Muscle for life – Menno Henselmans on Reasons to Stop Taking Diet Breaks

Categories: Videos & podcasts

A brief summary of the existing studies on diet breaks. Interviewed by Mike Matthews from Muscle for Life.


0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!

15:01 – Is it okay to cut for 8 months straight? and should I incorporate breaks?

24:24 – Why is it important to let off the breaks in exercise?

34:20 – Is it okay to have little maintenance periods?

39:43 – Is it true that when you go from a cut or maintenance into a calorie surplus you don’t notice all the benefits right away?

47:10 – Is there a general rule of thumb for the number of exposures to unhealthy foods?

48:48 – Are there simple techniques to introduce healthy foods into your diet?

53:50 – Where can people find you and your work?

Transcript – auto generated

Hey there, I am Mike Matthews this is muscle for life, thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the ever evolving science of effective fat loss and specifically today you’re going to be learning about diet breaks which have gained a lot of popularity in the last year or so particularly in the evidence-based Fitness space and mostly because a couple of studies that have come out in the last couple of years now.

This is research that I have written about and spoken about over the last couple of years and I have endorsed diet breaks to a degree not as dogmatically as some people have some people have looked at that research and concluded that cutting with diet breaks is better for everyone always if you are not taking diet breaks you are making a mistake I never agreed with that position rather my position has been that diet breaks do appear to be a useful tool that certain people might want to use under certain circumstances but not everybody needs to use and so in today’s episode you are going to be learning about some new research that supports that position as well as some of the flaws in the previous research that has been used to sell the diet break as a universal win and your instructor for today is not going to be me but it’s going to be my friend meno henselman’s who has been on the podcast many times one of my favorite thought leaders in the evidence-based Fitness space he is a former business consultant turned International public speaker educator writer and published scientist and in this interview meno and I chat about why diet breaks have become so popular in the last year or two meno is going to break down this new diet break study that he was involved in and he’s going to explain how it was designed and how it was conducted and how it differs from the previous studies and why those differences matter and memo is going to also explain why he thinks that diet breaks are mostly a waste of time for most people and what they should do instead if they want to get better results in their Cuts if they want to lose fat faster if they want to experience less hunger and just have an all-around better time of it hello Menno.

Thank you for taking time to come back on my podcast I appreciate it pleasure as always and so this discussion is going to be about diet breaks and you know what’s funny this discussion this topic reminds me a little bit of reverse dieting when that was first becoming popular when I guess you could say there was some evidence-based speculation that maybe that is the best way to go when you’re coming out of a cut at least and if you don’t have to reverse diet but if you’re not reverse dieting you’re probably missing out on some benefits or making it harder than it needs to be and I think that the the evidence-based consensus on that has changed and so it reminds me a little bit of of diet breaks because I see a lot of people now speaking very conclusively very definitively about diet breaks in a similar way like if you are not incorporating diet breaks into your cut you’re not necessarily doing it wrong you probably could be doing it more right and you’re probably making it harder than it needs to to be therefore you should always consider diet breaks so with that I’m going to give the mic over to you and I want to hear your thoughts and go through this research that you are involved in and hear what your advice currently would be I think it’s a very apt analogy between Diet breaks and reverse dieting because both are essentially ways that are purported to reduce the effect of the dieting on our metabolism appetites Psychology by means of changing the temporality if you will of the of the diet like having breaks or refeeds this kind of also the same ballpark or reverse dieting basically playing around with the time variable of the diet and that’s supposed to outsmart the body essentially I’ve always been skeptical of all these things because most research if you look at like the physiology of trying to outsmart body in these senses it’s very difficult these homeostatic mechanisms are very tightly regulated and they are are set at the appropriate benchmarks meaning concretely that for example leptin which is one target that people have tried to manipulate a lot with carbohydrate intake and refeeds leptin response to cumulative energy balance which means it’s essentially impossible to to fake that right the only way you can raise leptin is by raising the cumulative energy balance and well that’s of course counter to the whole purpose of being an energy deficit and you can’t just do it for one day because some people that would be their response it’d be like yeah well that’s why your refeed is high carb for the weekend yeah and then you get well the idea is then you also get very transient spike in leptin that goes back down after when you get back into energy deficits we also have that research on leptin that’s it’s not enough to just go back into the deficit you have to actually undo the energy Surplus before you get back into the same level of fat loss and then leptin is also back at the same level so yeah Latin and energy balance just correlate extremely strongly over time and it’s almost impossible to to fake or outsmart mechanism same with thyroid metabolism thyroid metabolism is extremely robust same to a large extent with things like blood sugar but it’s a bit of a different topic in any case as to diet breaks concretely we recently did a study on diet breaks where we tested this ID because okay we know if we have this research on leptin and refeeds and I like but we don’t have that much research on diet breaks despite a lot of even evidence-based professionals really advocating them as you say as if they are quite soundly evidence-based and that’s really not the case most research so far has found neutral effects some researchers found slight negative effects

I think the first study by wing and Jeffrey or whatever they found that the effects were not as negative as they expected meaning that the diet breaks which at the time they thought would be detrimental to adherence they were not detrimental to adherence but they did found that people had some difficulty getting back into their habits and their routines and those types of diet and training behaviors and especially over the long term those became somewhat detrimental also based on that study interestingly where people interpret as oh so they’re not bad so they’re good and the study actually kind of showed well they’re they’re not a negative but they’re just a waste of time for some reason that’s kind of fostered the idea of it being positive and then a few subsequent studies whole found neutral effects and then the big swing came with the Matador study which became super popular and it essentially found that like a two-week diet break every two weeks

