Taking Control of Your Weight

As a strength and conditioning coach, one of the most common conversations I have with athletes is whether they should gain or lose weight.

Of course, when you are talking to athletes the conversation revolves around function for his or her sport. In the real world, which is where I personally live at this point of my life, the conversation is normally centered around weight loss for health and/or cosmetic reasons. At 47 years old with four children and a wife I absolutely adore, weight loss and cardiovascular health are the main concerns of my training. I still enjoy lifting heavy and even competing in strength sports, but it’s simply not the priority.

The Science

In this article, I am going to explain the science behind weight loss and weight gain. I am also going to explain the different aspects of each. Finally, I am going to give you some simple tips to help with each. I am also going to explain why some people have an easier time losing weight while others have an easier time gaining. When this article is over, the weight loss and weight gain mystery will be solved. Then you will have to ask yourself if you are willing to do what it takes. We are all capable of losing and gaining weight, but most of us are not willing to do the work. I believe my readers are capable of doing whatever they want.

I am going to start with weight loss because losing weight has the potential to help the most people. Being overweight contributes heavily to the development of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is preventable, which is the sad part. The Center for Disease Control has made the prediction that children born in 2000 have a 1 in 3 chance of developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Guys, we have to do better as a society. This is one of the negatives of being an affluent country. Proportions continually increase while activity levels continue to decrease.

Calorie Intake

At the end of the day, weight loss and weight gain comes down to calorie intake versus calorie expenditure. It’s simple math guys. That’s why I get so mad when one of my athletes or adult clients tells me they can’t lose weight or gain weight. The truth is each of us have the ability to lose or gain, but we might not be willing to do whatever it takes. Let’s take a look at the aspects that go into losing weight.

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The first thing to figure out whether you are losing weight or gaining weight is how many calories you are burning every day. There are four components to account for when figuring out daily calorie expenditure, and they are resting metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, physical activity levels, and nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the amount of calories one might burn staying in bed and avoiding activity. It’s the calories needed by the body to function – for example pumping the heart and breathing with the lungs. RMR is also a reflection of the energy required to produce hormones, which is why people with hypoactive thyroid glands have a tougher time losing weight while individuals with a hyperactive thyroid gland lose weight easily. Both of these issues are correctable of course. There are equations you can use to figure out your RMR, which you can easily look up on a search engine. I am going to give you one equation at the end to figure out the total daily expenditure, which is the really important number to understand.

Thermic effect of food is defined as energy expenditure above the resting metabolic rate in response to ingestion of food. This is the energy needed to digest, absorb, transport, and assimilate the food we eat. One thing to consider is the thermic effects of food vary. Fat has the lowest thermic effect of food at 3%, carbohydrates at 5-10%, and protein with the highest at 20-30%. This is one of the reasons why some of the latest research shows that people consuming 400+ extra calories per day in protein are still not gaining weight. Of course protein also has a satiety effect – meaning protein makes you feel full. I guess to a small degree not all calories are created equal. However keep in mind the thermic effect of food only accounts for around 10% of the calories ingested, so don’t go too crazy on the protein tonight.

Physical Activity

Physical Activity Level (PAL) accounts for 10-30% of the calories consumed. Obviously, more exercise will result in more calories burned. However, if you’re thinking you will exercise your calories away, let me first give you an idea of what that looks like. It takes about one mile of walking or 2,000 steps (if you are counting steps) to burn 100 calories, and it takes 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. Therefore you are going to need to walk 35 miles just to burn off one pound of fat, and that’s only if you don’t increase your current calories. The point is that exercise along with getting a grip on your nutrition is the ticket to long term health.

Besides just burning fat, cardiovascular work helps to increase the thermic effect of food, which is why those short walks after dinner are so good for us. Of course, strengthening the heart is a bonus as well, and now is a good time to say health is a lot more than just burning calories and fat. Strength training should be a part of the process as well.

Strength training leads to an increase in the thermic effect of food as well along with an overall increase in the resting metabolic rate. Moderate weight training isn’t going to increase the RMR much, but it will lead to an increase in the thermic effect of food and a strengthening of the bones and joints. I hope you’re starting to see a holistic effect is going to be your best bet.

Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis is probably the reason why some people seem to eat whatever they want while never gaining weight. My mother is 70 years old, stands 5’5”, and weighs 125 pounds. She can absolutely out-eat any man I have ever known if she wants to. However, she is the most active woman I have ever known. She’s up every morning at 5am cleaning the house, getting ready for the day, and simply moving around. She never sits still. If you will look closely, there is always a reason why some people lose weight easily and some do not. The people who struggle are probably not very active, while the skinny ones who make us all so mad never seem to chill out.

The Calculation

So how does one figure out how many calories they are currently burning? The United States Department of Health and Human Services contracted a panel of expert scientists to develop an equation to estimate one’s daily energy expenditure based on age, gender, weight, height, and daily activity level. Here’s what that looks like:

  • For a male, the equation is: 662 – (9.53 x age) + [Physical Activity Level x (15.9 x weight + 540 x height)]
  • For a female, the equation is 354 – (6.91 x age) + [Physical Activity Level x (9.35 x weight + 726 x height)]

For the Physical Activity Level, the following is how you determine the value:

  • 1.00 Sedentary – someone who sits all day.
  • 1.11 Low Level of Physical Activity – someone who sits most of the day except to walk around to accomplish a few tasks.
  • 1.25 Active – someone who exercises one hour every single day
  • 1.48 Very Active – someone who exercises several hours every day (like a marathon runner)

Goals and Tips

Once you figure out your daily expenditure, then you need to decide your goals. Do you want to gain weight or lose weight?

If you want to lose weight, I suggest finding ways to limit calories and start exercising more. A great way to start is to increase your protein intake by one hundred calories while decreasing either fat or carbohydrates by two hundred calories. This is only one hundred calories per day, so you probably won’t even notice it much. However there is a chance the protein will increase the thermic effect of food you take in and make you feel more full or decrease your appetite. If you add in some extra cardiovascular work and strength training, you will slowly start losing weight without a huge feeling of hunger. Here are some other tips for losing weight:

  • Use smaller plates – Portion sizes are out of control in America. It’s literally killing us. We simply need to get back to moderation.
  • Increase the portion sizes of your fruits and vegetables – Clearly I am not talking about the heavy starches like potatoes and rice. I am referring to broccoli, kale, squash, and some fruits as well. You will experience a feeling of satiety making you satisfied to eat your 6 ounces of steak versus the normal 12 ounces. I am talking to myself right now.
  • Drink a glass or two of water before eating – Believe it or not, food is the way our bodies hydrate if we don’t take in enough liquids, not to mention the increased satiety.
  • Choose a solution you can stick to – The key is to decrease calories and increase activity levels. Find a way that works for you, and I want you to realize my way might not be the way that works for you. I love to lift weights, and you may hate it. I like protein and fat, and you might like carbs.
  • Don’t bring it in the house – Lately this is key for my success. I have only had one beer in about three weeks because it’s not in the house. It’s a habit, and I love the taste. If you put the two together, you have a calorie monster. The same goes for cookies, cake, or whatever is your weak spot.
  • Take a short walk after each meal – This will help to increase the thermic effect of food, and it will help increase activity levels. Plus a short walk is therapeutic, so leave your dang phone at home. I want you to spend time with the Creator (if you believe), and simply let the brain rest. Once again I am talking to myself.
  • Find ways to ease stress – Ok I am convinced I am writing this entire thing to myself.

Making a Difference

I was inspired to write this by my trip with Barbell Shrugged to Walmart’s HQ in Arkansas. I realized at that moment we have the chance to actually make a difference in general population throughout the world. We have a chance to affect the people in places like my hometown in Ashe County, North Carolina. We have a chance to bring science based health and fitness to the people who need it the most. When I realized that, my entire world flip flopped.

That doesn’t mean I have abandoned my muscle-bound freaks who love the iron. I still love you guys. To be sure you can use the same formula above to find out the amount of calories you have to surpass to gain muscle. It’s really difficult to gain lean muscle mass while in a caloric deficit. Therefore if you want to put on substantial pounds, you have to eat a lot.

