When it comes to fitness, figuring out what kind of diet to follow can get really confusing, really fast.
There are so many plans out there to choose from: Paleo, slow-carb, carb-backloading, intermittent fasting, if it fits your macros, etc. Compounding the confusion is all the information out there about about timing your nutrition so that you can get maximal muscle gains while reducing fat accumulation.
The choices can be so overwhelming that some men just give up altogether and go back to eating whatever it is they feel like. Mainly cheesy poofs.
Today on the show, we cut through all the confusion when it comes to nutrition and fitness by talking to an actual Doctor of Gains. His name is Jordan Feigenbaum. He’s a Starting Strength Coach, diet consultant for some of the best competitive powerlifters and CrossFit athletes in the world, and a medical doctor currently doing his residency at UCLA.
Jordan I discuss why barbell training is the best medicine for overall fitness, the best way to approach diet for strength training, and why you can’t gain strength and muscle while simultaneously losing fat. We also discuss which supplements are the biggest waste of money and which ones are actually scientifically proven to work. This episode is jam-packed with actionable information, so be sure to take notes.
- Why Jordan became a doctor (hint: to spread the gospel of barbell training)
- The myths that physicians have about barbell training
- Why weight lifting is safer than soccer
- Why you’ll likely gain back all the weight you lost five years after starting a diet
- Why barbell training is the best medicine for your body
- Why your strength will determine how long you live
- The myths physicians have about diet (no, lots of protein won’t hurt your kidneys)
- Why accountability is so important in nutrition
- Jordan’s favorite approach to diet and nutrition
- How your diet should change for strength and training
- Why you can’t gain muscle and lose fat at the same time (even if you’re on steroids)
- Why you’ll lose a bit of strength when trying to “cut”
- Why you should focus on getting stronger before you think about losing weight
- Why psychological stress is more taxing on strength performance than physical stress
- Can you do intermittent fasting while strength training?
- Jordan’s pre- and post-workout nutrition stack
- The supplements you’re wasting your money on
- And much more!
Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast
- Starting Strength
- Why Barbells Are Better Than Machines
- My podcast with Matt Reynolds on why everybody should be strong
- Starting Strength Website
- Reynolds Strong
- Eat Man Food; Lose Weight
- My podcast with Mark Sisson about becoming a fat burning beast
- Strength and Conditioning Terms
- Intermittent Fasting
- Pre and post workout nutrition
- A primer on creatine
- Supplements for Strength Training
If you’re looking for more rock-solid advice on diet and strength training, be sure to check out Jordan’s website Barbell Medicine. He’s got a lot of great free content there and you can find out more information about his diet consulting services. Also, check out Jordan’s Instagram feed to see the Doctor of Gains in action.
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Connect With Jordan
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. When it comes to fitness, figuring out what kind of diet to follow can get really confusing really fast. There’s so many plans out there for a person to choose from: Paleo, Low Carb, Carb Backloading, Intermittent Fasting, If It Fits Your Macros, etc. Compounding the confusion is all the information out there about timing your nutrition so you can get maximum muscle gains while reducing fat accumulation. Choices can be so overwhelming that some men just give up altogether and go back to eating whatever it is they feel like, mainly cheesy poofs. Today on the show we cut through all the confusion when it comes to nutrition and fitness by talking to an actual doctor of gains. His name is Jordan Feigenbaum, he’s a starting strength coach, diet consultant for some of the best competitive power-lifters and cross-fit athletes in the world, and a medical doctor currently doing his residency at UCLA.
Today on the show, Jordan and I discuss why barbell training is the best medicine for overall fitness, the best way to approach diet for strength training, and why you can’t gain strength and muscle while simultaneously losing fat. Sorry to tell you that. We also discuss which supplements are the biggest waste of money and which ones actually are scientifically proven to work. This episode is jam-packed with actual information so be sure to take notes. Also, after the show check out the show notes at AOM.is/barbellmedicine, all one word, for links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
All right, Jordan Feigenbaum, welcome to the show.
Feigenbaum: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Brett McKay: All right, so you’ve got a really interesting background. You’re a starting strength coach, a dietitian, and a medical doctor, an actual medical doctor. Can you walk us through your CV and how your experience in different but related fields in health and fitness has shaped your philosophy towards fitness?
Feigenbaum: Sure, yeah. It’s been an interesting journey. I went to undergrad, got a biology degree from Truman State University, graduated 2008, and actually I wasn’t pre-med or pre anything which is an interesting thing to get a biology degree because what do you do with a bio degree? There’s nothing you can do unless you want to go research or go into a professional field. I wanted a science degree and came out, I started coaching people at the gym because that’s the only thing I was really interesting in doing, and did that for about 5 years. Over the course of that I got my Starting Strength coach, I started doing that, started working on staff at the Starting Strength seminars and doing my own thing coaching people privately at a separate facility. I got to a point where I was coaching a lot of people, it was really fun. I love coaching but I wanted to have a bigger platform to get some of these ideas out there as far as using strength training and nutritional changes and lifestyle modification overall as sort of a preventative health thing. I realized no matter how many certifications I got or how long I was coaching that I would never have enough cache to be a big voice in the public sector. I thought, “Let’s go back, let’s get a medical degree.”
Brett McKay: No biggie, it’s like 7 years. You know?
Feigenbaum: Yeah, it’s no big. I actually had to go back, I got my Master’s in anatomy and physiology from St. Louis University School of Medicine. I did that first to kind of bone up on my application to medical school because it’s super competitive. I did that, that was 2 years. Then I got into medical school at Eastern Virginia Medical School out in Norfolk. That was another 4 years. Then after that I started my residency here at UCLA in Santa Monica and that’s where I’m at now. Doing all this to sort of gain enough training and knowledge and, again, this sort of cache, “He’s a doctor, we have to listen to him,” which sounds silly. I understand it sounds silly, but I recognize the public will definitely be more receptive to a message from a physician, whether that’s right or wrong, as far as lifestyle changes go. Again, it’s been my passion for a long time. I love coaching, I love strength training just myself anyway, and now that I can have the medical aspect on the end of it I feel like it’s going to be helpful in getting the message out to the public. Long story short, I’ve been through a lot of school, done a lot of academic related things, and hopefully this will pay off as a try to get this message out there.