I think it was resulted in magically Superior fat loss and higher maintenance of your resting energy metabolism to arresting metabolic rate and there were a lot of issues with that study for one for the resting metabolic rate it did not actually significantly differ between groups but they had some statistical Wizardry by which they adjusted despite not specifying how they adjusted it based on their body composition then they said oh well after the adjustment we saw it was better in the dietary group diet adherence was terrible and also not well controlled because I figured let’s study the Criterion for complying with the diet was not gaining weight when they were supposed to be losing weight that’s pretty lenient right it’s not like if you’re not on target then you’re not compiled with diets like well if you’re not going in a completely opposite direction of what you want you to do then you’re good also the data essentially showed that the non-diabrae group was it seven weeks or so into the study they kind of got maximum fat loss and then they kind of just stopped progressing like they were just Plateau which is often the case in obese men that don’t want to be on a diet and they’re just doing it for the experiment the dietary groups seemed to kind of be able to push on a little bit longer and therefore ended up with greater total fat loss so it was mostly a matter of diet adherence in a context that’s not really relevant for serious strength trainees and they came I think one or two more studies with neutral effects that didn’t really become popular we had the ice cap study and our current study which were very similar conducted at the same time they both were also similar in design and similar in finding so what we did is we yeah well strength trained women go on a diet either in one stretch or with diet breaks in between and we did one week diet break after every two weeks of dieting that’s a little much but we wanted to stick kind of to The Matador study design which even at two week diet breaks after every two weeks but we’re like yeah that’s clearly you know nonsensical

Nobody Does that so we we did it one week every two weeks we also adjusted the volume because in the previous research although I didn’t seem to matter they just did the same training volume which meant that the diet break group was essentially doing multiple extra weeks of strength training at maintenance energy intake so we adjusted the volume to be the same over the groups on average as a whole same average deficit well controlled for diet adherence serious energy deficit 25 energy deficit and then we measured like everything so body composition measurements strength variables eight different measurements of psychological constructs like hunger ease of sticking to the diet overall diet adherence and nutrition rates and we found on all of these things that there were no significant differences between groups except for two measurements which are both questionable relevance one is that on the at home measurement of body composition so we did two measurements one better with lab grade and one at home with by a scales and they’re not very reliable but the by a skills actually found that the die break group lost more lean body mass so the better measurements did not verify that so I wouldn’t put any stock into it but clearly the data did not show a superior muscle retention effect of the diet breaks then the only other significant difference between the groups was that the diet break group in in our study had a lower this inhibition it’s a double negative yeah double inhibition is kind of already it’s like a triple negative so it basically means less compulsion so this inhibition is like when the same effect you would get when you’re intoxicated as in with alcohol that you’re just doing what you want is kind of impulsive and in terms of diet adherence that could mean that you know if you’re more impulsive you’re more likely to snack and the like it didn’t actually change their eating behaviors like their actual eating behaviors did not differ between groups it did not make a difference in their actual diet adherence so how was that measured just there were questions related to how they felt then yeah I had F surface for all these things but it wasn’t based on actual Behavior it was just how they felt I guess we did both exactly so it’s like they reported that they were less disinhibited based on those survey results but in their actual actions they were not actually speak louder than words if you ask me I wouldn’t put my stock into a plus like a statistical terms there is a significant chance of a type one error when you measure so many different things it’s quite likely that one of these things ends up being different between group just by chance like the more things you measure the more likely it is that some of these things you’re just gonna accidentally find the difference that’s not really there so because there’s always some noise in the data you know the groups are not exactly the same they’re different women maybe something happens in the the lives of some of the women not in the others blah blah you know and and when you say find a difference just for people listening you mean a difference that would appear to check out in terms of statistical significance but actually is caused by something other than what you think exactly so when it you get a statistically significant difference which means the data show that the or the statistical algebra shows that it’s unlikely to be due to chance or it seems that way but actually it is probably a chance because you’ve tested so many things that sometimes that just slips through the cracks if you will and the ice cap study which is very similar to ours they also found similar findings like no difference overall I’m not sure if they measure this inhibition directly but they also found no difference between groups the vast majority of all these measures and they again they subjected their subject to a whole battery of tests and the only difference they found was lower appetite in the diabetic group but again not enough to change eating behavior and I think it was they measured appetite in four different ways and a different on one but not the other three and also not on actual energy inside right so again that’s very questionable relevance and we did not find any difference in appetite or prospective consumption any of these measurements so overall I would say that especially if you combine it with the previous studies most literature at this point finds that diet breaks are essentially a waste of time they don’t achieve anything a worse outcome that many people realize because many people are like well in one study you know lower this Innovation one study maybe less appetites you know overall maybe a trend Works positive effects of diet breaks you’re spending weeks extra on a diet so in our case it was 33 percent more time on a diet I think in the ice cap study was 25 more time on a diet so that’s been one week per three or four weeks of dieting that you add to that and you’re achieving nothing and in the ice cap study even they were still doing their full volume of strength training as well and that they didn’t even seem to make a difference overall I would say it’s not just that it’s ineffective is that you’re actually investing effort into it that’s not paying off right you could have spent that time cutting like cutting further or bulking or which I think is in the vast majority of cases the better solution when people need my diet break or they feel it could be helpful is to just diet more slowly my big deal with a diet break for most people is that when you feel the need for a diet break that should be a red flag that should tell you okay I currently feel like I can’t sustain this and if you can’t sustain the diet that is of course that’s a huge problem and especially in terms of long-term like lifestyle management if you don’t feel like you can sustain what you’re doing now you should change what you’re doing and a Diet break isn’t going to solve anything it’s essentially sticking your head in the sand because you’re going to take a break then afterwards you’re going to come back and you’re going to see if the problem’s still there and yes it will be because you’re going to go back into the same energy deficit if you’re going to do the same things you’re going to get the same outcome again so I think die breaks are very much a kind of a wishful thinking mindset both we can try to outsmart the body in a way and it sounds great you can take a break and you get better results on top of that just like refeeds it’s a very easy sell you know like hey for one day of the week you can eat pancakes all you want and you’re gonna get better results as at the end of time that’s kind of how it sounds for people so it’s an easy sell it’s kind of wishful thinking but really it just doesn’t do anything and so then bringing this to to maybe some practical scenarios I think a baseline then if I’m hearing you correctly is if you are starting a cutting phase try to get to your goal as quickly as you sustainably can without having to suffer or maybe I’m putting words in your mouth so be curious then to your thoughts on this position if though you reach a point like you know I’m thinking of people I’ve heard from over the years who they have a lot of fat to lose realistically if we do this in a healthy sustainable manner it is going to take many months it might take even upward of a year so those people I’ve heard from many of them over the years who ask is it okay for me to just cut for eight months

