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  1. #1
    Veteran MrRippedZilla's Avatar
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    Adjusting calories when bulking or cutting

    This topic was inspired by a combination of this thread from POB and the generic "add/drop 500 cals" advice I see across the boards. We're going to dig into data for bulking followed by cutting and, hopefully, give some more practical recommendations to help us do things a bit more accurately.

    Bulking


    The caloric surplus you calculate vs the caloric surplus actually in play can be vastly different predominantly due to the wild inter-individual differences in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). NEAT refers to unconscious physical activity such as fidgeting, maintaining posture, etc - stuff you don't really think about doing but are actually doing.

    To truly understand how large the inter-individual differences can be when it comes to NEAT, we'll be focused on this classic study.
    - They took non-obese, 25-36yr old adults and fed them a 1,000 calorie surplus for 8 weeks. No training or exercise protocol needed.
    - Body comp was measured via DXA & energy expenditure (EE) via doubly labeled water. Both gold standard methods.
    - The results of this surplus:
    metabolic table2.jpg
    Most would've predicted that a 1000cal/day surplus should lead to a weight gain of 2lbs per week. So, for a total of 8 weeks, we should expect a total weight gain of 16lbs. Right?
    Well, in this carefully controlled study, only 4.7kg (10.34lbs) was gained on average. That means most would've over predicted the weight gain by 54.7%. That's a big miscalculation.

    Worth noting, of that 1,000cal surplus, only 432cals were stored & 521cals burnt off. Two-thirds of the latter through NEAT - the key difference maker.
    The range of NEAT increase was a huge variable (100-700cals/day) and explains why we have some folks who are "hard gainers". If you're eating 1,000 cals more but also, unconsciously , burning off 692 of those cals then...that "calculated" surplus isn't really what you thought it was.

    Summary & recommendations

    So, how much of a caloric surplus is needed for bulking? Answer: it depends.
    For some folks, a 200-300cal increase will be plenty. For others, you may need to go 700-800. And for a select few, such as the person in the study who only gained 1.4kg (3.1lbs), 1000+ might be required.
    Trial & error is necessary. I'd advice starting on the lower-mid range (depending on how susceptible yo are to fat gain) and adjusting from there based on results.

    How much weight gain to aim for? Here you go:

    - For natural beginners I honestly wouldn't focus too much on how much to gain as long as you're gaining. Focus on progression in the gym and dieting fundamentals (protein intake, etc) and leave the rest for later down the road.
    - For non-newbie naturals an average gain of 2-3lbs/month is PLENTY. For women in the same category, go 1.5-2.5lbs/month.

    - For enhanced lifters you can easily justify going to 5-8lbs/month for guys, 4-5lbs/month for women. Obviously it will depend on dosages, how comfortable you are with stretch marks, etc, etc but even at this rate I don't see fat gain being a real issue.


    Cutting

    This section will build off some of the stuff from this thread with regards to the metabolic adaptations that occur when dieting that make the "calculated" weight loss inaccurate. In other words, you lose less than you expected with NEAT playing a big part again. So, how much less and why?

    Does metabolic compensation explain the majority of less-than-expected weight loss in obese adults during a short-term severe diet and exercise intervention? (PM for full paper)

    OBJECTIVE:
    We investigated to what extent changes in metabolic rate and composition of weight loss explained the less-than-expected weight loss in obese men and women during a diet-plus-exercise intervention.
    DESIGN:
    In all, 16 obese men and women (41 ± 9 years; body mass index (BMI) 39 ± 6 kg m(-2)) were investigated in energy balance before, after and twice during a 12-week very-low-energy diet(565-650 kcal per day) plus exercise (aerobic plus resistance training) intervention. The relative energy deficit (EDef) from baseline requirements was severe (74%-87%). Body composition was measured by deuterium dilution and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and resting metabolic rate (RMR) was measured by indirect calorimetry. Fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) were converted into energy equivalents using constants 9.45 kcal per g FM and 1.13 kcal per g FFM. Predicted weight loss was calculated from the EDef using the '7700 kcal kg(-1) rule'.
    RESULTS:
    Changes in weight (-18.6 ± 5.0 kg), FM (-15.5 ± 4.3 kg) and FFM (-3.1 ± 1.9 kg) did not differ between genders. Measured weight loss was on average 67% of the predicted value, but ranged from 39% to 94%. Relative EDef was correlated with the decrease in RMR (R=0.70, P<0.01), and the decrease in RMR correlated with the difference between actual and expected weight loss (R=0.51, P<0.01). Changes in metabolic rate explained on average 67% of the less-than-expected weight loss, and variability in the proportion of weight lost as FM accounted for a further 5%. On average, after adjustment for changes in metabolic rate and body composition of weight lost, actual weight loss reached 90% of the predicted values.
    CONCLUSION:
    Although weight loss was 33% lower than predicted at baseline from standard energy equivalents, the majority of this differential was explained by physiological variables. Although lower-than-expected weight loss is often attributed to incomplete adherence to prescribed interventions, the influence of baseline calculation errors and metabolic downregulation should not be discounted.


    Brief comments on the methodology

    - At 565-650cals/day, all from lean meat & veggies, we're talking about a crash diet.
    - Protein intake was too low for both sexes (0.94g/kg for men, 0.9g/kg for women) and really needed to be at least 1.5g/kg in this context.
    - Not all meals were lab provided, which makes compliance issues (not doing what you were told) likely. Especially on a crash diet where we knowing bingeing is more likely.

    - On the plus side, these folks did undertake 4 cardio sessions & 2 lifting sessions per week. Cardio started at 30 mins per session and gradually built up to 60mins. Lifting involved full body work (shoulder press, chest press, lat pull downs, leg press, bench, squats, upright rows & ab stuff) starting at 60%1RM and working up to 80%1RM across 2 sets to begin with before moving on to 3 sets per movement.