Brett McKay: Right. That’s interesting because people do listen to physicians when it comes to their health and their lifestyle and you’re a proponent of barbell training, you’re a Starting Strength coach, but barbell training has a bad rep in the medical field amongst physicians, physical therapists. In your experience dealing with being a medical student, dealing with physicians, what are the common misconceptions that you see doctors have about barbell and strength training?
Feigenbaum: Yeah. When I was in medical school I constantly would get challenged by the attendees or even the residents, “Why would you recommend somebody do barbell training?” There’d be multiple lines of arguments. The first would be, “It’s dangerous,” the second would be, “How can you be sure that it’s effective?” or, “Why don’t we just have them walk? If they just walk more it’d be fine.” Since I graduated medical school and started residency I have a little bit more autonomy because now I’m no longer reporting to a middle man, I’m kind of just seeing patients and doing that which is nice. I’ve had to deconstruct these over the years and come up with rebuttals. The first thing, and probably what most people or most physicians or clinicians will suggest is that barbell training is inherently dangerous which is not supported by any evidence at all actually. When I say these statistics or these short little soundbites that people love to hear, that’s taking into consideration all the limitations of the data which is people under-reporting injuries or how they define injuries are not the same between studies, so take that as face value.
The injury rate for competitive weight lifting, where the weight on the bar matters more than anything else, so you’d expect a higher injury rate in the general public, is 0.0006 injuries per thousand participation hours, so a very small fraction. Compared to soccer, which is 6, so it’s a thousand times greater. That’s just one study. There’s multiple studies that have looked at this. The injury rate from barbell training is just so low, it’s an error bar, just don’t even worry about it, especially when you consider the benefits. Every medication, even over the counter stuff, has a risk-benefit profile, right? We’re always constantly assessing, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks, or vice versa, for this treatment or intervention?” Barbell training in general just has such a high upside, such a great benefit profile, compared to the perceived risks which don’t even appear to be that great. It’s just funny to me that we wouldn’t push this on everyone. We’re afraid of somebody getting hurt and it’s like we don’t recommend against soccer or we don’t recommend against other activities that have a higher-risk profile than barbell training. The injury thing to me is silly. That just tells me they haven’t looked at the data, they have no experience with training themselves, so can’t really support that.
The second this is a little bit more nuanced, “Is barbell training effective?” You have to have a secondary question, “Is it effective for a certain outcome?” I need to know what outcome is somebody looking at. If they want to say weight loss, I feel like that’s almost too nebulous or it’s too multi-factorial to actually say unequivocally that barbell training is better or is helpful for that. Weight loss, by in large if you look at long-term studies on any intervention for weight loss except for surgery, it’s poor. Legitimately any diet that’s ever been looked at in the literature has terrible outcomes at a 5-year and a 10-year mark. Almost everybody, and I would say almost everybody like 95-99% of people who undergo a dietary change at 5 and 10 years will have either regained either almost all of the weight that they’ve lost or more than they lost.
Brett McKay: That’s depressing.
Feigenbaum: It is depressing. That’s definitely another question, maybe even another podcast, but people get really bummed out. They’re like, “Oh, well, they didn’t go low carb enough or they didn’t do intermittent fasting or they didn’t do this particular type of diet,” that the person who’s arguing for it is currently doing. It’s like, “Well, I would argue that whatever sort of counseling method or accountability method that that person’s using is not enough to keep them compliant, A, and then whatever physical activity that they’re doing is not enough, B. The physical activity aspect of it is kind of where barbell training comes in. If you look at what barbell training has the potential to do, sort of not only a physical 401k, is how I like to refer to it as, but also how it affects people’s metabolism compared to something like running, walking, or other activities, yoga, Pilates, whatever. The potential for barbell training to improve glucose tolerance, how we handle sugar, to increased metabolism overall because effectively causing a person to burn more calories or making them stronger, increasing their bone mineral density, increasing their functional work capacity, their ability to do activities in daily life. Barbell training is much more potent than any other training modality there is.
When you look at from a time, an economy-based perspective, barbell training is the king. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t do other stuff if they want to or if they have time, it just means that in my opinion barbell training is the base of the pyramid. If someone only has 3 hours a week to train or to exercise, they should be doing barbell training. It’s just the most effective use of that time. I think that gets more and more important as someone gets older mainly because someone who’s unable to do their activities of daily life without assistance, putting dishes away, cleaning around the house, getting up to the shower to take a bath or to the bathroom by themselves because they’re so weak, that person needs to go into a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility, and that’s not only big money but that’s a poor quality of life. I don’t really care how fast they can run a mile at that point, that’s beyond, I need to know how strong they are. I know I’ve been rambling on for a little bit, but that’s also actually supported by data when you look at functional outcomes of elderly people. It’s very tightly correlated to their strength, strength and/or power, which power’s just a proxy for strength.
It’s just interesting, I don’t know, I guess I don’t get why these very larded individuals in the medical field are so against barbell training. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not supported by evidence. I just think we intuitively feel like, “Oh, it’s dangerous,” or, “I don’t know much about it, maybe it’s not that effective.” It’s like, well you just haven’t looked at it.
Brett McKay: Right, haven’t looked at it close enough. Besides the exercise component, what about myths about diet that exist amongst medical doctors? Things like, “Don’t eat too much protein because it’s bad for your kidneys,” or things like that. What are some other myths like that that exist in the medical field?
