- Women and men are different physically and psychologically, and the same techniques that help men lose fat often don’t work as well in women.
- The biggest mistakes women make when trying to lose fat are cutting calories too low for too long, doing too much cardio, and eating too little protein and fat.
- Women who want to get really lean should take diet breaks more frequently, eat enough protein and fat, lift heavy weights, and keep cardio to a minimum.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, getting lean is never easy.
That said, both sexes face slightly different challenges when it comes to dropping body fat.
For one thing, guys don’t usually struggle with “stubborn fat” as much as women, and getting rid of it is more straightforward.
On the other hand, almost every woman who tries to lose fat can get a relatively lean upper body, while her hip, thigh, and butt fat holds on for dear life.
Plus, women face a few other obstacles that guys don’t have to deal with:
- A naturally higher body fat set point, which makes fat loss more difficult.
- A lower body weight, which means a lower basal metabolic rate and a smaller allowance for calories while cutting.
- The potential loss of their period and the hormonal changes that occur around menstruation.
So, what can women do about all of this?
There are a lot of theories out there, and one of the few people who’s read more or less all of them is the one and only Lyle McDonald. So, I invited him on the podcast to share what he’s learned.
Lyle is a health and fitness researcher and writer, and I have to say, one of my favorite authors in the space. He’s spent decades researching and writing about fitness, nutrition, and fat loss, and he also recently completed a book about how women can make losing fat a more enjoyable, efficient, and healthy process.
In this interview, he breaks down how things differ between men and women in the realm of losing fat, and especially when we’re talking about getting really lean.
As Lyle points out, the fundamentals like energy and macronutrient balance are what they are, but the strategies that work beautifully for men wanting to get shredded won’t necessarily work as well for women.
In fact, you can count on them being far less effective, and Lyle dives into why, and what women can do to squeeze the absolute most fat loss out of their diet and training.
I hope you like the interview!
(Rather listen to this interview instead? Click the play button below.)
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Mike Matthews: So then let’s just start with why focus on women? So like obviously you have the fundamentals that most listeners on the podcast here are going to know the basics of energy balance and macronutrient balance and so forth.
So, physiologically speaking or experientially speaking, how are women different than men?
Lyle McDonald: I mean okay so first off, yes of course, but you know the fundamentals always apply. There’s the basics of what needs to be done in terms of training, in terms of fat loss you know, create a calorie deficit, yada yada yada.
You know women have different issues in a lot of ways. One, obviously, is how their fat is stored. Men tend to be central fat, visceral fat, abdominal, women tend to be hip and thigh fat. I remember Duchaine writing about in the 90s about women’s lower body stubborn fat and women frequently have a lot of trouble mobilizing that.
We know the reasons. I wrote about that extensively in my Stubborn Fat Solution. It’s got to do with blood flow and alpha beta adrenergic receptors and there are clear, you know, evolutionary sexual dimorphic reasons.
Women’s hip and thigh fat exist to support child birth and an interesting tidbit is during the latter part of pregnancy and breastfeeding, hip and thigh fat is mobilized the most easily for them.
Mike: I didn’t know that.
Lyle: And you’ll actually hear women experientially you know will go either, they usually set calories to maintenance because breastfeeding is like 300 calories a day and the fat just drops off.
Mike: I’ve seen much higher numbers. I’ve seen upwards of 6 to 800 calories.
Lyle: I’ll be honest, one of the topics I will not be covering in this book is pregnancy and childbirth just because I don’t have the medical background and the potential to give recommendations in a situation that could harm a developing or post-natal child is just not something I want to touch.
Mike: I agree. I agree.
Lyle: So that is one topic I’m really not getting into, but yeah it very well may be higher, but I know women that they want to get back to the pre-pregnancy weight.
They just keep calories at maintenance and it just drops off like crazy. That’s one of the big reasons.
There’s also some difference in fat storage patterns. There’s a difference in how women store fat.Recommended Reading:
→ 4 Strategies for Losing Stubborn Fat for Good
So after a meal, high-fat meal, men tend to burn more fat for energy. More of it sits in the bloodstream, which is actually why men are much more likely to have heart attacks.
Men tend to store fat more in the visceral abdominal fat, which is bad and it’s correlated with health risk, but it’s good in that it’s very easy to mobilize. You know men start exercising like they feel leaner but don’t look any different because that visceral fat is coming off.
Mike: And just to clarify for you—so subcutaneous fat is a fat under your skin and visceral kind of covers your organs and when you see the big pot belly or it’s a hard, it’s a lot of fat under that.
Lyle: Yes. Right and you touch it and it’s just like really physically hard to the touch. Women can get that too.
It’s interesting as women get extremely over fat and here we’re talking like 50% percent body fat. The fat cells in the lower body kind of run out of room and they start to develop a more male like fat pattern.
In men, it’s the opposite, as men gain a lot of body fat they tend to get hip and thigh fat. So obesity sort of shifts women towards men and men towards women.
That’s a big part of it. There’s even some evidence if women are fed a very high fat meal, the calories go directly to the lower body fat. There’s an old saying among women, “A minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips,” and that’s actually true.
A final issue with that is surprisingly, when scientists have looked at this, women and men actually both store initially a lot of the fat in their abdominal subcutaneous fat and it’s really raised a big question. If that’s the case why do women get hip and thigh fat in the long term?
What happens is after that storage, it eventually starts to mobilize and if it’s not burned, women repartition fat from the abdominal area into the hips and thighs.
Mike: Interesting. So it kind of starts there and then it shifts down.
Lyle: Right. So as long as you burn it off and stay in energy balance it doesn’t happen, but in the long term, women’s body and there’s an old, old, old claim that nobody believed that women who were dieting would lean out in their upper body and their hips and thighs would get fatter and actually there is some truth to that because the women’s bodies can pull it out of the upper body and if it doesn’t get burned off for energy, it goes to the hips and thighs.
Mike: Yeah. And in many cases with workouts, I mean probably in all cases you’re going to mobilize more than you’re going to burn depending on what you’re doing at least.
Lyle: Right. Even then right it’s interesting also that women have more fatty acid in their bloodstream at rest (not after a meal) and they actually burn more at rest or after low intensity exercise and the question has been, you know, if this is true why aren’t they losing more fat more easily and it’s because women’s bodies will actually do what’s called reesterification.
So the fatty acid comes out and then gets put right back in the fat cell or it gets transferred to a different fat cell through a different pathway.
That that’s one of the big ones. There’s also some indication right you know about body weight regulation, leptin and ghrelin, I’m not going to …
Mike: Yeah I’ve written about it.
Yeah a basis in that and you know this is really what controls mainly the dieting end of things which is what I’m sort of focusing on here. Women’s systems seem to respond differently to leptin. This has been theorized for a long time. It drops faster in women.
If men exercise with energy balance, their leptin doesn’t change. If women exercise with energy balance, their leptin still goes down.
Lyle: There’s a lot of early data, some of which has been drawn into question, that exercise alone is ineffective for women. And it’s a little more nuanced than that, but there’s definitely indication that women’s hunger and appetite will go up higher than men’s in response to exercise. More than just more variability among women.
Mike: I mean I’ve worked with and emailed with thousands of people and I can say that anecdotally I’ve seen that much more with women than men. A lot more.
Lyle: Right yes. And there’s actually one very classic study and we realize you know studies are reporting averages and when you look at the weight loss for men all the men lost some amount. Ranging from a lot to a little.
When they plotted it for women, though, about half lost about half gained. Now the consequence of this was they said well on average nobody lost weight.
Well that’s true. Some women lost a ton of weight. Some women actually gained weight with exercise and there are other reasons we know that people become disinhibited. They do the … I did an aerobics class, I earned the cheeseburger thing, but typically that’s not-
Mike: Then the cheeseburgers are the beginning and like well I ate the cheeseburgers so.
Lyle: Right it did become a whole separate thing, but there is definitely a physiological basis to that.
We’ve known for a while women are more likely to survive famines than men and this was years ago in a paper by some researchers Hoyenga and Hoyenga, which they must have been married, and they were looking at some early animal research and they theorized that well this is again an evolutionarily conserved behavior.
Women’s bodies have to be able to support childbirth and they have to live long enough to make sure that kid lives in a very real way because let’s face it, once men have done what they need to do to make a baby, they’re not really needed. It’s helpful if they’re there, but if you’re in a famine-
Mike: Physiologically speaking.
Lyle: Physiologically speaking the woman is far more important to the survival of the human race and this isn’t me just pandering to women. This was the theory that they proposed and if you’re in a famine situation, it’s actually better if the man does die because that leaves more food for his offspring. There’s real logic to this and but this is an evolutionarily conserved thing that’s great for survival and not so great for fat loss.
