Garbage In; Garbage Out

Are you unhappy with how you look? Do you look in the mirror wishing you had a muscular physique instead of a portly disposition? Are you unhappy with your performance? Do you want to still train into old age? These are legitimate concerns that you are okay to have. Surprisingly the “online strength training communities” seem to have a disdain for “healthy eating”, yet have a respect for strong guys who are also jacked. It’s quite possible to achieve, but it takes effort.

This won't make you jacked


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Group Think
Everyone knows that in order to grow, you need to eat. There’s an understanding that calories are required to get larger muscles, but that concept has been taken to the extreme. The problem arises from very skinny guys shouting, “I cannot grow, my metabolism is too fast!” That garners the response of larger men to say, “You can grow if you would just eat. I bet you’d grow if you drank a gallon of milk a day.” If the skinny guy actually drank a gallon milk, he, of course, would grow. In truth, the skinny guy is not accustomed to an eating regimen that puts enough food into his body; mechanically he cannot handle the volume due to an adaptation of not eating a lot (he wouldn’t be skinny if he ate a lot). The short term answer is to acquire liquid calories since it’s mechanically easy to consume. Milk is full of calories balanced across the macronutrients and is nature’s growth food.

This mindset of acquiring calories flourishes to include any calorie-dense food. However, calorie-dense foods are often not the healthiest choices. They are full of carbohydrates, sodium, and artificial chemicals that have a ravaging effect on hormones and encourage inflammation. A diet with high calories and low quality will eventually result in being out of shape. This doesn’t mean that “dirty meals” (like fast food, pancakes, ice cream, etc.) don’t have a place. I’ve written how dirty meals can be used in preparation of very heavy training sessions and these meals can even be used to help aid recovery. However, they shouldn’t be a staple in the diet.

This “eat to succeed” mindset permeates to the point where of pride. Anyone eating healthy or caring about how they look is mocked. But why should they be? Is it wrong to want to look powerful in healthy in addition to being strong? Don’t we all respect jacked lifters like Klokov, Konstantinovs, and John Kuc (steroids notwithstanding)? When a reader of this site forgoes their body image in the pursuit of strength, I know that they have succumbed to the “internet peer pressure” to not give a shit. And that’s unfortunate. Johnny Pain actively puts out a message that it’s okay to be concerned with how you look. I agree, especially because this website started as a result of the admiration for jacked lifters in the ’70s. No other person should have a bearing on what makes you happy or what your goals are. They may think it’s weird, but they should still clap you on the back and say, “Yeah man, whatever you wanna do.”

Aesthetics
The easiest way to improve aesthetics and body fat levels are to simply eat better quality food. Are you eating sandwiches, cereal, waffles, granola bars, fast food, and processed food items on a daily basis? It’s possible to get similar macronutrient quantities with better quality food. “Quality food” includes any type of meat and eggs, potatoes, butter, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and fruit. Note that meat is plentiful, frequent, and necessary. While a Paleo focus would alter the quantity of some of those side items (to improve on Omega 3 and 6 ratios and limit fructose), eating these higher quality foods will be better than bad quality foods. This shouldn’t be surprising since whole, natural foods will obviously have more nutrients and less chemicals than the processed alternative.

Inflammation
Bad quality foods typically don’t digest well, cause irritation in the gut, and will typically contribute to systemic inflammation. Gut irritation essentially means that the intestinal lining is destroyed resulting in an “inflamed gut”. Some foods can even create perforations in the intestinal wall resulting in a “leaky gut”. Either way it inflames the area — which automatically increases the systemic inflammation — and doesn’t absorb nutrients efficiently. Since the body is trying to heal the inflamed gut, it doesn’t heal other non-gut things very well either. Overall, this contributes to further inflammation since other stresses don’t have the full “recovery capability” of the system. This means that recovery is slower for stress, whether the stress is from training or illness.

Said in another way, eating crappy food develops systemic inflammation. This depresses the system to a point where it is at a deficit and can’t handle other stresses as well. Therefore, if you eat higher quality foods, then you can avoid this mishap and ensure that you are optimally recovering from training. Optimally recovering from training is important for getting stronger, but also for developing muscles.

Strength and Muscles
As you grasp your training partners meaty grips in your man crusher, you will say, “Strength and muscles, brother.” It’s what it’s all about. But can you get strong and jacked on a a diet that accounts for aesthetics and inflammation?

