7 best ways to get leaner with no effort
When growing crops, you can have the best fertilizers and ideal weather conditions but if the soil is rotten you will get very little production. The same is true with your body: You can provide it with as much protein as necessary, use the best supplements, and train hard but if your body is “rotten” you will not progress optimally. It will be difficult both to build muscle and lose fat.
“Rotten” means “not optimally healthy”, and here I’m referring to three situations in particular:
- a high acid load
- poor insulin sensitivity
- low grade systemic inflammation
Any of these three conditions can be damaging for your health and will have a profoundly negative impact on your gains.
This is not something I used to worry about. For years I refused to answer any questions about my diet because quite frankly it was bad! I ate no veggies, very little fruit, a lot of red meat and no fish, and my sources of carbs were often bread, breakfast cereal and even candy! I managed to stay lean because I basically forced myself to go for long periods on low calories in between periods of binging. Because I stayed lean and was decently muscular, I figured that it was fine. I could have been the poster child for IIFYM!
But then some serious health issues appeared, among them kidney damage due to uncontrolled blood pressure, poor sugar management and a very high acid load. For 3 years I was unable to gain muscle, and when I tried to get leaner I only got flatter. I tried everything to gain muscle and nothing worked.
When I changed my diet to an anti-inflammatory/low acid load diet (it was my Hail Mary) I instantly began to progress again! I was able to get leaner and build muscle and on top of that felt a ton better physically and mentally.
In this article I will provide a detailed account of 7 changes I made that I feel had the greatest impact on getting my body healthier leading to positive body composition without effort!
But first a few words on the three conditions that cause the body to “rot”.
Despite getting old and having some serious health issues in the past years I managed to get to my leanest ever simply by changing dietary habits.
A high acid load
Before we get started, let’s discuss pH. PH is a measure of how acid (or alkaline) something is (in our case, the body). A pH value of 7 is considered to be neutral. Anything below 7 is considered acidic and the lower the value, the higher the acidity level. Alkalines have a value above 7 and the higher the value, the higher the alkalinity.
pH lower than 7 = acid
pH higher than 7 = alkaline
Now, in order for your body to function properly, its level of acidity must be within a certain range. Although the ideal level is a pH of 7.4 (so slightly alkaline), it functions optimally between 7.0 and 7.5. Anywhere lower than 7.0, things start to function less optimally. Naturally, the body will strive to maintain its level of acidity within the appropriate range. If your pH drops, it will release stored substances in an effort to rebalance the pH.
This sounds great…right? I mean, we don’t even have to worry about the body becoming acidic if it can balance itself… right? Not so fast! The substances your body releases to rebalance the body have to come from somewhere:
When the body becomes acidic it will first “mobilize” stored calcium and phosphorus in an effort to alkalinize. Where does the calcium and phosphorus come from? Your bones! So your body’s effort to rebalance pH can actually weaken your bones.
Another substance that can be used to alkalinize the body is sodium bicarbonate, which is released by the pancreas. When you are in a constant state of acidosis though, the pancreas becomes overloaded and this can have harmful effects that reduce its capacity to produce insulin and may even lead to diabetes.
Glutamine, an amino acid that is most abundant in muscle tissue, is another buffering agent. When you become acidic, your body will breakdown muscle tissue (meaning that you lose muscle) to make glutamine available.
The kidneys, which much like the pancreas are responsible for sending bicarbonate to the blood, are working overtime every time your body needs to be de-acidified, while the liver is responsible for excreting acids. If you are in a constant state of acidosis long term, these three organs will suffer damage. But even in the short term, acidosis can really kill your progress.
For those of you who only skimmed through this more physiological portion of text here are the important things to remember:
When the body is in a long term state of constant acidosis, these things happen:
- Weakening of the bones (loss of calcium and phosphorus)
- Loss of muscle or significant difficulty building muscle and recovering from training (due to muscle breakdown for glutamine release)
- Negative impact on hormonal profile (GH resistance, decrease in IGF-1, problems with the insulin system, increase in cortisol)
Simply put, if your body is constantly trying to re-balance itself because your nutrition is too acid-forming, it is absolutely impossible to progress rapidly when it comes to body composition.
Low-grade systemic inflammation
Low-grade systemic inflammation affects the whole body (not only tendons and muscles but organs, blood vessels, etc.), overloads and eventually weakens the immune system, speeds up aging and plays a role in the development of several conditions such as insulin resistance (even diabetes). As far as aesthetics are concerned LGSI makes you retain water both subcutaneously (beneath the skin) and within fat cells, both of which make you look fatter than you really are. Since the muscle-building process is so highly dependent on the immune system, LGSI reduces your capacity to gain muscle via the aforementioned overloading and weakening effect.
TC Luoma wrote a great article covering the details of systemic inflammation:
Poor insulin sensitivity
Simply put, if you have poor insulin sensitivity you must produce a lot more of it when you eat a meal. This increases the workload on the pancreas and can further desensitize insulin receptors even (making you even less sensitive), which can both lead to diabetes.
