Optimising Your Exercise [Macros Masterclass FAQ #7]

This section of the Macros Masterclass FAQ covers everything you need to know about exercise in the Macros Masterclass

Should I Exercise?

Movement and exercise are great! You should do as much as you reasonably can.  

We recommend that you eat as much as possible while still achieving your goals. More activity allows you to increase your calorie intake and get more nutrients from food. 

If you currently do CrossFit or weight training three or five times a week, keep it up!  However, we don’t recommend starting a new intense workout routine during the Macros Masterclass. Abrupt changes in activity levels can significantly affect your appetite. 

Ideally, any exercise you choose to do should be sustainable and not lead to burnout or increased appetite and binging.  Ideally, you want to see sustained progress over weeks and months. 

What is the Best Form of Exercise? 

It doesn’t matter what exercise you do or when you do it. Whether it’s CrossFit, yoga or yard work, you need to find something that you enjoy that stretches you a bit.  The key is doing it regularly and consistently.

Resistance training will build strength and muscle mass. But conversely, lower intensity activity reduces your blood sugars, burns more fat, and stimulates appetite less.

So, ideally, you want to find a balance that allows you to build muscle with resistance training and plenty of lower intensity activity that trains your body’s fat-burning capacity. 

If you have a heart rate monitor, it can be handy to ensure your cardio exercise keeps your heart rate below 180 minus your age to ensure you are using predominantly fat.   This low intensity can be invaluable for athletes (and everyone else) to train their mitochondria to use fat and preserve glucose for more intense efforts. 

In contrast, heavy exercise like HIIT training or lifting heavy in the gym sense an emergency signal to your body that it needs to grow and eat NOW.

In addition, more intense exercise can cause more dysregulated blood sugars (e.g. a rise during exercise and a drop afterwards), which can awaken your lizard brain and your appetite for more food to recover.  

This does not mean avoiding high-intensity activity or heavy resistance training.  But if you find your appetite is out of control, prioritising more lower intensity (e.g. ‘zone 2’) may be helpful.

Why Don’t We Track Exercise Calories? 

Most people tend to do similar amounts of exercise throughout the week.

Even if you push hard for the first few days, you’ll likely back off to recover later in the week. Hence, the number of calories you burn in your baseline week in later weeks. 

Cronometer allows you to log your exercise and eat more calories. However, we recommend you don’t waste your time with this feature. While calorie tracking is inaccurate to some degree, estimating the calories burned during your workout is even less accurate and prone to optimism bias. In other words, you usually overestimate calories burned and reward yourself with more food than you need to recover.

It doesn’t matter much if you eat a little more on the days you work out and less when you rest.  It evens out over the week.  Nutrient Optimiser will update your carb, fat, and protein targets accordingly. 

How Does Exercise Affect My Blood Sugars?

Intense exercise can raise your blood sugars as your body dumps stored energy into the bloodstream to fuel activity. This blood sugar turbulence can cause hunger to increase as your appetite drives you to replenish the glycogen you just used quickly.

Conversely, lower-intensity exercise lowers your blood sugars and trains your body to use fat for fuel. It is, therefore, less likely to increase your appetite intensely. 

Both resistance training and low-intensity exercise have their place, but they affect blood sugar differently. For example, exercise at a lower intensity, or activity where you can still breathe and talk in complete sentences, will burn more fat and lower your glucose.

Meanwhile, higher-intensity exercise causes a release of stored energy from your liver. You may see your blood glucose rise as a result.

Resistance training helps build metabolically active lean mass, which increases your overall metabolic rate and hence the amount of energy you use across the day.

If you do intense exercise, your body releases glucose into your bloodstream to fuel the activity. This is not a problem but just something to be mindful of when testing blood glucose after exercise. 

People often don’t feel hungry after exercise because of the effects of elevated blood glucose.  If you do a heavy workout like high-intensity interval training or heavy squats or deadlifts that deplete glycogen stores, don’t be surprised if you find yourself hungrier later as your body tries to refill your glucose and fat fuel tanks.  So, it’s ideal to be prepared with a robust meal that you eat as soon as you feel hungry after exercise rather than waiting until your appetite is raging.

Try to stay out of the moderate-intensity ‘grey zone’. Here, exercise stimulates appetite, but it doesn’t build strength. Exercise in this moderate-intensity ‘grey zone’ is akin to eating fat and carbs together because it draws on the body’s fat and glucose stores. As a result, it doesn’t give you the full benefits of low-intensity (fat-burning) or high-intensity (strength).  

How Can I Gain Muscle While Losing Fat at the Same Time?

When dieting, the simultaneous combination of losing fat and gaining muscle is the holy grail that everyone dreams of. 