Feigenbaum: Yeah. Just briefly on the protein kidney thing, that’s super interesting to me. I’m actually writing a piece for the Starting Strength website called, “The Problem with Protein and Kidneys,” so it’s not a very sexy title but it’s pretty thorough. There’s actually not evidence to suggest that people eating a higher protein diet have negative changes in their kidney function. There tend to be adaptive changes in how the kidneys filtering and processing basically the blood, that’s effectively what the kidney’s doing, they just keep filtering the blood all throughout the day. It just tends to be an adaptive change. Once you have more protein it just does it a little differently and adapts accordingly. Your body is able to adapt to different things. That’s going to be an interesting article.
From a dietary perspective, there’s kind of 3 big problems I see with medical doctors or clinicians when they are either counseling patients on diet or talking about nutrition. Thing one, they don’t. First problem is they just won’t do it, they won’t talk about diet, or it’ll be the last 15 seconds of an office visit like, “Hey, you should really eat better,” or they throw a pamphlet at them or something. It’s just one of those things. Not only is, “Eating better,” too vague to actually be actionable, it’s just a waste of time. You’ve effectively done nothing for the patient. Thing two is not understanding that accountability is probably the biggest driver of success when it comes to dietary interventions and outcomes like losing weight or improving health metrics, whatever metric you want to talk about, whether that’s A1C, which measures how well a diabetic’s blood glucose has been controlled over the last 3 months, or cholesterol levels for somebody who has elevated cholesterol and that’s been deemed a risk factor for their cardiovascular risk.
Accountability tends to be, as it pertains to compliance, those tend to be the biggest or tightest correlates to success. You can’t have, if you’re trying to counsel somebody on nutrition as a physician, it can’t just be like, “You should do this for 10 minutes at the end of an office visit and I’ll see you in 6 months,” it needs to be, “We need to check in on a regular basis,” or, “You need to join the American Weight Loss Registry,” or, “We have this nutrition counseling service that you need to go to on a weekly basis.” It’s just there needs to be more follow-up, that’s just from a practical perspective. As far as thoughts on nutrition and how they counsel people, we’re not, as physicians, we’re just not educated in nutrition. There’s no nutrition course in medical school for most medical schools, anyway, and the nutrition course is basically bio-chemistry if they have one. You get to learn all of the enzymes of the kreb cycle and all the ATP things, which is very impressive if you want to woo somebody when you’re standing at a white board with a dry erase marker, but it doesn’t really help you understand about practical nutrition changes for a patient.
You’ve got doctors saying that you can’t do low-carb diets and it’s bad. The first question that I would ask if I were a patient would be, “Why?” They don’t have a why, and if they do they’re lying to you. Or if you brought up intermittent fasting and the doctor would say, “I don’t know about that, I’m not sure.” It’s just a lack of education in that area, so if they don’t understand or haven’t heard about something I think they just feel like they have to give an opinion on it versus saying, “I don’t know.” I know a lot of my mentors have said, “The greatest thing you can say as a doctor is I don’t know,” and I agree, but then they just don’t do it. Just say, “I don’t know,” when it comes to nutrition and call me over, I’ll help. I’d be happy to get in there. It’s interesting. I feel like there’s a lack of education and also a lack of training in how to actually counsel people on how to change certain habits. Even if you had a Linoleic, but if you couldn’t talk to somebody about how to practically implement it, it would be very difficult to be successful that was as a practitioner.
Or if you have no experience helping people and therefore kind of know how to troubleshoot or what are the things that constantly pop up when people are trying to make changes, then it’d be hard to be good at doing that so overall I think it’s a lack of education, a lack of experience with both not only the actual academic side, the knowledge, but then also the practical implementation. It’s kind of on one hand it’s very upsetting to me that doctors can’t and don’t really do that, they don’t take the time to learn all of this stuff on their own, because I think it’s very, very important, and they always say, “Lifestyle is a huge, huge thing that we need to work on as a profession as far as counseling people.” On the positive side, since they’re not really doing that or nobody’s really made a big push to do this publicly, that leaves a nice little market open for me.
Brett McKay: Right, right, right.
Feigenbaum: I’m torn. It’s like if a lot of people were doing this maybe I wouldn’t have a job. I’m not sure.
Brett McKay: Here, let’s get into that because you’re a Strength coach but you’ve made a niche for yourself offering dietary consults for high performance strength athletes. We’re talking Crossfitters who compete at the Crossfit games, power lifters, etc. I’d like to get in the nitty-gritty of eating or diet for strength training but let’s talk big picture first. There are a ton of diet approaches out there. I think diet is the thing that confuses people the most when it comes to strength and fitness. There’s Paleo, there’s low-carb, slow-carb, intermittent fasting, If It Fits Your Macros, carb backloading, eat six meals a day that are small. What’s your overall approach to diet when it comes to strength and conditioning? Do you fall into any particular school or do you just see all of them as tools to be used in certain situations?
Feigenbaum: Yeah, I think that’s probably the latter. All of these tools are things that I’ve used at different times, so that’s broadly speaking, but I guess if you had a gun to my head, “What’s your preferred approach?” it’s probably more of a If It Fits Your Macros kind of approach. it’s become almost so popular these days that I almost feel embarrassed saying it but the thing is I find that it allows people enough dietary freedom to eat a wide variety of foods if they want. That tends to be improved compliance for many folks. People who would eat a Paleo or a slow-carb diet or even a carb backloading would sometimes feel so limited by what they could eat or when they could eat them, it would be hard to be compliant. Right? They felt like once they would either mess up or have a little issue that the whole day was blown and then there would be some sort of binge-eating behavior which is ultimately bad. The If It Fits Your Macros tends to avoid that.