I want to end by making one point. Whether you want to gain weight or lose weight, there is a mathematical equation to figure it out precisely. The first Law of Thermodynamics states energy is neither created nor destroyed but simply transformed. So when you tell me you eat all the time and simply can’t gain weight I know you are lying. It also means when you tell me you have been “eating good and hardly anything” I know you are lying. Calories don’t disappear, and they don’t expand once in your body.

I am not trying to be mean. I am trying to get all of you to have a moment of accountability. You need to look yourself in the mirror and take 100% responsibility for whatever you see in the reflection, whether good or bad. Only then can you start to make a difference to that very reflection. You have to stop blaming your parents, your spouse, or anyone else, and take full responsibility. You won’t believe what a freeing feeling that is because it will give you the power to transform yourself into whatever you can conceive. Now I want you to take the first step, and jump in front of that mirror.

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The Gym and Mental Health for Veterans with Randy Lloyd – The Barbell Life 332

Randy Lloyd showed me what it was like to be a brother.

As a veteran, Randy struggled with PTSD, depression, and substance abuse. He fell back in love with fitness, found his barbell family, and turned his life around.

Randy found out the same comaradery that bonds soldiers together on the battlefield can be found in the gym.

So Randy works with FitOps to bring the same help to other veterans.

So listen in to find out more about his inspiring story – and about the power of fitness to have a positive impact on mental health.


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Neurology and Coaching with Evan Lewis – The Barbell Life 331

Our bodies are amazing.

The more we progress in terms of science, the more we realize the complex connections between neurology, muscles, and performance.

And our podcast guest today, Evan Lewis, is on the cutting edge of these developments – using his knowledge to help rehabilitate athletes in pain and to help athletes perform at their peak.

There are also some great nuggets of wisdom for coaches in this one. I was blown away by Evan!



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Defying Orders and Staying Open with Ian Smith – The Barbell Life 330

You may not know Ian Smith but you may have heard his story.

He was ordered by the governor to close the doors of his gym during this time of pandemic. But Smith refused.

That rocketed him into the center of a controversy that quickly became national.

It’s a fascinating story, but it’s also a great lesson along the way about how much the barbell means to us all.

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  • Playing the loophole game
  • Fast food is open… but not gyms?
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  • What the future holds
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Ketogenic Diet for Athletes

This week in my EXS 505 Sports Nutrition class, we were assigned two articles which discussed the ins and outs of the ketogenic diet.

Some of the findings could be of interest to a few of my readers, so I thought I would give you a peak at the findings. To be fair, I must tell you I read both of these articles with a bit of skepticism, so I am going to start with views coming in to reading these two. First, the articles are referenced at the end of this discussion (Paoli, et. al., 2015) and (Zinn, et. al., 2017). Feel free to check out both of these articles on your own if you want to take a deeper dive.

My bias

Admittedly my weak spot up until now is nutrition. I know the basics, but my passion lies in biomechanics, anatomy, programming, physics, and hypertrophy. I was definitely glad to be taking this course, and I have been nothing but pleased with the professor. For any of you who don’t know, I am on the long journey to obtain my PhD in Human Performance at Lenoir-Rhyne University with the first stop being a Masters in Exercise Science.

I am a huge follower of Dr. Layne Norton and Dr. Andy Galpin, and like most credible professors they emphasize calories in versus calories out. They don’t credit any of these diets with a lot more than just creative ways to limit calories. Most of everything I have read confirms what they are saying. However, I see now each diet has its pros and cons. Normally I am talking about small nuances, but sometimes, small nuances are all that is needed to make a big difference. Now let’s dive into what I learned.


Weight Loss (especially short term) – The biggest reason this form of diet seems to work is the natural appetite suppression as a result of the higher satiety of proteins, effects on appetite hormones such as ghrelin, and possibly a sort of direct appetite-blocking effect of KB. There is also reduced lipogenesis and increased fat oxidation, a reduction in respiratory quotient may indicate a greater metabolic efficiency in fat oxidation, and a thermic effect of proteins and increased energy usage by glucogenesis. (Paoli, et. al., 2015)

However, all of this could simply point to fewer calories. I mean, not many people can eat extra calories of just fat and protein. Obviously you can’t create fat storage if there aren’t extra calories to go around. Once again, if there aren’t a lot of calories from carbs, the body has to burn more fat for fuel. It really comes down to what one can sustain. If you lead a busy lifestyle that makes counting calories bothersome, this might very well be a great way to cut some pounds before a competition or to fit in that wedding dress.