Is it okay to cut for 8 months straight? and should I incorporate breaks? straight and then the follow-up question is should I incorporate breaks anywhere or like at what point do I need to or is it just it’s been many months I’m fatigued it’s kind of just a psychological break and I know those are two things in terms of should we just try to get to our body comp goal as quickly as we can and then maybe if you can just address this other common scenario that and it’s understandable when people are thinking about the prospect of dieting for the next six eight ten twelve months to reach a healthy body comp yeah if you have a lot of fat to lose you have a lot of time that you have to die it sounds it’s a common question from client City where they feel like hey I’m doing this for a long time now and I love the results but I feel like maybe I should give my body a break or some kind right and it’s good to realize that physically your health is only improving more and more fat loss is one of the best things you can do for your health almost any metric you can think of for health outcomes at least until you get to like you know contest prep level body fat levels blood pressure heart rate cholesterol levels blood sugar insulin sensitivity all of these things improve with fat loss and substantially there are very few things you can do that improve them as much yeah your body is actually thriving what you’re doing if you’re losing a lot of fats is good it’s going to make you healthier so there’s no need from a physical perspective to take a break in that sense and even encounter scrap you could say well then it’s maybe not so healthy to diet further but then taking a break you’re spending more time at such a low body fat level and the body fat level is probably the bigger concern of the energy deficit unless you have like acute nutrient deficiency or something so even then it wouldn’t be a big fan of brakes but yeah it feels contradutive that you can just diet for such a long period and just keep losing fat but yeah that is the truth that is how it is and the body functions super well and that it even thrives and would that also apply to people who have less fat to lose I’ll get the same question from people who maybe they only really need two to four months to reach their body composition goal but sometimes they’re concerned that because they’re starting they might even be starting with a healthy body composition like it’s a guy between 15 and 20 body fat nothing wrong with that training regularly blah blah blah and he wants to get to 10 just for the sake of vanity just wants to have good ABS so sometimes people in that position are concerned that because they’re already starting in a healthy range and then they’re getting down to not an unhealthy level but if they try to be too aggressive with that then that’s going to cause problems and by too aggressive it’s usually kind of arbitrary like they get this idea that they can’t run a 20 or 25 percent deficit that’s too aggressive or if they are going to do that they do need to incorporate some refeeds or Diet breaks I guess you could say that’s one camp and then the other Camp that’s at least reasonable in the recommendation is no just be fairly aggressive don’t get Reckless and just get to your goal yeah so I’m mostly in the latter camp but there are two potential problems for one there are such a thing as on an healthy body fat level like at some points even if you get really really lean you will start dipping into essential body fat levels and that’s definitely no bueno and before that point you’re at least thinking anabolic hormone levels and increasing cortisol levels increasing your stress susceptibility and even physically still many things improve at that point in terms of health biomarkers you certainly aren’t going to feel like you’re still thriving most people in my experience they don’t get there though even people they might think a guy might you know send a picture and think he’s seven percent body fat but no AB veins no seven percent I’m sorry like we’re talking no it’s more like 13. yeah exactly I recently put up a guide on my website with like validated dexa scans underwater weighing and the like with body fat pictures of a lot of people at wide range of body fat levels a guide for men and for women and the general response is uh oh damn I’m I’m not as lean as I thought which is yeah very much the case and especially guys think like if they have some semblance of app visibility or they think they will have happens ability soon they must be closing in on ten percent whereas in reality if you have a decent amount of muscle mass 15 you have abs you have probably four pack one Flex or something and then ten percent is like ripped it’s like full six pack for most people especially when you’re flexing but even when you’re not flexing you’ll probably have some app visibility ten percent is a lead they’re still the big difference and the lower you get also the harder the psychological difference like 12 to 10 is a different ballpark than 20 to 18 any case so there’s such a thing as an healthy body for love and there’s also such a thing as an overly aggressive energy deficit so most research finds that the more fat you have the greater the energy deficit you can get away with and not risk muscle loss or severe repercussions for your anabolic hormone levels or just overall have worse results in terms of B ratio like you lose excessive muscle or strain for whatever if you’re obese most research finds that there’s essentially no such thing as them to being too aggressive like you need to get lean yesterday so anything you can do to lose fat is good and the more fat you lose the better that’s pretty much what the research consensus at this point is for for obesity because the risk of muscle loss is super low especially if you’re not very muscular yet you have not that much muscle mass you have a lot of fat pants so the body will almost always catabolize the fat lines when you’re an energy deficit now the more muscle you have the leaner you are the more risk there is of going into excess energy deficit so if you’re like 10 body fat or true 10 body fat as a guy and you go into 50 energy deficit you are almost certainly going to lose muscle mass and then no amount of refilling or Diet breaking is really going to solve that issue I mean you could if you refeed like every three days or every week or something it’s one way to cut the damage but much better is just to diet more slowly at that point that’s basically the issue should really be aware of and the diet break is just either a Band-Aid or a stop gap on the the overly aggressive energy deficit and I do actually see that some people that have success with diet breaks and free feeds they fall into exactly this camp like they tie it too aggressively and then they found well when I started introducing a refeed day I got much better results and that’s because they actually did because now their weekly average energy deficit was much more reasonable than it was before I don’t think it’s as popular now as it was years ago but the protein sparing modify fast approach where I remember many years ago it might have been Lyle who first popularized that and a lot of people I mean I think you could argue for its use in certain cases but it became popular at least for a period kind of in the Gen fit crowd and it was I guess kind of cool that you could lose a lot of fat quickly but then you also quickly feel terrible and if you try to keep going you then start losing a lot of muscle and you also experience that your workouts go to and so then it’s it’s trying to make up for that by then eating larger amounts of food on like so maybe it’s you know psmf for three to five days followed by several days of refeeding I would argue and I did argue back then that that process is just more stressful it’s more trouble than it’s worth like if you just look at the results of of a more moderate approach and the goal is to reach a certain body composition you’re probably gonna have a better time of it just doing it in a less exotic manner like yeah it’s more mundane it’s not as sexy and it doesn’t stimulate much conversation in the gym but on the whole I think it’s gonna work better for most people with the exception being maybe very overweight people who you know maybe you can make an argument that hey making progress is motivating and when you have a lot of weight to lose it can be a bit daunting to think about how much time this is going to take and if you can start very aggressively and feel okay you know lose five pounds a week that can be exciting and so maybe you kick-start it with that and then transition into something more sustainable yeah that’s reasonable there’s even a math analysis that finds that people on average are more successful in the long run as well when they adopt that strategy because short-term results are very motivating and it means it’s Foster space in the process and just you know people like having um quick results and usually also they start at the higher body fat also they can also tolerate this quite as well like you can can do that if you’re again a true temperature body fat as a guy you could do it for a day yeah exactly and that’s what I do with some clients I have like psmf days so if for example if someone trains six days per week then I will have like seventh day often I do like a psmf day in clients especially more advanced clients and people actually there’s some research that people tolerate that better I could improve diet adherence I think on average people prefer to do things like one aggressive diet day and then eat more the whole rest of the week as opposed to the opposite and there’s also a nice research from brain’s frequency Theory it basically says how we perceive happiness and how difficult something is in general if you have one data really sucks in a week it makes all the other days appear better whereas if you have one day per week depth it’s really awesome like Pancake refeed Day then it makes all the other days appear worse most of your life should be like your content your overall good and you have a few times in your life where when it’s really tough most people that have their life dads are actually happier than people that have an overall crappy life with some moments of extreme Bliss in between that’s interesting I I like the overlay of that on dieting I like also