On the other hand you have people who they have all choices now and that’s a problem in and of itself. They almost feel like they have too many choices and that can lead to if they choose to eat high sugar, highly palatable foods, from a palatability’s perspective the fat, sugar, salt that’s in a meal, the more palatable it is. There’s a bunch of different food science terms that pertains to that, like how it feels in the mouth, savoriness, all these different categories. Anyway, if they eat too many of those kinds of foods that can actually cause some overeating that they otherwise had not planned on and maybe they wouldn’t have been exposed to had they been on a more rigid diet. It kind of depends on the person as far as the preferred approach, but I generally default towards an If It Fits Your Macros, giving somebody a protein level, carb level, a fat level, and then a fiber goal to hit for the day and then tend to adjust from there.
Even if somebody is, what I would say, failing an If It Fits Your Macros type approach because they feel like they have too much freedom or it tends to lead to food decisions that ultimately sabotage them, I’ll still use kind of that If It Fits Your Macros approach but just have another caveat or make it like a Paleo-esque If It Fits Your Macros to it so the food quality is very high. Then you just kind of use whatever tool you need to get the outcome you want. We’re going to use what we have to do to get the job done.
Brett McKay: Right, right. Let’s talk about If It Fits Your Macros. Like you said, If It Fits Your Macros is the idea that you have a certain amount of protein, carbs, fat and fiber that you can eat through the day, however you can get those calories or macros is up to you, right? It gives you some choice. Let’s talk about If It Fits Your Macros in the context of strength training on a progressive program like starting strength or the Texas method. What should a macro makeup look like for someone who’s engaging in strength training? We can get into kreb cycles and ATP. It’s different from running, right? Like you need different types of source of energy that’s different from that in strength training.
Feigenbaum: Yeah. Why don’t I just nerd out for a second? If you have somebody who’s running, let’s say that’s aerobic activity, you can make the argument that that person is going to use a lot of carbohydrates and fat during whatever event they’re doing, training for. You would say that depending on how fast they’re running, that’s going to determine how much carb or fat they’re going to actually use whereas strength training is almost purely anaerobic in that it’s using ATP, creatine, and sugar. Effectively that’s what you’re using while you’re training, so you could make an argument that, “Oh, well, the strength training might need more carbohydrates than the person who’s training for a marathon or half-marathon. Then you have to go down the route of, “How much training volume is actually going on?” because the person training for the marathon may actually be running or training 20+ hours a week versus the person doing starting strength may only be training 6 hours a week. Then it’s just what are the different body weights and how that reacts to a diet.
In general, broadly speaking, if you have somebody who’s doing a Texas method or a starting strength not a progression and they are not overweight, the idea would be that you’re going to fuel them enough such that their weight goes up progressively. The weight should be increasing. This is just no other considerations being made except for we want to get the strongest possible in the most successful way possible.
Brett McKay: We’re going to gain weight going up on the barbell, not body weight.
Brett McKay: Both, okay.
Feigenbaum: I would say both. If you have a person who is effectively not overweight, they can stand to increase their body mass which does a number of things. Thing one, you cannot gain muscle mass, skeletal muscle mass, without gaining weight period. I never talk in absolutes except for just there and the statement before that. All right? I hate saying always or never or 100% of the time, but it is true if you are not gaining weight, you cannot gain muscle mass. You just can’t. Even if you’re obese. Obese, untrained, you start training with the barbell. If you’re losing weight you’re not increasing skeletal muscle mass. It’s just not happening.
Brett McKay: You can’t gain muscle and lost fat at the same time?
Feigenbaum: Lose fat, no. Me saying that is probably costing me business. If I just lied to people …
Brett McKay: Right, “Oh yeah, you can get really strong and be ripped.”
Feigenbaum: Be ripped, yeah, and if you’re not already ripped. Right? It’s funny just as an aside, I promise I’ll get it back on topic but it is something that just irks me. You see people on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, the social media world, who are super lean and strong and athletic, whatever, and they’re just selling coaching. I have no problem with people making money but people are not taking into consideration a handful of things. Thing one, their genetic predisposition. If you’re just rolling around untrained and you’re 9 or 10% body fat, that’s just what you’re working with on a base level, and then you start training, you’re going to be lean and you don’t have to work hard for that. That’s not a negative, it’s just you’re able to support a higher level of strength at a lower body fat than somebody who’s not predispositioned to being lean. Then if you have somebody who’s been training for 15 years on top of that, it’s hard to sort of temper people’s expectations or ground them in reality when you have that sort of situation being exposed on social media. You have a person who’s got really good genetics, been training for a long time, plus or minus drug use, and it’s like, that’s just not a realistic expectation. When I have people come to me and say, “Hey, I heard you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time,” I’m like, “No.”
Brett McKay: “No,” yeah. Only if you’re on Gear or something like that, right?
Feigenbaum: Even if.
Brett McKay: Right.
Feigenbaum: It’d be, again, there’s multiple studies out there suggesting that it’s just not possible. A small increase in skeleton muscle mass maybe if you’re on drugs and for a long period of time and you’re untrained and so now you’re training, maybe, but it’s just not going to happen. Most of the studies when they look at people using steroids or whatever, they’re actually gaining weight, and so they gain more muscle when they gain weight when they’re on steroids. That’s like the thing that they do. At any rate, back to the topic. If you’re underweight or not overweight anyway and you’re on a novice progression, the idea is to get as strong as possible. Gaining body weight will allow you to gain muscle mass, and a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, all other things being equal. That’s thing one.
Thing two, if you’re gaining weight that tells me that the metabolic and physiological stuff that is occurring in your body is such that your recovery is maximized from a food perspective, from a nutritional perspective, because if you’re gaining weight you’re not a deficit. You just have enough fuel, enough resources, to go around to remod or repair and otherwise recover from training. That’s not taking to account still eating, that’s not taking into account environmental stressors like your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you or you’re having a tough time at work, but at least from a nutritional perspective we sort of maxed out on recovery. That kind of make sense?
Brett McKay: That makes sense. Right.
Feigenbaum: Now on the other hand, if you have somebody who is … Brett, how much do you weight?