So you know there are some practical consequences that will come back to you but there are other things going on.
One big one that will tie some of this together right, so when men do lower intensity exercise, they burn more carbs and less fat.
Women do lower intensity exercise they burn more fat and less carbs. So it’s always really weird, okay so why do women have, why is it harder for women? If they’re using more fat?
Well we know the old idea that what you burn during exercise and what you lose is not true right. What you burn in an hour slot doesn’t compare to the other 23 hours of the day.
Lyle: And what happens is women’s bodies use fat during exercise and then switch back to carbs for the other 23 hours. Men’s bodies use carbs for exercise and then use more fat for fuel the other twenty … and those other 23 or however long, is far more important.
There’s other stuff which is more of a practical. Note the way a lot of women approach dieting. They don’t eat enough protein, but even that’s physiologically based. There are gender differences in food preferences.
Men love protein and fat. Women love carbs and a lot females on top of that biological preference, how do they think they should diet? Well, protein is bad because protein might have fat and make me bulky. Fat is bad, so they live on carbs.
Like I said, there are chapters of this stuff and there are endless differences but that’s just a quick overview.
→ How Much Does Exercise Help with Weight Loss? (What 30 Studies Say)
Mike: Yeah that’s great. That’s very interesting. Some stuff that I have come across my own reading writing and some stuff that I haven’t which is one of the reasons why I myself looking forward to reading the book.
Lyle: And part of why this turned into such a nightmare is, originally, I was going to kind of lightly reference it and then as it went like you know what this is going to become another ketogenic diet protein book.
I’m just going to go ahead and make it, and the deeper I look the more I find. And I would add really quickly, usually when I do these podcasts, the first question is what’s the big difference.
Big difference between men and women is one, for men, we’ve got testosterone. Look at it on any day of the month and it’s basically here.
Women have the menstrual cycle. We have this fluctuating set of hormones or estrogen comes up first half and then goes down back up to and progesterone goes low and goes up.
Every week of the cycle maybe you’re dealing with a slightly different physiology that men don’t have. As I’ve put it repeatedly, men have one long cycle of sixty five years of being an asshole.
Women can change week to week and they use different fuel in the first half of the cycle versus the second half of the cycle. Their hunger is different in the first versus the second half. How they store fat is different in the first and second half.
You’ve got PMS to deal with. You get a slightly increased metabolic rate in the second half of the cycle, but hunger and cravings go up to offset those like there’s all these changes that are happening.
If you’re used to only working with men, both for diet and especially training, every day he comes into the gym as the same person.
Mike: And he feels the same way.
Lyle: Sure. It’s easy. And if they’ve got a normal menstrual cycle and by normal I just think standard. I’m not saying this is like below norm because there’s a bunch of other stuff.
Every week you may be dealing with someone different and in training especially you may see radical changes in performance where the final week of the cycle when they lose their coordination. They may have labile mood states, which is just to say that they’re emotionally unstable essentially.
I talked to a therapist about this once and he was like yeah with women I don’t know who’s coming in on any given day and if she’s crying in the first two minutes okay. Nurse practitioner told me she may have to change antidepressant medications at different points in the cycle and that’s before you get into things like birth control of which there are enormous type and that took me forever to work through.
Women tend to suffer from what’s called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and they may have elevated testosterone, which gives them a more male physiology.
They’re finding a lot of women athletes have sub-clinically elevated testosterone of maybe 30% above normal, which isn’t much, but in women it’s huge, and they tend to be better as athletes. They respond better. They recover better.
Then you get into the loss of the menstrual cycle which is a big issue right. Women are losing their menstrual cycles left and right when they diet to very low levels. Men don’t have menstrual cycle to lose and women do it they can lose bone density and impair their health.
It’s a really bad thing for them and then you’ve got the changes that occur at menopause and there’s a peri-menopause before and then there is post-menopause and then you’ve got to worry about are they on hormone replacement or not.
So, writing about men, I can discuss men and when I got women I have to discuss five potentially distinct situations.
Mike: Yeah. No, that’s a daunting task.
Lyle: I’m trying to cover all of them and I’m in hell. I’ll be glad when I’m done with it because most of what’s out there is either textbook related or there’s a lot of bad information.
Mike: Yeah I forget who said it, but there was a writer who said he doesn’t so much like the act of writing, he likes having written, so that’s going to be one of those things.
Lyle: That’s absolutely especially in cases, like some a little quicker books that I didn’t have to, referencing stuff is a nightmare and this is, I mean this was a research base that I just wasn’t familiar with.
As a man I don’t have a conception other than observationally of what’s going on in the menstrual cycle. Even learning the terms, the changes all of that like this was starting very much from scratch for me. So it’s been very exhausting, but ultimately beneficial process.
Mike: And just out of curiosity, what are you looking to achieve? What’s your end goal with the book? Because I mean obviously the basics are the basics, but is this geared more toward competitors or bodybuilders or is this is going to be meant to be for any woman.
Lyle: It’s very general and this is another part of why it’s so exhausting. I think originally it started out as more dieting physique type stuff but let’s face it out of women. Women are far more prone to be seen in diet studies or dieting. What is it two in three diet or one in three are dieting at any given time.
So another part of what’s so complex is I’ve tried to cover the general female who may be overweight or obese and the lean dieter who has completely different set of situations.
Like if you got 40% body fat, a lot of this doesn’t apply. At 18% that’s when you’re starting to starve.
Just like with men, 40% body fat male and a 12% on different systems, I’ve tried to at least cover some different sports. So we’ve got the physique sports, you know bodybuilding, physique, fitness figure bikini, there’s not much that last one.
Strength power sports there are a lot of women getting involved in powerlifting just as a tangent I frequently find that those women either have PCOS or elevated testosterone because to want to push heavy weights in the squat you can have to and have a different body structure.
That’s another issue. Women have a variation (that’s the training book more) but women with wider hips are not really built for heavy power lifts and they don’t have the psychological and this isn’t meant as criticisms. Have you ever met a man that didn’t want to lift heavy weights?
Unless they were 60 years old, no you never have. You’ve never met a man that didn’t want to max out. And men love high reps, they love weight training. They love doing certain things and even taking that into account most trainers have traditionally been male.
Most coaches have traditionally been male. We’ve trained women like little men. So do the math on that and you’ve got general fat loss, lean fat loss, different sport, strength power, endurance, high intensity. Mixed sport and then like team sports multiply that times all the hormonal modifiers. I spent weeks when I’m drawing up winding little training and diet charts for every hormonal modifier.
Mike: Yeah you have to almost like mind map that out just to even know what exactly you’re supposed to be covering.
Lyle: Oh I had to keep intense you know because I couldn’t remember what I was actually writing about and a lot of them are very similar, but a lot of them are extremely distinct.
Mike: Yeah but even the ones that are similar you have to still make that point though because that person’s going to be wondering hey what about me.
Lyle: And even now, I mean I can provide generalities.
Lyle: And I promise you know with studies they present averages and there’s huge variation and women can vary. I’ve seen women across the natural cycle strength was stable. I’ve seen some that went PR, moderate, strong, oh my God could not.
I had one trainee who went from being able to hit PR’s and Olympic lifts to not being able to do more than 60% on the leg press. Her coordination just went out the window. Her strength dropped and again you just don’t see this in men and unfortunately a lot of women are being dieted like men and this is doing a lot of damage to them.
There’s a need for slight differences in refeed frequency, diet break frequency. Things about their diet because losing the menstrual cycle and menstrual cycle dysfunction can do a lot of permanent damage to a woman, because they can lose bone density that never comes back.
Mike: Yeah I touched on that in my book for women, but it’s very much the basics. I’m writing to people more to women that are in the higher … they’re overweight but they don’t even know about energy balance. They’ve heard that calories don’t count and that’s an old myth you know what I mean.
So I try, I understand where they’re coming from in that I tried to not overwhelm this person. I do want to give them, okay good here’s something you can do that works right now and that it isn’t going to be unhealthy. It isn’t going to harm you. There’s a lot more you could do to make this better but I don’t …
Lyle: And I will almost say in the women’s realm like there’s just, there’s almost more utter nonsense. Sometimes it’s women that do have you know higher testosterone or they’re projecting.
And oh my God whenever I’m at the grocery store and want to get the blood pressure up I look at women’s world and whatever article there that says new plant based diet, better than thyroid medication, 23 pounds in a week and I read this stuff and it’s just where you get you know …
Mike: Or just go on Instagram.
Lyle: Oh Jesus, ridiculous exercise programs. You get the trainers, I forget her name just like don’t ever lift more than 3 pounds or you’ll get bulky.
There’s just like so much utter nonsense and as much as anything physiological I think just pathological dieting habits and exercise habits.