Why is it important to let off the breaks in exercise? that in a at least in a conceptual way it’s kind of the opposite of diet breaks instead of taking periods of time to let off the gas so to speak to use a trite cliche it’s doing the opposite it’s getting even more aggressive periodically you mentioned one day a week and I know it’s maybe a little bit off topic but I think it might be helpful for people listening if you could share a little bit more details of how you set that up because I’m sure some people are curious because it sounds appealing like you know that’s something that I’ve done maybe not strict psmf but just where a lot of my calories are coming from protein because I’m not training on that day and you know this is maybe more when I was younger and a bit more physiologically Invincible anyway so might as well just take advantage of that but be willing to do one pretty low calorie day mostly protein with a little bit of nutritious stuff thrown in so I’m not starving just to lose that much more fat in in the week yeah I think it’s easier to implement as well than many people realize you can just have one day where instead of say you have a thousand calorie deficit that you want to get over the week you can get that in one or two days that you have a 500 calorie net deficit as opposed to like only a little bit of deficit every single day what about larger numbers though because a lot of people listening their idea of cutting just to give you context is probably going to be a bit closer to like a daily deficit three thousands yeah yeah three to five hundred daily you know daily calorie deficit yeah you can still do that and probably you’re gonna have to have one data that’s more aggressive or one or two days typically when you get to like every other day you can still do it that way but it kind of loses its purpose because it’s now a lot of the time and it’s not just one or two days that you’re going hard anymore so most of the time it’s one or two days almost always non-training days in various cases like a bikini competitor has a overly large upper body or something or you need to lose muscle somewhere you can actually train on the psmf day but for most people I think it’s much better to train on the days where you eat more and then on your rest days you do the psmf days you still want to get your protein in the big misconception on bsmf days I think at least in terms of sustainability and actually incorporating this as a lifestyle that the goal is not literally to minimize energy intake that’s kind of what the protein sparing modified fast is like you’re fasting except that you’re getting your protein in that’s kind of the idea of a PS math yeah yeah usually you’ll see anywhere from 600 to 800 calories for the day yeah which is like so I just get protein powder all day I guess exactly so that’s really not sustainable and then it definitely isn’t going to improve diet adherence and maybe very short term you could do something like that but also you can have nutrient deficiencies it doesn’t build habits that you want to build like my method is that it actually kind of forces you to have really good habits so it does all the things that you can do long term but in a very aggressive way so what I recommend is you still get your protein in which is going to be the same on other days some people argue more I think most research finds has done true you don’t need more especially if it’s on a rest day then I set calories at I found between 8 and 210 calories per gram of protein to be a range that is aggress massive but sustainable when implemented as you know a few days per week eight is is really as low as I would get and that’s I found that actually 8.3 uh interestingly by analyzing a lot of meal plans I found that lowest for people that are really good at dieting what they can get is like 8.3 calories per gram of protein because in this ratios of certain foods you know when you look at the foods that actually people eat like Greek yogurt chicken breast they have certain ratios of calories of protein if you start going below that you indeed default to like pure protein powder or some it doesn’t work between 8 and 10 is as low as I would go and typically I would set that at a level depending on you know what’s realistic for the clients and then if they can go lower than that without being hungry but most people will want to fill up all of those calories with specifically super low energy density food so lots of veggies soups lots of fibrous fruits lean protein sources and you still want to get a lot of food in you don’t want to just starve yourself so the idea of a fast I think kind of goes out the window is like a very low calorie day but you are eating a lot of food I mean also what’s a high protein fast anyway I mean exactly it’s those make much sense but I mean the name is good I guess sounds interesting psmf probably scoring modified fast fasting is Super Hot Topic these days I’m assuming the sparing it we’re talking about lean muscle protein actually is what it’s referring to like you’re sparing your lean and it’s a modified fast because it’s just not a fast exactly that’s the same with researchers and they often talk about alternate day fasting and then they’re also actually referring to low calorie days they’re not actually fasting and it’s also not actually on Alternate days so it’s it’s yeah the word fasting has become very um watered down so yeah I think that’s mostly how you want to set it up so and that also guarantees that you still get all of your micros in good nutrients lots of fiber and your body has all the nutrients it needs while you’re still in a big energy deficit for that day good advice let’s come back to diet breaks you’ve mentioned this point of it taking longer so if you incorporate diet breaks it just takes longer I made a mental note I wanted to get you to expound on that a little bit just on the importance and you’ve been coaching for a long time you’ve worked with lots of people you see aside from what research shows about the duration of dieting and how that relates to adherence but also in the real world with real people just I wanted to come back to that because in my experience having this discussion with many people mostly over email but over the years people who are newer I think that they don’t quite appreciate how much better it is to keep your cutting phases as short as you can within reason without doing silly things and there are a number of reasons for this I know you’ve written about these things you talk about this thing so I just thought it would be worth getting a little bit more of your thoughts on this point of duration what are some of the the more common ramifications of making a diet take twice as long or 50 percent longer because you have these unnecessary periods of Maintenance interspersed throughout I think for a lot of people especially when you get to the advanced level it’s really important to have a good ratio of cutting to bulking in your life like over a year on average because the once you’re at a body fat level you can get to a body fat level that you like you found kind of this is the optimal range for you based on your goals then essentially what you’re doing is you’re just lean bulking and then cutting off the fat that you gain during the boat so your results are directly proportional to the time you can spend bulking the more time you can book the more time you’re actually gaining something and then you just get back to you know that same ideal modify level and for most people I find that they do to whether it’s holidays or cutting periods that take too long diet breaks or whatever they end up needing way too much time to cut or cutting with a lot of you know breaks and holidays and whatever in between and they don’t spend a lot of time actually gaining I know people who I swear they always they’re always cutting yes exactly but never getting super lean yes because of oh then there was the the vacation and then there was uh they had to go to the wedding and then it was the holiday and their perception also is like I’m always cutting why am I why am I always cutting and I think it for many people actually works a lot better to lean bulk through those periods especially if you’re going holiday like don’t try to cut just make it a lean book and try to actually make it a lean both you know don’t dream or bulk because then you can do maintenance damage in one week and you’re gonna actually enjoy that more and also your hunger is going to be a lot lower so if you can get the cut over with before that time and then I’m not too sure holiday has a diet break but make sure that you’re actually already lean bulky into the holiday and leave booking throughout the holiday or whatever off periods we’re talking about we’re also much less likely to overeat because you have to add benefit of lower left levels less appetite higher energy expenditure and also the knowledge that you know you’re already lean bulking you don’t feel as deprived anymore you also know that the next week you’re also still going to be bulking when it’s like the die break gone wrong often that happens because people feel really restricted and they’re like oh I have to take advantage this is my moment

