Diet breaks have become more popular in the evidence-based community over the past few years.
The strategy is purported not just to improve your results during a cut, but actually make dieting easier.
But is the science so clear-cut?
In this interview, Menno Henselmans and I discuss the scientific literature on diet breaks, including a new study in which he was involved.
Menno has been on my podcast many times, but in case you’re not familiar with him, he’s a former business consultant turned international public speaker, educator, writer, published scientist, and physique coach who’s passionate about helping serious athletes attain their ideal physiques.
In this interview, Menno and I chat about . . .
- Why diet breaks have become so popular in the evidence-based space in recent years
- How his new diet break study was designed and conducted and its results
- The reasons why adding maintenance periods to a cut probably won’t “trick” your body and mitigate the negative side effects of a calorie deficit
- Why diet breaks are probably a waste of time, just make your diets take longer, and what you should do instead
- Protein-sparing modified fasts and when they’re useful and who might benefit from them
- How to add in extremely low-calorie days to a cut (the opposite of refeeds) and why you might want to
- Why very short bulks don’t work (but mini-cuts do)
- And more . . .
So if you want to learn diet breaks and what the latest science says about their utility, give this podcast a listen!
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
15:01 – Is it okay to cut for 8 months straight? and should I incorporate breaks?
24:24 – Why is it important to let off the breaks in exercise?
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34:20 – Is it okay to have little maintenance periods?
39:43 – Is it true that when you go from a cut or maintenance into a calorie surplus you don’t notice all the benefits right away?
47:10 – Is there a general rule of thumb for the number of exposures to unhealthy foods?
48:48 – Are there simple techniques to introduce healthy foods into your diet?
53:50 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the Show:
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Mike: Hey, there, I am Mike Matthews. This is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the ever-evolving science of effective Fat loss. And specifically today, you’re going to be learning about diet breaks, which have gained a lot of popularity in the last year or so, particularly in the evidence-based fitness space.
And mostly because a couple of studies that have come out in the last couple of. Now this is research that I have written about and spoken about over the last couple of years, and I have endorsed diet breaks to a degree, not as dogmatically as some people have. Some people have looked at that research and concluded that cutting with diet breaks is better for everyone always.
If you are not taking diet breaks, you are. Stake. I never agreed with that position. Rather, my position has been that diet breaks do appear to be a useful tool that certain people might want to use under certain circumstances, but not everybody needs to use. And so in today’s episode, you are going to be learning about some new research that supports that position as well as some of the flaws in the previous research that has been used to.
Sell the diet break as a universal win, and your instructor for today is not going to be me, but it’s going to be my friend Menno, Hensel Man’s, who has been on the podcast many times, one of my favorite thought leaders in the evidence-based fitness space. He is a. Former business consultant turned international public speaker educator, writer, and published scientist.
And in this interview, minnow and I chat about why diet breaks have become so popular in the last year or two. Minnow is going to break down this new diet, break study that he was involved in. And he’s going to explain how it was designed and how it was conducted and how it differs from the previous studies and why those differences matter.
And Minnow is going to also explain why he thinks that diet breaks are mostly a waste of time for most people and what they should do instead, if they want to get better results in their cuts, if they want to lose. Faster if they want to experience less hunger and just have an all around better time of it.
Hello, mano, thank you for taking time to come back on my podcast. I appreciate it. Pleasure as always. And so this discussion is gonna be about diet breaks. And you know what’s funny? This discussion, this topic reminds me a little bit of reverse dieting when that was first becoming popular, when I guess you could say there was some evidence-based speculation that maybe that is the best way to go when you’re coming out of a cut, at least.
And if you don’t have to reverse diet. But if you’re not reverse dieting, you’re. Missing out on some benefits or making it harder than it needs to be. And I think that the, the evidence-based consensus on that has changed. And so it reminds me a little bit of, of diet breaks because I see a lot of people now speaking very, Conclusively very definitively about diet breaks in a similar way.
Like if you are not incorporating diet breaks into your cut, you’re not necessarily doing it wrong. You probably could be doing it more, right? And you’re probably making it harder than it needs to be. Therefore, you should. Always consider diet breaks. So with that, I’m gonna give the mic over to you and I, I want to hear your thoughts and go through this research that you are involved in and hear what your advice currently would be.
Menno: I think it’s a very apt analogy between diet breaks and reverse dieting because both are essentially ways that are purported to reduce the effect of the dieting on our metabolism. Appetite psychology by means of changing. Temporality, if you will, of the, of the diet. Like having breaks or refits is kind of all the, also the same ballpark or reverse dieting, basically playing around with the time variable of the diet and that’s supposed to outsmart the body essentially.
I’ve always been skeptical of all of these things because most research, if you look at like the, the physiology of trying to outsmart body in these senses, it’s very difficult, these homeostatic mechanism. Are very tightly regulated and they are set at the appropriate benchmarks, meaning concretely that for example, leptin, which is one target that people have tried to manipulate a lot with carbohydrate intake and refeeds leptin response to cumulative.
Energy balance, which means it’s essentially impossible to, to fake that. Right? The only way you can raise leptin is by raising the cumulative energy balance and well that’s of course counter to the whole purpose of being an energy
Mike: deficit and you can’t just do it for one day. Cuz some people, that would be their response.
They’d be like, yeah, well that’s why your refeed is high card for the weekend.
Menno: Yeah. And then you get, well the, the idea is then you also get very transient spike in leptin that goes back down after when you get back into energy deficits. We also have that research on lept. It’s not enough to just go back into the deficit.
You have to actually undo the energy surplus before you get back into the same level of fat loss. And then leptin is also back at the same level. So yeah, leptin and energy balance just correlate extremely strongly over time and it’s almost impossible to, to fake or outsmarted mechanism. Same with thyroid metabolism.
Thyroid metabolism is extremely. Same, uh, to a large extent with things like blood sugar, but it’s a bit of a different topic in any case as to diet breaks concretely, we recently did a study on diet breaks where we tested this idea because, okay, we know if we have this research on leptin and refits and I like, but we don’t have that much research on diet breaks despite a lot of even evidence based professionals really advocating them, as you say, as if they are quite soundly evidence.
