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Do artificial sweeteners sabotage your weight loss efforts? What are the benefits of cyclical dieting? How quickly do you lose muscle if you stop going to the gym? What does delayed gratification have to do with success?

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:

Alan Aragon on Artificial Sweeteners, Refeeds, Protein Timing, and More!

(Originally published 6/8/2020)

How Fast Do You Lose Muscle When You Stop Working Out?

(Originally published 7/12/2019)

Motivation Monday: The Great Art of Sacrifice

(Originally published 10/2/2017)

And we’ll be starting with number one, Alan Aragon on artificial sweeteners, refeeds, protein timing, and more.


0:00 – My free meal planning tool: 

2:55 – Alan Aragon on Artificial Sweeteners, Refeeds, Protein Timing, and More!

17:24 – How Fast Do You Lose Muscle When You Stop Working Out?

23:22 – Motivation Monday: The Great Art of Sacrifice

Mentioned on the Show:

Want a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, macros, and micros, and allows you to create custom meal plans for cutting, lean gaining, and maintaining in under 5 minutes? Go to and download the tool for free! 

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


Hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of the Best of Muscle for Life, which is basically a handpicked selection of the juiciest morsels from some of the more popular episodes I’ve recorded over the years. And I do these episodes because some people.

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

And so I had the idea, why don’t I do these best of episodes where I share some of the most practical and compelling ideas. Tips and moments from the more popular episodes that I’ve done over the years, and these best of episodes, they do well and so I keep doing them. So in this installment of the Best of Muscle for Life, you’ll be hearing handpicked morsels from three episodes.

One is an interview I did with Alan Aragon on artificial sweeteners, refeeds, protein timing, and more. And the next one is a monologue called How Fast Do You Lose Muscle When You Stop Working Out? And the last one is another monologue called The Great Art of Sacrifice. Also, how would you like a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, your macros, even your micross, and then allows you to create 100% custom meal plans for cutting, lean, gaining, or maintaining in under five minutes?

Well, all you gotta do is go to buy plan b u y plan and download the tool. And if I may say, this tool really is fantastic. My team and I spent over six months on this thing working with an Excel wizard, and inferior versions of this are often sold for 50, 60, even a hundred dollars.

Or you have to download an app and pay every month or sign up for a weight loss service and pay every month, 10, 20, 40, 50, even $60 a month for what is essentially in this free tool. So if you are struggling to improve your body composition, if you are struggling to lose fat or gain muscle, the right.

Meal plan can change everything. Dieting can go from feeling like running in the sand in a sandstorm to riding a bike on a breezy day down a hill. So again, if you want my free meal planning tool, go to by plan B by plan. Enter your email address and you will get instant access.

Alright, let’s start with Alan Aragon on artificial sweeteners, refeeds, protein timing, and more. Artificial sweeteners, whether it be products that are artificially sweetened or um, artificially sweetened beverages, diet sodas and such. Generally speaking, they are not a threat to. Weight gain or fat gain.

You either see neutral to positive effects on weight loss with these products, which is not too surprising since they’re negligible in terms of their calories. But then of course, it’s a legit question to ask, okay, do these things kind of prime you for having a sweet tooth and make you crave the consumption of more sweets?

And that’s a valid question, and that’s been investigated. Enough to the degree that we can say pretty confidently that, okay, well that concern is not a threat. Now looking at artificial sweeteners as a singular entity, it’s a mistake. Mm-hmm. And that’s because a, a recent study that came out within the last year-ish, it compared the effects of four different conditions.

And I believe my memory is serving me right. Sucralose, aspartame, saccharin. I’m forgetting the fourth one. The fourth one could have been the control condition being either water or sucrose. Okay. Sucrose is just table sugar, just regular table sugar. Tasty sugar calorie containing table sugar. Yep. So the comparison was done and they actually found saccharin.

To encourage weight gain while the other artificial sweeteners being sucralose and aspartame, those being the two most commonly used ones, those guys did not result in weight gain, whereas the Saccharin did. That was the. The issue with Saccharin was its effect on the gut, which led to a decreased capability to properly metabolize glucose.

And so this effect was seen, this was a short study. It was like seven day study, but they saw it in rats and they saw it in humans. And now with this other study that I just mentioned, comparing sucralose, aspartame and, and saccharin and one other that I’m. Not remembering at the moment. Once again, it was saccharin that was kind of the bad guy of the lineup.