Brett McKay: I weigh 210 now. I’m kind of in a cut phase. I was at 220, but Reynolds has me on a little fewer calories right now.
Feigenbaum: You’re just trying to be sexy?
Brett McKay: I’m trying to be sexy. I got really strong.
Feigenbaum: I saw that. You pulled 500, right?
Brett McKay: Yeah. I dead lifted 500.
Feigenbaum: That’s awesome, man.
Brett McKay: I just wanted to lose a little bit of body fat, but because of that my strength has gone down a bit.
Feigenbaum: Right. What I’m telling you is no surprise to you. You’re like, “Duh.” If the calories are low enough for you to lose weight, it’s very difficult for you to sustain a linear progression of any sort unless the recovery periods are very long. In the novice space, for instance, your recovery period is 48 hours, and if you’re losing weight it is very difficult to recover from that and to recover from day one to day two and progress. On a Texas method, it’s difficult to recover within a week if you’re losing weight because your nutritional status is such that you’re not maximizing your recovery. You either have one or two choices if you’re trying to lose weight. Either you accept that your rate of strength improvement is going to be lower, much lower rather, or you just, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to attempt to change my training in a way that my recovery period’s longer.”
That might be a person doing Texas method where the weight goes up every other week, or that they have an extra light so it’d be volume day, light day, light day, intensity day the following week. You just stretch out the recovery period to try to allow that to happen because you’re just having less resources contributing towards recovery. At any rate, if you have somebody who’s trying to get as strong as possible, they’re not trying to cut. They’re just not. It should be noted that that’s different than trying to get as competitive as possible in a weight-class sport, that’s not the same thing. People will say, “Jordan, you’re a 198 pound or a 93 kilo lifter, how come you don’t gain weight?” It’s like, “I’m fairly competitive in my weight class.” Although if you ask Rippetoe, he would say that I’m massively underweight.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Rip will always say you’re underweight no matter what.
Feigenbaum: The first time I met him I think I was 178 pounds. I just took weight at 176 at a meet previously. He’s like, “Feigenbaum, you’d be a real good 275 if you just eat.”
Brett McKay: Right. He told me that a man should weigh at least 200 pounds, you’re not a man if you don’t weigh 200 pounds.
Feigenbaum: I know.
Brett McKay: The first time I met him I was like 185, and then I saw him again like 6 months later like, “Hey, I’m 200 pounds now.” He’s like, “All right, you’re a man.”
Feigenbaum: Did he call you an ant?
Brett McKay: No, he didn’t call me an ant.
Feigenbaum: Did he tell you you were an insect? It’s funny. He’s tempered his recommendation now. Now when I see him he says, “Just do 242, come on, 242.”
Brett McKay: Right, just 242.
Feigenbaum: Right. I know, that’s a kind of a broad question, “What do you do nutrition-wise if you’re trying to get strong?” It’s like, “Well, you need to …” “How’s that different between running and strength training?” I think that in on balance if someone’s not old, not female, and not a vegetarian or vegan they would be best served by putting their protein at about a gram per pound of body weight, eating a higher percentage of their calories from carbohydrates, or the fat, and then adjusting those 2 macro inputs, carbs or fat, up or down depending on what their weight is doing and what they need to do. If you’re trying to gain weight then you need to add carbs and fat on a weekly basis or every other week in order to drive the weight up. Probably don’t need to add protein if you’re doing one gram per pound.
If you’re vegan, or female, if you’re old, you may need a little bit more protein than that to optimally cut out, to have enough protein for recovery. Alternatively, if your calories are super, super high, like if you’re 5,000 calories a day, that’s a lot of carbs and fat which all have traced proteins so you may need a little bit more protein too but that whole argument of how much protein is enough to optimize muscle protein synthesis, that’s like a rabbit hole that I don’t think most people are prepared to go down, even those who have written about it on the internet. It’s just there’s too many complications, too many unknowns to really say confidently, but the gram per pound thing I feel like that’s a very practical recommendation to be honest.
Brett McKay: Okay. I guess the big takeaway here then, you have some specific macro recommendations, but the big takeaway is you have to decide what your goal is when it comes to your fitness. You either want to get stronger, if so just accept the fact you’re going to gain some weight, and if you want to lose weight you said accept the fact that you’re not going to get as strong as you would like.
Feigenbaum: Sure. Right. That’s a decision everyone has to make on their own. My bias is that if you’re untrained right now, if you have not touched a barbell or have not been on a formal strength program, then just get strong. Just get strong. Take 12 weeks out of your life, and just get strong. Don’t worry about losing weight, don’t worry. Just get strong. If you’re overweight, you don’t need to gain weight during this process. You may be okay losing weight slowly during this process if you’re markedly overweight. If you’re just a little overweight, don’t worry, just get strong. You have one chance to really maximize your return on investment at the gym. Don’t worry about losing weight right now. You can do that later. Alternatively, if losing weight is going to make the biggest difference in your life right now, it’s going to make you feel better, it’s going to make you more social, whatever, it’s going to have the highest improvement on your quality of life, then just lose weight. Don’t try to do Starting Strength and lose a bunch of weight. You’re setting yourself up for disaster. At best, you just won’t have very good results. At worst, you’ll get injured and burnt out and end up 20 years later doing yoga and being really skinny, which is fine, no judgement, no judgement.
Brett McKay: This is awesome. I think going to that argument that focus on strength first, one argument can be made of that muscle mass is hard to put on, it’s hard to acquire, but it stays around longer. Body fat is easy to shed, and just through dieting you can get that stuff off. That’s like with old school bodybuilders, they would just get really fat and wear sweats but they’d gain a lot of muscle mass. Then as it got closer to competition, they’d just diet down. They’d lose muscle in the process, but they lost all that fat too.