And that’s really not the case. Most research so far has found neutral effects. Some research has found slight negative effects. I think the first study by Wing and Jeffrey or whatever they found that. The effects were not as negative as they expected, meaning that the diet breaks, which at the time they thought would be detrimental to adherence.
They were not detrimental to adherence, but they did found that people had some difficulty getting back into their habits and their routines and those types of, uh, diet and training behaviors, and especially over the long term, those became somewhat detrimental also based on that study interest in me, where people interpret as, oh, so they’re not bad, so they’re good.
And the study actually kind of showed, well, they’re, they’re not a negative, but they’re just a waste of. For some reason that’s kind of fostered the idea of it being positive. And then a few subsequent studies all found neutral effects. And then the big swing came with the Matador study, which became super popular, and it essentially found that like a two week diet break every two weeks, I think it was resulted in magically superior fat loss and higher maintenance of your resting energy metabolism.
So your resting metabolic rates. And there were a lot of issues with that. For one, for the resting metabolic rates. It did not actually significantly differ between groups, but they had some statistical wizardry by which they adjusted despite not specifying how they adjusted it based on their body composition.
Then they said, oh, well, after the adjustment we saw it was better in the diet break group. Diet adheres was terrible and also not well controlled because I think in that study, the criterion for complying with the diet was not gaining weight when. Supposed to be losing weight. That’s pretty lenient, right?
It’s not like if you’re not on target, then you’re not complied with diet. It’s like, well, if you’re not going in a completely opposite direction of what we want you to do, then you’re good. Also, the data essentially showed that the non diet break group was at seven weeks or so into the study. They kind of got maximum fat loss, and then they kind of just stopped progressing, like they were just plateaued, which is often the case in obese men.
They don’t want to be on a diet and they’re just doing it for the experiment. The diet break groups seem to. Be able to push on a little bit longer and therefore ended up with greater total fat loss. So it was mostly a matter of diet adherence in a context that’s not really relevant for serious strength trainees.
And they came, I think, one or two more studies with neutral effects that didn’t really become popular. We had, uh, the Icecap study and our current study, which were very similar, conducted at the same time. They both were also similar in design and similar in findings. So what we did is we have both strength trained women go on a diet either in one stretch.
With diet breaks in between, and we did one week diet break after every two weeks of dieting. It’s a little much, but we wanted to stick kind of to the Matador study design, which even had two week diet breaks after every two weeks. But we were like, yeah, that’s clearly, you know, nonsensical. Nobody does that.
So we, we did one week every two weeks. We also adjusted the volume because in the previous research, although it didn’t seem to matter, they just did the same training volume, which meant that the diet group was essentially doing multiple extra weeks of strength training at maintenance energy. So we adjusted the volume to be the same over the groups on average as a whole, same average deficits, well controlled for diet adherence, serious energy deficit, 25% energy deficit.
And then we measured like everything. So body composition measurements, strength variables, eight different measurements of psychological constructs like hunger, ease of sticking to the diet, overall diet adherence and attrition rates. And we found on all of these things that there were no significant differences between groups except for two measurements, which are both questionable relevance.
One is that on the at home measurement of body composition. So we did two measure. One better with lab grade and one at home with BA scales and they’re not very reliable. But the Baier scales actually found that the Diet Break Group lost more lean volume mass. So the better measurements did not verify that.
So I wouldn’t put any stock into it. But clearly the data did not show a superior muscle retention effect of the diet breaks. Then the only other significant difference between the groups was that the diet break group in, in our study had lower this inhibition. That’s. Double negative. Yeah, double inhibition is kind of already, it’s like a triple negative, so it basically needs less compulsion.
So this inhibition is like when the same effect you would get when you are intoxicated, as in with alcohol that you’re just doing what you want is kind of impulsive and in terms of diet adherence that. Could mean that, you know, if you’re more impulsive, you’re more likely to snack and the like, it didn’t actually change their eating behaviors, like their actual eating behaviors did not differ between groups.
It did not make a difference in their actual diet adherence. So
Mike: how was that measured? Just there were questions related to how they felt then.
Menno: Yeah, yeah. They have surveys for all these things. But
Mike: it wasn’t based on actual behavior, it was just how they felt. I guess
Menno: we did both. Exactly. So it’s like they reported that they were less disinhibited based on those survey results, but in their actual actions they were not, actions speak louder than words.
If you ask me, uh, I wouldn’t put much talk into that. Plus like a statistical terms, there is a significant chance of a type one error. When you measure so many different things. It’s quite likely that one of these things ends up being different between group just by chance. Like the more things you measure, the more likely it is that some of these things you’re just.
Accidentally find a difference that’s not really there. So, because there’s always some noise in the data, you know, the groups are not exactly the same, they’re different women. Maybe something happens in the, the lives of some of the women, not in the others, blah, blah, blah. You know?
Mike: And, and when you say find a difference, just for people listening, you mean a difference that would appear to check out in terms of statistical significance, but actually is caused by something other than what you
Exactly. So, You get a statistically significant difference, which means the data show that the, or the statistical algebra shows that it’s unlikely to be due to chance or it seems that way. But actually it is probably chance because you’ve tested so many things that sometimes that just slip through the cracks, if you will.
And the Icecap study, which is very similar to ours, they also found similar. Findings, like no difference overall. I’m not sure if they measured this inhibition directly, but they also found no difference between groups, the vast majority of all these measures. And they, again, they subjected their subject to a whole battery of tests and the only difference they found was lower appetite in the diabetic group, but again, not enough to change eating behavior.
And I think it was, they measured appetite in four different ways and a different on one, but not the other. And also not on actual energy intake. Right? So again, that’s very questionable relevance and we did not find any difference in appetite or prospective consumption, any of these measurements. So overall I would say that especially if you combine it with the, the previous studies, most literature at this point finds that diet breaks are essentially a waste of time.
They don’t achieve anything, a worse outcome than many people realize because many people are like, well, in one study, you know, lower this inhibition, one study, maybe less appetites, you know, overall maybe a trend. Positive effects of diet breaks. You’re spending weeks extra on a diet. So in our case, it was 33% more time on a diet.
I think in the Icecap study it was 25% more time on a diet. So that’s one week per three or four weeks of dieting that you add to that and you’re achieving nothing. And in the Icecap study even they were still doing their full volume of strength training as well, and that they didn’t even seem to make a difference.