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Is it okay to have little maintenance periods? and another question that people have asked me specifically regarding diet breaks and maintenance periods is and this would be this would be relevant even to somebody like me probably somebody like you I don’t lean bulk anymore because I’m pretty happy with the amount of muscle that I have I’ll take more muscle in my calves which you might be specifically happy to know I’m training my calves every day that’s my calf routine it’s five days a week three to four sets per session variety of rep ranges and it’s working my calves are finally growing that’s what it takes however I haven’t lean bolt and I think that you can probably make an argument for some people that being in a maintenance phase but where it’s you’re still progressing in your training so you are slowly gaining some muscle and strength you would gain more muscle and strength if you were lean bulking but you don’t care to because you don’t want to get fatter or I mean for me for most people probably in mind this might be similar to you I don’t really care I kind of like my body how it looks I don’t particularly want to get fatter and lean bulking is fun for maybe the first month or so it’s kind of cool to eat more food your workouts are real nice your sleep gets better energy levels but then it becomes tedious it’s Force feeding and I don’t particularly enjoy that from like probably month two on it’s not very enjoyable so if you can set up maintenance in a way to produce progress which of course you can some people have used that to try to argue for the diet breaks in that basically what the argument comes down to is by inserting these little maintenance periods and if you are inserting them fairly often you are allowing yourself in some cases it comes down to a body recomp kind of argument where yeah maybe your diet is taking longer now but you’re coming out of it with an even better body composition because you have these maintenance periods that allow you to gain muscle that you otherwise wouldn’t have gained that’s an interesting or it’s a plausible argument the data simply don’t support it we have multiple studies now that look at this and then they’re not even accounting for the longer time period yet spent on the diet right they’re just outside comparing one group with the diet one group with the same diet and diet breaks so you have additional time and they still don’t get better results the data don’t support that that’s the case and probably it’s because that one week of being at maintenance simply is not enough to make physiological changes especially if you’re a more advanced trainee one week at maintenance is you’re just not going to build much if any muscle and then in that time frame so you really need to be either going into energy Surplus or which I think is the much more beneficial course of action to be in a much longer lean bow slash maintenance phase and I think for an adult friend in particular maintenance I mean bulking are going to be very close depends on how adaptive your metabolism is some people can really ramp up the calories but for most people it’s actually not the difference it also depends how lean you want to stay how much do you care about your abs because again in my case I kind of like to keep the look that I have and you probably do the same thing anybody who has stayed relatively lean where okay I have full ABS whatever the body fat percentage that don’t really care but it’s a look that I like to stay like that ultimately what that means is my maintenance is I have to kind of err on the side of eating a little bit less rather than a little bit more because if I err on the side of eating a little bit more too much then I get fatter and then I have to do a little mini cut to get back there’s also that point of if you were to really look at it maintenance plus leanness means that you’re probably in a slight calorie deficit more often than you’re in a slight calorie Surplus or you’re certainly no better than 50 50. yeah that’s true so I think if you want to maximize muscle growth the lean bulking approach is the way to go you could do like mini Cuts but I do with like some Mill appliances relatively maybe three to four weeks bulk one week cut something like that and then with female clients that still have their menstrual cycle I actually use menstrual periodization for some of them which means that you bulk in the follicular phase you cut in a luteal phase and as a result you take advantage of the hormonal shift so research and multiple Studies have found that doing more work more volume in the follicular phases actually improves gains on average as opposed to doing the volume spread out or more in the luteal phase so you can kind of recomp that way for men this doesn’t work as much you’re you’re kind of screwing with the measurements every two weeks and women you naturally have that that the measurements are going to be offset due to the menstrual cycle I find that that works well in women and also they typically burn more on the side of fat loss and men prefer more on the side of I wanted to maximize muscle growth so the ratio is a little bit different but yeah that can work well and maintenance is like a lower effort that’s for sure because bulking and cutting are both effort intensive you have to be much more precise with your Macros during a bulk as opposed to maintenance otherwise you’re going to end up at maintenance or dream revoking and yeah you have to track more closely so it’s definitely a lot more efforts and maintenance is a much lower effort strategy and something else I wanted to ask and I’m not sure if there is a good evidence-based answer for this yet and there’s something Lyle actually I remember he’s the first guy I remember seeing writing about this and this is this point you had mentioned that these short maintenance periods that you would use for diet breaks are not going to be enough to produce a meaningful amount of muscle gain particularly Advanced trainees and that’s obvious just because of the short period of time however and again I’m remembering reading some of Lyle’s stuff many years ago and if I guess you know if I’m remembering his argument or what he was saying correctly and I feel like I have experienced this