And I guess we can say pretty confidently that we can’t look at artificial sweeteners as a homogeneous or single entity. We have to kind of talk about artificial sweeteners individually. And it appears that saccharin is not a good idea, and maybe Saccharin is the one that fulfills all the concerns of folks who are anti artificial sweetener, whereas the other ones we have not.

Seen particularly bad stuff with things like stevia, sucralose, and aspartame, cyclical dieting or non-linear dieting as I’ve called it. It mainly benefits those who are like basically two conditions. Okay. So it mainly benefits people who are. Hypo caloric conditions, so, so dieting conditions where you’re eating less than you’re burning for the purpose of weight loss or fat loss.

And within those hypo caloric conditions, the time that non-linear dieting can benefit most is when you are pretty severely restricting carbohydrate. So those are the two conditions, dieting. And low carbohydrate intake, and certainly those two combined. Other conditions such as, we’ll take the other end of the spectrum, hyper caloric conditions where you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning and you’re consuming a large amount of total daily carbohydrate.

Then cyclical intakes typically of either total calories or carbohydrate, or both has a lot less usefulness. Let’s imagine somebody is allotted. A hundred grams of carbohydrate or less per day. Let’s say they’re going full keto per day, like 50 grams of carbs or less per day over the long term. If this person is on a rigorous training program, something intensive, something progressive, then they will benefit from periodically in quotes, carving up, and that would.

B, because of a couple reasons. First of all, there is a psychological benefit to knowing that there are breaks throughout the course of your diet. And if there are breaks throughout the course of seven days, hey, you can make it, anybody can diet for two to three days at a time. Cyclical dieting with periodic increases in carbohydrate intake, under low carb conditions and under hypo caloric conditions is an effective way to make sure that there’s adherence.

So it’s mainly a psychological benefit. There’s not a. Enough evidence for us to say yes. When you carve up, it elevates these metabolic rate regulatory hormones that encourage or push the fat loss process forward. There’s not enough evidence for us to say that, but there’s enough evidence for us to at least hypothesize that the main benefit of cyclical dieting is behavioral is adherence based in practice.

When you’re helping somebody diet down, I’ve found that one week’s worth of a diet break that I would define as a lifting off of the, the diet and gas pedal, where you don’t just cast caution to the wind. You don’t just yolo it and, and binge for a week, but you lift off some of the, or actually, Most of the restrictions that you’re normally putting yourself through during a diet and you’re eating close or at maintenance at pre dieting levels for.

A week. This in and of itself, just not dieting for a week, has a very beneficial effect psychologically, because you know it’s within the plan. You know you’re gonna gain one or two pounds, you know it’s no big deal because most of it is going to be actually lean body mass, and at most you might gain a pound of fat, big deal during that diet break.

It’s a chance for them to get a, a mental break from dieting, but also kind of for them to feel the rush again of a spike in, or at least a return to high level training performance. So there’s also a training performance element there for refeeds and in quotes, or non-linear dieting or carb-ups. There’s also a performance element that you can take advantage of for certain people for whom that’s their goal.

So it’s not necessarily just a. Psychological or adherence benefit, but you can actually time these carb up to fuel training bouts that are of, uh, particularly high volume or high effort. You really have to try. In order to just really sabotage the progress that you’ve made over a number of weeks, there was a study, it’s by ott, o t t and colleagues, and this was a a 2018 study where they fed the subjects a thousand calories a day above and beyond their maintenance requirements.

Okay, so just imagine what you’re eating right now to maintain and then stacking on top of it a thousand calories. And these thousand calories were not bodybuilding type calories. They weren’t ideal macro calories. They were high fat dairy calories. They were whipping cream calories. Okay? So totally unideal.

Thousand calorie surplus for seven days resulted in one pound of fat gain and one pound of lean mass gain. Okay, so two pound gain in a week of pounding the whipping cream a thousand calories above and beyond maintenance requirements. So, and were they also working out? No. Or were these just said No. So just sitting there, just sitting around.

So people who are afraid of a seven day diet break, they’re unaware of. Research like this. And then on the protein side of things, which you mentioned Antonio and colleagues, within the pretty recent years, he’s done a slew of protein overfeeding studies. So this is Joey Antonio at Nova University. He. Fed subjects 800 calories above maintenance requirements, and those 800 calories were in the form of protein.

Very interestingly, this surplus protein calorie hit that was ran for eight weeks, I believe. It seemingly disappeared. It’s just such an interesting thing. ’cause it obviously didn’t disappear, but there was some sort of ramp up in energy expenditure that neutralized those 800 calories in. From protein.