Overall, I would say it’s not just that it’s ineffective, it’s that you’re. Investing effort into it that’s not paying off, right? You could have spent that time cutting, like cutting further or bulking or, which I think is in the vast majority of cases, the better solution when people need a diet break or they feel it could be helpful is to just diet more slowly.
My big deal with a diet break for most people is that, When you feel the need for a diet break, that should be a red flag That should tell you, okay, I currently feel like I can’t sustain this. And if you can’t sustain the diet, that is, of course, that’s a huge problem. And especially in terms of of long-term like lifestyle management.
If you don’t feel like you can sustain what you’re doing now, You should change what you’re doing. And a diet break isn’t gonna solve anything. It’s essentially sticking your head in the sand because you’re gonna take a break. Then afterwards you’re gonna come back and you’re gonna see if the problem’s still there.
And yes, it will be because you’re gonna go back into the same energy deficit. If you’re gonna do the same things, you’re gonna get the same outcome again. So I think diet breaks are very much, uh, kind of a wishful thinking mindset. We can try to outsmart the body in a way, and it sounds great. You can take a break and you get better results on top of that, just like Refeeds, it’s a very easy sell.
You know, like, Hey, for one day of the week you can, uh, eat pancakes all you want and you’re gonna get better results as at the end of that. That’s kind of how it sounds for people. So it’s, it’s an easy sell. It’s kind of wish thinking, but really it just doesn’t do anything. And
Mike: so then bringing this to.
Maybe some practical scenarios. I think a baseline then, if I’m hearing you correctly, is I, if you are starting a cutting phase, try to get to your goal as quickly as you sustainably can without having to suffer or, or maybe I’m putting words in your mouth. So I’d be curious then to your thoughts on this position, if though.
You reach a point like, you know, I’m, I’m thinking of people I’ve heard from over the years who they have a lot of fat to lose. Realistically, if we do this in a healthy, sustainable manner, it is gonna take many months. It might take you been upward of a year. So those people, I, I’ve heard from many of them over the years who.
Ask, is it okay for me to just cut for eight months straight? And then the follow up question is, should I incorporate breaks anywhere or like at what point do I need to, or is it just, it’s been many months. I’m fatigued. It’s kind of just a psychological break. And I know those are two things in terms of should we just try to get to our body comp goals as quickly as we can?
And then maybe if you can just address this other common scenario that, and it’s understandable when people are thinking about the prospect of dieting for the next 6, 8, 10, 12 months to reach a healthy body comp.
Menno: Yeah, if you have a lot of fat to lose, you have a lot of time. That’s you have to diet and it, it’s a common question from clients indeed, where they feel like, Hey, I’m, I’m doing this for a long time now and I love the results, but I feel like maybe I should give my body a break or some kind.
Right. And it’s good to realize that physically your health is only improving more and more. Fat loss is one of the best things you can do for your health. Almost any metric you can think of for health outcomes at least until you get to like, you know, contest, prep level, body fat levels, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, all of these things.
With fat loss and substantially, there are very few things you can do that improve them as much. Yeah. Your body’s actually thriving what you’re doing. If you’re losing a lot of fats, it’s good. It’s going to make you healthier. So there’s no need from a physical perspective to take a break in that sense.
And even in count prep, you could say, well, Then it’s maybe not so healthy to diet further, but then taking a break, you’re spending more time at such a low body fat level. And the body fat level is probably the bigger concern that the energy deficit, uh, unless you have like acute nutrient deficiency or, or something.
So e even then a, I wouldn’t be a big fan of breaks, but yeah, it feels counterintuitive that you can just diet for such a long period and just keep losing fat. But yeah, that is the truth. That is how it is and the body functions super well and that it even thrives.
Mike: And would that also apply to. People who have less fat to lose.
I’ll get the same question from people who maybe they only really need two to four months to reach their body composition goal, but sometimes they’re concerned that because they’re starting, they might even be starting with a healthy body composition. Like it’s a guy between 15 and 20% body fat, nothing wrong with that training regularly, blah, blah, blah.
And he wants to get to 10% just for the sake of vanity. Just wants to have good abs. So sometimes. People in that position are concerned that because they’re already starting in a healthy range and then they’re getting down to not an unhealthy level, but if they try to be too aggressive with that, then that’s gonna cause problems.
And by too aggressive. It’s usually kind of arbitrary. Like they get this idea that they can’t run a 20 or 25% deficit that’s too aggressive. Or if they are gonna do that, they do need to incorporate some refeeds or diet breaks. I guess you could say. That’s one camp. And then the other camp that’s at least reasonable in the recommendation is no just.
Be fairly aggressive, don’t get reckless and just get to your goal. Yes,
Menno: I’m mostly in the latter camp, but there are two potential problems. For one, there are such a thing on an healthy body fat level, like at some points, even if you get really, really lean, you start dipping into essential body fat levels, and that’s definitely nobuo.
And before that point, you’re at least thinking anabolic uh, hormone levels and increasing cortisol levels, increasing your stress. Suscept. And even if physically still many things improve at that point. In terms of health biomarkers, you certainly aren’t gonna feel like you’re still thriving. Most
Mike: people in my experience, they don’t get there though.
Even people, they might think a guy might, you know, send a picture and think he’s 7% body fat, but no ab veins, no 7%. I’m sorry. Like we’re talking, you know, it’s more like 13.
Menno: Yeah, exactly. I recently put up a guide on my website with. Validated DEXA scans, underwater weighing and the like with body fat pictures of a lot of people at wide range body fat levels.
A guide for men and for women. And the, the general response is, oh damn, I’m not as lean as I thought. Which is, yeah, very much the case. And especially guys think like if they have some semblance of app visibility or they think they will have that visibility soon, they must be closing in on 10%. Whereas in reality, if you have a decent amount of muscle mass, 15%, you have.
You have probably four pack one flex or something, and then 10% is like ripped. It’s like full six pack for most people, especially when you’re flexing. But even when you’re not flexing, you’ll probably have some app visibility. 10% is a lean, there’s still a big difference. And the lower you get also the harder, the psychological difference, like 12 to 10% is a different ballpark than 20 to 18% any case.
