy really comes down to personal preference with some intelligence behind it.

You definitely want to have a solid base of compound movements, and they do or don’t have to be the big three. The barbell lifts, or the big four if you like the overhead press, or all these things.

Certainly you want to have a horizontal push, horizontal pull, vertical push, vertical pull, squat pattern, and a hip hinge pattern. Those should be your bread and butter, and then around that you can get your single joint movements in there.

You can have a few different machines you really like, or you really target certain areas. That’s going to be everybody, based on your biomechanics, your body awareness, and your training experience.

There’s going to be certain muscle groups that you may have trouble feeling. Typically from most people it’s going to be a muscle in their back, or it’s going to be … maybe they’re like lateral delt.

Mike: Yeah, I was going to say pecs with bench pressing. I’ll run into guys especially guys that are new to weight lifting. They feel like all they feel is triceps or anterior delt.

Eric: Right. Yeah, so I mean again, unless you’re a powerlifter or unless you really want to be able to answer that question how much bench pro? Then if you’re not feeling your pecs, then hey emphasis horizontally induction more and do some dumbbell presses.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your pecs don’t care, as long as they’re stimulated they will grow. So, yeah I see nothing wrong with that. I personally have always gotten great pec growth out of bench press, but I’ve had tons of people who don’t.

So, I think exercise selection, don’t just do what you’ve heard is good or what you’ve seen your favorite athlete or model do. Really think about, okay I need to train all my muscle groups to get them to grow so what compound movements do I feel all the targeted primary instead of just movers, in?

Then round it out with the accessories. Accessory movements or secondary movements should probably be the minority of your total volume in my opinion.

Mike: Right, and probably on the lower end of intensity. Right?

Eric: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think there’s really a purpose of doing sets of five on my pull down. You could, but for the most part certain rep ranges sit well with certain exercises.

Mike: For sure. Even functionally, there are certain exercises, it just doesn’t lend itself well to heavy lifting, because it gets too sloppy and I’ve run into that. Where a certain … I don’t really feel the muscle that I want to train, working properly with that amount of weight.

Eric: Yeah, and it goes the other way too. Sure, every person is serious about lifting weights has done widowmakers on squats and done their 20 rep set to failure. What they don’t tell you is that they weren’t able to do anything else that work out.

Mike: Yeah, no shit.

Eric: Like, I literally remember going through a period where I was doing those and I would take a five minute rest period after the first set, the next set I would have to take like a 10 minute rest period. The third set, would make me throw up literally, and then I would get some hamstring curls done and go home. That’s a shitty workout, let’s be honest.

Mike: Yeah. I remember my first 10 sets of 10, that was the worst shit ever actually.

Eric: Yeah, there you go. That’s another fantastic way of … well, at least there you’re getting the volume in.

Mike: Yeah, enough volume for-

Eric: A week and a half. Yeah, exactly. For three leg sessions.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: So, some things like a compound movement is valuable because you’re training multiple groups at once. To then throw a ton of metabolic and cardiovascular fatigue on top of that, that’s a problem.

If you think about it, every repetition of a compound movement is going to be compounding the amount of fatigue that you have compared to an isolation movement per rep. So, it probably makes sense to focus more on a low volume, low to moderate repetition tension stimulus, and then get your high rep work that’s easier on your joints.

Like you said, lend yourself to more easier muscle activation when you’re doing machine work and isolation work. So, for the most part if you’re … I tend to keep bench press 10 reps and under, I tend to keep my squats, deadlifts, front squats, and RDLs 8 reps and under.

Mike: Yeah.

Eric: Deadlifts probably actually more like 6 reps and under, and then I’ll be doing 8 to 15 on everything else.

Mike: Yep. Makes sense. Just back to that point of not feeling a muscle activating fully or properly on a given exercise. I think it’s worth just mentioning to everybody listening, because I know just from people reaching out to me what they initially think is that they’re doing the exercise wrong.

They think that their form is bad and so sometimes people send videos of form and it looks good. There’s no … I mean sure you may be able to nitpick little things, but that’s not the problem.

So, it’s just I think, worth just highlighting that for people listening that just because a bench press works great for me and Eric doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work great for everybody. You can have perfect form, spotless.