A lot of what men do is right. A man who wants to lose what does he do? He eats more protein gets in the weight room.
What if women want to lose weight? They eat all carbs and they walk on the treadmill and that ties into the physiology which I think is a later question of what women should be doing.
Mike: Exactly. That’s a good segue into again I mean obviously you have so many things you’ll be covering in the book, but if you were to say okay here are the top three or five actionable tips.
Women listening here’s what you can do to have a better experience in your weight loss efforts. Better results and better experience.
Lyle: Probably a main one, right because we’ve also seen this endless times.
A woman wants to lose weight, and boom, she begins eating 800 calories and doing two hours of aerobics a day. Women can actually disrupt their normal menstrual cycle function within five to seven days of doing that kind of nonsense. Like it’s that quick.
Mike: And it’s related to the energy restriction in particular right?
Lyle: Yeah there’s something in the research like it’s been debated for a bunch of years. They used to think it was body fat percentage and all this other stuff and that it’s related in that lean women are more at risk for this, but you will find women at 12% with a menstrual cycle, you will find women at 22 that have lost it.
And a researcher named Allan Luke came around and did some really compelling studies showing that it was what she called energy availability, which is not energy balance, is the key aspect.
And energy availability is the number of calories being eaten minus activity and basically what that represents is how many calories are left in the body for everything else. And there are processes in the body. Your heart has to keep beating, your brain has to keep working. There are critical functions for life and there are non critical functions, right? Some early very low calorie diet studies, hair would start falling out right. I mean keeping your hair growing doesn’t make it …
Mike: Yeah from the bodies you know perspective.
Lyle: Correct. It wants to stay alive and it will and if you have limited calories that goes into what is required. The menstrual cycle happens to be one that’s really in that sense not critical because you don’t need it to survive.
So there’s also the issue that if you’re starving to death trying to become and maintain pregnancy is not a good idea, so women can screw themselves up in five to seven days.
And what Luke found was there’s what she called the critical energy availability threshold which was 13.6 calories per pound of lean body mass and that’s the key. It’s mainly it’s lean body mass not total were 30k calories per kg.
And it was really interesting, you look at her studies hormones are normal, normal, well they’re like normal normal normal boom and they just drop like a rock and one of the things they lose, Luteinizing hormone, which is one of the reproductive and it drives the reproductive system.
You lose what’s called Luteinizing hormone pulsatility when you cross that threshold and that’s what starts to induce that menstrual cycle dysfunction.
So coupling enormous amounts of calorie restriction with enormous amounts of activity is a big part of that. There is some indication and she doesn’t buy it I’m not you know that stress in another itself can cause problems and some work shows that if women ease into exercise they don’t over stress the system.
So gradually progressing in the exercise that describes something I call the pre-diet phase which is you know rather than jacking your activity and dropping your calories, it’s like you either keep your activity consistent if it’s already high and bring calories down or keep calories at maintenance and gradually increase your activity.
And again this depends on population, overweight female not as big an issue. If you’ve got a leaner female who’s already highly active, she can probably just keep her activity the same and bring her calories down.
There’s an interesting phenomenon actually lighter women are sometimes more likely to be dieting and there is this weird sub-population of lean women who aren’t athletes, who aren’t trainees who want to lose weight and they’re the ones that do the worst stuff.
And they’re the ones that rebound to a higher body weight because they do it basically. I mean I’m not saying that it’s through their own fault. They have been given such terrible information of what a diet should be. So one of them is easing gradually into the diet.
Mike: And you’ll probably find that the psychological people where it’s kind of psychological problem as well more than fit into that.
Lyle: And there was that as a separate issue. There are people that can psychologically stress themselves into loss of menstrual cycle. It’s called the … refer to it as the psychogenically stressed dieters and they’ve shown that those people are perfectionists and they have, they’re extremely dependent on external validation about their appearance and if that doesn’t describe 90% of physique athletes I don’t know what does.
So you have a situation where you’ve got you know what I call the psychogenically stressed dieter and the woman is just looking to lose more weight.
They’re drawn to these extreme diets and it all adds up to this huge problem. There’s also an issue I’ve written about extensively that jerks off cortisol. Cortisol causes water retention. This is on top of the normal menstrual cycle fluctuations and now they’re doing everything, they’re dieting so hard and they’re not losing a pound because they’re holding so much water.
So what do they do? They double down. They add more cardio. They cut calories here and they start bingeing and it just becomes a complete FUBAR situation or if they diet more gradually, takes a day off, chill, you know, I joke repeatedly, these kind of women, they need to take a day off, get drunk, get stoned and get laid and the next day they’ll be five pounds lighter. It works without fail.
So you’ve got this really is a combination of issues that’s relatively more common to women.
I’ve seen it happen in men, I’ve been that you know there’s a certain personality of dieter that thinks more works better, convincing them.
So that’s actionable point one. Ease into the diet. You know unless you’re doing a short term diet, don’t use big deficits. I may address this like if you’re a physique competitor you immediately take 800 calories out of your diet, you may lose weight quickly but what happens when it slows down? Where do you go now? You can only take calories so far.
Mike: Yeah. You only can push activity up so high I mean and then what?
Lyle: And you’ve got I mean you hear about this you’ve got the women doing 800 calories a day and three hours of cardio and if you start more gradually you don’t and there are better and worse ways to diet and especially for leaner dieters.
So I’ll say that’s actually point number one.
Number two is really is the diets and really it’s interesting the physique community you don’t see these problems but in the general female community, right physique athletes and even strength power athletes, they know the benefits of protein.
They may reduce their fat a little bit. Endurance athletes typically are little bit too carbs crazy because they don’t think protein is important.
I’ve seen a lot of bad diets in that group but sufficient dietary protein as we know is critical for all dieters to spare lean body mass, blunt appetite, maintain blood sugar yadda yadda yadda. Like every study done in the last 20 years after scientists spent three decades crapping on bodybuilders, they did the studies and we’re like huh yes higher protein is really better.
Mike: For every one really.
Lyle: For every low-carb diet, the study … the research is changing. They’re now thinking that the RDA is about half of what it should be for older people especially to avoid sarcopenia. They need more protein, they need fats or protein like it’s everything’s about protein these days.
Physique competitors, strength, power and they’ve known this so they don’t usually do … usually their issues are more calorie activity related but for the average female she’s doing 80% carbs. She’s doing almost no protein. She’s doing almost no fat. Even low dietary fat itself can contribute to menstrual cycle dysfunction.
Mike: And that kind of plays in like you were saying earlier to a lot of women prefer to eat carbs. So it’s easy to sell them on it, and say, “Hey, eat all these great carbs and you’re going to lose you know 23 pounds in a week.”
Lyle: And getting them to eat more protein is often a real challenge but whenever you do, I had someone very close to me and I got them on higher protein and she was just like this is a life changer for me like suddenly their appetite goes down. Everything gets under control all of that. It’s just like once you get them to do it it’s usually … and it is it’s interesting watching the marketing change.
→ The Top 4 Scientifically Proven Benefits of a High-Protein Diet
Now we’re seeing you know high protein foods. Now some of them are crap you know high protein Kellogg’s cereal, 10 grams of protein if you add six grams of protein for milk but it’s a start. Protein getting into the general consciousness.
Mike: We rather have than the low fat choice that was …
Lyle: Absolutely. We’ve got Quest bars that are 20 grams, Quest chips of 20 grams of protein and a bag of potato snack Chips and they’re really like Quest is doing things very right, that shifting. So it’s I think it’ll be a little bit easier sell once it’s been programmed into women’s consciousness.
Mike: Yeah, give it another ten years.
Lyle: You know and even if you don’t get them to where they need to be initially. Even getting it up to appropriate you know it doesn’t have to be the gram or pound or whatever it is and there’s also women do you have slightly lower protein requirements.
So it’s funny when you give women the numbers, you’re like okay you need 120 grams of protein per day, they’re like oh my God that’s so much. Look, a cup of yogurt is 25 grams.
Lyle: A can of tuna fish 32 grams. That much meat you know that’s 28 grams of protein.
Mike: And throw in one or two scoops of powder and there you go.
Lyle: And you’re done, exactly once they realize just how you know it’s like fine get your salad that’s great. Get them to put a chicken breast on top it and that’s one third to one fourth of your protein for the day and it’s not that hard, but getting them to you know scoop protein powder stuff like that.
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So getting sufficient protein and moderated carbs, and that really brings me to the, I think the third and the most potentially actionable, but the most important point is the exercise component.
Like I said, men can do it right by intuition. Men hate cardio, they love lifting weights. Whether they do it right or not different issue.
They love eating protein. Men love the Atkins diet and so women and they’ve done work on this, right. So like I said earlier if I do women does is low intensity cardio, burns fat for fuel and I realized women are not burning a lot energy.