So there, there’s such a thing on a healthy body level, and there’s also such a thing as an overly aggressive energy deficit. So most research find. The more fat you have, the greater the energy deficit you can get away with and not risk muscle loss or severe repercussions for your anabolic hormone levels or just overall have worse results in terms of P ratio, like you lose excessive muscle or strength or whatever if you are obese.
Most research finds that there’s essentially no such thing as a, as to being too aggressive. Like you need to get lean yesterday. So anything you can do to lose fat is good, and the more fat you lose the. That’s pretty much what the research consensus at this point is for for bt, because the risk of muscle loss is super low, especially if you’re not very muscular yet.
You have not that much muscle mass. You have a lot of fat mass, so the body will almost always catabolize the fat mass when you’re an energy deficit. Now, the more muscle you have, the leaner you are. The more risk there is of going into excess energy deficit. So if you’re like 10% body fat or truly 10% body fat is a guy and you go into 50% energy deficit, you are almost certainly gonna lose muscle mass.
And then no amount of re refilling or diet breaking is really gonna solve that issue. I mean, you could, if you refeed like every three days or every week or something. Uh, it’s one way to cut the damage, but much better is just to diet more slowly at that point. That’s basically the issue should really be aware of.
And the diet break is, Either a bandaid or a stop cap on the, the, the overly aggressive energy deficit. And I do actually see that some people that have success with diet breaks and refeeds, they fall into exactly this camp, like they dye too aggressively. And then they found, well, when I started introducing a refit day, I got much better results.
And that’s because they actually did, because now their weekly average energy deficit was much more reasonable than it
Mike: was before. I don’t think it’s as popular now as it was years ago, but the protein sparing modified fast approach, where I remember many years ago, it might have been Lyle who first popularized that.
And a lot of people, I mean, I think you could argue for its use in certain cases, but. Became popular at least for a period, kind of in the gen fit crowd. And it was, I guess, kind of cool that you could lose a lot of fat quickly, but then you also quickly feel terrible. And if you try to keep going, you then start losing.
A lot of muscle and, and you also experience that your workouts go to shit. And so then it’s, it’s trying to make up for that by then eating larger amounts of food on like, so maybe it’s, you know, P S M F for three to five days, followed by several days of refeeding. I would argue, and I did argue back then that.
That process is just more stressful. It’s more trouble than it’s worth. Like if you just look at the results of, of a more moderate approach and the goal is to reach a certain body composition, you’re probably gonna have a better time of it, just doing it in a less exotic. Manner, like, yeah, it’s more mundane.
It’s not as sexy and it doesn’t stimulate much conversation in the gym. But on the whole, I think it’s gonna work better for most people, with the exception being maybe very overweight people who, you know, maybe you could make an argument that, hey, making progress is motivating, and when you have a lot of weight to lose, it can be a bit daunting to think about how much time this is gonna take and.
You can start very aggressively and feel okay, you know, lose five pounds a week. That can be exciting. And so maybe you kickstart it with that and then transition into something more sustainable.
Menno: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s reasonable. There’s even a meth analysis. That’s fine. People on average, are more successful in the long run as well when they adopt that strategy because short-term results are very motivating and it means that it’s foster space in the process and.
People like having, um, quick results and usually also they start at the higher body fat level, so they can also tolerate it quite well. Like you can do that if you’re, again, a true temperature body fat as a guy, you can do it for a day. Yeah, exactly. And that’s what I do with some clients. I have like psmf days.
So if, for example, if someone trains six days per week, then I will have like seventh day. Often I do like a psmf day in. Especially more advanced clients and people, actually, there’s some research that people tolerate that better, like it improve diet adherence. I think on average people prefer to do things like one aggressive diet day and then eat more the whole rest of the week as opposed to the opposites.
And there’s also nice research from range frequency theory. It basically says how we perceive happiness and how difficult something is. In general. If you have one day that really sucks in a week, it makes all the other days appear better. Whereas if you have one day per week that is really awesome, like pancake repeat day, then it makes all the other days appear worse.
Most of your life should be like your content, your overall good, and you have a few times in your life where you’re, when it’s really tough. Most people that have their life dads are actually happier than people that have an overall crappy life with some moments of extreme bliss in. That’s
I, I like the overlay of that on dieting. I like also that in a, at least in a conceptual way, it’s kind of the opposite of diet breaks instead of taking periods of time to let off the gas, so to speak, to use a trite cliche, it’s doing the opposite. It’s. Getting even more aggressive periodically. You mentioned one day a week and I know it’s uh, maybe a little bit off topic, but I think it might be helpful for people listening if you could share a little bit more details of how you set that up.
Cause I’m sure some people are curious because it sounds appealing, like, you know, that’s something that I’ve done, maybe not strict. P S M F, but just where a lot of my calories are coming from protein, because I’m not training on that day and you know, this is maybe more when I was younger and a bit more physiologically invincible anyway, so might as well just take advantage of that, but be willing to do one.
Pretty low calorie day, mostly protein with a little bit of nutritious stuff thrown in, so I’m not starving just to lose that much more fat in the
Menno: week. Yeah, I think it’s easier to implement as well than many people realize. You can just have one day where instead of, say you have a a thousand calorie deficit that you want to get over the week, you can get that in one or two days that you have, say, a 500 calorie deficit as opposed to like only a little bit of deficit, uh, every single.
Mike: What about larger numbers though? Cause a lot of people listening, their idea of cutting, just to give you context, is probably gonna be a bit closer to like a daily deficit. Uh, 3000, uh, yeah, three to 500 daily, you know, daily calorie deficit.
Menno: Yeah. You can still do that then probably you are gonna have to have one day that’s more aggressive or one or two days.
Typically when you get to like every other day, you can still do it that way, but it, it kind of loses its its purpose because it’s now a lot of the time and it’s not just one or two days that you’re going hard anymore. So most of the time it’s one or two days, almost always non-training days. In rare cases, like a bikini competitor has a overly large upper body or something, or you need to lose muscle somewhere, you can actually train on the psmf day.
But for most people, I think it’s much better to train on the days where you eat more and then on your rest days you do the psmf days, you still want to get your protein. Big misconception on PSF days, I think at least in terms of sustainability and actually incorporating this as as a lifestyle, that the goal is not literally to minimize energy intake.
