Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube

In this installment of the Best of Muscle For Life, you’ll hear hand-picked clips from three popular MFL episodes: an interview with Menno Henselmans on the science of self-control and willpower, a Says You episode on eating less than 1,200 calories per day, and a motivational episode on the power of habit. 

Some people—my favorite people—listen to most or even all of my podcasts, but my wizbang analytics tell me that while many listeners tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every installment of Muscle for Life and thus miss out on insights that could help them do at least a little better inside and outside the gym.

That’s why I do “best of” episodes that contain a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from the more popular episodes I’ve published over the years. This way, you can learn interesting insights that you might have otherwise missed and find new episodes of the show to listen to.

So, in this installment of The Best of Muscle for Life, you’ll be hearing hand-picked morsels from three episodes:

Menno Henselmans on the Science of Self-Control

(Originally published 10/6/2021)

Says You! Eating Less than 1,200 Calories Per Day

(Originally published 10/1/2021)

Motivation Monday: The Power of Habit

(Originally published 5/7/2018)


And we’ll be starting with number one, Menno Henselmans on the Science of Self-Control.


0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!

4:10 – Menno Henselmans on the Science of Self-Control

14:53 – My free quiz to answer all your diet questions:

16:01 – Says You! Eating Less than 1,200 Calories Per Day

21:05 – Motivation Monday: The Power of Habit

Mentioned on the Show:

Take this free quiz to get science-based answers to all of your diet questions:

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hello, and welcome to the latest and greatest episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews and thank you for joining me today. Now I have recorded hundreds of episodes of Muscle for Life, and I’ve talked about a huge variety of things related to health, fitness, lifestyle mindsets, ranging from the basics of diet and exercise, like energy and macronutrient, balance and progressive overload, and training frequency and volume to fads like the ketogenic and carnivore diet.

Collagen protein to more unfamiliar territories like body weight, set point, and fasted cardio, and some episodes resonate with my crowd more than others, but all of them contain at least a few key s that just about anyone can benefit. Elise, that’s what I tell myself. That’s what helps me sit down in the chair every day and do this.

And as cool as that is, it poses a problem for you, my dear listener, especially if you are new here, and that is, ain’t nobody got time for that. We’re talking about probably a thousand plus hours of content at this point. And while some people actually do make the time to listen to most, or even all of my podcasts, My Whizbang Analytics tell me that while many listeners tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every installment of Muscle for Life.

Thus, they miss out on insights that could help them get even just a little bit better inside and outside the gym. Because if you just get a little bit better, consistently enough, that can add up to big results in the long. And people have also been telling me that they would like me to do more shorter multi topic episodes like my q and Ass and says You episodes.

And so I got an idea. How about. A best of series of podcasts that contains a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from my most popular episodes. Going all the way back to beginning this way, people who are new in particular can quickly determine if this is the droid they’re looking for, if this podcast is for them or not.

And then those who are regulars and enjoy what I’m doing, but just don’t have the time or inclination to listen to all of my stuff. And I do understand that I don’t take it personally. , you can also then benefit from the discussions and the episodes that you are not listening to in full. And you can also find new episodes to listen to without having to give an hour of your time to determine whether it was worth it or not.

So here we are with the best of Muscle for Life, and in this episode you’ll be hearing handpicked morsels from three episodes. One is an interview I did with Meno Hanselman’s on the Science of Self-Control, and the next one is a monologue from my Saysyou series of episodes where I address things that people disagree with me on.

And this one is called Eating Less than 1,200 Calories Per Day. So somebody challenged me on this that nobody, regardless. Their body size, body composition, activity level and so forth should eat less than 1200 calories per day. And that number changes. Some people say it should never be less than a thousand calories per day, 1500 calories per day, and that episode addresses really all of those claims, even though the specific number in this case is 1200.

And then the final episode featured in this episode is a motivational monologue called The Power of Habit. And let’s start out with number one, Menno Huntsman’s on the science of self-Control two. System theory is a concept that has gained a lot of popularity in psychology in the last years. I think Daniel Kahneman can be attributed rightly as the, uh, the source for most of this popularization.

And Jonathan hate. I I mentioned both in the book. Daniel Kahneman says System one, system two, which is also the parlance that’s used in a lot of psychology fields. Jonathan Ha uses the metaphor of system one being sort of an elephant, and system two being the writer. And I sort of combine these. Systems, and I talk about the emotional elephant and the rational rider, and it’s, it sounds a little bit, uh, ch childish almost, I think, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

If you look at how the brain is structured and operate. Exactly. You can literally see in the brain that you have sort of the, what’s called the reptile brain, which is the brain stem in the more primitive parts, and then on top of that you have to paleo, mammalian, uh, And that’s basically system one. It’s where emotional processing takes place and intuitive reasoning.

