T Nation

Body Composition: What Works, What Doesn't?

I wanted to get everyone’s personal opinions on this topic. It seems to me that when it comes to training for improvements in body composition; either increased muscle, or decreased fat, that there are so many methods that claim to be effective, and some seem to be just the opposite.

When training for strength, or endurance, or other external qualities, its pretty clear what methods work. But training for body comp, it seems like everything works, and nothing works.

I think part of the problem is that genetics play a HUGE role in body comp. I know this is usually a cop-out, but its not an excuse, Im just recognizing a simple fact. I dont know the exact mechanism as to why, but ive noticed this a large percentage of the time. There are people that are responders, and there are those that do not respond.

Responders can do just about anything, and get great results. These are the people that just do 3x10 bench 4 days a week, biceps 4 days a week, and throw in some legs here and there. They end up looking great and having a low body fat.

Non-responders train hard, progress in strength, use a large handfull of exercises and try multiple programs that are suppposed to be better, but really these people only progress in strength and conditioning.

I think this is also all that needs to be said about genetics. It just shows that there is no way to say that one program or method is better than another, because everyone is on an uneven playing field.

Another problem with training for body comp, is that it seems most trainers want to be novel in their recomendations. Then everyone jumps on the bandwagon and before you know it, its stated as fact that XYZ is the only way.

So i’d like to see what methods you’ve tried that have been the mostbeneficial, and the least beneficial. Im talking the “big rocks” and the “little things”. Also, I think its important to look at the cost, or difficulty of a certain method.

For example, using banned substances may be very beneficial, but they are illegal, so the cost may outway the reward, depending on your priorities. Or, a certain training plan might get you great results, but always results in nagging injuries.

So here goes, I’ll start with the things that didn’t work for me.

1.) Any form of carb restriction

I tried cutting using common recomendations of lower carb, or carb cycling, with some HIIT cardio and training to maintain muscle. I lost weight, mainly in the form of water and muscle. Also, I felt like crap most of the time.

2.) High rep bodybuilding training

Now before you jump on me about this one, i dont mean all methods of high rep training. I just mean counting sets and reps and only training higher reps. I use similar methods now all the time, and i’ll adress them in what has worked for me.

3.) High volume/low frequency training

This may be more of an issue with compliance, but i like working out, and if I work out less than 4 times a week, i start to get uneasy. It also just doesn’t feel right to me, to work bench press on monday, and then not do it again for 5-7 days. So in this case, this is one of the reasons why I dont like body part splits, and prefer TBT

4.) High protein diets, and protein shakes

I dont know what it is about this one, but I always focused on getting a lot of protein, and drinking my pre/post workout shakes. I got minimal results doing this, it cost me a lot of money, and my stomach wasn’t always too happy with me.

5.) High volume cardio

Running, biking or any other form of long duration cardio seems to lead to joint problems sooner than results for me.

6.) Eating “healthy”

I dont know what it is about this one, but it never seems to make a difference for me. Initially when im eating healthy i’ll feel better, but in the long run, I notice little to no difference in body comp. There were times when i focused on a system of healthy eating like PN and ate my 7+ serving of fruits and vegetables a day, and lately im getting more like 1-2 servings on an average day, and if anything im getting better results now. Im not saying you shouldn’t eat “healthy” but focusing on it doesn’t seem to lead to a better body, at least not for me.

I think you could even argue that in the long run eating healthy may not pay off health wise. Sure there is research that shows the benefits, but there are plenty of people that disobey the rules of healthy eating and live long healthy lives.

I think being reasonable and everything in moderation here is the key. Obviously if you are trying to lose fat, and have a super-duper big gulp before bed every night, your gonna get fat.

Im sure I can think of more of the common recomendations that dont work to well for me, but lets get onto what seems to work.

Here’s what has worked for me, or seems to work. I will say that with most of these, they are either very hard on my body, or very hard compliance wise.

1.) Nutrient timing and higher carb diets

After realizing that low carb wasn’t for me, I sort of just gave up on restricting carbs. I didn’t go crazy on pasta or anything, but I started to eat carbs throughout the day. I did try to make most of these carbs better choices, and always opt for higher fiber sources though.

As for nutrient timing, I read about it on the internet, and read the book. I then started to focus on taking in a very large amount of carbs during and after my workouts with a little bit of protein.

Then in the hours after my workout, i gradually decrease the carbs and simultaneously increase protein. It seems to work very well, but its very hard to comply with. Depending on the timing of your workouts and the frequency of your workouts, you may end up craving carbs in the middle of a non workout day, when your not supposed to be eating them. Which brings me to the next point.

2.) Eating what you want when you want it (within reason)

I find that in the long run, restricting myself in any way doesn’t seem to work well. But if im in the middle of a non-workout day, and my body is telling me that it wants carbs, then thats what im going to eat. Again, I try to make it a good choice, but eating what I when I want it seems to work.

3.) Creatine

Not much to say here, it works

4.) Gatorade as a pre/during workout shake

Following the nutrient timing recomendations, anywhere from 50-100g of fast acting carbs (gatorade) with some BCAA’s and or protein seems to fuel a good workout and lead to good recovery and muscle growth

5.) Caffeine and energy drinks.

Probably all psychological, but whatever.

6.) Oatmeal, and similar cold cereals

I feel that for breakfast there is no better meal, but as always the worse it tasted the better it is for you, so you have to find a balance between effective, and doable.

7.) Increasing strength in a few key lifts

I think strength is an important part of building muscle and losing fat, and I think its best to focus on a few key lifts. These will be different for everyone, but for me, it is deadlift, pullup, incline bench, and step-ups/pistols.

8.) Lactate inducing training and TUT

I said that counting reps didn’t work well for me, but if instead I focus on the duration of my sets and just work damn hard during those sets, I get a good production of lactic acid and seem to get results in body comp.

9.) Shorter rest breaks

This goes along with number 8

10.) Training a wide variety of movements for hypertrophy/endurance

when not focusing on strength and instead on building muscle, I have found that there are a ton of movements that work very well that wouldn’t be so good for strength.

EX: leg extensions, leg press, rev. flys, etc.

11.) Very high frequency training

Training 6+ sessions a week, including am/pm workouts always seems to get me great results as far as losses of bf. The only problem is that I can never maintain this type of training for more than a week or two

12.) HIIT cardio

Long distance cardio didn’t work well for me, but HIIT works very well. I usually have similar problems to number 11. When im doing a lot of HIIT, my fatigue levels shoot through the roof.

Well I thats about it. I think a lot of it comes down to compliance. If you really belief in a method your using, then its more likely to give you good results than if you think it might not work. Its like everything might be one big placebo effect.

I think in the end there still are some common principles that are necessary. I think the “big rocks” and some key “little things” are all that you should focus on.

These may be:

1.) Increase strength and poundages over time
2.) eat enough protein
3.) fuel your workouts and recovery with nutrient timing
4.) sleep enough / rest enough
5.) get outside your comfort zone in the gym
6.) but make sure to manage fatigue.

So what do you guys think has worked the most for you? And what has worked the least?

Good post.

I think what made difference for me :
1-Eat clean most of the time
2-Eat more protein
3-Take most carbs post-training and breakfest
4-A more regular daily scheudle, instead of training 10:00 one day, 17:00 the next, etc
5-Enogh rest
6-Hardcore supersets/circuits with weights, for example: DB Clean and Jerks, DB Front Squats, Weighted Chins for 6-8reps each with no rest between

What didnt work:
train a lot and eat crap