That’s kind of what the protein sparing modified fast is like. You are fasting except that you’re getting your protein in. That’s kind of the, the idea of a psmf. Yep. Yeah.
Mike: Usually you’ll see anywhere from 600 to 800 calories for the day. Yeah. Which is like, so I just get protein powder all day,
Menno: I guess.
Exactly. So that, that’s really not sustain. And then it definitely isn’t gonna improve diet adherence and maybe very short term you could do something like that, but also you’re gonna have nutrient deficiencies. It doesn’t build habits that you want to build. Like my method is that it actually kind of forces you to have really good habits.
So it does all the things that you can do long term, but in a very aggressive way. So what I recommend is you still get your protein in, which is gonna be the same on other days. Some people argue more. I think most research finds that’s not true. You don’t need more, especially if it’s an arrest. Then I set calories at, I found between eight and two 10 calories per gram of protein to be arranged.
That is aggressive, but sustainable when implemented. As you know, a few days per week eight is, is really as low as I, I would get. And that’s, I found that actually 8.3. Uh, interestingly, by analyzing a lot of meal plans, I found that lowest for people that are really good at dieting, what they can get is like 8.3 calories per gram of protein because in this ratios of certain foods, you know, when you look at the foods that actually people eat, like Greek yogurt, chicken, breast, they have certain ratios of calories of protein.
If you start going below that, you indeed default to like pure protein powder or some shit doesn’t work. Between eight and 10 is, is as low as I would go. And typically I would set that at a level depending on, you know, what’s realistic for the. And then if they can go lower than that without being hungry.
But most people will want to fill up all of those calories with specifically super low energy density food. So lots of veggies, soups, lots of fibrous fruits, lean protein sources, and you still want to get a lot of food in. You don’t wanna just starve yourself. So the idea of a fast, I think, kind of goes out the window.
It’s like a very low calorie day, but you are eating a lot of.
Mike: I mean also what’s a high protein fast anyway, I mean
Menno: exactly. It, it does make much sense, but I mean, the name is good, I guess. Sounds interesting. P S M F protein spraying, modified fast Fasting is super hot topic these days. I’m, I’m assuming
Mike: the sparing is, we’re talking about lean muscle protein actually is what it’s referring to.
Like you’re sparing your lean and, and it’s a modified fast because it’s just not a fast.
Menno: Exactly. That’s the same with researchers and they often talk about alternate day fasting, and then they’re also actually referring to low calorie days. They’re not actually fasting, and it’s also not actually on alternate days.
So it’s, it’s, yeah, the word fasting has become very, um, watered down. So yeah, I think that’s mostly how you want to set it up. So, and that also guarantees that you still get all of your micros and good nutrients, lots of fiber, and your body has all the nutrients it needs while you’re still in a, in a big energy deficit for.
Mike: Good advice. Let’s come back to diet breaks. You’ve mentioned this point of it taking longer, so if you incorporate diet breaks, it just takes longer. I made a mental note. I wanted to get you to expound on that a little bit, just on the importance, and you’ve been coaching for a long time. You’ve worked with lots of people.
You see, aside from what research shows about the duration of dieting and how that relates to adherence, but also in the real world with real people. Just, I wanted to come back to that because in my experience having this discussion with many people, mostly over email, but over the years, people who are newer, I think that they don’t quite appreciate how much better it is to.
Keep your cutting phases as short as you can within reason without doing silly things, and there are a number of reasons for this. I know you’ve written about these things, you talked about these things, so I just thought it would be worth getting a little bit more of your thoughts on this point of duration.
What are some of the, the more common. Ramifications of making a diet take twice as long or 50% longer because you have these unnecessary periods of maintenance interspersed throughout.
Menno: Yeah. I think for a lot of people, especially when you get to the advanced level, It’s really important to have a good ratio of cutting to bulking in your life, like over the year on average, because the, once you are at a body fat level, you can get to a body fat level that you like.
You found kind of, this is the optimal range for you based on your goals. Then essentially what you’re doing is you’re just lean, bulking and then cutting off the fat that you gain during the bulk, so your results are directly proportional to the time you can spend. The more time you can bulk, the more time you’re actually gaining something and then you just get back to, you know, that same ideal Spotify level.
And for most people I find that they, due to, whether it’s holidays or cutting periods that take too long, diet breaks or whatever, they end up needing way too much time to cut. We’re cutting with a lot of, you know, breaks and holidays and whatever in between, and they don’t spend a lot of time actually gaining.
Mike: I know people who, I swear they always, they’re always
Menno: cutting. Yes, exactly. But never getting super lean. Yes.
Mike: Because of, oh, then there was the, the vacation and then there was, uh, the, they had to go to the wedding and then it was the holiday. And their perception also is like, I’m always. Why am I? Why am I always cutting?
Menno: And I think it for many people actually works a lot better to lean bulk through those periods. Especially if you’re going holiday. Like don’t try to cut, just make it a lean bulk and try to actually make it a lean bulk, you know, don’t dream or bulk cuz then you can do heinous damage in one week and you’re gonna actually enjoy that more.
And also your hunger is gonna be a lot lower. So if you can get the cut over with before that, I’m not too sure Holiday has a, a diet break, but make sure that you’re actually already lean bulking into the holiday and lean bulking throughout the holiday or whatever off periods we’re talking about. We’re also much less likely to overeat because you have to have benefit of lower left levels, less appetites, higher energy expenditure.
And also the knowledge that you know, you’re already lean bulking, you don’t feel as deprived anymore. You also know that the next week you’re also still gonna be bulking when it’s like the die break on wrong. Often that happens because people feel really restricted and are like, oh, I have to take advantage.
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I don’t lean bulk anymore because I’m pretty happy with the amount of muscle that I have. I’ll take more muscle in my calves, which you might be specifically happy to know. I’m training my calves every day. That’s my calf routine. It’s five days a week, a three to four sets per session, variety of wrap ranges, and, and it’s.
My calves are finally growing. That’s what it takes. However, I haven’t leaned bulked, and I think that you can probably make an argument for some people that being in a maintenance phase, but where it’s, you’re still progressing in your training, so you are slowly gaining some muscle and strength. You would gain more muscle and strength if you were lean bulking, but you don’t care to because you don’t want to get fatter.