Is it true that when you go from a cut or maintenance into a calorie surplus you don’t notice all the benefits right away? in my own training I can’t say I have seen it particularly in other people’s training they’ve reported it but that is when you go from a cut or you go from maintenance into a slight calorie Surplus you don’t notice all of the benefits right away it seems like it takes a couple of weeks for your body to accept I don’t know that that okay it’s regularly getting more energy now than it needs and therefore it is willing to shift your body’s muscle building machinery into a higher gear like it doesn’t seem to be just a switch that immediately flips because you know you were in a slight calorie Surplus for a few days have you experienced that have you seen any data to support that phenomenon in terms of data no maybe testosterone takes a little bit of a while when it’s in terms of going up in energy Surplus but yes I have seen that a lot and it seems in practice that people that do very short book periods for example I’ve also tried two to two ratio in men and it doesn’t work and short-term books of like one week in general they just don’t seem to do like anything it’s not just that they do do very little but they basically seem to do nothing yeah I’ve experienced that I’ve tried shorter just just for the sake of experimentation and even try to see okay first do I get a little bit better performance like nope my workouts are exactly the same at least for the first couple of weeks yeah exactly so yeah how long that is I think you know practically it might seem like it’s longer I think physiologically it almost cannot be longer than maybe two weeks or something but then there’s also the issue of getting the calories correct which usually takes a bit many people still still actually are in maintenance when they start off with the bulk and then you know it takes a while before they get into that energy Surplus and ramping up the calories and stuff so that may be a component too maybe psychological factors probably also a bit is you know it takes a while before you can actually start seeing differences in strength levels and muscle growth and the like so there’s a bit of a delay there but yeah it does and a ghostly at least seem like there is something like that going on that’s super short folks don’t give your body time to really get into bulk mode if you will whereas with cutting of course not like that you cut your calories you start seeing results right away the very first day you have gotten leaner even if you don’t see it in the mirror you’ve lost whatever it is you know 40 grams of fat or something and for people listen the reason I brought that up then is just to understand that by inserting one or two week maintenance Spirits into dieting your body is not in that period it just doesn’t seem to be able to shift into maybe not bulk mode because it’s not it would just be maintenance but even maintenance mode for whatever that’s worth there does just seem to be a bit of a lag in terms of the physiological benefits of increasing calories at least that’s been my experience yeah and especially when we’re talking about time frames of just a week or something we actually see this in the data on for example leptin because if you look at leptin after three days of Maintenance and free days of still big energy deficits we know it left in response to the cumulative total energy balance so it’s still kind of pulled down by those three days even if you’re already three days at maintenance so it might take a while before you know that really ramps up the total curve for leptin and then testosterone and like I think may have a little bit longer lag for example and then there are a lot of process we don’t really fully understand yet the immune system seems to be quite involved in muscle growth for example and with leptin in particular what is that time frame look like is it about a week or so of sustained probably days I think we felt in our overview for example the the application seems to be quite quick when going into energy deficits like the anti-starvation if you will mechanisms increase in appetites we found in our review of metabolic damage where we did a literature review on it we’ve had about three days most of the adaptations are already very visible so there seems to be some asymmetry there and we also know that there is a symmetry in the degree of adaptation in terms of energy expenditure so in a bowl your energy expenditure increases but it increases less than it decreases in energy deficit and in terms of reversing the the leptin the issue of low leptin how long does that generally take so let’s say okay you’re done with your cut low leptin levels you have increased your calories to maintenance what does that tend to look like a couple days before you’re you’re talking about normalization but that may be you know you’ve only talked about normalization we haven’t talked about like being an energy Surplus level that you want to be for the rest of the bulkhead now Lefty might not even be that there exactly beneficial for a boat but it’s more of an illustration of physiological processes that respond to energy balance that take a while to change yeah I mean I think again back to the last lean bulk it’s been years but leptin was certainly working against me because I was so sick of eating I probably could have benefited from uh some genuine hunger not just like eating on the oh it’s three o’clock okay I gotta I gotta eat some food that it doesn’t matter what it is I have no desire to eat it yeah that’s the body blowing life that’s uh you know cutting is is it all that and bulking seems great for a few days for a few weeks and then yeah at some point it also becomes a drag Force feeding and stuff but I always tell myself you know having difficulty with eating is a luxury problem and what you can solve with things like chocolate peanut butter sandwiches dried fruit even if you want to go into unhealthy Foods then it really shouldn’t be an issue anymore but I can’t do too much of Highly processed the hyper palatable stuff because of how it makes me feel and not psychologically like if I eat too many of those calories every day I do start to physically worse and it’s not because I’m guilty I I don’t care from that regard it’s like no nutrition does result in just more mental Clarity more energy more Vitality yeah and I think also there is a good psychological argument to be made not to change your food choices too much during a book and have some kind of a similar base of the diet if you will because if you’re really radically change your food choices and you go up to like super high modified level where you have to massively force feed we know that your brain actually changes its reward pathway activation levels so we actually see that when people eat more vegetables they get greater reward pathway activation in the brain from eating vegetables and less from eating junk food whereas if you eat a lot of junk food the opposite happens that’s why you guys kind of in the stuck in a trap which also are a lot of overweight people are kind of stuck where they’re actually just a thought of eating like healthy makes them sick like it’s like how can you eat like that and because for them it’s like it is a lot worse than it is for us because our bodies are used to it and we actually like it a lot more now it’s like with acquired taste you know like coffee alcohol these things as well if you would tried it the first time it’s like uh why do people do this like with some people who are smoking and I still have that because I haven’t spoke much in my life so if I like smoke and I’m like how do people get addicted to this it’s disgusting but if you do it more then your body actually develops a liking to it that’s the same with food so if you change your food choices too much that you may actually be making it harder for yourself to get back into cutting mouth afterwards that’s great advice because it is certainly going to be hard when now you’re supposed to go from a high of four thousand forty five hundred calories so you’ve been eating all these hyper palatable foods and now maybe even you just start your cut at 3 500 calories and okay so you can still keep some of those Foods in there but once it gets down into the 2000s there is no room for that stuff anymore and then that’s when it’s ew vegetable time one follow-up question on that point is do