The answer is “Yeah buddy.” I pretty much eat a paleo diet, but occasionally eat a double bacon cheese burger. I can do an “updated food log” soon, but the diet should revolve around the Grandma Principles and “meat and potatoes”. Eat real food: tons of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and some fruit. Eat fattier cuts of meat to get necessary fat calories and ensure that protein levels are conducive to strength training or body fat loss (note that more protein is necessary when losing body fat). Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and fat. Eat some vegetables for nutrients on top of a multi-vitamin, and have some fruit. The bulk of the carbs should come from the potatoes. The vegetables are primarily for ruffage/fiber and fruit is nice because it’s tasty. Your goals will vary some details of this eating style like quantity of macronutrients and timing of carbohydrates.

It's possible to be a serious lifter and follow paleo guidelines

Preferences
I prefer beef or pork since they carry fat calories. I make ground beef, burger patties (also ground), steak occasionally, pork loin, and ribs. We also make chili regularly. Currently I don’t eat “grass fed” because of the lack of availability, but grass fed meat products would improve the Omega 3 ratio to result in decreasing inflammation. Fish oil is important in that it can give you Omega 3’s to change the ratio with respect to Omega 6’s, and that’s why we suggest ingesting it.

I prefer sweet potatoes because I think that they taste better than white potatoes; the sweet variation is also preferable to fat guys as the glycemic index is lower (the only nutrient difference between sweet and white potatoes is that sweet potatoes have carotene and vitamin A, otherwise they are pretty similar).

I use butter to garner more calories on my potatoes, and will sometimes eat peanut butter, almond butter, or olive oil for extra calories if I’m not hungry or don’t have time (the peanut/almond stuff has higher Omega 6s, so I’ve actually been limiting them). The nut butters are usually eaten with dark chocolate (90% cocoa). I also supplement whey protein daily because it’s easy, effective, and cost efficient.

Health
As a result of reducing overall inflammation, the body operates more efficiently. Practically speaking, this means that you will recovery better. But it also means you are healthier. Controlling inflammation from within will make for an optimally acting body that doesn’t have hormones out of whack. It’s also possible to support strength training with a high quality diet, but care will have to be given into how that occurs. For serious trainees — like nationally or internationally competitive lifters and athletes — how they conduct their eating will matter more. They may even require additional calories in the form of “non quality meals” (consider Michael Phelps), but the majority of readers on this site are not at such a level. If you have a normal job instead of training as a job, then you probably don’t apply.

Summary
It’s okay to care about your health and how you look. Personally, I’ve never wanted to be flabby or out of shape and intend to lift and have an active life deep into old age. Instead of eating “just to take in calories”, aim to eat in a way that establishes those calories with higher quality foods so that you can a) meet the macro requirements but also b) improve your body composition, c) reduce systemic inflammation, and subsequently d) recovery better and be healthier. It’s possible to apply a Paleo concept to a lifter’s goals and lifestlye. Do so by eating lots of meat, potatoes, and other high quality foods. When you splurge, limit how and when for optimal results.

This post can help you get started on a road to higher quality food, but I aim to talk about this in the future. You’ll notice that some of the concepts in this post contradict some older posts (i.e. 2+ years ago) of 70’s Big. If I stayed ingrained in an single belief and didn’t try to make you as strong, jacked, and healthy as possible then I’m just a negligent asshole. Dietary guidelines have shifted and improved over time, otherwise most of the content still applies.

45 thoughts on “Garbage In; Garbage Out

  1. Solid Fucking Post. Paleo plus whey is my go to diet for leaning out. Dark chocolate is the shit, and so are sweet potatoes.

    I used to be hard line about paleo, no whey only whole foods blah blah. Then after tracking stuff off and on for a year, I realized that my personal limit on ability to eat meat caps out at around 180-190g protein a day (around two pounds cooked weight). Whey is amazing as an additional source. I mean, you can only eat 12+oz of meat for so many meals day in and day out.

    Also, I have to comment. I really like the way the site has progressed and the focus has shifted as the readership has matured and you’ve refined your knowledge base over the past several years. Keep up the great work Justin!

  2. Great post! Your note about buttering up your foods reminds me of somethign I recently discovered. I’ve started blending olive or avacado oil and butter together. I just take some butter and leave it out in the blender for an hour or two to soften, add an equal amount of oil and blend them (just pulses so that it doesn’t heat up). Pour that mixture into a container and put it back in the fridge. You now have something that spreads as easily as margarine, has a good Omega 3/6 ratio, and is natural rather than being made of whatever the F margarine is made of. Oh, it tastes really good too.