Or, I mean, for me, for most people probably in mind, this might be similar to you. I don’t really care. I, I kinda like my body, how it looks. I don’t particularly wanna get fat. And lean Bulking is fun for maybe the first month or so, it’s kind of cool to eat more food. Your workouts are real nice, your sleep gets better energy levels, but then it becomes tedious.
It’s force feeding, and I don’t particularly enjoy that from like probably month two on. It’s not very enjoyable. So if you can set up maintenance in a way to produce progress, which of course you can, some people have used that to try to argue for. The diet breaks in that. Basically, what the argument comes down to is by inserting these little maintenance periods, and if you are inserting them fairly often, you are allowing yourself, in some cases it comes down to a body recomp kind of argument where, yeah, maybe your diet is taking longer now, but you’re coming out of it with an even better body composition because you have these maintenance periods that allow you to gain muscle that you otherwise wouldn’t have
That’s an interesting, or it’s a plausible argument. The data simply don’t support it. We have multiple studies now that look at this, and then they’re not even accounting for the longer time period spent on the diet. Right? They’re just ized comparing one group with the diet, one group with the same diet and diet breaks so they have additional time and it’s still on competitor results.
The data don’t support that. That’s the case, and probably it’s because that one week of being at maintenance simply is not enough to. Physiological changes, especially if you’re a more advanced trainee, one week at maintenance, is you’re just not gonna build much, if any muscle at the, in that timeframe.
So you really need to be either going into energy surplus or, which I think is the much more beneficial course of action to be in a much longer limbo slash maintenance phase. And I think for an training in particular, maintenance and lean bulking are gonna be very close. Depends on how adaptive your metabolism is.
Some people can really ramp up the calories, but for most people it’s actually not the difference. It also
Mike: depends how. Wanna stay. How much do you care about your abs? Because again, in my case, I kind of like to keep the look that I have and I, you probably do the same thing. Anybody who has stayed relatively lean where, okay, I have full abs, whatever the body fat percentage, I don’t really care, but it’s a look that I like to stay like that.
Ultimately, what that means is my maintenance is I have to kind of. Air on the side of eating a little bit less rather than a little bit more, because if I air on the side of eating a little bit more, too much, then I get fatter and then I have to do a little mini cut to get back. There’s also that point of if you were to really look at it, maintenance.
Plus leanness means that you’re probably in a slight calorie deficit more often than you’re in a slight calorie surplus. Or you, you’re certainly no better than 50 50. Yeah, that’s
Menno: true. So I think if you want to maximize muscle growth, the lean bulking approach is the way to go. And you could do like mini cuts, but I do with like some mill high is relatively.
Three to four weeks bulk, one week cut, something like that. And then with female clients that still have their menstrual cycle, I actually use Metro periodization. Uh, for some of them, which means that you bulk in the follicular phase and you cut in a lal phase, and as a result you take advantage of the hormonal, uh, shift.
So research and multiple studies have found that doing more work, more volume in the follicular phases actually improves gains on average as opposed to doing the volume spread out or more in the lal phase. So you can kind of recomp that way. For men, this doesn’t work. You are, you’re kind of screwing with the measurements every two weeks.
And in women, you naturally have that, that the measurements are gonna be offset due to the menstrual cycle. Uh, I find that that works well in women and also they typically are more on the side of fat loss, and men prefer more on the side of, I want to maximize muscle growth. So the ratio is a little bit different, but yeah, that can work well.
And maintenance is like, A lot lower efforts, that’s for sure. Because bulking and cutting are both efforts intensive. You have to be much more precise with your macros during a bulk as opposed to maintenance. Otherwise you’re gonna end up at maintenance or dreamer, bulking, and yeah, you have to track more closely.
So it’s, it’s definitely a lot more effort and maintenance is, uh, a much lower effort
Mike: strategy. And something else I, I wanted to ask, and I’m not sure if there. A good evidence-based answer for this yet and, and there’s something, Lyle actually, I remember, he’s the first guy I remember seeing writing about this, and this is this point you had mentioned that these short maintenance periods that you would use for diet breaks are not going to be enough to produce a meaningful amount of muscle gain, particularly in advanced trainees and.
That’s obvious just because of the short period of time. However, and again, I’m, I’m remembering reading some of Lyle’s stuff many years ago, and if I, I guess, you know, if I’m remembering his argument or what he was saying correctly, and I feel like I have experienced this in my own training. I can’t say I have seen it, particularly in other people’s training.
They’ve reported it, but that is when you go from a cut or you go from maintenance into a slight calorie surplus, you don. Notice all of the benefits right away. It seems like it takes a couple of weeks for your body to accept. I don’t know that that it, okay. It’s regularly getting more energy now than it needs, and therefore it is willing to shift the, your body’s muscle building machinery into a higher gear like it.
Seem to be just a switch that immediately flips because you know, you were in a slight calorie surplus for a few days. Have you experienced that? Ha. Have you seen any data to support that phenomenon? In
Menno: terms of data, no. Maybe testosterone takes a little bit of a while when it’s in terms of going up in energy surplus, but yes, I have seen that a lot and it seems in practice that.
People that do very short bulk periods. For example, I’ve also tried two to two ratio in men and it doesn’t work. And short term bulks of like one week in general, they just don’t seem to do like anything. It’s not just that they do do very little, but they basically seem to do nothing. Yeah,
Mike: I’ve experienced that.
I’ve tried shorter just just for the sake of experimentation and even tried to see, okay, first do I get a little bit better performance? Like, nope, my workouts are exactly the same, at least for the first couple of weeks.
Menno: Yep. Exactly. So yeah, how long that is? I think, you know, practically it might seem like it’s longer.
I think physiologically it almost cannot be longer than maybe two weeks or something. But then there’s also the issue of getting the calories correct, which usually takes a bit. Many people stand still actually are in maintenance when they start off with the bulk and then, you know, it takes a while before they get into that energy surplus and ramping up the calories and stuff.
So that may be a component too. Maybe psychological factors probably also a bit is, you know, it takes a while before you can. Start seeing differences in strength levels and muscle growth and the like. So there’s a bit of a delay there, but yeah, it does anecdotally at least seem like there is something like that going on That’s super short.