Eric: Yeah, also you tend to get these polarizing views on feeling the muscle work, so you get the people who tell you hey if you’re a bodybuilder you want to feel the target muscle work in all movements.

You get other people who may or may not be bodybuilders who will be like look just focus on form. Just do it, and don’t worry about what it feels like.

Mike: Right.

Eric: They’re both right, but I think it’s exercise specific, if I’m doing a squat, no I’m not thinking about my vastus lateralis, I’m just squatting. That’s taking 60% of the muscle groups in my body, which muscle am I supposed to focus on?

Mike: No, that’s a good point.

Eric: It’s a dangerous movement. These are high … well relative to movements, obviously it’s more dangerous to be weak and not train, but a deadlift, a squat.

Some of these heavy compound barbell movements, heavy pressing a standing overhead press, and even a bench press, if you’re already feeling all the muscle groups you don’t need to focus and you probably shouldn’t focus on any single muscle group.

If you’re doing a cable row, or a lat pulldown, or a bicep curl, or tricep push down feel free. There’s only a few target muscles you’re actually trying to work, so you can definitely focus on one and get more of that “mind, muscle connection.”

There’s no issue there, but when you’re doing a complex athletic movement, you should be trying to develop movement skill not feeling a specific muscle group.

Mike: That’s a good point actually. That’s a very good point. I guess that’s more just how to complaints come, is like I don’t feel my pecs on the bench press because … yeah sure there’s more involved in the bench press, but at that moment at that time to them bench press equals bigger chest. Why do I not feel my pecs?

Eric: Yeah. It’s a little easier on the upper body lifts, but you really shouldn’t be thinking about what muscle groups are working, you should be thinking about your form on a deadlift or a squat.

Mike: Yeah, and just trusting and knowing that if you’re performing a deadlift properly and you’re using any amount of weight, your back is working. You might not … you don’t really have to over think it, that’s about it. That’s all you need to know.

Eric: There’s no way you’re standing up without it, exactly.

Mike: Exactly.

Eric: Yeah, on something like a bench press yeah that’s like we said before, you probably want to just try switching to a different compound lift with dumbbells and it may sort itself out.

Mike: Yeah. You’ve probably seen this as well, I’ve seen it where a person’s in that situation, guys in particular, obviously have bench pressed, and then either they just keep working … these are generally what I’ve come across is people that are new to weight lifting.

Sometimes very new, and I have to explain to them, they’re also starting with not a lot of muscle or strength. So, I have to explain to them, this is pretty common. Give me a couple months of solid work on it, and then let’s see.

So, I’ve seen that where then as they actually gain something strength and put on a bit of muscle they didn’t realize. Everything that they wanted to happen was happening, it’s just they didn’t … they weren’t aware of it for a little bit.

I’ve seen that and then I’ve also seen where somebody has transitioned. Okay let’s do some dumbbell pressing for a bit and then come back to the barbell or vice versa, and now it feels right. You know what I mean?

Eric: Yeah, definitely. I actually do like the bench press or at least barbell movements that allow smaller increments and load to be used. So, ideally I’d like to see someone able to do them and feel everything.

You’re right, when you’re in the first 6 months of lifting, and if your form is actually correct and safe, just keep training.

I don’t think you should be trying to troubleshoot yet because you’re not a fully formed … you’re still a baby.

Mike: You’re an amoeba.

Eric: Yeah, exactly. You’re a single cell organism. It just takes time to feel everything and to be aware. It’s not even necessarily an issue if activation, you just don’t have the body awareness yet to do that. So, don’t stress it, just keep training.

Mike: Totally. Agreed. All right, last thing, supplementation. Anything that you want to say on that?

Eric: Tren hard.

Mike: Yeah. Then when you’re cutting you have to replenish.

Eric: Yeah, right.

On a very serious note, as far as supplements go, there are a small handful of them that actually work, beyond just spending your money. There’s fewer that are useful and effective in a bulking period because you’re not dealing with the stresses of dieting, and fat loss is not a goal.

But be very aware that even with creatine, the most researched and probably the most useful supplement for putting on strength and muscle mass, you may not be able to notice the difference of being on creatine or not.