  3. Timely post as I was just ridiculed in my office for eating tilapia I had cooked and packaged myself for an afternoon meal. Although I don’t eat strictly paleo I have recently adopted many of the general guidelines over the past couple months and feel noticeably better. I fall into the category of one those “hard gainers” that thought I could eat anything I want without any negative side effects and although I didn’t really gain much body fat from poor eating, I realized it still had many negative outcomes on my overall health and training. I have since cut out almost all carbs besides the fruit in my morning protein shake and typically a mid afternoon carb like oatmeal prior to training and have greatly increased the fat I get from oils. Meat continues to be in abundance and I’m feeling better and better.

  4. This post couldn’t be more timely. I just told my wife last night how much I was craving some fried chicken. It might have be my post-workout meal on Friday evening.

  5. I’d like to hear your thoughts in re: to the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) outlook on dieting, in particular the ideology of Alan Aragon, Lyle MacDonald, and Martin Berkhan. Seems to fly in the face of paleo, at least in regards to body composition.

  6. Justin, what do you think of couscous? My wife and I like to eat it as it’s quick and easy to make (5 minutes from the box) as well as delicious. It’s fairly high in protein for a grain (6g/serving) and I don’t feel inflamed or bloated from it the way I do from eating a lot of rice or pasta.

    Also, I’m not giving up PB&J’s for breakfast on training days (or fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches for recovery meals). No way. Though I try to buy bread that has more protein and less sodium.

  7. @Maslow

    (read with sarcastic tone)Oh no, no rice, it’s a GRAIN and grains are bad and cause inflammation and should be avoided.

    Seriously, check out Alan Aragon’s analysis of the Paleo diet and the anti-grain hysteria in the December 2009 and October 2011 issues of his research reviews.

    I often wonder, did any of the jacked lifters of the 70s that this site idolizes allow themselves to be conned into not eating quality whole foods like rice, oats and beans? And if the Paleo fad had existed then, would they have followed it?

    Oh, and this post my Paul Carter is particularly topical I feel:

    http://www.lift-run-bang.com/2011/04/cavemen-muscle-mass-keto-diets-milk-and.html

  8. @jords

    Spot on, I agree 100%. In the end, science has shown that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Excess is the culprit here, not these mystical “clean” and “dirty” foods.

  9. Good Post. Pretty relevant to me too.

    I’m a student and don’t have access to a microwave at lunch. Sick of eating sandwiches, anybody got any ideas what I could do?

    Obviously potatoes would be good, but I’m struggling to think of what to do with them cold.

    The hot food available from the cafe is dog shit.

  10. REAL PALEO:

    quit your job, undress, run around a field/mountain/forest, find live animal, kill live animal with barehands or tool made from stone, spend an hour trying to rip apart raw meat with your shitty perfect 21st century teeth, break open bones, suck on marrow, stuff face with any organ not filled with a fresh shit, run from an animal bigger and stronger than you, try not to fall off a cliff.

    no? ok then order a fucking “PALEO KIT” you fucking PUSSY piece of shit on the ground.

  11. @ilcrawford yeah exactly. I read marks daily apple and basically agree with the principles in that article. I’m just wondering if there’s something about a potato that Justin likes other than taste.

  12. I really enjoyed this post. I switched to a paleo with whey diet back in January. The difference it’s made is fucking amazing. Ive lost a lot of body fat feel like i recover better. I just ate really shitty this past weekend cuz I was visiting family and I made an exception. I felt like total shit obviously.

  13. Justin: does all of this advice apply equally well to women? I generally eat slabs of meat, potatoes, eggs, fruit, and veggies (along with whey).* But given that our body composition is different, our metabolic needs are different (and fluctuate more), we’re not as efficient at building muscle, and we typically weigh less, would any of the advice here (or in related posts) change? I’m happy with my body composition, but always looking for better recovery.

    *The meal pictured is exactly what I ate for dinner two nights ago, minus one chicken leg. I was HONGRAY.

  14. I mean, obviously eating real food is a good idea. I’m thinking more specifically about protein numbers, paying special attention to iron intake (which I do), or other little things that might vary but that I might not think about.

  15. Dig the food pyramid. I pull out a big piece of pork tenderloin and a nice big side of veggies at work for lunch and everyone is drooling with envy. Like they have no idea how it’s even possible to not eat pizza or KFC.

    Paleo? Not Paleo? Fuck labels. Eat meat and vegetables and throw in some dairy and potato around your workouts to increase your glycogen supply.