Mike: And also it doesn’t burn that much energy yeah it’s like …
Lyle: That’s the other issue. Even when they do the studies now like you know women may be burning 20% more fat for fuel or when you’re burning 300 calories an hour great, you burn six more grams right you burn one sixtieth of a pound of fat.
The calorie and there’s also indication women burn more of what’s called intramuscular triglycerides the fat within the muscle cells and that’s great if you’re trying to lean out your muscle and also women’s bodies and spare body fat, subcutaneous body fat.
But they’ve done, so men who use carbs right, just like women who use fat during low intensity and you use more carbs for fuel later in the day. Men burn carbs during exercise and use more and that’s very illustrative, because we know very well that how much more glycogen, the carbohydrate and muscle … how high a muscle glycogen really determines how much fat you use for fuel. If muscle glycogen is always topped off, you use carbohydrates.
It turns out by using more carbohydrate during fuel that depletes muscle glycogen a little bit from men. That’s why they use more fats for fuel, right. So right away at this point and so what have we seen online? You get the woman who’s been doing …
Mike: Which is a good point to just call out because I get people write in now and then and they’ll be asking about that like, “Oh, so we’ve heard this burning carbs concept, how does that even help with fat loss as the whole?”
I mean obviously even aside from energy balance, but just that point that it’s not worthless in that sense to say okay, so you are, that’s true you’re burning a lot of glycogen in that workout but what are the downstream effects and those help.
Lyle: Right and they’d shown like even in both lean and obese individuals if you deplete muscle glycogen with high intensity exercise that you know it fixes the metabolic inflexibility in the obese and it has the same effect and then I use that in my Ultimate Diet 2.0 using depletion circuits.
And so what you see online all the time? Some woman who did the two hours of cardio, the high carbs and finally she starts lifting weights and cuts her cardio down which automatically that takes that low energy availability out of the equation and it takes the stress. It takes the cortisol.
Invariably when women get into proper weight training, they always change their diet. They eat more protein. They eat more fat. They eat less carbs and what happened six months later they were like “magic,” magic is what happens like I really cannot emphasize that enough.
It’s really that combination which often but not always comes hand in hand.
You’ll still see a lot of women doing goofy stuff in the weight room and eating bad diets, but when you get those women same thing with like I think part of why intervals got so popular even more so among women, is because the benefits that it had.
The hormone response, the intervals, the glycogen depletion when you start doing that and moderate your carbs you start maintaining muscle glycogen to lower level.
You turn your body into and I use this phrase in the book and I hate to use it now but I’m going to, you turn your body into a fat burning machine in a physiological sense.
Mike: Sell the sizzle.
Lyle: But it’s true. It is out you know and they’ve done that work. If you deplete muscle if, women who do interval training will burn more fat more like men throughout the rest of the day. I mean unless they refill it. If they put all the carbs back in, that effect goes away but combined with those changes in diet moving to more moderate.
Clearly those women you know if you’re a marathon, if you’re endurance athlete, you need a lot of carbs but you’re also ultimately depleting and refilling them and your energy expenditure is enormous.
But the reality is weight training doesn’t burn a lot of calories. It certainly doesn’t use a lot of carbs for fuel. You know you have to do it, I mean unless you just do a ton of volume.
Mike: Exactly. Especially if you’re doing it right which means you’re doing you know you’re really focusing on heavier lifting and shorter workouts.
Lyle: Correct. Yes. And again you know women, a lot of women aren’t built for it and don’t have that you know women love high reps, and that gets them into training physiology they don’t generate as much lactic and more efficient at higher repetitions.
Women love training lower body but like watch a guy do heavier set of 10 squats he needs a five minute rest. Watch a woman do a set of 10, 15 seconds later she’s going to go. Women recover so and a lot of that is they think they need to maintain the space.
They’re not going and when you start to get them to gradually go heavier and get them to work higher quality instead of just basically pissing around for two hours. So that’s kind of the, number two and number three go together which is do sufficient, but not, you know women who got of the interval things started doing a six days a week and they blew themselves out.
It it’s a matter of balance is, if all you do is two hours on the treadmill a day, you’re not getting yourself any favors or if you’re walking at four and a half miles an hour.
Do two or three days of intervals, some low intensity cardio to burn calories in general and then add some proper weight training. Change your diet up a little bit like that that’s when the magic absolutely happens for women.
Mike: And I can attest to that just I mean for-
Lyle: Just observation.
Mike: Yeah. Just a working point of view, that’s my general advice for women is to lift weights. I don’t do more than maybe an hour or hour and a half of interval work per week when cutting and I do some walking in addition to that and that’s what I recommend.
Lyle: And it works. They don’t get really stressed. So that’s a big one.
The next really the big issue is you know like the whole refeed thing in terms of you know the most general definition of a refeed is, you’re either deliberately jacking up carbohydrate intake or even if you’re just returning calories to maintenance.
And what’s interesting I talked about the energy availability work and so like three to five days of very low calories can start to tank the menstrual cycle.
Now Luke did a study where she did one day of just massive overfeeding. It was like 6400 calories, some ridiculous amount.
Mike: That’s hard for guys to do. That’s like they’re going to throw up.
Lyle: It might have not been that big but it was a stupid amount of calories and no hormonal effect quite surprisingly. Another study kind of accidentally they did three days of fasting so the same effects and it is from maintenance for two days and happen to re-measure them. Boom, the system had reversed itself.
So that really again it kind of indirectly is very telling is for women and I think almost more so than men, doing even if it’s just bringing calories to maintenance, it doesn’t have to be like that forced high-carb refeed.
But even bringing calories to maintenance for the sufficient frequency and that depends on how lean they are.
Mike: How long they’ve been dieting for.
Lyle: How big the calorie deficit, just how long they’ve been dieting, you know there’s a bunch of variables that go into that and like Eric Helms who actually contributed to research in this book and who has been invaluable for giving me feedback.
It’s funny because he like kind of like you he found out sort of observationally a lot of what’s working and so like he might start at the beginning of a diet, he might be using one refeed day.
You know athletes also have the issue if you’re depleting glycogen that’s great for fat loss. And eventually your performance tanks.
You have to find that balance and you do have to refill muscle glycogen to get through your weight training workouts.
Again it’s not nearly as important for weightlifting as it is for endurance athletes doing two hours a day. You’re just you’re rotating body parts. It’s you know Alan Aragon wrote that great article on this, the post workout anabolic window is irrelevant.
And for most people it’s not if you’re an athlete doing two days within six hours it’s usually important. Physique athletes typically not.
So he might use one refeed for the first block of dieting, take a break and the full diet break I wrote about several years ago, it might be two days of maintenance and then towards the end it might be three and you adjust the deficit days to keep the weight loss going, but it’s just a very logical approach to it.
He’s coupled that with, I don’t know if you’ve ever talked or written about this you know intermittent caloric restriction it’s kind of this new model of dieting that they’re using in the obese individuals.
It’s kind of related intermittent fasting and what they’re doing is rather than just straight calorie restriction minus 30% every day, they’re using big deficit three to four days a week and then letting people come back to maintenance every so often and the variations they’ve done. 11 and three cycle they’ve gone kind of random to see you might three days are very hard core deficit and then a day of maintenance. And they find that the maintenance day doesn’t really go off the rails. Even if it goes up by 10%.
Mike: Just eating intuitively.
Lyle: Yes just eating ad lib. So and what they’re doing they’re using they call it fasting in the literature and this is for obese individuals but they’re giving them 25% percent of maintenance mostly protein. But do the math that’s a 75% deficit for three days. Even if you’re at 110% you’re 10% above maintenance on day four, your effective deficit is still about 30% or 40%.
Mike: That’s huge.
Lyle: And it’s much less psychologically stressful, right. If I tell you you’ve got a diet 30% you’re going to be restricted every day versus hey every fourth day you could eat normally. It breaks diet is what I wrote about in Flexible Dieting so many years ago. Psychologically the stress is enormously different. It may be better for a lean body mass retention, debatable the adherence is better. It’s at least the same if not slightly better fat loss.
They did an alternate-day fast. Every other day a super low calories maintenance, super low and again if you math that out, the deficit ends up being and if you do four days of fasting and three you’re actually end up in about 40% weekly average deficit.
That’s bigger than doing a 30% every day and it’s easier anyway. So he’s using a variation of that.
→ The Refeed Day: When Dieting Should Include Overeating and Why
Mike: I mean this the standard of people I get that’s kind of the point of cheat meals is the same kind of concept is that once a week you’re going to go essentially you’re going to you know maybe say you can get down 2000 calories or 1500 calories a meal you add that on top what you ate for the day and you know.