If you were to do like a placebo controlled trial, and you had to guess whether or not you were given creatine or not. That’s the most effective supplement. It’s definitely supplementary, and it may be 1%.

Mike: Some people just don’t respond.

Eric: That’s true. That’s very true.

Mike: Let me run a few by you that I don’t feel are worth it, like BCAAs. They’re very common, you have to fucking drink the pink water all day.

Eric: Yeah, BCAAs I think are largely overrated.

BCAAS are really an expensive way to getting protein when you could just be taking a scoop of whey for much cheaper.

Mike: Because obviously the pitch is then your body is super anabolic all day, all the time.

Eric: Yeah, you don’t want that because it’s not … it’s what’s called a refractory period. If you’re trying to take protein all the time … I would actually think it would probably be detrimental to have a constant IV of BCAAs going into you, because amino acids have to compete. You actually would run into problems if you were to theoretically do that.

Mike: Right.

Eric: Anyway, the main selling points of BCAAs, if you look at what studies that do blip as far as having a positive effect. What you don’t realize is that you get the same effect from either taking more protein or having carbohydrates.

So, sure yes, BCAAs are directly metabolized in the muscle. Yes, BCAAs elevate muscle protein synthesis, but guess what’s directly metabolized in the muscle? Glycogen. Guess what also raises muscle protein synthesis? Whole protein that you didn’t break down. So, then people go, what if you’re in a fasted state of dieting?

Why are you training completely fasted? Well, if you feel better with performance, okay. Is half a scoop of whey really going to be that much of a problem or even a third scoop? It’s not like you’re going to feel completely different.

I rarely run into a situation where I think BCAAs are warranted, and I think I’ve seen a total of one study and it was on cardio, where it actually in a fasted state compared to carbohydrate.

There’s one study I’ve seen where a similar amount of BCAAs produced better performance. So, all of the fasted track athletes who are listening to this podcast maybe you want to consider it, but I think that’s zero people. So, yeah.

Mike: Great. What about weight gainers?

Eric: Yeah, if you are the person who is really, really struggling to put on weight, maybe making it liquid and blending stuff together or getting a commercial weight gainer makes sense. It’s just seems like a waste of money to me to get basically low quality whey protein and maltodextrin with a multivitamin added.

You could probably just get peanut butter, honey, oats and whey protein and blend it together for a third of the price.

Yes, going liquid is a very useful way of getting in calories if you’re really struggling to gain weight.

I’ve recommended juicing to people and I don’t mean taking steroids, but just getting more of your carbohydrate through fruit juices as a way of getting more calories down, but don’t put weight gainers on a pedestal. They’re really cheap ingredients sold in big bags that you could easily make yourself or similar.

Mike: Yeah. I have one coming out that’s not that, which is why I’m bringing that up. That’s the pitch, the pitch is essentially this is the problem with weight gainers. So, here’s one that actually has nutritious high quality ingredients and no this doesn’t automatically help you gain weight, but this is what it does help you do.

A lot of people have asked for that because they want … they think of it as a weight gainer or a meal replacement.

So, that’s weight gainers. Any other supplements that are … oh, there’s testosterone boosters, we can just say that they all do nothing. Don’t even waste your time.

Eric: That’s a decent way of doing it, and even if they did boost your testosterone would it actually help your muscle gain? Probably not with a normal physiological ranges, and they probably aren’t boosting anyway.

Mike: Exactly. If there’s … whatever. They’re may be a couple instances like DAA that maybe in some people for two weeks by a little bit or shit like that, that’s irrelevant. Right?

Eric: Yes.

Mike: So, that’s that. Any other supplements that you get asked about that people associate with gaining muscle and strength that you want to talk about?

Eric: Yeah, I mean there’s some ones that I recommend to a lot of people interested in muscle gain as your base line.

The supplements I’d recommend would be a reasonably dosed multivitamin, fish oil and vitamin D3 if you don’t get a lot of sunlight.

Mike: Which, is most of us really.

Eric: Yeah. There was a study that said that roughly 80% of people in Westernized countries, I forget what Westernized country, but they tend to be pretty similar when I looked at surveys are mildly deficient in vitamin D.