Now, the super interesting thing about this study was that the subjects were trained, they were resistance trained, and they were already consuming relatively high amount of protein. So what happened was their baseline protein intake was already optimized, so they didn’t gain a significant amount of lean body mass or muscle tissue.

And they also didn’t gain a significant amount of fat tissue. So their body composition was just literally just static at the end of eight weeks of overfeeding protein to the tune of 800 calories. And so the big head scratcher is, how the heck did that happen? So you’ve got satiety, increased satiety, driving down the consumption of the other macronutrients.

You’ve got overreporting in order to. Avoid the shame of disappointing the research staff. You’ve got increased excretion in that department, energy out, and there could also be some odd things with decreased de novo lipogenesis, but that sort of thing wasn’t directly measured, so, oh, and then a fourth factor.

Interestingly, the subjects, and this isn’t on the record, but this is. Something that Joey Antonio told me in personal communication was that the subjects actually reported. Sleep sweats. So sweating while sleeping. Interesting. So the phenomenon, like if you’ve ever eaten at Brazilian barbecue and you took down like two pounds of meat, then you know the phenomenon called meat sweats.

There’s no research specifically comparing, let’s say one to two meals a day versus three to six meals a day in resistance training subjects who weren’t total nubs straight off the couch, you know? But I would hypothesize that and this based on. Interestingly on Tinsleys recent studies on the time restricted feeding and its effects on resistance trainees.

And so his time restricted feeding model is similar to the Martin Han Lean Gains, uh, 16 eight thing. So within a eight hour feeding window, he just restricts the, the food intake. And that was compared with, I believe, like a 12 hour feeding window. There was no. Disadvantage to maintaining lean mass in the time restricted feeding versus the conventional distribution.

And how many servings of protein in the time restricted was it? Oh boy. Two or three. It was, um, I believe it was three scrunched together versus three spread out. But functionally, it’s the same principle of either. Higher meal frequency, you know, a, a more greater spread out versus a greater concentration.

So in principle, it’s the same thing as comparing like, let’s say four or five meals with two to three meals. You know, let’s imagine that the goal is not. Specifically fat loss and retaining muscle. Let’s flip the goal to gaining muscle as quickly as possible. I would actually put my betts on the 50 gram dose at four points in the day, outperforming the a hundred gram dose at two points in the day for just the rate of muscle hypertrophy over time.

I can’t point to any specific research actually looking at muscle hypertrophy over time in those conditions. Resistance training trained subjects, however, there is short-term research comparing muscle protein synthesis. This was done by researcher named ata. This, this is beginning to be a few years ago, he compared a total dose of 80 grams.

So, okay, there’s limitations to research. There’s always gonna be limitations, and it was just protein. It wasn’t mixed meals, but he compared two 40 gram doses with four 20 gram doses with. Eight 10 gram doses and the four 20 gram doses caused a greater net amount of muscle protein synthesis than the two big doses, the two 40 gram doses or the eight 10 gram doses.

So that kind of gave us a hint to how we can distribute protein through the day to maximize muscle protein synthesis. So now obviously there’s the question of, okay, then. Then why would the body be better at retaining muscle in unideal protein distributions? Why would it not matter in hypo chloric conditions?

But why would it matter in hyper chloric conditions? The answers to that are are just purely speculative, but I would guess that muscle gains gaining muscle being a more energetically expensive process. I think you just have to be a bit more careful. About how you allocate things because it, it’s a different game.

Gaining muscle is a different game than retaining muscle under dieting conditions, and you have to pull a little bit more strings in order to push muscle gain. It’s a harder fought battle. All righty. That was it for the highlight reel from my interview with Alan on artificial sweeteners, refeeds protein timing and more.

And if you want to listen to the whole episode, you can go find it back in June of 2020. Okay. Let’s move on to a monologue that I recorded called How Fast Do You Lose Muscle When You Stop Working Out? While building muscle and gaining strength is a slow and costly process, most studies show that muscle loss doesn’t occur until at least two to three weeks of no training.

That doesn’t give you the whole picture though, because those studies looked at reductions in lean body mass, which consists of everything that isn’t fat. And yes, that means muscle tissue, but it also means. Glycogen, which is a form of carbohydrate and water that is stored in muscle tissue, in which, in which research shows can account for up to 15 to 16% of muscle size.

And the key point here is research shows that intramuscular so in inside the muscle, glycogen and water levels can drop precipitously. In those first couple weeks of no training in one study, glycogen levels dropped by about 20% within the first two weeks. And in other research, intramuscular glycogen levels had dropped by about 40% by the fourth week of no training.