Is there a general rule of thumb for the number of exposures to unhealthy foods? you know if there’s a general rule of thumb for the is it number of exposures or is it duration of just being regularly exposed to let’s say somebody right now they have a palette that has been trained to like foods that are not very good for them they really do not like the taste of a lot of the foods that they know they should be eating what does that Runway look like to retrain that hey that’s interesting we have a great study on this in terms of food cravings in particular I’m not sure if we have that much in terms of the reward pathway activation in terms of Cravings we have direct research showing that it’s not the total amount of food consumed but it’s the frequency of consumption that changes your psychology you start craving Foods when you consume them more frequently and if you eat a food for example if you tell yourself I’m gonna eat a little bit of chocolate a couple times per week that actually can stimulate chocolate Cravings much more than eating a whole lot of chocolate one time in part also probably because it’s going to make you sick but it’s just it’s one event for the brain so the brain just has that you know this stimulus one time and it doesn’t really matter that much that you’re getting that stimulus for maybe five minutes instead of 30 seconds it’s just still one stimulus and whereas the frequency seems to be a lot stronger in effect so probably it’s the same in this regard that you know if you treat yourself to some cheat meal or something or you go out to a restaurant once in a while that’s not going to really change your diet even if you overeat quite a bit in terms of calories but if you frequently introduce a new food into your diet you’re going to get used to it quite significantly and just because we’re on