It’s fast, it’s very efficient, but it doesn’t understand long-term consequences, investment strategies, logic, math. It’s gonna do those things. And then on top of that, you have to prefrontal cortex, which is system two, the rational part, it’s the rational rider, and it’s literally like a rational rider shitting on top of these emotional elephants.

This is the part of our brain that has evolved pretty much. Counterbalance the flaws in the more intuitive system and it’s, it has serial processing, it’s slow, it’s effortful. This is the part of our brain that we associate with our consciousness with you. If you think of how you are, then you’re talking about this part of your brain.

Big central parts of understanding self-control is, for one, the tenant that humans are fundamentally effort a. Basically, yeah, we are inherently lazy and evolutionarily speaking. That makes sense. Like why would we ever invest effort in something that we can do more easily or do something that we don’t strictly need to do?

Like evolutionarily speaking, we did not evolve to go to the gym. We were just active because we needed food to survive. So the, we have these, these drives to do things, but they were mostly out of necessity, and that makes things a lot easier. And these days we live in a society where food is supplied to us in abundance with far higher energy densities than previous.

And we are locked up in cubicles trying to be productive for eight hours a day. And we have to force ourselves to go to the gym rather than be forced to hunt, to stay physically active. So, Self-control is much more important these days than it used to be, and you actually see that people that have better self-control, they consistently, they do better in school, they get better careers, they do better on basically anything.

They’re happier if, when two things in the brain are not perfectly aligned with each other. In general, this creates a sensation of unpleasantness. So we also see that self-control failure is more likely when we do difficult tasks as compared to simple tasks because the, the cognitive conflict in our brain is greater when we try something to process something that’s difficult.

That’s in fact the essence of something being difficult causing cognitive conflict. And that’s also why we, we laugh at a joke and we experience a sensation of pleasure when we get the joke because we, a joke usually creates this cognitive conflict. And then when we sort of get it, this triggers a moment of relief.

And that’s, it’s part of the reason actually we have humor. Self-control failure is a shift in intentional resources. I think that’s really good to, to understand a lot of people, it’s almost like bored. It’s a shift in attentional resource. When the brain is what you’re currently doing, you’re currently doing some half two activity.

Cuz if you’re doing a long two activity, you almost never experience self-control failure and your brain shifts the attention from the half two activity. It’s trying to find once two activities which result in higher immediate ratification. That’s what happens and that’s also what you always see that you’re doing something that is.

It’s more an investment activity. It’s something you have to do or something that you think is good for you in the future, and then what your brain ends up doing, what you end up procrastinating on is things that give more immediate relief, like food or, uh, sex and research also finds that a dollar sign.

Uh, Facebook popups, those things become very salient because they basically result in this, this instant high stimulation as opposed to, you know, doing your taxes or resisting hunger. Really one of, I think, the most effective strategies in terms of organizing your day, and that’s to take more breaks. This is very counterintuitive, but I think.

A big part of the book is the central theme that people have this disciplinary approach, like you don’t sleep, which I think is, is the most stupid advice ever for productivity. You just work for like eight plus hours a day. You know, the, the most productive people on the planet are the people that work.

I, I don’t work 40 hours, I wanna work 60 hours. I work 80 hours. And actually, there’s been good research on this, especially in England and, uh, on, on Fort Motor Company during the, uh, the industrial Revolution where they had a hour work. And they find consistently that if you go from 80 to 60 hours and from 60 to 40, there is an increase in productivity.

It’s not even the same. There is actually an increase in productivity when they work half the hours. You people need to work a bit more deliberately, but they need to take far more breaks to avoid this state of. Ego depletion that you’re really sapped and you’re forced to take a very long break. If you don’t get out of that, your productivity level just sinks to almost nothing.

Like almost everyone can can attest to this, that at some point, you know, if you’re in the office or trying to write, if you have writer’s block and you’re just forced yourself to sit and keep writing, you can spend the rest of the day writing one page. What you could do instead is take a break, go see a movie, or watch an episode of your, your favorite series or something.

Then get back, maybe do a workout in between. There are lots of, in the book I discuss a list of effective break options with exercise scoring really well, pretty much every criterion. And then you come back and you have another productive balance. And if you do that, say, Four times a day, then you are a really, really productive individual.

How do you like to structure your day? The, the general template I outlined in the book, especially based on Ericsson’s research, doing your most creative and most intellectually demanding work in the mornings, you see that in almost all successful writers and professors, and that’s also in line with. The BioRim of cognitive functioning, which basically sees that, well, maybe there may some boot up time in the morning, but it reaches a peak pretty fast in the day.