From a body composition point of view, having to produce more insulin to do the job (because you are desensitized) makes losing fat significantly harder. As long as insulin is high, your body is in storage mode and energy mobilization is less efficient. This means that the longer insulin stays elevated, the harder it is to lose fat.
Poor insulin sensitivity, especially in the muscles, can also make it much harder to gain muscle mass. Insulin resistant muscle cells cannot absorb amino acids and glucose as efficiently, and these are important building blocks for muscle gain. What’s more, it will be more difficult to replenish glycogen stores.
Ideally, you want to be as insulin sensitive as possible, and this is especially important for the muscle cells (although not discussed in this article, INDIGO 3G is the only product that specifically targets muscle insulin sensitivity).
Now, on with my 7 things…
- Eat green veggies at every meal except peri-workout
It is safe to say that iron addicts generally eat too much protein. Steroids allow the body to use more amino acids because of the higher rate of protein synthesis, but if you are a natural trainee, the amount of protein your body can use to build muscle is limited. Truth is, a natural trainee will get no additional benefits from consuming more than 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
But even 1 g per pound is still is a decent amount of protein, and foods high in protein have a high acid load. Now I’m not saying that you need to eat a low protein diet. What I am saying though, is that every time you eat sources of protein (animal products mostly), you should also be eating veggies. In particular, green veggies like spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, kale, etc. will counter the high acid load of the protein food and there is a good chance that you will, in fact, make your meal alkaline.
What we put in our mouth is either acid-forming (making the body more acidic) or base-forming (make the body less acidic). If you eat a meal consisting of acid-forming foods, your body will become more acidic and start to release substances in an effort to regain balance. And well, we just discussed all the drawbacks of that situation…
On the contrary, if your diet contains a lot more base-forming (alkaline) foods versus acid-forming ones, you will not create and imbalance and your body will not have to mobilize resources to re-balance. This is optimal for building muscles and losing fat.
Remember this: the body will respond best to training if it is in a optimal state of function where none of the systems are being overloaded.
Since we need protein to build muscle, we need to increase our veggie intake (versus decreasing protein intake) to make sure that each meal is NOT acid. The important takeaway here is that you need to consume your veggies with every meal. It’s not enough to consume them by themselves during the day, or have a huge amount of them in one meal.
- Use a concentrated veggies/fruits formula
Veggies and fruits aren’t just useful for reducing the acid load of your meals, they also provide you with a ton of vitamins and minerals that are required for the body to function optimally.
Let me be blunt: if you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals your health, strength, size and fat loss progress will never be optimal.
The problem is that even with the best intentions, it’s really hard to avoid deficiencies with diet alone. First, there is the question of taste: there may be vitamins and minerals found mostly in stuff you just don’t like to eat. Second, planning can be difficult: it can be tricky to plan a diet providing all the required nutrients every day. Another factor can be calories: if you are on a low carbs diet, you don’t want to consume fruits because of their carb content so you will be missing out on their many important vitamins. Add to that fact that today’s fruits and veggies tend to be less nutritious than those that we had 20-30 years ago, and it becomes clear how easily we can become deficient.
For all of these reasons, I like to use concentrated fruits and veggies formula. It’s convenient and provides me with the assurance that I am getting more complete nutrition.
- Eat more white and less red
Here’s where I won’t make any friends: You should replace most of the red meat you eat by white fish, chicken or turkey. Fatty fish is fine too.
Don’t get me wrong, I love red meat! I used to have it up to three times a day. I ate it for breakfast when I was trying to get leaner, and a big juicy tenderloin was my go-to restaurant meal when going out with my wife. But now I’ve pretty much stopped having red meat. Well, truth be told, I have it roughly once every two weeks during the aforementioned restaurant outing with my wife.
My decision has nothing to do with decreasing the risk of heart issues (the jury is still out on this one and there is evidence for both sides). Rather, it’s because my entire diet is now based on reducing acid load and inflammation and sadly, the fatty acid profile in red meat (tons of omega-6 fatty acids) makes it highly inflammatory. As soon as I replaced red meat with fish, chicken and turkey (shrimp too) I began to feel better and dropped 3lbs of water retention.
I recently talked to Paul Carter about this. Out of the blue he told me that he dropped red meat himself when preparing for a contest and that’s when he began to drop fat rapidly. After his contests, he would reintroduce some meat for a while and then cut it out again, and surely enough, he started to get leaner when he cut it out. He even told me that most bodybuilders dieting for a contest stop eating red meat. So it’s nice to see that I’m not the only one having observed this effect.
If you are young and reading this you will probably dismiss it. If you are a meat lover, you will find arguments that will legitimate your desire to continue to eat meat. I know because I did this for years! But the reality is that you will get leaner much more easily if you replace the red with white, and had I accepted that then the way I do now, I am 100% sure I would have a better physique and overall health.
But hey, it’s never too late to make smart choices rather than emotional ones.