Lyle: Sure. And bring things to maintenance. So like so early in the diet Eric, you know, would be using like one ad lib six dieting days. You’re still breaking it up you know that there’s never more than four or five days before you get a mental and physiological break.
Later it might be two or it might be a Wednesday and Saturday or whatever. Later on it might be a Tuesday and Wednesday and then two days in a row. Right, at that point you’re getting into some of the cyclical dieting structures.
What he’s found is better performance maintenance, less lean body mass lost and women are not losing their menstrual cycle as early and that’s huge. I mean realistically, women will experience some degree of menstrual cycle dysfunction.
Mike: Especially if they’re trying to really lean.
Lyle: And sometimes they get to 10%. It’s a matter of when it’s going to happen rather than if it’s going to happen but the longer you can stave it off the better off you are. The less you know for a number of reasons that I mean I discussed menstrual cycle dysfunction for pages and pages and pages because it’s such an important issue for women.
So that’s another big one and given that their systems do a gap a little bit quicker and more differently, they may need re-feeds or full diet breaks at two week period between dieting blocks which also will basically reset all the hormones and will do them a lot of good.
If you’ve got time. They may need them a little more frequently than men and it sort of mathed this out back of the envelope. So that’s another big one.
Two that I would probably add you know we all know about flexible dieting. We know that it’s a fantastic tool. We know that all the studies show that flexible restraint does better than rigid restraint. Rigid restraint causes people, can cause eating disorders.
People go off the rails, they become disinhibited. You can find endless stories of women that are just like if it’s not a perfect day of clean eating if they used a tablespoon of milk you know what?
Might as well go eat four Blizzards. What’s funny is you know then they have the nerve, nerve is a wrong word. Audacity is probably a better word to say that it fits your macros people doing a treat every couple of days are eating less healthy diet, okay look your binge day and it is a binge day. It’s not a cheat day is that they’re really trying to put as much crap down the pile you’re eating more junk food in a week than any intermittent or any IIFYM if it fits your macros person.
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Mike: And in the flexible diet, those people that know what they’re doing there it’s not like they’re just eating pop tarts and hot dogs every day because they can.
Lyle: Yeah and believe, I mean, I address this one too because you’ve got a few very vocal YouTube celebrity is going I’m eating pop tarts and protein powder and people-
Mike: A full day of eating look at this.
Lyle: Correct and people are like … I’ve heard, I’ve seen people ask do I have to eat pop tarts and fat?
It’s done a real disservice to what the concept actually is and if you look at most people using if it’s your macros you, they’re eating eighty percent clean diet. They’re not even doing a treat every day. They maybe do it just whenever they need it to kind of stave off the cravings and keep themselves sane but even there, there are some differences right?
Women do show more dietary restraint than men. They often show higher levels of rigid restraint which is also associated … and the difference rigid restraint rigid dieting is you know your listeners are it’s very black and white–good food, bad food, diet food, not bad food.
Mike: Eat this don’t eat that, clean, unclean.
Lyle: Correct and if you eat a little bit of the wrong food you’ve blown your diet for the day. You become disinhibited you know flexible restraint right because dieting is still you have to restrain your food.
Lyle: That’s what diet is. But there’s flexible restraint where you realize that hey a little bit doesn’t blow the diet. I can compensate tomorrow.
Flexible dieting in the literature is actually very different than how it’s being applied in the physique community and I address some a little bit. We’ve got different, we’ve got free meals. We’ve got refeeds, we’ve got diet breaks, and the newest one if it fits your macros.
And you know I wrote, I think I didn’t invent this. I think I was want people to really first formalize them in 2000, I mean my guide to flexible dieting. I laughed, telling people like what is this guy now.
Now everybody has flexible dieting books. Some of them even give me some of them even credit me. One of them stole it completely now they’re getting more of that.
Mike: I quoted you in my book.
Lyle: Thank you.
Mike: You’re mentioned …
→ How to Make the “If It Fits Your Macros” Diet Work For You
Lyle: And you know so the … I just, a lot of people to tell them you know learning flexible dieting behaviors does take time.
Taking someone who’s a rigid tighter and going be flexible is like telling a cat to be a dog. They can’t change their mental thing overnight. At the same time there are … I mean there are issues with flexible dieting that I think the really rabid people have lost sight of.
And this is something like a part of the reason I want to update my older book. I’m 12 years older I know a lot more. For a lot of overweight people right there trying to change longstanding eating habits, bad eating habits.
They’ve got a lot of issues in their brains in terms of how they respond to highly palatable foods. For a lot of folks, I think introducing those approaches as strongly as I believe them to early might be a mistake because I think, it’s one thing to say just eat normally and sort of say I need to put down five grams per kg of carbs.
Mike: I’ve done that with people is just okay let’s start simple. Let’s restrain all the sodas. Let’s drop those out. Let’s add some protein in these meals.
Lyle: You know so for certain people I think it may be better to wait a little bit if they’re overweight or having you know I think what a lot of the really rabid flexible dieters forget especially if it’s fit your macros people.
Every single one of them comes from a decade or five years a very rigid dieting. They counted, they measured, they ate every three hours, and they have extremely good food control.
I don’t give a damn how much, there’s one particular individual who I will not name is they don’t like intuitive eating. Just eat normally. Okay, if I eat normally, I’ll be 300 pounds right, there is no such thing in the modern environment. What she forgets … what this person-
Mike: It’s too much delicious food everywhere always.
Lyle: But what this person forgets is they had 10 years and if you look at what this person is eating has been eating normally it’s like a half bowl of cereal.
Okay, even I spent so much time dieting and measuring. Even when I go to the buffet I know exactly how much I’m eating. I am completely aware of it on every level. So are these people when they say, “Oh I’m just eating normally,” Bullshit. You know exactly how many calories is in this. You may not be measuring it or being rigid about it but do not tell you …
Mike: Yeah you know your range. You know you did not eat 6000 calories yes or you know it was like 2500.
Lyle: Sure. You know exactly and you have a level of food control of it. A lot of people may not have. There’s even a very interesting study that lean and obese people’s their frontal cortex, that a part of the brain that makes us aware if you feed the lean people’s frontal cortex turns on earlier. They know what they’re eating. The obese person does not. They’re just blah.
So to tell people this and that’s part of why I did sort of the structure in my first book. The structure it’s like look I would love to tell you to just eat and be okay with it but maybe we need to put them, it’s like structured flexible dieting which is a screwy way of thinking about it but it’s like here’s a way to ease into it.
You get a meal you’ve got an hour go eat out at a restaurant because you’re not going to get three desserts start with the slightly, it put some sort of because God we saw before people did cheat meals and it’s 4000 calories. People on cheat days bought Body for Life, I would only have people setting an alarm 12:00 or 1:00 am and they will eat till 11:59 pm.
Mike: I’ve never come across that. That’s dedicated.
Lyle: It’s a day and they will eat as much crap as they can.
Mike: They’ll put down 20,000 calories in the day …
Lyle: I’m not saying it’s common but there are ways to game that system you know and still pretend and then things go wrong.
The biggest thing relative to women is AKA they are said to be more restrained they are often more easily disinhibited where they lose control of their diet. In that sense the flexible dieting strategies are fantastic.
I think you’ve probably found most of the really rabid if it’s just your macro people are bigger males. This is something that gets forgotten constantly. Men get to eat more. Men burn more calories during exercise.
It’s fantastic to say no one should have to do two hours of aerobics a day. I got news for you. If you’re 120 pounds female and already on 1400 calories and you have nowhere else to go without starving to death, you have no choice.
I’m not saying you should do it right off the bat, but many smaller women, they just don’t have the calories to, 180 pounds guy’s got tons of calories. He can burn a lot more calories during exercise.
Mike: The really egregious IIFYMers are usually big bodybuilders. I mean these are guys that, when people just looking through their Instagram, they have no idea what’s really going on behind the scenes in terms bringing in drugs and whatever.
Lyle: Correct. There’s another really informative study, right. There’s one is one group having seen the literature that women may not lose weight with exercise. That’s been addressed.
There’s a lot of reasons that happened when they took obese men and women. And what they did is they equated it. Usually the studies are like we have men or women do 30 minutes at the same intensity. Well guess what, that means women are generating 75% of the energy deficit. Of course they lose less weight.
A lot of the reason women lose less weight part of it is they’re lighter. If you normalize weight loss for their starting body weight it’s very similar. But if you give them reduce your calories by 20% for men that might be 600. For a woman it’s 400. Well no shit they lose less weight.
So anyway they set up a study and they took overweight men and women and they very gradually increased their energy expenditure. Took them like six months they were doing like 400 to 600 calories per day of hard exercise. Guess what the women and men lost identical amounts of fat.