And after that it’s pretty much just downhill unless you’re doing power napping or something. And some other things I touched on in the book is that auditory presentation stimuli, the resulting lower task fatigue. So it’s good to have your interviews and your podcasts, especially group meetings, which have a social elements because that’s inherently stimulating for humans.

Do that later in the day. I can, I can really see, at least for myself and based on research, that you can at least keep productivity the same and often increase it when you come from crazy hours. Now, I would say that we probably have higher numbers of hours cuz we are really passionate at what we do.

You know, we have this internal drive and that, on the one hand is a curses in the sense that we’re not naturally inclined to take breaks. But a lot of people may be too inclined to take breaks, but they don’t do it Strateg. And that’s the problem. Like they’re not efficient about it. They take their breaks too late and they’re not taking sufficiently rewarding breaks because going to the coffee machine, having a boring conversation with your coworker, Hey, how are you Goose, how are you, you know, oh fine weather today, right?

That’s not, you know, create creativity enhancing that doesn’t replenish your willpower. You need to do something immersive, something fun like a cold shower exercise. Um, video games are actually really good at this if they are time limited because they are so immers. Watching an episode of your favorite series and research finds that it works much better if you’re watching an entertaining series, of course, than if you’re watching horror or something, because you don’t exactly feel good after that

So it, it’s really about being strategic, taking the right kind of breaks and just doing mindful work. Yeah, if you can take naps, that’s great. Um, I would say though that if you find yourself really wanting to take a lot of naps, you should consider if you’re not simply sleep deprived, because the sleep is one of those things that there’s just tons of research that.

Far beyond the point where you think it impairs productivity and wellbeing. Sleep deprivation hurts, everything like really, really badly. One study that came out relatively recently, well, about I think two years ago now, showed that the sleep depth is linearly cumulative, which means that, and that this is exactly what they studied.

If you are sleeping one hour less per day for eight days, the cognitive effects are the same as missing an entire night of. So, yeah, I’d say naps are great. Naps are an amazing, like a 20 to 30 minute nap. That’s, that’s also crucial by the way, you need to take, take a power nap. Cause if you enter deep sleep stages, then you wake up, you know, feeling like you’re, you wake up in a foreign body on a foreign planet.

You don’t know who, who you are, where you are, . But if you take this kind of power nap and a recent study, also find, by the way, that’s if you quickly fall asleep, you can even take caffeine before the nap, fall asleep, and then the caffeine sort of wakes you. and then your extra, extra, extra productive afterwards.

The funny thing, research actually finds that taking an imaginary break is also really effective. How does that work? Yeah. It’s basically, it’s like meditation, so an imaginary break. You have to visualize yourself or something, someone you really empathize with. I’d say just always focus on yourself doing something, really relax.

And then it’s almost like meditation in the effect that it basically clears your mental cash in. To use a computer analogy, it’s if you’re really focused on something that in itself does not evoke much emotion and doesn’t take much cognitive processing power, then just focusing really well on that basically clears out working memory.

and all the other things you used to think about and sort of resets your mental state, like clearing a computer’s cache. So that is exact same mechanism of meditation. So in that sense it, it kind of makes sense, but it’s funny that. , it works that way cuz you, you intuitively wouldn’t say, you know, like the, the purpose of a break is to actually take a break, but just imagining a break can be equally effective because it has the same mental effects.

Most research on meditation, like, and mindfulness like practices finds that the exact method is not so important. Uh, just the, the fact that. You’re going through the same cognitive processes like meditation and imaginary break, body scan methods, listening to really relaxing music or going through memories like body scan method is like just focusing intensely on all your body parts.

I’m just sort of moving them one by one gently or just really focusing on them. Uh, counting sheep is like a more folk folksy kind of traditional method, which, which actually is essentially meditation. Yep. They all will have a similar effect. How many calories should you eat to reach your fitness goals faster?

What about your macros? What types of food should you eat, and how many meals should you eat every day? Well, I created a free 62nd diet quiz that’ll answer those questions for you and others, including how much alcohol you should drink, whether you should eat more fatty fish to get enough omega-3 fatty acids.

What supplements are worth taking and why and more. To take the quiz and get your free personalized diet plan, go to Muscle For Quiz muscle f o r. Dot show slash diet quiz now answer the questions and learn what you need to do in the kitchen to lose fat, build muscle, and get healthy. Well, that’s it for my featured snippets from my interview that I did with Meno on the Science of Self-Control.

