Nutrition Case Study: Less Can be More
Written by Fritz Nugent
Sometimes, all you need to do is clean up the edges…
The client: Male, 55 years old, goal of losing body fat and gaining muscle.
A little background info: This client’s goal was to move from mid-twenties in body fat percentage down into the teens. He works a stressful job, and sleep was on the shorter side, averaging 6 hours a night. He ate about 1900 calories a day and was already tracking on myfitnesspal. He trained HARD at the gym 5-6 days a week, and he still had some extra fat around his midsection. He had also been training at his gym for many years, and was puzzled why he wasn’t leaner after all this time eating a restricted diet full of whole foods and working out plenty.
Here’s the breakdown of his habits…
It seemed to me like he was working too hard in his training, so we worked on approaching change here, first. This may seem counter-intuitive, right? Doesn’t burning more calories equal more fat loss? I would argue no, not always. Actually, mostly no. It’s not about how many calories you burn. It’s about how much total stress you can dose your body with and recover well from. If you hit your body with tons of stress (exercise and not eating enough are both stressors), your body can have issues. The idea is to learn to balance all of these factors to help the whole human organism thrive, from his human cells to his gut buddies, the microorganisms that live on and within him.
So we had a few conversations about playing around with his intensity during training each week. I suggested that he NOT go 100% every day, and instead break up his weeks like this:
- 1 hard conditioning day a week where he full-sends it and pushes to his limit.
- 2 days of strength training where he works to “find the muscles”, i.e. work on improving his mind-muscle connection. The idea here was to help him grow new muscle through really focusing on recruiting as much of his muscles during specific tasks as he could.
- 2 days of lighter conditioning at 60-80% of his maximum effort (learn more about the 5 Aerobic Work Zones to understand this better). I taught him about RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), which is based out of 10, where 10 is maximum effort. So these days would be a 6-8 out of 10.
- 2 days of complete rest.
At first he was very skeptical and reluctantly tried this. He immediately felt better, like he had more horsepower to give his hard conditioning and strength days because he cruised his other two training days (note: in my opinion, this played a HUGE role in helping him naturally increase his testosterone. More on his improved testosterone below…)
In addition to this change in training, I asked him to keep his macros THE SAME. He didn’t decrease his food. Keep this in mind. Eventually we actually had to add food.
He has a stressful job and seems to compartmentalize that well and leaves it at work. He walks with his wife, which is fantastic. Walking is NOT exercise in this case. It can be, but does not have to be. For him, it’s a stress-reliever and potent enough by itself without adding intensity/hills/speed/etc.
This client wakes frequently to pee at night. This was incredibly disruptive to his sleep cycle because he would wake up at 2am to pee, then would lay awake until his 5 am alarm. This was stressful to him. We approached this in two ways. First, I assured him that even though he’s in bed and not sleeping, this can still be a restful and restorative experience. He began to utilize listening to sleep stories to fall back asleep. And if he could not sleep, he focused on relaxation because he has the confidence that he’ll be able to function well the next day. This is called non-sleep deep rest (NSDR), which can be leveraged as a potent facilitator of learning. One does not have to be asleep to allow the brain to regenerate. The second approach was strategically planning his water intake throughout the day. We front-loaded his water drinking, tapering off all of his water a few hours before bed to help reduce his nighttime waking.
Putting it All Together
Notice that the main things we focused on were improving sleep quality and strategically planning his training intensities. That’s all. Within 9 weeks, he had dropped 6 pounds of body weight. His results came so rapidly and he felt so good, we took a second DEXA scan to see what the change in body composition was. He ended up losing 7 pounds of body fat and gaining one pound of muscle. This considerably dropped his body fat percentage (an 8-pound positive net shift, to be exact!). Now here’s the fun part. Since he needs to maintain a specific physical size for his job, we had to start adding calories to his diet. So we started with 100-150 calorie jumps every 1-2 weeks depending on how his appetite felt, and which direction the scale went. We wanted to induce a lean gain. Right now, he’s at 2400 calories after having started at 1900 calories. So, right now, he’s eating MORE food, working out less, and sleeping more, and this is leading to increased muscle mass and decreased body fat. And he feels great, too! Badda-boom, badda-bing. Simple gets it done.
We never cut calories to induce weight loss. We improved his lifestyle, and the fat dropped off. Oh, did I mention that he got his testosterone tested at the time of his second DEXA and had moved from 400 ng/DL up to over 740 ng/DL, which is at the very end of the high range for a 55-year old man?! Fun stuff. He made simple changes and had some life-changing significant benefits. Sometimes the solutions are much simpler than we think. And don’t for one second confuse simple with easy, for they are not the same.
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