And so, When you look at those studies, when you look at the data, I think that it is very reasonable to say that within your first three to four weeks of no training, you can expect about a 10% reduction in muscle size simply from the reduction in intramuscular, glycogen, and water levels. What that would mean then is while you have technically lost lean body mass, that’s how it would register on a test like dexa, for example.

And your muscles look smaller. You have not necessarily lost muscle tissue. Actual muscle loss doesn’t. Occur until probably the fourth or fifth week of no training, and that is assuming that your diet is at least halfway reasonable. Of course, if you were to stop working out and start eating 500 calories per day and very little protein, you are going to lose muscle sooner and faster than if your calories were around maintenance and you still were eating a fair amount of protein.

Don’t forget that muscle memory is real. And what I mean by that is it is much easier to regain muscle than it is to gain it the first time around. This has been proven scientifically. We understand the physiological mechanisms behind it. There’s no question. So let’s say you are going to lose some muscle.

That is what it is. You can take solace in the fact that when you do get back to training, you are going to regain whatever you lost very, very quickly. It’s gonna be like newbie gains all over again. And so to summarize here, you can take a week or two off of training and lose absolutely no muscle. You are not gonna lose muscle.

You might lose a little bit of muscle size because your muscles are going to shed a little bit of glycogen and water, but that will come back more or less immediately. And if you’re taking a few weeks off, let’s say it’s around three weeks, you probably are not gonna lose any muscle tissue, but you will notice a reduction in muscle size.

Again, mostly due to reductions in intramuscular glycogen water. And if you’re taking a month or more off of training, you may lose a little bit of muscle. Obviously, the longer you take off, the more you’re gonna lose. But no matter how much you lose, you’ll be able to regain it all very quickly once you get back into the gym.

Let’s just quickly touch on strength, losing strength when you are out of the gym. Now, if you have taken even a week off and then come back to it, you have probably experienced what felt like a reduction in strength. A number of studies, including a very extensive review on the subject shows that most weightlifters will maintain most of their strength for up to three or even four weeks without lifting.

But technique can be trickier, especially on more technical lifts like a squat or overhead press, or even a deadlift. What can happen is, You take a couple weeks off, you haven’t done any reps. Obviously you have muscle memory and you’re not gonna completely forget how to do a squat. But the squat, especially under a lot of weight to get it right, means that your body has to engage in fire, many muscles in the right order, and those calibrations can get a little bit rusty in short periods of time.

Then when you get back to it, you feel weaker because you simply can’t move the weight for as many reps at the same r p E as you could a week or two ago. But it’s not that you’ve lost pure strength, it’s just that your technique is a little bit off and it usually takes a number of reps, especially under that heavy weight, again, to get things to where they were previously.

And so you can expect to maintain your strength without lifting for a couple weeks. When you do get back to it, you probably are going to notice a slight decline in performance, even if it has only been a week or two. But that’s probably mostly due to technique. And again, if you’re taking a longer period off of training.

You do lose strength. Again, there is the silver lining of muscle memory. It, of course, does work for strength as well, because the amount of muscle that you have is the primary determinant of your strength. And that’s it for the key takeaways, or at least some of my favorite key takeaways from how fast you lose muscle when you stop working out.

And that one was originally published in July of 2019. If I have piqued your interest, and if you want to go check out the whole thing and let’s move on to the final episode, featured in this episode, which is the Great Art of Sacrifice. While some people do come better suited to certain activities than others, decades of research into human performance has made it abundantly clear that both innate talent, nature, and environmental factors nurture.

Play backseat roles in the development of greatness. For example, a striking number of legendary artists lived and worked in Renaissance Florence in the 15th century, including Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Occhio, Donatello, and others. I. Why Genes alone can’t explain this phenomenon and neither can environmental considerations because how could so much natural talent just accumulate in one place in a couple generations, and exactly how were florence’s rather tumultuous political and economic landscapes conducive to the practice and development of high art.

Well, if the nature and nurture theory can’t account for this remarkable flowering, what might have caused it? One theory that I find compelling is the fact that in Renaissance Florence, it was common for young boys to begin apprenticeships in craft guilds where they would work under the close supervision of skilled artists.

Michelangelo, for example, began his apprenticeship at age six, starting with stone cutting and then moving on to sketching and creating frescoes. Similarly, Leonard da Vinci didn’t get his quote unquote big break as an artist until he was 46 years old with the last supper. The genius present in his work was not inherited.