And if you want to listen to that whole episode, it was published in October of 2021, so you can go back and find it. And now let’s move on to the Saysyou episode. Eating less than 1200 calories per. And so in this episode, I am going to be talking about something that I have heard many times over the years, but I realized I have not publicly and specifically addressed, and that is the claim that you should not.

Ever eat fewer than a certain number of calories every day. 1200 is a number that has been thrown around a lot. Specifically for women, sometimes it’s 1500 for women and for men, sometimes it’s a little bit higher, 1600, 1800, or even 2000 calories per day. Now, if you do eat less than whatever the number.

The legend goes, many misfortunes can befall you, including metabolic damage, extreme hunger, malnutrition, hormonal disruptions, muscle loss, mood disturbances, menstrual irregularities, the list jabbers, on and on. And I often hear from people who are concerned by this theory because some evidence-based formula or calculator, usually one of my own is telling them.

Eat what they believe is a dangerously low number of calories every day. Now, fortunately, a true universal caloric minimum would be much lower than any of those numbers that I gave you because many people just don’t burn as many calories as they think they do. And even when calories are inappropriately low, the purported consequences are often over.

For example, a five foot five, 130 pound woman who exercises one to three hours per week burns about 1700 calories per day. And if she wanted to lose about one pound of fat per week, and that would be moderate, reasonable weight loss, she would need to eat about. 1200 calories per day. Now if we make her five, 10, and 160 pounds, her total daily energy expenditure rises to nearly 2000 calories per day.

And then if we increase her exercise to four to six hours per week, it reaches 2,300 calories per. And finally, if we now calculate her new caloric target at 5 10, 1 64 to six hours of exercise per week, and we calculate for one pound of fat loss per week, we get 1800 calories virtually. Lean gaining for her smaller and more sedentary self.

So saying that nobody should ever eat less than some arbitrary amount of calories every day is like saying that they should never drive slower than 55 miles per hour on the highway. Well, what if they have engine trouble? What if there’s traffic? What if it is raining pitchforks outside? How low should you go when you’re cutting because there is a caloric threshold that you shouldn’t cross, right?

Well, yes there is because if you restrict your calories too heavily, you won’t damage your metabolism. You won’t. Detonate your hormones. You won’t disintegrate your muscle. You won’t otherwise derge your physiology, but you’re not gonna have a good time. Negative side effects, often associated with semi starvation.

Dieting, very low calorie dieting. Can and often do become more pronounced if calories are too low. So based on the findings of research, on the effects of energy availability on athletic men and women, when you’re cutting, I recommend a cutoff of eight to 10 calories per pound of body weight per day for both men and.

Regardless of activity level, meaning don’t eat less than eight calories per pound of body weight per day, and that’s probably most applicable to men in women. I would say the cutoff is gonna be a little bit higher, around 10. Now, one other matter I want to quickly comment on is the nutritional component of dieting, because some people say that by eating.

Significantly less food than usual. By eating 1200 calories per day, or 14 or 1800 per day, you can develop irritating insufficiencies or even debilitating deficiencies, and that’s just not true. Not if you get most of the calories that you are eating. From relatively unprocessed and wholesome foods like lean protein, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and the like.

And if you really want to ensure that your body is adequately nourished when you are cutting, just include a high quality multivitamin like legion’s, triumph in your regimen. And that is the highlight reel from eating less than 1200 calories per day. And if you want to listen to that episode, the entire thing, you can find it also October, 2021.

And now we have a motivational episode, or at least I hope it’s motivational, the power of habit. So I want you to think about yesterday when you woke up, what did you do first and in what order? Did you go straight into the shower? Did you check your email first? Or maybe Facebook, and then your email.

What about brushing your teeth? Where does that fit into your routine? What about tying your shoes? Which shoe did you tie first? Did you tie your right shoe first? Your left shoe first? What did you say to your family or your boyfriend or girlfriend or roommate before leaving on your way to work? Which route did you take?

And then once you got to work, what did you do once you sat down at your desk? Did you go straight to your email or maybe did you chat to a colleague first? And then what about lunchtime? Did you have leftovers or a salad or something else? Maybe a Hamburg. And then think about when you got home, what did you do when you got home?

Did you go for a bike ride or a walk? Did you pour a drink? Have some dinner. Now, I could go on and on with these questions, but I’ll stop here and get to the point. My point is that we truly are creatures of habit and we all have deeply ingrained. Daily patterns of behavior. In fact, according to a 2006 study conducted by scientists at Duke University, over 40% of the daily actions that people perform aren’t really decisions.