Feigenbaum: Yeah. It’s, to me, the amount of muscle mass you can acquire is your 401K. It’s super persistent, it’s hard to get, stays around. Even if you were, people will argue in the comment circles, they’ll say, “If you stop right now, the muscle is just going to turn to fat,” which is so …
Brett McKay: Or fat turns into muscle.
Feigenbaum: “Fat turns to muscle,” yes.
Brett McKay: Naturally do that.
Feigenbaum: Yeah, jeez, if I made a supplement that did that we’d be millionaires. Neither of those happen. The other thing is even if you were to stop training, the muscle mass that you have acquired persists, it just stays there. Your muscles will get a little smaller because you’re storing less glycogen in them, the amount of extra protein, non-contract proteins that you have in the muscles will be a little less, or the actually diameter, or size, of the muscle will be a little less, but you lose very little muscle mass when you don’t train unless you’re on like bed rest in a cast or have a muscle losing disease like AIDS. Anyway, you’re not going to lose it, you just spent the time to acquire all this muscle mass that’s going to pay off later.
I think most people, granted we do have an obesity epidemic in the United States, I just feel like all of our methods to combat that have been wildly unsuccessful. “Eat less and do more walking,” that’s just been wildly unsuccessful. I’m like, “Why don’t we just have people strength train?” It’s motivating for a lot of people because you see the progressive results. I know that it’s going to improve metabolic function, or at least has a high potential to. The positive feedback cycle from, “You put in the work, you get to go up, you get better,” it’s good rewards to get people to buy-in and be compliant. Then you can leverage that into changing nutritional habits. Right?
If you were my client, and you and I we’re training together or whatever, and you say, “Hey, look Jordan, that’s great. My squat’s going up, my strength number is getting better. How do I take this to the next level? What do I need to do nutritionally?” That’s an easy in, versus “You should just walk more and eat less.” There is no sort of positive feedback looping that, there’s no sort of way to leverage your walking improvement to dietary changes. I kind of think, “Let’s just get people under a bar, have them get stronger, and then we can address the nutrition along the way. If they need to lose fat after this linear progression then let’s do that.”
Brett McKay: Okay, that’s some solid advice. You can’t have it all. you have to pick your poison.
Feigenbaum: You cannot have it all.
Brett McKay: You can’t have it all. All right. Here’s kind of a more specific question. If you’re on a linear progression or like a Texas method, there’s always the chance you’re going to become over-trained where your body can no longer make the adaption, recover fully. How should diet change if you’re starting to feel over-trained?
Feigenbaum: You and I are assuming that you can be over-trained. Some people would argue there’s no such thing as being over-trained, it’s just under-recovered. You’re like, “Well what’s under-recovered? Isn’t that just the same thing in a different word?” I don’t know. Another podcast, maybe. As far as dietary changes when someone’s over-trained, I think first you have to identify what was the readon for becoming over-trained? Why did someone get to a point where they can no longer progress at the same interval as they were previously? Was it not enough stress, that is like on the Texas method, volume day drives intensity day and intensity day drives volume day. They’re kind of synergistic in that respect. Was one or both of the stimuli not enough to allow you to improve? If that’s the case, then the dietary changes is moot. There’s no dietary change. It’s just one of those variables need to change. Or was it that there was not enough recovery time between stress applications? If there’s not enough recovery between stress applications then you can make the argument that increasing dietary intake, increasing energy intake, mostly by more carbs and fat, may correct for that.
If someone has a really good intensity day, they’re able to go up like they planned, they hit the reps, and then volume day comes around and they just get crushed, you might make the argument that there was not enough recovery that occurred between intensity day and volume day and providing more fuel may augment that. Then you’d also have to make sure that there were no extra life stressors that occurred in this interim. Again, girlfriend or boyfriend didn’t break up with you, didn’t have a deadline at work to meet, because we’ve got pretty good evidence that psychological stress is actually more taxing than physical stress as far as performance is concerned.
If you’ve ruled out all of that other stuff, sleep is good, no extra psychological stress, no massive equipment changes or whatever, then you’re saying, “Well, maybe just not enough recovery occurred.” In which case, adding more fuel, that would be the first line sort of treatment. A small change, 100 calories, 200 calories, is a good idea. I’ve done that in favor of people going out. It’s funny. People will, “Oh, I’ve got a big squat day tomorrow, big volume day. I’m going to go out tonight. I’m going to have pizza, pasta, wings.” The whole thing. Then they show up the next day, they feel terrible, just a bloated mess. Their face is three times their normal size. Their belt doesn’t fit right. All of their warm-ups feel terrible. They feel sluggish. They’re like, “But I ate so much yesterday, I should be fueled up.” It’s like, no, that’s just not the way it works. I would have taken somebody’s base diet and added like 50 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and just see how they do. Just a small change, a little more fuel, see how they do. There’s no reason to just dump a bunch of fuel in there and hope it works out. You just feel terrible.
Brett McKay: Right, no carb loading.
Feigenbaum: Yeah, especially for weight training. What’s the point? Especially if you can’t use your belt. If you’re normally on the third hole and now you have to use your second hole because you’re so bloated, it’s like you’ve just changed the mechanics of all of your lifts so now your technical mastery has gone down just because you ate an extra plate at the buffet.
Brett McKay: Yeah, so don’t do that. Let’s talk about another topic. I’ve done intermittent fasting before and I’ve enjoyed it. It simplifies your life, you don’t have to worry about a meal, but how can intermittent fasting affect strength training? Are there benefits to it or are there a lot of downsides where you just feel like you’d probably be better just sticking with a If It Fits Your Macros type of routine?