- Use a potent omega-3 supplement and curcumin
I firmly believe that everybody (even those not training at all) should supplement with high-quality fish oil as well as a curcumin formula with good absorption (for that it has to contain piperine). Furthermore, they should be consumed together since fat facilitates the absorption of curcumin. These provide more health-boosting benefits than any other product you can buy. Just go to PubMed and do a search for omega 3 or curcumin and pretty much any health issue and you will find studies showing a positive effect.
In terms of improving body composition, these supplements are interesting because they provide an improvement in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in low-grade systemic inflammation. Note that both of these products deserve a full 3000-word article of their own. For the purpose of this article, I will only give you a brief resume of their impact.
Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) has been shown to have a very positive effect on insulin sensitivity and curcumin has been shown to reverse insulin resistance (making you more insulin sensitive). So both fish oil and curcumin will improve your body’s response to insulin. As a result, your body won’t need to release as much insulin when you eat. In turn, your insulin levels will be elevated for shorter periods making it easier to mobilize and burn fat.
EPA (one of the omega-3 fatty acids) promotes the reduction of inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for the production of arachidonic acid, a highly inflammatory acid. It also antagonizes a second enzyme that prevents the release of stored arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is necessary for the production of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.
“Curcumin has been shown to regulate numerous transcription factors, cytokines, protein kinases, adhesion molecules, redox status and enzymes that have been linked to inflammation” (Aggarwal BB, Harikumar KB. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases. The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology. 2009;41(1):40-59.)
Also worth noting, there is some evidence that curcumin acts directly to reduce abdominal fat storage by reducing cortisol release in that area and by reducing leptin resistance. Leptin resistance causes a metabolic slowdown and increases fat storage.
I personally use very high doses of curcumin (12g per day) to help with my kidney health. In my experience, 6g per day split into 2 or 3 doses is ideal to fight off inflammation.
I also take two servings of fish oil per day in split doses (6-9g per dose).
- Drink sodium bicarbonate
This is likely the best way to reduce the acid load on the body and is also great to fight bacteria and infections. It can also help buffer lactic acid when you train. As such, you will reach failure due to muscle fiber fatigue, and not because of a build-up of lactic acid. This will also allow you to recover faster between sets.
I became interested in sodium bicarbonate when I read that it could be very helpful in reducing the load on the kidneys. Because I have kidney problems, I am interested in anything that can reduce the load placed on it. Bicarbonate helps fight metabolic acidosis, which is both a result and a cause of kidney problems. It has been shown to slow down the degeneration of kidneys by at least 33%.
To get leaner, I personally take 12-25g of sodium bicarbonate (I use the Arm & Hammer brand) divided into 2 daily doses.
- Take apple cider vinegar
ACV has a serious positive impact on insulin sensitivity. It is also the only vinegar that actually reduces the acid load in the body. So ACV will both improve insulin sensitivity and reduce acidity in the body. And if that wasn’t enough, the mineral content in ACV also helps fight off inflammation! It’s basically an ingredient that has a positive impact on the three most important elements of keeping the body healthy. I know that not everybody likes the taste (I sure don’t) but the health benefits are more than worth the effort.
To get leaner, take 2 tablespoons mixed in water two or three times a day with food.
- If you need fast carbs, go with pineapple
Most of your daily carb intake, except for your peri-workout protocol, should be lower on the glycemic and insulinemic index. Carbs that are lower on these indexes lead to the release of less insulin.
In some case though, like post-workout, you want faster carbs to better replenish muscle glycogen and take advantage of the glut-4 activation from the workout. When trying to get lean I like to have a protein/carb supplement like PLAZMA pre and during the workout, as it has the fastest absorption. Post-workout I prefer to have solid food because when my calories are lowered, I take every opportunity to ingest solid food over a liquid meal.
My go-to post-workout carb is pineapple. First, because it tastes awesome! Don’t laugh, having something like pineapple in a fat loss diet can be a huge psychological boost! And there are many other reasons:
- It’s glycemic index of 66 is enough to be effective for replenishing muscle glycogen, but not high enough to cause a huge insulin output.
- Less than 10% of its carbs come from fructose. Fructose is not efficiently stored in muscle, so you want to choose fruits that are low in this type of sugar, although some is good for replenishing liver glycogen. Keeping liver glycogen stores fill is important to keep the metabolism revving up.
- It has anti-inflammatory properties because of the bromelain. If you haven’t noticed yet, fighting acidity and inflammation is kind of a big deal!
- Even though its taste is acidic, it actually reduces the acid load in the body, which is important post-workout because the workout itself acidifies the body. So if you had something like grains post-workout, you might replenish glycogen stores but you would further increase the acid load.
- Bromelain is also helpful in the digestion of protein and will help you utilize the protein you eat post- workout.
- The vitamin C content can help bring cortisol back down after the workout. While elevated cortisol during the session is important for energy mobilization, you want to lower it post-workout to promote a more anabolic state.