    For my work week lunch and dinners on Sunday I made:
    2 pounds of hamburgers (portioned into snack size and meal sized),
    1 pound steak
    4 pound pot roast
    2 ton of broccoli
    3 sweet potatoes
    2 mashed potato for workout days.
    Throw in some collards greens and I’m good to go for the week. I’ll grab a grapefruit or apple here and there.

    This shit takes commitment people. You are willing to do the work, but food matters.

  16. good post justin. I guess I’m one of those guys that wants to be jacked/strong and active/healthy. I’m cutting some weight currently and it’s a biatch.

    I must admit one thing that has helped me greatly is really watching my protein intake (AC recommended I track it to make sure I’m meeting at least my body weight in grams of protein). And as gay as it sounds I’ve been using MyFitnessPal on the iPhone to track it because you can scan in labels, and it has helped tremendously to watch my macro-nutrients throughout the day/week.

  17. Then you have guys like me (and my brother) whose metabolisms are insane. I’m at about 190-195lbs and eating 6000+ calories/300g+ of protein a day, I and can barely gain weight. Yes, that includes a full gallon of whole milk every day, multiple protein shakes, and fruit, vegetables, and meat. It doesn’t seem reasonable that a person should have to eat 8 meals a day in order to gain weight.

  18. Great post.
    Watching my weight this week for a grappling tournament, so reading about food and eating big was probably a bad idea.
    I will say this is the first tournament I’ve done where I’ve been concentrating on strength training, and I’m competing at closer to my ‘walking around’ weight, and I feel way better. I should weigh in at just a couple pounds under my daily weight, versus cutting down 10+lbs to get to the weight class below like in the past.
    Being able to eat big has been a breath of fresh air.

    Somewhat unrelated, but this seemed the most current, relevant place to post this question…
    How do you measure body fat? What’s your preferred method? Or does this even factor into your training?
    This is honestly just more of a curiousity thing as opposed to a way to dramatically alter my training/diet. The last time I had my body fat measured was with one of those electronic “hold these two handles” devices.

  19. Really? Doug Young is rolling over in his grave. In the last month, you’ve changed your stance on 5 x 5, crossfit and now eating big. Maybe this site should be called 70sbig4bodybuilders..?

  20. reidj,
    A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. Its simplistic to think of them in that manner. Martin Berkhan (leangains) has some decent write-ups regarding food quality. He goes into pretty good analysis of why calories are not the be-all-end-all, particularly regarding protein. It’s extremely difficult to store and use protein as energy, and you can only do so in a very limited fashion. That’s where people like Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon’s arguments fall apart. They also conveniently ignore the whole “food quality” aspect of paleo, instead turning it into a “macros and micros” discussion when that’s not always the case. For example: I can’t eat any peanut products, they fuck my world up, since I removed them from my diet I’ve added significant strength and mass while eating the same macro ratios and calories. But AA and LM would say I’m wrong because it’s just fat, carbs and protein.

    There’s also a lot of scientific studies that demonstrate whole milk has greater muscle building effects than identical macro and calorie diets do that don’t include whole milk. If a calorie is a calorie is a calorie why is that the case?

  21. jasonbvt,

    link to Martin’s article?

    That’s a pretty example to prove your point due to at least the following:
    – You don’t know if it’s not as simple as macros and calories. Peanuts are after all very calorie rich and super easy to overeat.
    – It’s an anecdote. Sample sizes of 1 aren’t too useful for drawing general conclusions.

  22. How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day the 70’s Big Way by Sweg Wrestler:

    No. 10. Train with your sweetie and make it a heavy squat day.

    No. 9. Train with your sweetie and do heavy deadlifts.

    No. 8. Buy something heavy for your sweetie.

    No. 7. Give your sweetie a foam roller or lacrosse balls so she can work her mobility.

    No. 6. Forget that lingerie nonsense — give your sweetie a pair of Tommy Kono knee bands.

    Note: For bonus points, throw in a 70’s Big Training t-shirt or a 70’s Big Training hoodie.

    No. 5. Splurge big and buy your sweetie a power rack.

    No. 4. Cook a 70’s Big dinner for your sweetie.

    Note: 70’s Big dinners consist of smoked brisket and and a tall glass of chocolate milk.

    No. 3. Find one of the romantic passages in the ‘Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe’ and read it to your sweetie.

    Note: If you can’t find a romantic passage in the ‘Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe’, then find one that
    involves hard work and heavy iron or when he bashes half-squatters.

    No. 2. Hard work, heavy iron, and a candlelight dinner for two.

    No. 1. Hard work, heavy iron, a hot tub for two, and the rest I leave to your imagination.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!