However, the women had to do about 25% longer because they’re burning less calories.
Mike: For every minute of exercise.
Lyle: Exactly. That’s the reality of it on top of the adaptations that occur.
Mike: And that’s a good point even what you said earlier because I’ll hear from women now and then that are kind of new to all this and they’ll be surprised to hear that you know to lose weight so it’s a girl, 160 pounds, and she’s surprised to hear that to lose weight with doing some exercise nothing crazy in exercise, but doing a moderate amount of exercise that she has to eat maybe 15 or 1600 calories day and they say and so they’ll write me thinking of you know not necessarily attacking me but as if that’s a starvation diet because of how they’re used to eating.
Mike: So it just comes like to a point of like yeah I’m sorry you don’t get to eat that much food. I know that your boyfriend gets to but you’re talking about a totally different situation.
Lyle: Sure. I’ve also seen the other extreme women who think that a diet is 800 calories you’re like, “Oh my God I can’t possibly eat that much and lose weight?”
You’re like, “Trust me.” Of course, they think they’re 800 they’re really eating 2000 because they’re bingeing and not talking about it. But the other thing, the other point I was going to make about it if it’s your macros as greatest strategy as it is, right. You know the current turn of the physique community is poverty macros. It’s women who are like on 1400 calories or less per day.
Again if you’re a 115 pounds female you don’t get to eat very much. Okay it’s great for 180 pound male with 2000 calories to spend 200 of them on a cookie or pop tart or whatever they’re eating.
It’s not very filling. It’s tasty because guess what, they’ve still got 1800 calories from a practical standpoint.
Women on poverty macros don’t have that option. They’re already fighting gnawing hunger and if they eat anything that calorie dense forget it. They’re just not going to make it happen.
Mike: They’re not going to make it through the day. It’s just not going to happen.
Lyle: So I find that there’s that you know it cuts across everything from training to diet everything else what larger male athletes think should be done or what they can get away with and I don’t mean they get away with like that they’re cheating the system or whatever just what is possible for them. The deficit they can create. The amount of calories they burn in exercise. What they can do with their diet will not work for 120 pound female. It just won’t.
They don’t have the calorie burn. They, like I said these are all great concepts to not do two hours and I wish it didn’t have to be. Even with the energy availability thing, when that first came out, a lot of people get became very extreme about it. You can’t ever go below that value.
Well yeah you do have to or you won’t lose any more fat it is a reality of being that lean and that small at some point you will cross that threshold. You will have to if you’re trying get to 10% body fat. You have no choice.
→ The Complete Guide on How to Safely and Healthily Lose Weight Fast
Mike: Yeah, now just specify for the listeners that these-
Lyle: Sure I’m talking about the general female and the general female the only time they’ve even seen menstrual cycle loss in obese women was with gastric bypass because her calories went from high to effectively zero, but this is something that unless you’re below 24% body fat, none of this is an issue.
But if you’re a female that’s 15%, 14% trying to get to 12 you will eventually have to cross that threshold. There is no getting around it.
All you can do at that point is bring calories to maintenance at sufficient frequency. Take a diet break but what else we’re getting now if it fits your macros may not be an option but as long as you’re having the maintenance day well guess what that encapsulates if it’s your macros because that’s a day where your calories may go from 1200 to 1800 or 2000.
Mike: And you can afford the chocolate now or the whatever.
Lyle: On that day, exactly.
So there’s a lot of things just you know and I of course being who I am I have to think about all this and discuss it ad nauseam and some of the other silly criticisms if it’s your macros or not but I thought a lot of if it’s your macro strata becoming as well as much of zealots as the clean eaters and I find that if a straight they are overcoming will this is the only way anyone should diet.
Well no, and some people have trigger foods. I’ve even found people they don’t you know even if they do that free meal it’s beneficial they’re just like it’s just psychologically there’s a switch a lot of people turn when they’re dieting or not dieting.
Mike: I’ve heard from people exact same thing. Yeah that they actually don’t like to have cheat meals or free meals or whatever because they know psychologically it’s good it’s better for them just maybe to eat a bit more of the foods they’re used to eating and not go there.
Lyle: Yes and that’s perfectly fine and that’s something that I said with 12 more years of experience, these are things that I have changed. I’ve written about in this book and another book I’m working on, it will be there as well and it’s like dieting to a great degree is a skill and it’s something there are variations even for the intermittent restriction, I think it’s a great model but if people find that on that ad lib day they’re going nuts, well, straight calorie restriction may be better for them.
One of the things I suggest if you’re going to try any of these flexible dieting strategies: try and it fails. Well try it again and just change something and if you fail two or three times stop. I guess it’s just that simple. Learn from the experience, right?
One thing I got involved very deep into that there’s actually some really good stuff in the addiction literature that can carry over to dieting and there’s something they talk about it’s called the Abstinence Violation Effect. What happens when you fall off the wagon, right?
The alcoholic goes out and have some drinks, shit happens. The drug user, I mean shit happens. We’re all human. You can either take that as a failure of will and just drive yourself and go on a binge or you can learn from it. Go ok, I can’t go into the bar with a friend.
Lyle: I cannot be around these people, I thought I could, you learn from that experience and over time you learn what’s going to be most you know and of course you know even with flexible dieting, I mean you should have, bodybuilders got in shape without it for years.
There’s no I won’t debate that and that’s one of the silly, the criticism, well clean eating works. Well yeah but this works because here’s what you don’t see. You see the people on stage.
Well by definition the people who manage to stage-ready were the people who made it to stage. You don’t hear about the 90% the cracked and who failed and who blew up. It selects for people who succeed often also have advantages that the others don’t. I’m not even just talking about the secret drug use nobody talks about.
I’m just talking about the differences in physiology. Some women’s systems are more robust. They don’t lose their menstrual cycle.
Others lose it in a heartbeat. They’re so much an individual verges, testosterone in men varies threefold. A guy with 900 testosterone very different situation than a dude starting at 300.
And I find that we assume that the success stories or how things should be done well maybe, maybe not also there’s a lot of lying that goes on. I saw a recent story as a pro level super physique or bodybuilding female competitor, one of the magazines wanted her to write a pro diet. She wanted to write that she used flexible dieting. They wouldn’t let her.
They refused to run the piece because it goes against their narrative, which is all successful people eat clean and use our supplements. There is a lot of disinformation as much as good information.
Mike: I’m surprised that you even cared enough about that. I’m surprised they even have a narrative. It seems like they’ll contradict themselves one month after another.
Lyle: Well they will but if you’ve written a magazine and your entire concept is clean eating, you really can’t allow someone to say you know what I did not, but anyone, I was going to say, is even the success stories, right, we see them in their pinnacle of physique perfection, let’s talk about what happens the next month.
Lyle: Let’s talk about the 40, 20 pound weight regain. Let’s talk about how they quit training for a month because they are so overtrained and exhausted.
You don’t hear that talked about. what I found is that people who use re-feeds, flexible dieting strategies, if you do six months of complete restriction, of course you’re going to blow up. I prepped somebody years’ ago with body opus, and everyone was saying, “That will never work. How can you eat pancakes every week and lose fat and low carb diet yada, yada, yada. And after the contest they all blew up and she never felt that restricted so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Lyle: So it’s one thing to focus on the purely short term, that’s that type A rigid. In the short term it works great. And the long terms eventually, are there people that can probably do it? Sure, do I actually think that they’re doing it all the time? No, they’re not telling you about the binges, they are not talking about it.
Mike: Especially with that type of person cause they want to project themselves as the invincible robot.
Lyle: Of course. I mean, if they lie about their training, they lie about how hard they’re working, all of that. We know that people misreport food intake and what’s interesting is, most people do it for lack of awareness. They don’t even know.
But there’s some indication leaner more athletic people, there are the ones deliberately lying because they don’t want to talk about the cheeseburger. They don’t want to talk about it.
Mike: Well, if they don’t acknowledge it happened, then it didn’t happen.
Lyle: Sure, they don’t want the researchers to think that they are less healthy than they are. So if there’s any group that’s being deliberately deceptive, it’s them.
The obese people just don’t know any better. They don’t know what calorie portions are.
Anyway so flexible dieting is great, but if it doesn’t work for either psychological or physiological reasons, drop it. It’s just really that simple.
Even if it fits your macros, if you find a food that you cannot eat in moderation, don’t eat that food.
And to show you the zealotry of that like, orthodeoxia which is this new eating disorder which is being very concerned with the moral healthiness. Clean eating is a very orthorexic behavior. The early the food hygiene even that suggests food is clean cause the body is clean.
They have decided that if you have a trigger food that you cannot personally eat, that is orthorexic cause in their mind if you don’t include, it’s not that you even can include a given food, if you don’t include every food, you’re orthorexic.
