This is Part One of a two-part roundtable series with the legendary Ben Pickard, Kory Allen, and David Wu, in which each member of the roundtable will provide their answers to YOUR questions. In this part, the three legends look to answer the ultimate question…
How do I gain or lose weight?
Note: we don’t support one diet/supplement over another, and don’t take responsibility for any of the choices you make.
Ben: This comes down to one thing — calories. The food you eat is the fuel for your body for growth, and that growth can be both fat and muscle. Here is how I break it down.
We know that we need protein as both building blocks for new muscle that you work so hard for in the gym as well as a fuel source. We also know that you need healthy fats for proper bodily function (and making testosterone!), and they can also be used as a fuel source. Ironically, these are two of the things that I see people not getting enough of.
Carbohydrates (when I say carbohydrates I mean starchy carbs, like rice, potatoes, and oftentimes processed foods, not the carbs found in fruits and veggies), on the other hand, are our wild card.
Although the brain needs glucose, we can derive that glucose form sources other than direct carbohydrates, and we don’t actually NEED to eat carbohydrates to survive. Although they can be beneficial for building muscle, they tend to be overeaten, and most processed food is a carbohydrate – it is much harder to get processed meats and veggies.
Knowing that you want to maintain adequate levels of protein and fats, carbohydrates are what you can manipulate to gain or lose weight.
Find your body’s caloric needs for maintenance (start with bodyweight x15) and make the majority of the calories come from meats, veggies and healthy fats. Then if you are trying to gain weight, you can add some carbohydrates to put you above maintenance (start with 1000kcal/week), and if you are trying to lose weight you can cut out some of the carbohydrates (start with 1500kcal/week).
Adjust from there depending on what you see. Didn’t lose any weight? Reduce it a bit more. Track your changes to see what needs to change. The more you measure and control, the more you will know how your body responds.
Please note that carbohydrates are not evil, nor is any other macronutrient. They are just what I see being overeaten far too often and, without fail, show improvements in body composition when they are reduced. For those gaining weight, the proper timing of carbohydrates can be used to make you more anabolic. This is why I think of them as the wild card.
Kory: Let us clarify this question a little bit. Ain’t nobody got time to lose muscle mass or gain fat mass. Unless you are in a sport that requires you to carry minimal muscle or you’re underweight, the goal should always be to preserve muscle mass and keep fat mass within a healthy range. Now we are clear on what is acceptable “weight” gain and “weight” loss, let’s get into the details.
In agreement with Ben, this one ultimately boils down to calories. That being said, there are other important components of the diet if body composition is high on the priority list but calories remain the most important factor. Nobody wants the gainz to come in the form of spare tires.
First off, you have to know where you’ve been to know where you are going. You need to have a baseline caloric intake or maintenance caloric intake before you start manipulating anything. There are numerous ways to do this, the simplest being this: if you haven’t lost or gained more than 3lbs in the past couple of weeks, it’s safe to say you are currently eating enough calories for maintenance.
If you have no idea what you normally eat on a daily basis, or you’ve gained or lost considerable amount of weight recently, you need to start tracking caloric intake. Now it’s never going to be perfect measuring and weighing foods, but having a general idea helps a lot. To get an idea of where you might be starting, take your bodyweight and multiple it by 15. For those who are more active use 18-20 and for those of you are less active, use 13-14.
Once you’ve got a baseline, you’re ready to progress to start the process of gaining or losing weight.
Step 1: Make sure protein is sufficient. Protein preserves muscle mass, helps keep you full, and has a myriad of other health benefits.
Aim for 1g/lb of bodyweight and get your protein from whole animal sources.
Step 2: Pick your fuel source of choice. Do you feel better with more or less carbs? Higher fat diet work better for you? It takes a little while to figure out the optimal ratio as each person is different but start with equal calories coming from each and modify as you see fit.
Step 3: Choose muscle gain or fat loss. Chasing two rabbits rarely results in catching both.
Step 3a: For muscle gain, add 300-500 calories extra per day. Preferable from whole unprocessed food sources but sometimes you gotta get a little dirty to put on the weight.
Step 3b: For fat loss, decrease calories by 300-500 per day. Cut out the refined foods first then substitute energy dense foods (pastas, rice, full fat meats) for nutrient dense foods (vegetables, fruits and lean meats).
Step 4: Track your weight, waist circumference, and how you feel. If the scale, waist, or how you feel isn’t moving in the right direction, you will either need to increase or decrease calories depending on the goal. It might not always be as simple as this but it is the general process.
Those are the basics. It can get more complicated, but it doesn’t have to.
Dave: First of all, let’s qualify this question – if we simply want to lose and gain weight, that is a no brainer: we can easily increase or decrease weight through water manipulation in a couple of hours (great for weight class competition and a relevant Sports Nutrition topic itself). I assume we mean gaining muscle and/or losing fat. I will tackle this question simply as improving body composition.
A good question to ask: why does muscle grow?
We know that resistance exercise and nutrition are stimuli for muscle growth (1). If we want the body to change, we have to make it adapt to progressively increasing stimulus (google Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome). That stimulus is resistance exercise.
Try using bodybuilding parameters (8-12 reps) with higher volume (3+ sets). And squat. A lot.
After that, have a caloric surplus (eat more than your body currently needs) and make sure you have enough carbs and protein. For protein (that’s what muscle is made of after all), the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2-1.8 g/kg (2). Carbohydrates are needed to release the hormone insulin, which allows the building blocks of protein to actually enter the cell.
Think of it like this: if there is no demand/reason to grow, simply eating more may not be enough to convince your body to put on more muscle.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “anabolic.” It means grow and it’s what we want. Scientists use the cortisol-to-testosterone ratio to represent whether the body is in a growing (anabolism = testosterone) or breaking down (catabolic = cortisol) state (3). Thus, MORE T and LESS C is a good thing.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that will stop your chances of muscle gain by signaling a breakdown effect. Reduce ALL stresses (chemical, mental, emotional, etc.) in your life to stop screwing up your chances of gain as much benefit from your workouts. Hint: sleep on time.
Lastly, be consistent. People fail at gym goals because they don’t last more than a couple of weeks. The time it takes for apparent hypertrophy is quite slow, taking several weeks to months (3). Gaining or losing weight is a matter of repeatedly sending the right signals to your body.
- RASMUSSEN, B. B., and S. M. PHILLIPS. Contractile and nutritional regulation of human muscle growth. Exerc. Sport Sci. Rev., Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 127–131, 2003.
- Rankin, J.W. Weight loss and gain in athletes. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2002 Aug;1(4):208-13.
- Hayes LD, Bickerstaff GF, Baker JS. Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms. Chronobiol Int. 2010 Jun;27(4):675-705. doi: 10.3109/07420521003778773.
Which legend’s answer did you like best? Why? Based on your experience, how would you answer the ultimate question of gaining or losing weight? Share your comments below and remember to “like” us on facebook!
Benjamin currently works as a Personal Trainer, but also has experience coaching UW’s Varsity Athletes as a S&C Coach and as the Conditioning Assistant. Ben is a firm believer that positive thinking and squats can cure cancer, and is always striving to find the most harmonious balance of life, work, and training awesomeness. He is inspired by his fellow WS&C Club executives, and is on the never-ending quest for knowledge. He hopes to one day work as a S&C Coach/Personal Trainer and help people become superhuman.
Kory Allen is a 4th year Kin student at the University of Waterloo and an aspiring coach. He has been passionate about the iron game for many years and loves helping people improve their lives, fitness and overall wellbeing. His basic philosophy is to keep it simple and have some fun. Drop him a line on the blog or via email.