Monthly Archives: February 2011

Differences Between Muscle and Fat

Contrary to what is sometimes stated, muscles cannot “turn into flab” any more than fat can turn into muscle. The two are entirely different tissue.

So what is the difference between muscle and fat? Plenty! But I’ll list those that matter to you and me. Keep in mind I am not making a statement about preference for muscle or fat, just offering several physiological facts:

  • Muscle is dense and shapely
  • Fat is bulky and shapeless
  • You can actively contract muscle
  • Fat jiggles
  • After genetics, muscle is 100% determined by activity (type, severity, and frequency of the stimulus)
  • After genetics, fat is 100% determined by long-term fuel balance (fuel absorbed – fuel expended)
  • After puberty and initial training growth, muscles do not increase or decrease dramatically in a short period. The exceptions are injury or steroid use.
  • Fat can increase or decrease dramatically in a short period
  • Muscle burns around 5-6 calories per pound
  • Fat burns around 2-3 calories per pound
  • Muscle contains a high percentage of water
  • Fat contains very little of its weight in water
  • Muscle gives you power
  • Fat is dead weight
  • Muscle is proportionately distributed throughout the body if you’re following a balanced training program
  • Fat is stored mostly around the middle
  • Muscle makes physical labor easier
  • Fat makes physical labor harder
  • You can isolate and train specific areas of muscle
  • You cannot isolate specific areas of fat (i.e. spot reducing)

Here are four additional myths dispelled:

1. Muscle doesn’t “weigh more than fat” (does a pound of bricks weigh more than a pound of feathers?). Muscle is more dense than fat, but not by much.

2. Muscle doesn’t fluctuate as much as fat. Muscle atrophy (loss) or hypertrophy (gain) is not easy to achieve on large levels; however it is possible to lose a lot of fat in a short time (though not easy) or gain a lot of fat (easy). What fluctuates more wildly than both? Water.

3. Excess calories do not build muscle. Excess calories do build fat.

4. Exercise is not necessary for weight loss. Exercise is very important, but even if you slept all day, all the major organs of your body would still need fuel. However, exercise contributes to your energy deficit, increases functional capacity, improves your shape, enhances your mood and makes dieting easier.

 

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Mind Games

Some of you are in the process of leaning down, either as a new year’s goal, to get ready for competition, or to simply look good for summer – whatever the reason, they’re all good.

As you make physical progress towards your goal, your own eyes may deceive you, causing you to justify a “cheat” or a binge. This is especially true if you’re just as concerned about maintaining or gaining muscle mass as you are about leaning down. One important thing to understand is that fat storage cannot occur without food.

With that said, here’s how your mind can play tricks on you:

1) Visible loss of muscle size

If you’re training the same way as before you started the leaning out process, it’s highly unlikely that you’re losing muscle mass. What’s really happening is that as you’re (necessarily) restricting calories and therefore carbohydrates to lose fat, your muscles aren’t as full of glycogen (carbohydrate storage). Remember every gram of carbohydrate holds 3 times its weight in water, so your muscles will take on a “flatter” appearance simply from not being as bloated. Some people mistake this for actual muscle loss, but the protein content is still there. This is also why you look better after a cheat meal – your muscles fill up with glycogen; but at the same time you’re putting a halt to your fat loss. By eating to keep your glycogen levels “topped off” all the time, you won’t be burning much fat.

It’s better to accept the temporary loss of size to achieve your greater goal. Once you’re done losing fat and go back to eating at maintenance, your muscles will hydrate to their fullest again, but this time you’ll be leaner so your muscles will actually appear bigger (remember it’s all about illusion). And you won’t gain fat as long as you don’t overeat.

Another thing about getting very lean is that it forces you to realize how much of your mass is actual muscle, which is always less than expected. Weak areas will show through as clear as day, so it’s a good time to evaluate what might need work.

2) You appear “flabbier” even though you’re losing inches

This happens because fat is not stored and released evenly throughout the body. Some areas will appear “cut” first, causing other areas to appear less cut in comparison. For example, you may have a clear “four pack” in the abdominal region while the bottom row remains smooth. This is to be expected, so just keep on your journey and every other area will cut up eventually – yes, even your “trouble” areas.

Also, the leaner you get the higher the standard you compare yourself with, so it’s easy to forget how much progress you’ve made. This is why taking before and after pictures is really valuable – you see yourself in the mirror every day so minute changes are imperceptible. With progress photos, you get an objective look.

“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits” – Robert Puller

Go Nuts

More than just a good source of protein

A common question to the diet conscious is, “Where do you get your protein?” While I think protein is overrated as a nutrient, raw nuts are my favorite source of concentrated protein.

In addition to being rich in protein, raw nuts and seeds are convenient, non-toxic, alkaline forming, and contain essential fats, vitamins, minerals and raw fiber. Best of all, they last long.