Books don’t give your body time to really get into bulk mode, if you will, whereas
Mike: with cutting, of course, it’s not like that. You cut your calories, you start seeing results right away. The very first day you have gotten leaner. Even if you don’t see it in the mirror, you’ve lost whatever it is, you know, 40 grams of fat or something.
And for people listening, the reason I brought that up then is just to understand that by inserting one or two week maintenance periods into dieting, your body is not. In that period, it just, it just doesn’t seem to be able to shift into, maybe not bulk mode because it’s not, it would just be maintenance, but even maintenance mode for whatever that’s worth.
There does just seem to be a bit of a lag in terms of the physiological benefits of increasing calories. At least that’s been my
Menno: experience. And especially when we’re talking about timeframes of just a week or something, we actually see this in the data and for example, leptin. Because if you look at leptin after three days at maintenance and free days of still big energy deficits, we know that leptin responds to the cumulative tonsil energy balance.
So it’s still kind of pulled down by those free days, even if you’re already free days at maintenance. So it might take a while before you know that really ramps up the total curve for leptin and then testosterone and like I think may have a little bit longer lag, for example. And then there are a lot of process we don’t really fully understand yet.
The immune system seems to be quite involved in muscle growth, for example.
Mike: And with leptin in particular, what does that timeframe look like? Is it about a week or so of sustain?
Menno: Probably days. I think we found in our overview, for example, the, the outpatient seems to be quite quick when going into energy deficits, like the anti starvation, if you will.
Uh, mechanisms increase in appetites. We found in, in our review of metabolic damage where we did a literature review on it, we found about three days. Most of the adaptations are already very visible, so there seems to be some asymmetry there. And we also know that there is a symmetry in the. Adaptation in terms of energy expenditure.
So in a bulk, your energy expenditure increases, but it increases less than it decreases in energy deficits.
Mike: And in terms of reversing the, the leptin, the issue of low leptin, how long does that generally take? So let, let’s say, okay, you’re done with your cut low leptin levels, you have increased your calories to maintenance.
What does that tend to look? A couple
Menno: days before you’re, you’re talking about normalization, but that may be, you know, you, you’ve only talked about normalization. We haven’t talked about like being an energy surplus level that you want to be for the rest of the yet. Now leptin might not even be that directly beneficial for a boat, but it’s more of an illustration of physiological processes that respond to energy, balance that take a while to change.
Mike: I think, again, back to the last lean bulk, it’s been years, but leptin was certainly working against me because I was so sick of eating. I probably could have benefited from, uh, some genuine hunger, not just like eating on the, it’s three o’clock. Okay, I gotta, I gotta eat some food that. It doesn’t matter what it is.
I have no desire to eat it. Yeah, that’s
Menno: the body blowing life. That’s, uh, you know, cutting is, isn’t all that. And bulking seems great for a few days, for a few weeks, and then yeah, at some point it also becomes, uh, drag force feeding and stuff. But I always tell myself, you know, having difficulty with eating is a luxury problem.
And when you can solve with things like chocolates, peanut butter sandwiches, dried fruits, even if you want to go into unhealthy foods, then it really shouldn’t be an issue.
Mike: But I can’t do too much of highly processed, hyper palatable stuff because of how it makes me feel and not psychologically, like if I eat too many of those calories every day, I do start to physically worse.
And it’s not cuz I’m guilty, I, I don’t care From that regard, it’s like no nutrition does result in just more mental clarity, more energy, more vitality.
Menno: Yeah. And I think also there is, Psychological argument to be made, not to change your food choices too much during a Ebola and have kind of a, a, a similar base of the diet, if you will.
Because if you really radically change your food choices and you go up to like super high body level where you have to massively force speeds, we know that your brain actually changes its reward pathway activation levels. So we actually see that when people eat more vegetables, they get greater reward pathway activation in the brain from eating vegetables and less from eating junk food.
Whereas if you eat a lot of junk food, the opposite happens. And that’s why you guys kind of in the stuck in a trap, which also where a lot of overweight people are kind of stuck where. Actually just the thought of eating like healthy makes ’em sick. Like, it’s like how can you eat like that? And because for them it’s like, it is a lot worse than it is for us because our bodies are used to it and we actually like it a lot more now.
It’s like with acquired taste, you know, like coffee, alcohol, and these things as well. If you would try them the first time, it’s like, ugh, uh, why do people do this? Uh, like with some people also are smoking and I still have that. I, I haven’t smoked much in my life, so if I like smoke and I’m like, how do people get addicted to this?
It’s, it’s disgusting. But if you do it more, then your body actually develops a liking to it. That’s the same with food. So if you change your food choices, it’s too much. Then meal may actually be making it harder for yourself to get back into cutting mode afterwards.
Mike: That’s great advice because it is certainly going to be, When now you’re supposed to go from a high of 4,000, 4,500 calories, so you’ve been eating all these hyper palatable foods and now maybe even you just start your cut at 3,500 calories and okay, so you can still keep some of those foods in there, but once it gets down into the two thousands, there is no room for that stuff anymore.
And then that’s when it’s ew. Vegetable time. One follow up question on that point is, do you know if there’s a, a general rule of thumb. The, is it number of exposures or is it duration of just being regularly exposed to, let’s say somebody Right now they have a, a pallet that has been trained to, like foods that are not very good for them.
They really do not like the taste of a lot of the foods that they know they should be eating. What does that runway look like to retrain. And
Menno: that’s interesting. We have a great study on this in terms of food cravings in particular, I’m not sure if we have that much in terms of the reward pathway activation, but in terms of cravings, we have direct research showing that it’s not the total amount of food consumed, but it’s the frequency of consumption that changes.
Your psychology, you start craving foods when you consume them more frequently. And if you eat a foods, for example, if you tell yourself I’m gonna eat a little bit of chocolate a couple times per week, that actually can stimulate chocolate cravings much more than eating a whole lot of chocolate one time in part also probably cuz it’s, it’s gonna make you sick, but it’s just, it’s one event for the brain.
So the, the range just has that, you know, this stimulus one time and it doesn’t really matter that much that you’re getting that stimulus for maybe five minutes instead of 30 seconds. It’s just still one stimulus and whereas the frequency seems to be a lot stronger in effect. So probably it’s the same in this regard that.