That is not what the word means. If I choose not to drink cause I don’t want to? I am not a moralist.
If I choose not to drink because I think it’s a sin, I’m a moralist. They cannot see that nuance.
So if you eat a particular food, if you’re like, “I want to have a couple of pop tarts,” and eat the box? That is not a good choice for you. Sometimes again from the addiction stuff set-up what are called bright line boundaries. These are boundaries that you don’t even consider. An alcoholic says, I do not go. Not, I cannot go on to bars.
I “cannot” means that I can, I do not means I don’t. They do not go into bars. I recommend people doing it. If it fits your macros, it’s a pain in the ass. Go to the store and buy what you’re going to eat. If you think you can have a bag of cookies, and that you can stop at two, you’re either a liar or you’re a better person than I am. Go get exactly what you intend to eat and no more.
Mike: I even do that and I would say that I’m probably one of the stronger willed people when it comes to food. But I just figure that why deplete willpower on stupid things like that.
Lyle: Sure. I think there is a lot of good stuff that hasn’t really been applied out of that literature that has just as much of an effect for dieting.
Mike: That’s another book that you’re going to have to write.
Lyle: Well the other book, the book that this derived from has a huge section on behavior change and adherence and that’s when I really got into that literature and I talk about a lot of the social psychology work and will power and it’s not pre-motivation … I can’t remember the term right now like implementation, intentional implementation and mental contrasting. There is a lot of good work because clearly what we’re doing is not work.
I’m getting way off topic. Some people eat and less and exercise doesn’t work, the motivational interviewing. What are the hesitations? What are the blocks you’re having?
Having people do what’s called mental contrasting as a strategy where they list what they want to do and then they list a roadblock. When you identify the potential problem and that way you can-
Mike: I was just reading about this recently.
Lyle: Yeah and it’s really powerful stuff for such a simple approach. Having identified the potential problem, you then come up with a strategy for it. Because it’s going to recur, right? Now physique competitor and become a social pariah who never leaves the house. Not terribly psychological, but athletes do it all the time.
That’s neither here nor there. But to the average person, that’s not an effective strategy. Look you’re going to have to go to a social event with food. You’re going to be around it, unless you want to have a really unhappy life.
Those strategies and they’re better, I think flexible dieting too, it puts the dieter in control of the diet. Most people who have a binge, who eat the cookie go, “Ugh. I failed, I’m a loser, and I wasn’t perfect, yada, yada, yada.” And it sets off whatever shame spiral, whatever pop psychology you want to use.
I think with the flexible dieting, if it fits your macros, the full diet breaks, it puts them in control of the diet. It’s not, “I went off the rails.”
Mike: It was “today was a diet break.”
Lyle: I’m choosing to do this and it changes the psychology immensely.
Mike: It’s a good point.
Lyle: So I would say there’s kind of the big four.
One, don’t jump into extremes right off the bat. There are exceptions. I’ve written a crash dieting book for lean people, it’s two weeks. If you’re doing it quick, what do they call it? Mini cut? Fantastic. You can get away with that.
If you’re trying to diet long term, it doesn’t really work in that for leaner people. These people can use that to start things off. Get that good quick change. So ease into things.
You may have to progressively increase it as you go. And I think if you look at really successful competitors especially when they have a few contests under their belts. They are just taking things a little bit every week. They start very moderate and then every week they’ll add five minutes of cardio. They’ll cut out a little bit more starch, or whatever they’re doing.
They’ve learned to make micro adjustments so it’s never abrupt. We know that their metabolic rate is kind of when you’re getting smaller, and you’re just like, “okay, I want to stay on the bottom of this curve, so I’ll cut out maybe 50 calories a day. Yeah, I’ll do that extra five minutes of the road works.” It’s very gradual.
Now that may end up the extreme, but there’s a difference over 16 weeks doing this and in week one doing that. That’s what most people do. So ease into things.
Moderate your diet. Get sufficient protein, moderate amounts of dietary fat. I know some people like ketogenic diets, I address all this stuff. I don’t have time to get into it. I even write about there’s the potential for synchronizing the diet with the phase of the menstrual cycle.
Mike: I was going to ask about I figured that’s a whole nother thing.
Lyle: It is and it’s funny. I’d written that chapter a year ago. I’d put it together with all physiology and that study that I’m sure you’ve read came out. The menstrual lean study that actually did basically what basically I had written about, and I am basically like, “Yeah, pub med reads me.” Anyway, online internet joke.
But yeah, they basically show exactly the same thing where they adjusted the macronutrient balance, they raised calories a little bit in the luteal phase. That’s when women have their cravings. They deliberately allowed them a small block of dark chocolate, which is not only brilliant but if it fits your macros in a nutshell.
So yeah, adjust your diet in general terms, Moderate the carbs, unless your activity is super high. It’s still a balance issue but physique athletes, you are just don’t need that many carbs. I’ve got news for you, even strength and power especially. They eat even higher protein cause they feel better.
So couple that with a mix of proper heavy-ish weight training. It doesn’t have to be heavy fives if you’re not built for it. But if you’re doing twelve’s and you could do 25 or ups you need to put some damn weight on the bar.
I see women leg pressing with a quarter on each side and I just want to go, “You lift more weight than that when you climb stairs. Just lifting your body weight is more than that. What are you doing?”
There’s a funny study or something from years ago. They asked male and female athletes to estimate their 10 rep max. Men were about 50% over, women were 50% under.
Women vastly underestimate how much they can lift. They are told to tone and rep and all that crap. Heavy-ish training, a little bit of intervals to deplete muscle glycogen and increase fat burning, moderate cardio so you’re not over driving and overstressing the system.
Within one context or another. Whether it’s the occasional full diet break which could be 7 or 14 days of maintenance eating, the occasional maintenance/refeed diet, depending on how you want to approach it. If it fits your macros, if you can make it work, for smaller females, it may simply be unworkable approach.
Free meals? Crapshoot on that one. some people like them, some people think it does more harm than good. That one is probably the least required. It’s purely psychological has no physiological effects. If it helps, do it. If you hate it, don’t worry about it.
Again, a refeed or maintenance day, both encapsulate if it fits your macros and a free meal because you’ve got enough calories to eat something to eat that tree and you can just put them together.
Those are really kind of the big four players on this.
I guess if I wanted to add a fifth one it’s that all the research is great. All the generalities are great. All that stuff is fantastic. I think women as much if not more so than men are going to have to be there or their coaches have to be their own scientists.
You’re going to have to track your own responses. Again the variation among women I think is larger than in men.
The menstrual cycle, and we know the average is 28 days. Almost no woman has a 28 day cycle. They say they do, they think they do but it’s 25 to 32 days. It can vary between women, it can vary in the same woman from month, to month, to month.
If some women, if they find that their hunger and appetite is off the rails, like in luteal phase, so calorie expenditure goes to about 300 calories. In premise, you could use that to create a larger deficit by keeping your calories where you are.
Or you could technically raise your calories a couple of hundred, add the dark chocolate whatever, offset the cravings, the net result is the same but that’s going to be an individual thing.
Or you can when you have that super craving get your dark chocolate, have a couple pieces, diet go buy the little single pieces from Lindt or whoever it is and don’t buy the bar. Don’t buy the bag of the Lindt truffles, get it out of your system and get out on with your life.
From a training standpoint, there’s a whole other to do, another podcast. Physique doesn’t have to worry about this. It’s not a performance training in the strictest sense. We’re working higher reputation ranges, and changes in strength aren’t big variables. If you’re trying to get 70% and your max is 10% down, fine it’s a little bit harder.
Mike: You just move on.
Lyle: You can just grind it out. You can grind it out. If you’re a strength power athlete trying to do triples at 90% and your max is down 15%, guess what, you can’t make that lift. You can’t. Your coordination changes, injury risk changes throughout the cycle.
In powerlifting you may already be doing that. Heavy day, medium, light day medium. Heavy week, medium week, light week.
But PMS, the final week of the cycle, if that’s when your strength and coordination go to crap, guess what? Great light active recovery week.
When women start menstruating usually within a couple of days, their strength is off.
I had one trainee she was doing two a days. It happened consistently so I knew what her pattern was.
One in the morning, crap. Just crap. She couldn’t lift for squat, her coordination was off, she started menstruating at like one o’clock that afternoon, went back later that day and she set a personal best.
It’s not universal, but for her it’s a damn switch. I could predict that once I got a hold of the pattern I could predict that. Like the tides, I knew exactly… horrible choice of words. No I really am. That wasn’t deliberate.
It is like clockwork for her. I knew that for seven days, I had to just give her light machine work because all she could do coordinatively and physiologically and I knew that as soon as she started her cycle, a couple days to get heavier and then I could just punish her and then a little bit lighter the next week, a little bit heavier after ovulation cause of the testosterone spike and then could be right back in the cycle.