It was forged through thousands of hours of deep difficult work. How many people marvel at Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo’s Mona Lisa every single day and mutter that they would give anything to be able to sculpt or paint like that? How many people burn for a new body, job, partner, or life and proclaim that they would do anything to grab that brass ring?

No, they wouldn’t. They would not hammer until their hands bled and then hammer some more. They would not crawl out of bed every single day into the cold darkness of dawn to train. They would not burn the midnight oil to become the type of person that deserves the better job partner or life instead.

They actively avoid whatever’s difficult and uncomfortable. They live according to their feelings and impulses, and they decry life’s challenges as unfair, and people’s criticisms as hurtful. They don’t want processes and paradigms. They want shortcuts and secrets. They don’t want plant in the spring and tend in the summer to earn the harvest In the fall, they wanna shirk and slack and reap bounties that they didn’t sow.

In short, they lack the discipline to consistently trade today’s pleasure and gratification for tomorrow’s security and satisfaction. And if they consider their future prospects at all, they’re unrealistically optimistic in their forecasts, envisioning best case scenarios and not most likely outcomes.

How do we avoid this fate? How can we outmaneuver and overcome this deep seated programming? Well, I think that we can start by evaluating our relationship with sacrifice because while we may say that we want many things in life, if we’re not willing to make the requisite sacrifices to get them, We’re just pretending.

So you say you want a beautiful body, you want a strong, muscular, lean body. Well, that’s nice, but what are you willing to sacrifice for it? Are you willing to hit the gym every day instead of watching tv? Are you willing to stop eating so much of the foods that you know you shouldn’t be eating? Are you willing to give every workout everything you’ve got?

In other words, do you have the discipline to sacrifice the immediate benefits of the things that you want to do, and instead pursue the prospective benefits of the things that you know you should do? You see, if you can’t answer these questions with steely eye determination, then you don’t really want that beautiful body.

Until you can do that, you will never get it. Remember, nothing fails as spectacularly as half measures. Unfortunately, our culture seems to have forgotten this fundamental law of living. Instead, too many of us believe that everything in life should be pleasurable, so we constantly search for distractions, shortcuts, and loopholes that will enable us to escape any and all forms of physical and psychological pain and discomfort.

Even our self-help books speak in soft flattering tones, reassuring us that we are just fine the way that we are, and that with enough positive self-talk and self-love, the universe will award us with abundance and bliss. The people that win make the right sacrifices and the people that lose. Don’t.

That’s a rather unforgiving and unpalatable idea, but it’s also a powerful and empowering one because what it says is that there’s really no telling what you might be able to do and achieve if you’re willing to pay the price. I think it’s also a warning because. Look around. Life is fraught with peril, tragedy, suffering, and there are innumerable ways to court chaos and reap the whirlwind.

And if we wanna steer clear of as much catastrophe as possible, then I think we’d better get really serious about making the necessary sacrifices now for the sake of our futures. Now, what kind of sacrifices? Are those you might be wondering? Well, I think we can start with the obvious. Let’s just start with the things that we’re currently doing that we know we shouldn’t be doing.

The things that, if stopped, would immediately make our lives better. You know, things like eating too much sugar or fast food, watching too much tv, playing too much video games, spending too much time on the internet or social media, spending too much money on things we don’t really need. Going to bed too late.

Drinking too much coffee and alcohol, and on and on and on. Whatever your list is, and we all have one. Let’s be honest. Take a moment now and try to imagine how your life might change over the next year or two if you were to sacrifice these malignant parts of you. Now try to imagine what that future might look like if you were to also make the sacrifices of time, attention, effort, necessary to do the things that you know you should be doing, like maybe eating healthy or exercising regularly, working harder, educating yourself, budgeting and saving money, whatever those things might be for you.

Who do you think you might be able to become if you did all of that? To what heights might you be able to rise? The willingness to sacrifice immediate gratification for future rewards is highly correlated with the ability to create a better life. I. What most stands in our way of being able to do this though most people, they would say they just lack the willpower or self-control, but it’s really not that simple because while our ability to tap into willpower and exert self-control is definitely influenced by our genetics and upbringing, it’s not an immutable element of our biology.

We can influence these things greatly through our choices, our mindsets, our decisions, our environments. For example, if we choose to believe that our capacity for self-control is limitless, we will be far better at regulating our behavior than if we choose to believe it’s finite. All righty. That’s it for the select snippets from the Great Art of Sacrifice.

And if you want to go listen to that whole episode, you can find it in October of 2017. 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 have. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share? Shoot me an email, [email protected], muscle f o 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.

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