While we can’t give you any guarantees, we see people who come from a background of a lower protein diet achieve this as they start to prioritise protein.  Some resistance training also helps, as it tells your body that you need to use the protein you’re eating to build muscle.

Noob Gains‘, or ‘newbie gains’, are typical for people who start consistently incorporating resistance training into their routine.

Experienced bodybuilders tend to cycle their muscle-building and fat loss phases. It is not uncommon for them to put on fat during their muscle-building phase.  In contrast, there is less focus on strength gains and a more significant focus on a caloric deficit during the fat loss phase.

There is no real secret here. It’s simply a matter of slowly dialling up protein and decreasing energy from fat and carbs.  If you have more body fat to lose, your body will use body fat for energy while building more muscle from the protein you are eating. 

This becomes difficult at a certain point, especially when working out because your body will crave fat and carbs for energy. Eventually, your willpower will succumb to your survival instincts. 

We recommend you find the balance of protein vs energy that allows you to perform well in the gym and recover.  Before ratcheting up your protein % further in pursuit of body recomposition, make sure you can sustain your current macros for a week without rebound bingeing. 

Slow and steady is better than pushing so hard that you ‘fall off the wagon’ and face down in a box of doughnuts or polishing off a jar of peanut butter regularly.  

How should I eat and exercise if I want to gain size and strength? 

Gaining size and strength is mainly about eating more, doing more volume in the gym and moving less so you can conserve calories. 

Volume is the amount of weight you lift multiplied by the number of repetitions each week.  For example, German Volume Training (GVT) involves doing ten sets of ten repetitions of compound lifts (e.g. squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press). 

While the weight on the bar doesn’t seem large, the number of reps and sets makes these high-volume workouts extremely gruelling, not to mention time-consuming.

In addition, you give your body a massive anabolic stimulus, telling your body that “you need to grow and get stronger now, or you will die”.  At the end of a round of GVT, you might feel like you’re about to die. 

Your appetite will also respond to higher volume training with an increased craving for energy-dense foods to fuel the activity, recovery, repair and growth. 

Some high-volume bodybuilders advocate the GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) diet to fuel growth, particularly for ‘hard gainers’.  This approach tends to ‘work’ because milk is a mixture of fat and carbs to provide tons of energy with some bioavailable protein to support growth. 

Bulking bodybuilders who are juiced up on steroids have to eat massive amounts of food around the clock, even waking up through the night to eat.  Eating that much becomes an arduous chore, not to mention expensive.   Then after bulking, they go into an extended cutting phase to lean out before their show date. 

However, if you’re not juiced up on illegal pharmacologic supplements, the reality is, you can only gain a limited amount of muscle each week – the rest will be fat.  The strongest people are not the leanest nor the most metabolically healthy

Most of us who are not trying to set heavyweight powerlifting records want to be both strong but lean at the same time.  If you overload with energy in pursuit of gains, you will gain more fat and end up ‘dirty bulking’. 

The vast majority of people need to find a less aggressive approach with less aggressive cycles where they focus on building strength, followed by cutting weight if they find they’ve gone a bit overboard. 

For this reason, we recommend that you target a rate of total weight gain of between 0.5 and 2.0% per month (i.e., 0.125% and 0.5% per week).  If your goal is to gain weight without excess fat, Nutrient Optimiser will guide your macro goals to keep you in this range.  You require enough energy to support but not so much that you gain excess fat. 

While it may seem counter-intuitive, you don’t need to focus on protein as much if your goal is to gain strength and size.  Because you are eating a lot more calories, it will be easier to get adequate protein.  While your appetite will also crave more protein and a higher protein % may be counterproductive if your goal is consuming more calories.  You will also be able to get away with lower satiety protein powders which enable you to consume more protein to support the growth and repair of your muscles. 

To find the healthy middle ground, a solid progressive overload lifting program should include an increasing volume that continues to challenge your muscles to grow, but not so much that your appetite becomes out of control and you end up gaining more fat than you’d hoped. 

Lower reps ranges allow you to use heavier weights and build more strength, while higher reps use lower weight on the bar and build more size.  More reps (e.g. eight to twelve) with lighter weights tend to be safer.  While fatiguing, you are less likely to injure yourself.   Conversely, lower reps (in the one to five rep range) will allow you to lift heavier weight, tends to be more time-efficient, but leave you more prone to injury with heavier loads. 

So, with some trial and error and perhaps alternating periods where you pursue hypertrophy and others where you pursue strength, you will find the workout routine that allows you to get the results you want. 

Rather than jumping to German Volume Training, you can make a lot of progress with a simple 5×5 progressive overload routine or the 5/3/1 routine, which varies the weights and reps across the program.

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