Feigenbaum: That’s a good question. I’ll give you the TLDR. It probably doesn’t matter that much. That’s sort of my ultimate thought on it, it probably doesn’t matter that much. From a very nerdy academic side I could make the argument that any period of fasting, any period of fasting that’s different than what you would normally fast on an If It Fits Your Macros type approach, because everyone fasts while they sleep, but the extra 8 hours, waking hours, that you’re fasting on intermittent fasting compared t an If It Fits Your Macros type approach is time spent not undergoing muscle protein synthesis. Effectively a person who’s doing an If It Fits Your Macros type approach could have two or three additional bouts of muscle protein synthesis over the course of a day where an intermittent fasting person couldn’t just because they’re not eating.
Does that make a difference at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months? I don’t know. I think it does. I think if you were a high-level athlete and you’re working out multiple times a day or competing multiple times per day, then I think the argument becomes a little clearer as to you probably shouldn’t do intermittent fasting just because your recovery time is so short. If someone’s doing a Texas method or a Starting Strength thing and they want to do intermittent fasting, I’d be really hard-pressed to say that intermittent fasting won’t work because you have so much time between sessions. The bigger problem is if you can’t get enough food in that window to make your body weight do what it needs to do, then ultimately I think it’s not a good approach. For weight loss, I’ve had people do it just because it would synthesize their life. It almost prevents them from eating too much and they feel full.
Brett McKay: Okay, that’s some good insights there. Let’s talk about this, because this is something that people debate all the time on the forums and on the blog posts. Pre and post workout nutrition. All these things are you have the magic window and there’s a magic window and if you consume things at this magic hour then you will just put on muscle mass and not fat. What’s your approach to pre and post workout nutrition?
Feigenbaum: My general rule of thumb is right when you’re walking into the gym, ideally someone would have 5 to 10 grams of BCAs, they could have their creatine, 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate … someone should be using, and plus or minus some beta alinine, plus or minus some betaine anhydrous, also known as TMG, plus or minus caffeine if they’re into that. The general caffeine dose that’s been shown to be effective is about 3 to 9 milligrams per kilogram which is much greater than a cup of coffee. Anyway, that’s my general pre workout recommendation which is on the Starting Strength nutrition forum and it’s all over the place. Then post workout is the exact same, minus the creatine, minus the caffeine. Effectively you got BCAAs, you got beta alinine, betaine anhydrous. Those are all well-studied supplements, and creatine and caffeine. That’s very simple, very basic, not sexy, but it’s somewhat evidence based and seems to work pretty well.
Brett McKay: What does it do? Like BCAs and all these things, what is the purpose of them?
Feigenbaum: BCA effectively is whey protein on steroids. BCA is leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They effectively will stimulate muscle protein synthesis in and of themselves. You’ve got a little muscle fuel, to simplify it. Beta alinine increases carmicine which is a buffer at the level of the muscle, so it’s been shown to increase time to fatigue. If it normally took you 8 reps to come fatigued, now you can do 10 reps. It tends to support a little bit greater volume tolerance or exercise tolerance. Creatine does a number of things. It’s really well studied, everyone says that and it’s true. Creatine does a number of things. Thing one, it increases water at the level of the muscle. It actually draws water into the cells which is good because a hydrated muscle cell is an anabolic muscle cell. In fact, if you were to try to buy a creatine that said, “You don’t retain water with this creatine,” then effectively what they’ve told you is that creatine’s not useful. That’s one of the ways that it works. Creatine monohydrate does that.
Thing two, it actually increases muscle satellite cell recruitment, so after you train you have a bunch of damaged muscle tissue and you have satellite cell recruitment to the level of the muscle. It helps repair, regenerate, and ultimately make new muscle cell nuclei which are called myonuclei. Each myonuclei is responsible for a certain area of muscle, and the more myonuclei you have, the more muscle protein you can synthesize per bout of muscle protein synthesis. That’s one of the things testosterone does. Testosterone increases the number of myonuclei at the level of a muscle which means that every time that you’re exposed to a stimulus that causes muscle protein synthesis, you can generate more muscle protein which means your muscles get bigger. Creatine does that, but on a much lower level than testosterone.
The other thing that creatine does is increase intracellular energy sources, so that’s ATP, effectively. Which is why there was some study for using creatine and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, all these neurological disease, Cerebral palsy as well. It’s been really well studied, super safe, there’s no counter indications to using creative. Everyone should use creatine, your grandma, everyone in your family should be on creatine in my opinion. Anyway, that’s way too much than anyone ever wanted to know about creatine. That’s one of the things I recommend. Betaine anhydrous, it’s from beets, made from beets. It’s an antioxidant. It basically helps drive muscle protein synthesis by combating free radicals at the level of the muscle. It’s effectively been dubbed the new creatine. It’s pretty well supported. Just very simple. It’s a pre workout post workout nutrition, you kind of get all your supplementation done for the day.
The idea that there’s this post workout window that you must get all of your food in because it’s magical is BS. It is true that as you, let’s say you finish your workout at time zero, it absolutely 48 hours later than that the rate of muscle protein synthesis is less. That is true, but it’s nearly maximal for most of the 28 hours until it finally tapers off. That means that if you got done training at time zero and you didn’t eat anything until 2 hours later, you’re fine. You’re still taking advantage of that post workout window, and if you’re only training 3 times a week, this is a non-issue. Post workout nutrition is a non-issue. If you’re training multiple times per day or competing multiple times per day, then absolutely post workout nutrition is much, much more important, but for the average person who’s training a handful of times per week it’s just not.
People will ask me, “What kind of carb should I use post workout?” I’m like, “I don’t know, what kind of carbs do you like to eat? Potatoes, rice, whatever you want.” It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. The only kind of hard line I have on this is your pre or post workout meals should ideally be lower in fat than your other meals. That’s the only.
Brett McKay: Why is that?
Feigenbaum: If you put a gun to my head and said, “Jordan, where should I purchase most of my energy?” I would say, “Hey, let’s make your pre workout meal, the actual meal you have, a little higher in carbohydrates and let’s make your post workout meal a little bit higher in carbohydrates,” just because to the effect that this nutrient partitioning effect of the workout is real, which it’s a little real, but overall doesn’t really matter. We can leverage that. This is especially important, or more important I’ll say than somebody who’s trying to lose weight or who’s trying to optimize body composition. It’s just a little thing we can do to try to tip the scale towards the direction we want to go.