But are just, habits are things they do on automatic, and in many cases these habits are useful. They save us mental energy. We don’t need to decide newly each and every day how to put toothpaste on our toothbrush or how to go about washing our bodies. But there are other habits that are much more complex and that can emerge without our permission, so to speak.

And that can be quite trouble. For example, studies have shown that families that eat fast food regularly didn’t originally intend to eat as much fast food as they do. It started as a monthly habit, and then it became something that they did every other week, and then it became a weekly habit. And then it became something they do a couple times a week until finally they’re just eating junk food every day.

And any of us can fall into this trap in any area of our lives. 30 minutes of TV per day can become 60 minutes and then 100 minutes and so forth. Skipping a workout once per week can lead to skipping twice per week, which can lead eventually to just quitting altogether. One drink per week can, for some people, easily multiply.

In both size or frequency or both, and you see this habit creep, so to speak, it can be very insidious. The ramifications of these negative habits can be deceiving. There are the immediate and obvious things like you fall behind your peers and your work and you get passed up on the promotion. You gain weight and feel lethargic.

Your health deteriorates and so forth. But then there’s. Not so obvious. You start to lose faith in your ability to put your mind to something and see it through. You start to avoid challenges and opportunities for fearer of failure. You start to criticize yourself. You start to erode your self-esteem.

You maybe even start to become depressed and so forth. Now, of course, there’s a positive side to this because habits can cut both ways. Just 45 minutes of exercise a few days per week if done for long enough, can absolutely transform your body. 30 minutes of reading per day over time can turn you into an expert in just about anything.

You might wanna learn an hour or two of more work per day. Then your peers can help you outproduce them by a rather large order of magnitude. The reality is thinking dim thoughts just doesn’t make things happen. Our dreams may influence what we’re capable of, but it’s our habits that will ultimately determine what kind of lives we live.

Anyone can get energized by tantalizing visions. But very few people can stick to the daily grind long enough to actually get there. Now, if you show me a great achiever in any field or activity, I will show you a master of habit. Someone that has mechanically repeated the same positive actions countless thousands of times until finally they had produced something extraordinary, whether a skill, fortune, invention, or even a sublime relationship with another person.

Controlling our habits can be hard though because some routines and actions are so ingrained that we find ourselves almost slaves to them unable to do anything but mindlessly comply. And that leads me to one of the great unsung benefits of using diet and exercise to stay fit. You see, it improves your habit Mastery staying fit teaches us habit mastery.

In other words, it teaches us how to control our habits, how to break the bad ones and instill and protect the good ones because you can’t overcome bad habits with voodoo rituals or exorcisms or self mort. You beat bad habits simply by creating new behavior patterns that overpower and override them.

Things that are more compelling to you than the bad things. So instead of watching that hour of TV every night unwind, you let off steam with an hour of weightlifting instead. The enjoyment that is normally provided by that 3:00 PM cookie snack can be replaced by an equally enjoyable apple with peanut butter.

And interestingly enough, once you establish a new pattern of behavior, it quickly begins to feel just as automatic as the old one, no matter how different it is. And this is just one of those. Psychological quirks, whatever we repeatedly do is what we want to continue doing. Whether it’s eating ice cream in front of the TV or hitting the treadmill for some late night cardio, and in this way, achieving fitness goals is actually fairly easy.

It is definitely straightforward. You just keep doing the things that start to feel more and more, right? And then you make slow and steady progress, and over time these small improvements add up to something extraordinary, even if the whole process felt ordinary and maybe even mundane. When you do this though, you not only show yourself that you can change your behavior patterns that you are in control, but you also come to realize how powerful your daily routine really is, and this then begins to mold other areas of your life.

You become different than other people. If you can build your habit mastery, and again, exercise and diet is a great way to strengthen that muscle, so to speak. You start to look at all goals that you have a little bit differently. You start to realize that new undertakings require new habits and often old habits are gonna have to go.

To make room, and you also come to realize that the first month or two of a new habit is always the toughest. But if you can get over that initial hump, if you can clear that initial hurdle, it becomes much easier as time goes on, because it just becomes more and more automatic and familiar and you become drawn.

To it naturally more and more. So if I’ve inspired you to get more interested in harnessing the power of habit in your life, I recommend you check out Charles duh Higg’s book, power of Habit, because it is one of the better ones that I’ve read on the subject, and it will give you an in-depth understanding of how habits work and how to get really good at creating and sticking to good habits, and avoiding and breaking bad ones.

Alrighty. I hope you liked what I chose for you from the power of habit, and if you did and you wanna listen to the whole thing, it was published in May of 2018, so you can go all the way back and find that and check it out. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.

And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share.

Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f r and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

View Complete Transcript