One big reason for this being a great way to cut weight before a meet is because the initial weight reduction is related to a loss in body water through glycogen depletion. (Zinn, et. al., 2017) That is probably why there isn’t a lot of strength and power lost from this type of diet. Which of course brings me to my next point.

Athletes Maintain Strength and Power – As of the Paoli, et. al. article in 2015, there was only research study that looked at KD’s (ketogenic diet) effects on strength and power. This was a study of 25 gymnasts over 30 days. They were provided 2.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight, less than 20 grams per day of carbohydrates, and the rest from fats with that amount being unlimited. The key for athletes is an adequate amount of protein must be used. In this study, the athletes maintained strength and power, while also maintaining lean body mass.

KD and Endurance – Here we had a bit of conflict in the two studies with Paoli, et. al., 2015 showing improvements in VO2 Max, improved fat oxidation with no detrimental effect on maximal or submaximal markers or aerobic exercise markers or muscle strength. It also showed cognitive improvements, which I will go over a bit later. Zinn, et. al., 2017 showed some decreases in performance which could have come from any of these factors:

  • It takes 7 days to adapt to a KD diet, and during those 7 days there will be a drop in performance.
  • Electrolytes need to be given during KD, both potassium and sodium.
  • The amount of protein is another key because the need goes up due to glucogenesis.
  • I would add that volume needs to be adjusted during the first seven days to account for the dip in performance, and it will take several weeks to recover from the overreaching.

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Improved Psychological Markers – This one is my favorite. Here are a few of the improvements noted by both studies:

  • Improved rates of learning and memory
  • Increased synaptic plasticity, which when added to learning new skills or information, becomes a long-term advantage
  • Alleviates symptoms of depression
  • Improved sense of well-being
  • Higher rates of energy
  • Improved skin and hair

The only negative noted was Muscle Mass. A KD activates AMPK (5’adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) which in turn inhibits mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) a mechanism necessary for regulating muscle mass. KD also blunts the IGF-1/AKT/mTOR pathway also reducing the possibility of gaining muscle mass. (Paoli, et. al. 2015) Of course all of this to say it is almost impossible to gain muscle in a caloric deficit. The bottom-line is an athlete needs to know if they way to pack on muscle, restricting calories in not a good idea.

Both articles painted a fairly good picture for KD. I am not 100% convinced it doesn’t boil down to calories, but it’s worth looking into. If you are an athlete cutting weight, it might be a good idea to spend 21 to 30 days with a ketogenic diet. You will shed some weight and stay strong. Below are a few questions we were asked to answer which might shed some more light on things. I hope you enjoyed!

Further Q&As

1 – State one surprising thing you learned from the Paoli et al. article. Note why it was surprising to you.
I was surprised to find out the KD could possibly be linked to multiple improvements in the CNS including multiple positive psychological improvements. We know the brain’s source of energy is normally glucose, so to see the body’s adaptive ability to not only survive without it, but possibly function even better, is quite mind-blowing. There were three main CNS improvements that caught my eye: improved behavioral and motor performance tests, learning, and memory, increased synaptic plasticity, and alleviated depressive symptoms. (Paoli et al., 2015)

If this is true, a KD could possibly make athletes smarter and increase the number of synapses in the brain. They are talking about increasing the network, which definitely intrigues me to read more and reach out to a few experts in the field. Athletes who need improved focus and reaction times could definitely benefit if this is the case. Also, this weekend I had the chance to work with a nonprofit, FitOps, which is an organization created to eliminate veteran suicide by teaching a three-week course designed to certify them as personal trainers, give them the business skills to be successful, and provides placement within the community. The finding regarding potential improvements in depression could be useful to the entire organization.