If the meal is higher energy in carbohydrates, then I would prefer to keep that lower so that we can use that in other meals to make other meals more satiating versus them just being protein only. It’s high protein, low carb, low fat, that would be not a very full or rewarding meal for most folks. Then additionally fat tends to slow down the emptying of the stomach, gastric emptying, so the amount when you take in a meal it would actually not get into your small intestine and then not into your blood stream as quickly if you have a bunch of fat or fiber with that meal. Having a bunch of fat in the meal would actually slow down any sort of time related process that we’re trying to push. If we’re trying to get fuel into the system to automate recovery, I’d probably keep that low.
Then finally, as a third thing, imagine you have this high energy meal, lot of carbohydrates because you’re following my recommendation, and then you also have a bunch of fat. You’re going to push carbohydrates into the muscle, that’s true, but any extra is going to stored as fat and any extra fat is also going to be stored as fat. There’s really no reason to have a super high energy meal that has both energy components post workout. I feel like there’s enough negatives to the situation that you might want to just … Would it matter over the course of a year? I don’t know, probably not, probably not, but I just have this bias towards low fat pre and post workout.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. You mentioned some supplements that you recommend. Are there any supplements that you see a lot of guys taking that are just like, “That’s a waste of money. You’re just pissing that away.”
Feigenbaum: Yeah, so many. You remember the deer antler.
Brett McKay: Yeah, deer velvet or whatever.
Feigenbaum: Yeah. There’s a company, I think it’s like TEN Performance that’s pushing it in the crossfit scene and I think it’s just bullshit. If you could take hormones, like an insulin, IGF1 is what it’s supposed to improve, so that’s insulin growth factor 1, if you could take insulin by mouth then diabetics wouldn’t have to give themselves injections, right? Pharmaceutical sales is heavily invested in getting orally available insulin agents and they haven’t been able to figure it out yet, so yes, the deer velvet extract, whatever the hell it is, deer antler stuff, does it have IGF1 in it? Yes, but you can’t absorb it so it’s bullshit.
People taking these antioxidant supplements is dumb. There’s no reason, no evidence to support that. People taking ZMA, “Oh, it helps me sleep better,” I mean, the magnesium is kind of a sedative, we give it to pregnant women if they’re hypertensive or there’s a seizure risk or whatever, but ZMA is not … I wouldn’t take it. It’ll also make you poop a lot if you overdose on the magnesium. Just saying.
Brett McKay: Because of the magnesium, yeah.
Feigenbaum: Yeah, good or bad. Right? The glucosamine chondroitin stuff, the evidence is very, very poor on it. In fact, the evidence right now suggests that the glucosamine chondroitin, when it’s connected to a sulfate molecule, that it actually may be the sulfate that is effective. Interestingly, in Australia that’s prescription only if it’s connected to a sulfate. If it’s connected to another molecule, if it’s keylated to another molecule, it’s not prescription. Other dumb things, melatonin, unbalanced melatonin makes you fall asleep about 2 minutes faster, but doesn’t have any evidence that restoring sleep architecture or making you sleep better. It’s got a really short half life. The placebo effect is real, so if you’re listening to this podcast and you like melatonin, don’t stop taking it. It’s just placebo effects are real.
Pretty much anything that’s ever been marketed to crossfitters, so anything from Progenex or PurePharma works pretty awful. It’s overpriced. Progenex has a fish protein, it’s $95 or something per container which is outrageous, and it’s under the guise that it’s better, but whey protein is the king and it’s fairly inexpensive. You’re paying double for fish protein, it’s not any better, they’re just luring you’re in by saying it’s better and it’s not. Whey protein concentrate is actually one of the cheapest whey proteins you can get and if you can tolerate it it’s better. When I say tolerate it, there’s a molecule in the protein called beta lactalbumin which sometimes messes with people’s GI tracts so they’ll take whey and get a little queasy. In that case I’d recommend a whey protein isolate, that’s the only time I would recommend an isolate over a concentrate though because concentrate is cheaper, has a higher lucine content which is one of the BCAs we were talking about, and it’s cheaper so I would recommend that. It’s just all that stuff, it’s overpriced, it’s not effective, and I feel like if you’re going to spend your money on something it should be worthwhile. There’s a bunch of crooks out there is the deal. It makes me upset, as you may or may not have noticed.
Brett McKay: Yeah, spend money on actual food.
Feigenbaum: Right, or don’t. Save it, donate it. There’s a bunch of charities, research could use your money, I could use your money. Paypal it. Send me a donation.
Brett McKay: Hire Jordan as your vitamins consultant.
Brett McKay: Speaking of, Jordan, this has been a great conversation. We’ve got into some nitty gritty. We’ve nerded out on a lot of topics. You’ve got a lot of great content on your website, Barbell Medicine. Where can people find out more about your work and possibly work with you as a diet consult?
Feigenbaum: Sure, yeah. I do nutrition and programming consultations and lifestyle stuff. The website, BarbellMedicine.com, there’s a contact form there. Social media, it’s Jordan_BarbellMedicine on Instagram. My Facebook is open and public. You can email me, it’s info@BarbellMedicine.com. Happy to talk about anything. The more scientific, the better, or if you just want to talk training. Always available.
Brett McKay: Awesome. Jordan Feigenbaum, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Feigenbaum: All right. Have a good day, man.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Jordan Feigenbaum, he’s a medical doctor, Starting Strength coach, and diet consultant. You can find more information about his work at BarbellMedicine.com.
That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at ArtOfManliness.com and if you enjoy the show and have got something out of it I’d appreciate if you give us a review on iTunes Stitcher. It really helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: October 12, 2016