So, obviously we don’t want a nutrient deficiency, and most multivitamins don’t have a high enough dose of D that would probably reverse that. I think it’s like 40 to 80 IU per kilogram, is a decent recommendation.

Yeah, I think that’s right. I may be getting that a little bit wrong, so get on examine.com if you’re thinking about supplementing with vitamin D3. Ideally you would actually want to get blood work done to make sure you aren’t in the 20% that’s supplementing unnecessarily, but that is something to consider.

Then if you’re a pure bodybuilder, or a pure strength athlete, it would be your creatine and potentially citrulline malate, which is shown to, more recently this is something that I wouldn’t even have recommended two years ago. In the last year there’s been multiple labs that have come out and shown to be helpful with accomplishing more training volume.

Then one that I’ve become less enamored with as I’ve seen more research come out has actually been beta-alanine, which I think is probably only relevant if you’re doing continuous efforts longer than 30 seconds or 60 seconds.

Depending on what you’re study or which meta-analysis you’re looking at. So, maybe if you’re a CrossFitter or if you’re doing … if you care just as much about your anaerobic training as you do your resistance training that would be something to do.

Or, if you’re the guy that’s like “What are you guys talking about? I love 20 rep sets of squats, and I do them every leg day.” Certainly you might want to bust out your beta-alanine.

Mike: One, you’re psychotic.

Eric: Two, enjoy beta-alanine, it might help you be slightly less damaged.

Mike: Great.

Eric: That’s pretty much it man.

Mike: Yeah. I mean HMB was going around for a bit. There was that nonsense research on it, but I think people are generally over that now.

Eric: Yeah. HMB has always been at best a theoretical benefit to when you’re in a catabolic state that has never been tested outside of dialysis and people on bed rest and things like that.

Typically doesn’t do well in training populations, the studies like you said, that have done well or has done well, they’ve done really well. The stats don’t look right and-

Mike: Better than steroids.

Eric: Right, yeah. It comes from a group that the studies they do on supplements always go up. So, I would want to see replication by another group before I ever committed to that.

Mike: Totally.

Eric: I’ll be honest I don’t trust that research.

Mike: Yeah. It’s the general consensus. Okay, great. Well I think that’s everything. Is there anything left that you think that we didn’t touch on, that you want to share?

Eric: Yeah, just go hard or go home.

Mike: Train the same or be the same, I don’t know.

Eric: Yeah. Exactly.

Mike: We could have just said that actually, and that would have just saved an hour.

Eric: We would have covered everything. No, that about covers it man.

Mike: Okay, awesome. Well, let’s wrap up with where people can find you, find your work. If there’s anything that you’re working on in particular right now that you want people to know about.

Eric: Sure, it totally depends on what level of nerd you are. So, if you really just want to get some information on how to train, and you’re interested in some of the stuff I’m talking about, I would check out our YouTube channel at 3Dmusclejourney.com. There’s a link there to see it where we have a lot of information for bodybuilders and powerlifters.

If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of training, I’ve got a couple books based on the video series I did back in the day, called the Muscle and Strength Pyramids, which basically cover all of the things you need to know about setting up your nutrition or training plan.

That’s at muscleandstrengthpyramids.com. Those are two ebooks you can check out.

And then for the nerdiest of nerds who really want to follow the research like the muscle strength pyramids is built on and the ongoing research that’s coming out, you’ve got to check out monthly applications in strength sport or MASS.

Which, is our monthly research targeted at strength and physique athletes or the recreational people really interested in that, and their coaches. That’s with myself Dr. Mike Zourdos, and Greg Nuckols, and you just want to go to strongerbyscience.com/mass.

Mike: Cool. Awesome, and I highly recommend that it’s something that I’ve promoted and I rarely promote things. Rarely ever, actually. So, I highly endorse everything that Eric does.

He’s on the short list of people that I read all your stuff and I’m a fan as well.

P.S. Did you enjoy this interview? Do you know someone else who would, too? Well, you could make their day by sharing this with them or on Facebook, Twitter, or whether you like to hangout on the Interwebz.

What’s your take on building muscle without gaining fat? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I’m Mike and I’m the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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Bigger Leaner Stronger

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger



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