You will develop full muscle mass, excellent skin tone, regularity, good dental health, and firm facial tone (lack of wrinkles) due to chewing on raw fiber.

“But aren’t nuts high in calories?”

Yes, and that’s the point. You won’t need much to feel satisfied and they are the perfect food to “hold you over”. In fact, when I was in college going from class to class, I would bring a small container of raw almonds or mixed nuts with me and simply chew on them as needed.

Ideal varieties include raw unsalted almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, filberts, walnuts, pecans, coconut, chestnut, hickory-nut, and pistachio.

*Peanuts are not nuts but legumes. Cashews are actually the seed of a cashew apple and the ones you find in stores are treated with low heat (as natural raw cashews are inedible) with the skin removed.

The ideal is to obtain them in the shell but there’s nothing wrong with purchasing them with the shell removed. They form an excellent snack to keep around in case you have a craving for “rich” desserts. Nuts are best combined with raw leafy greens.

Tip: chew on one at a time rather than a handful at a time and chew well as nuts are very concentrated.

Raw nut butters, while an improvement over traditional store-bought peanut butters, are not as ideal as the fats begin to oxidize even in the jar. At their best, they are inferior to raw, whole nuts.

Note: some people may be allergic to certain nuts so it is key to check with your doctor or dietician on this matter.

Why Gaining Muscle is Important For Losing Fat (Not What You Think)

Maximizing your muscular girth is a key principle to optimizing your body’s shape. As discussed in my previous lessons, there is really no such thing as training for “tone”. Toning as people describe it literally means shrinking down fat cells to reveal the muscle mass underneath.

Common gym lore is that adding muscle mass is important while losing fat because “muscle burns more calories than fat”. While this is true, the numbers are insignificant. 1 pound of dry muscle burns about 6 calories while 1 pound of fat burns approximately 2 calories. Considering that the protein content of muscle makes up a small percentage of its total volume (muscle is mostly water), adding 5-10 pounds of dry muscle is significant for any non-drug using trainee. This amount would also require consistent hardcore training.

Putting the numbers to the test, if you were to reach this level, you’re only burning an extra 30 calories in a day. An amount in less than one half of a cookie.

The actual reason why muscle mass is important on a weight loss plan is simple: more muscle means getting the look you want at a higher body weight.


Why would people want to lose weight in the first place? To look or perform better or be “toned” as it were. Visually it refers to the loss of body fat. What maximizing your muscular size does is allow you to reach the “look” that you want without having to lose as much weight.

For example:

Woman 12o pounds

Lean mass 85 pounds

If she increases her lean mass to 90 pounds by increasing muscle, she would achieve her goal 5 pounds sooner. In other words, with the 5 pound increase in muscle, she wouldn’t have to worry about losing the last 5 pounds of fat to achieve her visual goal.

Another way of looking at it:

2 males, same skeletal structure and muscle fiber make-up:

Person A) 140 pounds muscle, 15 pounds fat

Person B) 160 pounds muscle, 15 pounds fat

Although the two people have the same total amount of body fat, Person B will actually appear more defined because the lean body weight is higher. It’s all about visual contrast.

Final note: the fear of “bulking” through weight-training is unwarranted, especially for women, which is ironic given that many women don’t want to “bulk up” through training (generally speaking). Other than Steroid users (past or present), the maximum amount of muscle mass a natural trainee can expect to gain would simply “fill out” the muscles, not turn you into the Hulk. The reason why women cannot become as muscular as men is that muscular gains are limited by Testosterone levels.

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The Limiting Factor Method of Training

I’ve devised a method of training that revolves around a simple concept: your body will respond to exercise stress in a matter which eases that stress in the future.

For example, if you challenge whole body musculature so that your heart gives out before your muscles, you are stressing your cardiovascular system primarily and your heart will adapt by pumping out more blood per beat.

On the other hand, if you focus on joint-specific movements against a heavy load (bodybuilding), your musculoskeletal system will increase its contractile strength by increasing contractile proteins (hypertrophy).

If you practice complex motor skills (most sports), your coordination will improve specific to that skill (muscle activation patters, mind-muscle connection).

Keep in mind that these parameters are not all-or-nothing; there is always some degree of overlap. However, you can emphasize one variable over the other if you plan correctly.

Also, within each adaptation are degrees of specificity. For instance, runners may be built for specific distances, soccer players are leg dominant while rock climbers are upper body dominant, and muscular adaptations follow a spectrum of strength and endurance (i.e. powerlifters vs. rowers). Outside of genetics, this is why athletes are built specifically for their sport (and divisions within the sport) – their bodies respond to the primary method of training.

While the concept of the limiting factor is simple, the application may require quality instruction from a competent professional with a background in Anatomy, Exercise Physiology, and Biomechanics.