You know, if you treat yourself to some cheap meal or something, or you go out to a restaurant once in a while, that’s not gonna really change your uh, diet, even if you overeat quite a bit in terms of calories. But if you frequently introduce a new food I into your diet, you’re gonna get used to it quite significantly.
Mike: And just because we’re on the topic and it’s useful advice, and I’m sure you have helped clients make that shift, are there some simple techniques that you’ve used or you’ve helped people with? Again, let’s say that it’s broccoli or whatever, it’s that they, green beans, they don’t like to eat. Helping them find a way to, to make these things more palatable so then they can eventually just come to.
The taste of the broccoli unto itself, it
Menno: takes a lot of experimentation. Like there’s no quick fix way around it. Just exposure helps. So forcing yourself to eat it for a while is, can actually be useful. And I think these kind of food detox things, even though they’re mostly potato science, that there is some behind it in the sense that, you know, when you really go cold Turkey on old junk food and the like, that really helps in terms of resetting.
Your pallet, your brain reward, activation. So other than that, it’s just a matter of experimentation. Finding foods that you like, not maybe going directly to broccoli, but taking one step down, going to potatoes and then to something else. But the most thing is experiments with a lot of foods. For example, not many people like broccoli, but.
Broccoli soup is actually surprisingly good. Like I literally have a recipe on my website it’s called How to Make Broccoli Soup. That doesn’t suck. It’s one of the best performing recipes on my website because even children like it, like I don’t like broccoli at all. But the broccoli soup’s actually good.
Figuring out things like that. Just trying different foods, you know? It doesn’t have to be broccoli at all. It can be any other vegetable and one client, for example, that didn’t know that he loved zucchini. This was basically the one thing I told him. He actually, he literally said that like, you’ve been coaching me.
A couple months now and you helped me achieve a lot and it’s great, but literally that one line that you just gave me to try Zucchini Soup, that changed my life forever because in his mind he, he found out that he actually loves zucchini. Like he loves zucchini noodles. Like noodles. He loves zucchini soup, and he even likes zucchini just.
Plane basically. So when he had figured that out, he said, well, okay, this basically means cutting is never an issue anymore for me because I can always just fill myself up with zucchini and I’m gonna be good and then I can eat whatever I want. A thousand
Mike: calories of zucchini a day. You’re not hungry.
Menno: Yeah. And he’s happy. He’s a happy camper.
Mike: And I’m assuming, so before that, he. Eating enough vegetables or he wasn’t eating much variety or it was a bit of an issue. Yeah. He
Menno: just wasn’t liking it enough, you know? So, and then with the zucchini, that was just like the click for him where it was like, that’s it.
Mike: Yeah. So, so to that point, there are many things that you can try and for people listening, if you haven’t found at least a few vegetables, fruit is a bit easier to find cuz it just. Tends to taste better. But if you haven’t found some fruit as well, try different things. Cause you have different tastes, but then you also have different mouth feels.
And that matters too. Like is it crunchy, is it smushy? You know, some people, they really don’t like one of those just kind of textures or tactile elements and they really like another. It’s, uh, it’s good advice. And then, and then like you said before, sticking to it and understanding that the more often you eat it, the more you are going to come to like it.
That makes me think of, there was a guy, I’m not gonna remember his name, believe he was a professional chef and. This turned into like a book or a, or a documentary or something. It was like the man Who Ate Everything or something. But the premise was he made a list of a bunch of foods that he did not like.
There was some genuinely disgusting things like monkey brains, and I think there were like bugs and eel and all kinds of stuff on that list. And he resolved to eat every one of them. I think like 30 times or something. And so over the course of a year, he had to build out a calendar of, you know, his monkey brain meals and his eel meals and bug meals and all this weird shit, snake and stuff.
And if I remember correctly, by the end, he had developed a taste for everything on the list, which like included, I think spiders, like things that nobody wants to eat, but if you can force yourself to. Spiders 30 times. At least. This guy, by the end, he was like, yeah, it’s not so bad. So if it works for that, and if that guy, if his experience is even remotely representative of the average person, then we can learn to like, at least a handful of vegetables.
Menno: Yeah, I, I just have to give shout outs to monkey brain here as I think it’s, it’s actually probably pretty good. Brain is actually surprisingly tasty cuz it’s quite fatty meat now. I have not tried monkey. But sheep brain, for example, which is quite common in a place like India and Asian cultures that I’ve, I’ve traveled to quite a bit.
Uh, brain is actually quite good and, but it’s also not a great cutting food cuz it’s, it’s very fatty. What would you
Mike: liken it to? It’s not like chicken then. Cuz chicken is not fatty.
Menno: It’s like pork. It’s quite like pork texture is, is kind of gross. You have to kind of get over the texture. But the food actually, it tastes
Well, if I ever get the chance to eat brain, I’ll do it for you. That’s everything that I had on my list is, is there anything before we wrap up that we haven’t touched on? Now we’ve kind of pin balled all over the place, but on any of the things that we’ve discussed, anything else that you wanna share before we
Menno: wrap up?
In during the pinballing, we covered everything.
Mike: Yeah. I thought it was a, a good productive discussion as always. So why don’t we wrap up with where people can find you, find your work. Um, if there’s anything in particular you want them to know about anything new or not new, let’s let ’em know.
Menno: Yeah, me ens.com.
My website is the best way to get to know me if you don’t yet. I’m mostly active on Instagram and YouTube these days. Um, so you can check me out there at, at me salons on both. And best way to get to know me probably is my newsletter. Uh, if you go to my website, me ens.com, you’ll immediately see it and you get like a tour of my most popular contents, and you can see if that’s through your liking.
Mike: Great question. Have you looked into buying meno.com? Is that even an option? I, I haven’t looked at
Menno: it actually. You should look into it. Yeah. Are probably easier. Yeah. And most people know me as Meno, like hence once like long complicated sounds German, even though I’m not German. Yeah, it’s
Mike: also from a branding perspective, it’s kind of cool like that.
You have a first name.com.
Menno: Yeah, actually I’ll, I’ll look into that. Yeah.
Mike: Thanks again, meadow. As always, I appreciate your time and I look forward to the next discuss. 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 life.com, muscle f o r life.com 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.