Once I started programming according to her personal cycle, now I’m not saying that’s universal for all women, her results were far more effective, because we’d go in and I’d be like well, here’s what the card says, why can’t you lift this.
I could do it. I can lift the same every damn day. Men can do that. They don’t have those shifts.
But it took me a while to wrap my head around it. But then again some women, flat. PCOS women can be trained more like men because they have elevated testosterone. Typically a different body structure, that doesn’t even get into the psychology.
You want to motivate a man, what do you do? What are you a girl? Did you leave your purse at home? I have news for you. That doesn’t work well with female athletes.
I mean it can. You’ll find women. I’ve had some really combative powerlifting females that will compete just as hard as women.
Women in team sports–totally different psychology. If you pit them against one another, they’ll hate you, because women are sort of raised to be in what they call the web, which is about facilitating group dynamics. You tell a male basketball player, “Go out and dominate.” He’ll do it in a heartbeat. Because he’ll dominate the other team, make his teammates respect him.
Tell female athletes or team sport that, it goes against her… it’s not my area of expertise, but female coaches wish they were cutting more problems thankfully are realizing, you have to handle female athletes frequently differently.
I’m not saying it’s a universal, team sport psychology, the women who’re drawn to powerlifting and physique, I think do tend to be a little bit different. Because otherwise, a woman doesn’t want to do a max deadlift without a very specific hormonal and psychological profile.
I’m not saying that men don’t vary as well. I find that men are more constant, so there are a lot of factors that go into that with training, but this is mainly about diet. So it’s probably good place to wrap up.
Mike: No that’s great. Lots of really good information, I know everyone is going to like, because whenever I do something specific with women, it always is received very well.
Lyle: There’s not just that much out there.
Mike: Exactly. There’s not that much. That’s why I was excited to get you on and talk about something. It’s a legitimate difference that’s worth discussing as opposed to fake differences that are used to just sell bullshit basically.
Lyle: Correct. Unfortunately just getting way off topic, there’s a big push right now. This has to do with some extremist feminist ideology. I do not want to get into that but there’s this idea that there are no differences.
I had to make so many caveats in the first chapter of this book. What’s happened, back in the day, it was men writing about sport and men writing about everything.
Men took differences and turned it into better and worse. Men and women are physiologically different. Men, typically stronger, women typically have more endurance. Men have strengths and weaknesses and women have strengths and weaknesses relative to each other.
There’s been very much backlash against that. To suggest differences goes back to this patriarchal inferior and superior. You have to make a comparison.
There’s this general idea, you see the same thing in a lot of ethnically based medicine. That to make a distinction in physiology, to make a distinction, well that just harkens back to some really ugly times in the past.
This is my own bias because I’m writing a book about it. But you’ve got a group that’s saying, men and women are identical, you should just treat them the same. That’s clearly untrue. Little boys and little girls are about the same, at puberty, everything changes.
To deny the physiology is to deny reality. There’s too much damage being done to treat women just like little men. Which is what has happened for decades.
I think it’s far more damaging than the possibility that masculinist assholes are going to turn this into, “See, see women don’t have as much upper body strength.” Who cares? When the food supply dwindles, your ass is dead.
Lyle: So who won the battle?
Mike: It’s just reframing it. You’re talking more about there are quantitative factual type things that have been labeled with these qualitative negative…
Lyle: Correct. That was very much manlike about it.
Lyle: For the same reasons that for white sports writers in the thirties, black athletes couldn’t get a break. Entine’s Taboo book wrote about that. If a black athlete won, he was more animal than man and if he lost, it’s because he was lazy.
Well, black athletes couldn’t ever win on their own merits. So when Entine wrote his book called Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports And Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It, it had a lot of flashbacks because it harkens back to a very ugly time.
It harkens back to the bell curve, which suggest ethnic differences and intelligence which is a whole separate thing, even brain structure.
Men’s and women’s brain structure is different. Men and women parse things differently and I’m very clearly using the word differently. There are differences in how we observe spatial differences and thing like that.
Ask a typical man and woman to give you directions. A woman will use landmarks and you see this in other species. A man will give you distances. A man will go, “Go a quarter mile down there, take a right, and go a mile down… A women will go, go down there, turn right at the Walgreens and the HB is up there.”
I’m not saying one is better or worse, because they’re not. They are simply a different way of parsing things.
So yeah, I find that ignoring those, said just look at the menstrual cycle stuff. Men start with higher bone density. Part of the reason men don’t get osteoporotic fractures is they die sooner.
They lose bone density slower and they die seven years earlier than women. They die before they get into problems, a woman who is sacrificing bone density by banishing the estrogen, and deliberately avoiding losing her menstrual cycle.
This is hard to convince a 23 year old female, when 50 years you’re putting yourself at enormous risk for osteoporosis. You’ve got until about 30 to develop bone density. You don’t do it now and if you’re actually losing bone density, you’re going to be in trouble in 60 years. But try telling that to a young female athlete.
Something else that’s actually is in the book, I talk about bone density, the best way. Because even a lot of that exercise modalities don’t really effectively build bone density. Low intensity walking is one of them, it does crap. Cycling, you can lose bone density, swimming, you can lose bone density. Weight training is good, explosive work is better.
Stuff that puts a very high strain rate on bone repetitively, so even like jumping plus weight training, that gets into the diet thing, too, which we didn’t even touch on.
Women often make food choices that are very detrimental. They cut out red meat and they end up anemic, they cut out dairy, they end up calcium deficient. They also are on a zinc deficient, magnesium a lot of it through their food choices, many of which are just considered de facto how you diet.
Physique competitors are living on tilapia, dairy, which is unclean for some reason.
Mike: Even potatoes are unclean right?
Lyle: That’s a whole separate issue. But there are a lot of specific nutrient deficiencies that can cause women a lot of problems and their food choices contribute to that.
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Mike: Fascinating stuff. There’s so much to talk about. Where can people find you, your work and the books that you have already put out?
Then maybe get on a list for, cause I’m sure a lot of people listening want a book when it’s available, is there an email list they can get?
Lyle: I don’t do that. I’m too lazy. I really don’t, but trust me when it’s out, people will know. This thing is been hyped for so long I don’t think there’s any…
Mike: They can at least follow you on Facebook or something?
Lyle: Yeah. My website is, you can either go to bodyrecomposition.com. It’s all one word or LyleMcDonald.com will get you there. That’s my website.
I’ve got over 500 articles, my store is all there. I’m on Facebook, I’ve got a personal feed. I have a page that I don’t do much with. I do have a very active Facebook group and if you just put ‘body recomposition’ it will turn up.
Lyle: I’ve also got if you want a fan group, I’ve got the butt hurt over Lyle group that I created, it’s for people that are made at me and are butt hurt over me and that’s like I’ll go troll them and they’ll troll me. And it’s all good. Keeps that from the main group and I’ve got a support forum, forums.lylemcdonald.com. I’ll be honest, it’s not very active.
I think Facebook has really negated the need for forums at this point. So probably the best place to find me personally would be in the Facebook group, and then if you want to read my endless writings about stuff that would be the website.
Mike: Great, I highly recommend everybody go check out Lyle McDonald, follow him, read his stuff. You’re one of the first people whose work I came across when I decided to really educate myself in my little journey or whatever. I’ve stuck around since.
Lyle: To show I realize I’m getting old now, cause I was really … when I got out of school in ’95. I got on the internet very early. I was certainly one of the first people to really be pushing science-based research against a lot of the BS.
Of course nobody listened and now we’re all about evidence based. But that was 20 years ago and I’ve got people coming up now. We’ve got a lot of really smart people who have PhDs. I mean Brad Schoenfeld is doing phenomenally, very practical research. Eric Helmes is in both the research and the coaching realm.
I’ve had a couple of them go, “Yeah, when I was in undergrad, it was your stuff that really kind of…” and I’m just like, I’m so old. There are people that are coming up and it’s really interesting watching it changing very significantly, at least a minor perspective.
There’s still the majority of it that will go to body building that are caught in them and that’s fine. I think there’s an increasing number of people and especially coaches that are getting away from the very six meal per day this that and the other type of approach.
Mike: Almost the mythologies of the past.
Lyle: Yes, to what I think are going to be far more effective probably going forwards. So it’s always good to hear people doing that.
Mike: Yeah absolutely and that’s why I try to just do my part in spreading the work of guys like Schoenfeld and Helms and you and so forth.
Lyle: Yep, very good.
Mike: Awesome. Well thanks again for taking the time, I really appreciate it and maybe we can line up another one sometime for the training side of things?
Lyle: Sounds like a plan Mike Matthews.
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