2 – State one thing you question (because it goes against something previously learned or actually observed/experienced) or disagree with in either of the articles you were asked to read. (Remember to use in-text citations when referencing articles.)
The comprehensive article from Paoli interested me the most due to the low participation, and the average age of 50-years-old of the other article that I was assigned from Zinn (I mainly work with athletes between the ages of 16 and 30 – not age discrimination), and I was blown away by the findings regarding muscle mass. One of my earlier mentors, Charles Poliquin, was an early adopter of the LCHF diet approach. He was also a very famous strength coach for pro bodybuilders – not to mention some of the best professional and Olympic athletes on Earth. I watched him with my own eyes add muscle mass to athletes with KD plans. Therefore, Paoli’s statement regarding muscle mass is definitely challenging.

Hence, it appears somewhat contradictory there is widespread use of KD in bodybuilders also during “bulk up” periods, while all data regarding biochemical and molecular mechanisms suggest that it is very difficult to increase muscle mass during a KD; (Paoli, et. al. 2015). I have to assume it boils down to the characteristic reduction in calories due to appetite reduction from protein satiety and the overall appetite blocking effect of KB. However, I look forward to the opinion of my classmates and especially Professor Helsel.

3 – Did either of these articles change your views on ketogenic diets? (Explain by stating “how” and/or “why”). Remember to use in-text citations when referencing articles.
The intriguing aspect of the article by Zinn were the increases in overall well-being, recovery, improved skin conditions, improved memory and other cognitive abilities, and reduction in inflammation which was enough to interest me personally to try more of a KD. (Zinn, 2017). KD is becoming more and more popular, and I believe most diets are cyclical in nature. I pride myself in avoiding such fads. However, since I am a 47-year-old grad student, I have to at least look deeper into the cognitive and overall health improvements.

4 – If you have a client or athlete who wants to try a ketogenic diet to gain a competitive edge, what approach would you take with this client? (Include your rationale and whether you would provide the same advice/approach for all, or vary based on type of athlete).
Based on the information in both assigned articles, I would consider trying out a KD for a more optimal weight cut. I am the Head Coach of the inaugural Olympic Weightlifting Team at LRU. It’s of course a weight class sport, so optimal cuts to make weight at the top of a class while maintaining strength is a big part of the sport. It’s appealing to consider making a cut without restricting water and food, without using a sauna, and without spitting.

Our team has several 2024 Olympic hopefuls, so I can’t simply “try something” at a big national or international meet. I would try a KD out at a local meet beginning at 21-days out to get over the initial performance decrease experienced during the first few days. The main thing I would be looking for in the first meet is exactly how much weight is shed without further restrictions. The key is to get a potential percentage. Therefore, if the athlete drops 2% from KD only, I can assume 2% of a cut in an athlete who isn’t restricted to a KD will come from the KD alone. That will let me know how much needs to come from other means such as increased activity or further restrictions in calories – aka calories in vs. calories out.

Here’s an example. If I have a 73kg male athlete, I normally like him to stay within 2-3% of their bodyweight or 1.46-2.19kg. If we find a KD alone sheds 2%, then we can expect our athlete to easily shed the weight – and based on Paoli, keep his power and strength. This could be a really big advantage for our athletes as well as a healthy alternative. (Paoli, et. al., 2015).


Paoli, A., A. Bianco, and Grimaldi, K.A. (2015). The Ketogenic Diet and Sport: A Possible Marriage?. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, Vol. 43, pp. 153-162

Zinn, C., Wood, M., Williden, M., Chatterton, S., and Maunder, E. (2017). Ketogenic Diet Benefits body composition and well-being but no performance in a pilot case study of New Zealand endurance athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14:22 DOI 10.1186/s12970-017-0180-0

Getting Into Walmart with Anders Varner – The Barbell Life 329

Anders Varner is about to do something HUGE.

Barbell Shrugged will soon be selling exercise programs in WALMART!

It’s a passion project that Anders, Doug Larson, and I have been working on for months now. And I’m so excited because I think this could really help bring a new level of fitness and health to communities that need it the most.

We’re not talking about people who regularly snatch at their local box. We’re talking about Walmart customers who don’t know what a calorie is, who have never worked out, who are obese and on their way to all sorts of health issues.

I think this could change the world.

So listen in to hear about it – plus HOW Anders got into Walmart in the first place… and what he’s learned along the way.


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