Are there simple techniques to introduce healthy foods into your diet? the topic and it’s useful advice and I’m sure you have helped clients make that shift are there some simple techniques that you’ve used or you’ve helped people with again let’s say that it’s broccoli or whatever it is that the green beans they don’t like to eat helping them find a way to make these things more palatable so then they can eventually just come to enjoy the taste of the broccoli onto itself it takes a lot of experimentation like there’s no Quick Fix way around it just exposure helps so forcing yourself to eat it for a while is can actually be useful and I think these kind of food detox things even though they’re mostly potato science that there is some behind it in the sense that you know when you really go cold turkey on all the junk food and the like that really helps in terms of resetting your your palette your brain reward Activation so other than that it’s just a matter of experimentation finding foods that you like not maybe going directly to broccoli but taking one step down going to potatoes and then to something else but the most thing is experiments with a lot of foods for example not many people like broccoli but broccoli soup is actually surprisingly good like I literally have a recipe on my website called how to make broccoli soup that doesn’t suck it’s one of the best performing recipes on my website because even children like it like I don’t like broccoli at all but the broccoli soup is actually good figuring out things like that just trying different foods you know it doesn’t have to be broccoli at all it can be any other vegetable and one client for example that didn’t know that he loved zucchini this was basically the one thing I told them he actually literally said that like you’ve been coaching me for you know a couple months now and you helped me achieve a lot and it’s great but literally that one line that you just gave me to try zucchini soup that changed my life forever because in his mind he found out that he actually loves zucchini like he loves zucchini noodles like noodles he loves zucchini soup and he even likes zucchini just plain basically so when he had figured that out he said well okay this basically means cutting is never an issue anymore for me because I can always just fill myself up with zucchini and I’m gonna be good and then I can eat whatever I want a thousand calories of zucchini a day you’re not hungry yeah and he’s happy he’s a happy camper and I’m assuming so before that he wasn’t eating enough vegetables or he wasn’t eating much variety or it was a bit of an issue yeah he just wasn’t liking it enough you know so and then with the zucchini that was just like the Click for him where it was like that’s it yeah yeah so so to that point there are many things that you can try and for people listening if you haven’t found at least a few vegetables fruit is a bit easier to find because it just generally tends to taste better but if you haven’t found some fruit as well try different things because you have different tastes but then you also have different mouth feels and that matters too like is it crunchy is it smooshy you know some people they really don’t like one of those just kind of textures or tactile elements and they really like another it’s uh it’s good advice and then and then like you said before sticking to it and understanding that the more often you eat it the more you are going to come to like it that makes me think if there was a guy I’m not going to remember his name believe he was a professional chef and this turned into like a book or a documentary or something it was like the man who ate everything or something but the premise was he made a list of a bunch of foods that he did not like there was some genuinely disgusting things like monkey brains and I think there were like bugs and eel and all kinds of stuff on that list and he resolved to eat every one of them I think like 30 times or something and so over the course of a year he had to build out a calendar of you know his monkey brain meals and his eel meals and Bug meals and all this weird snake and stuff and if I remember correctly by the end he had developed a taste for everything on the list which like included I think spiders like things that nobody wants to eat but if you can force yourself to eat spiders 30 times at least this guy by the end he was like yeah it’s not so bad so if it works for that and if that guy if his experience is even remotely representative of the average person then we can learn to like at least a handful of vegetables yeah I just have to give shout outs to monkey brain here as I think it’s actually probably pretty good reading is actually surprisingly tasty because it’s quite fatty meat now I’ve not tried monkey brain but sheep brain for example which is quite common in place like India and Asian cultures that I’ve traveled to quite a bit brain is actually quite good and it’s also another great cutting Foods because it’s very fatty what would you liken it to it’s not like chicken then because chicken is not fatty it’s like pork it’s quite like pork texture is kind of gross you have to kind of get over the texture but the foods actually it tastes actually good well if I ever get the chance to eat brain I’ll do it for you that’s everything that I had on my list is there anything before we wrap up that we haven’t touched on now we’ve kind of pinballed all over the place but on any of the things that we’ve discussed anything else that you want to share before we wrap up during the pinballing we covered everything yeah I thought it was a good productive discussion as always so why don’t we wrap up with where people can find you

Where can people find you and your work? find your work if there’s anything in particular you want them to know about anything new or not new let’s let them know yeah mentalansomballs.com my website is the best way to get to know me if you don’t yet I’m mostly active on Instagram and YouTube these days and so you can check me out there at meadow.tenselons on both and best way to get to know me probably is my newsletter if you go to my website.com you’ll immediately see it and you get like a tour of my most popular contents you can see if that’s through your liking great question have you looked into buying meno.com is that even an option I haven’t looked at it actually you should look into it yeah probably easier yeah and most people know me as Mano like hence months like long complicated sounds German even though I’m not German yeah it’s also from a branding perspective it’s kind of cool like that you have a firstname.com yeah actually I’ll look into that yeah thanks again meno as always I appreciate your time and I look forward to the next discussion 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 ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share shoot me an email Mike muscleforlife.com muscleforlife.com and let me know what I could do better or just uh what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future I read everything myself I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback so thanks again for listening to this episode and I hope to hear from you soon

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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