    Results & discussion


    metabolic table.jpg
    The main discovery was that weight loss was 33% less than predicted. Here's why:
    - Resting metabolic rate (RMR) went down by 228cals/day (11%) & diet induced thermogenesis (DIT), which was only predicted not actually measured, went down by 236cals/day. That's a total of 464cals/day explaining 60% of the less than expected weight loss.
    - Less lean mass was lost than predicted. The calculation predicted 79% fat, 21% LBM loss but LBM loss was actually only 18.8% (3-3.1kg out of a total weight loss of 16.1-16.3kg). That's another 30%, taking us to 90% of the difference between predicted & real weight loss being explained.
    - The last 10% can be explained by lack of compliance by the subjects. Happens all the time and more likely with a study design like this.

    Why am I telling you all of this? To show that predicted weight loss becomes incredibly inaccurate once you're deep into your cut.
    Some metabolic adaptations are inevitable and easily explained. RMR drops because you now weigh less = less energy needed to maintain lower body weight. DIT drops because you've been consuming less food = less energy needed for digestion. These are components of adaptive thermogenesis.

    Adaptive thermogenesis is also responsible for the wildly varied drop in energy expenditure due primarily to a drop in NEAT. This drop can be anywhere from 10-27% depending on a myriad of factors (how long you've been dieting, how you've been dieting, activity levels, bf% change, etc). Some, but not all, of this is avoidable - do not go batshit crazy with the cardio, do not have batshit crazy macros and do lift some real weight to keep your muscles.


    Summary & recommendations

    So, we now know why predicting weight loss in inaccurate. What can we do about it?
    - Give yourself 15-20% leeway when it comes to caloric intake. Be flexible. That means being prepared to drop it by that extra amount as you get deeper into dieting. I generically recommend starting with a 20% deficit to see weekly results and rolling on from there.
    - Drugs will help reduce the impact of all of this. Not completely but more than good enough.

    Dealing with women specifically:
    - You girls tend to have lower energy requirements than men and that may cause problems down the line. A typical smaller female may need 1800-2000cals to maintain. 20% deficit knocks that down to 1450-1600cals. 15-25% leeway knocks that down to an average of 1150-1300 cals. This is why women are more susceptible to eating disorders and health issues when dieting.

    - Health issues are coming once fat intake gets too low. Thyroid will absolutely crash if calories get too low. It's difficult to track progress over a short timeframe due to the menstrual cycle impact on water retention. My point - taking extreme action can get you girls into big trouble really quickly.
    - Cardio, not taken to excess, will help tremendously. Do not rely on diet alone.
    - Diet breaks are your best friend. Use them.
    - Do not be afraid to reach out to someone who knows what the **** they're doing. Prevention is so much easier than treatment in this situation.
    Last edited by MrRippedZilla; 09-06-2018 at 05:57 PM.
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    Elite PillarofBalance's Avatar
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    Oh damn this looks like good shit. Trying to buy a car right now. Will read later. Just wanna say thanks to Zilla for putting out well thought posts like this. FOR FREE.
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    Rest in Peace Robot Lord. First round of Natty Boh is on me when I make it up there with you brother.

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    Lots to digest. Just got home from another long leg session and laying down trying to fully consume it is becoming a bit of a challenge. Might be time to give in to caffeine.

    On a side note, I’ve become curious on how digestion/absorption rates affect the predicted surpluses. Having one or two huge meals wouldn’t nearly have the increase the math would show since your body doesn’t seem to have the time to absorb everything. After some peak amount the rest just passes through. A slow steady caloric surplus would seem to have a much higher impact then random spikes.

    edit: Just got to the end and as you predicted, this hits really close to home. Great advice at the end for those of us dealing with it for the first time. The further past my bodies natural setpoint I go the more little things make a huge difference. The adaption in neat, non-precise measurements of liquids or certain carbs, varying water intake, etc. all seem to have much larger impact then the basic math would tell you. The further I get the more fascinated and impressed I get by the people who compete and are able to really manipulate their body composition to the extremes. (Props and thanks to people like Andy)

    Thanks Zilla for another top notch article. (Can’t call it a post)
    Last edited by Viduus; 09-03-2018 at 01:07 PM.
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    Awesome read had to stop half way through, I’ll be back to it in a bit!
    /Doc

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    Senior Member Chillinlow's Avatar
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    Nice read, can you elaborate more on the cardio .... what would you consider is excessive?

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    Veteran MrRippedZilla's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Viduus View Post
    On a side note, I’ve become curious on how digestion/absorption rates affect the predicted surpluses. Having one or two huge meals wouldn’t nearly have the increase the math would show since your body doesn’t seem to have the time to absorb everything. After some peak amount the rest just passes through. A slow steady caloric surplus would seem to have a much higher impact then random spikes.
    Meal frequency wouldn't make any real difference to the thermic effect of food over 24hrs if overall caloric/macro composition was the same. I *think* that's what you were wondering about.
    Meal frequency is more of a practical thing - if you're a hardgainer who requires a large caloric surplus to really put on weight then obviously it's going to be more difficult to consume all of those calories over 2-3 meals vs 5-6. Stuff like that.

    Originally Posted by Chillinlow View Post
    Nice read, can you elaborate more on the cardio .... what would you consider is excessive?
    To be clear, my cardio recommendation was more for women who have less calories to play with via the diet only route. As a dude, you don't HAVE to do cardio to circumvent any of the metabolic stuff I mentioned.
    Having said that, excessive would be 2+ sessions per day, everyday at moderate-high intensity. Low intensity everyday is fine. I'd limit moderate intensity to your off days. I'd also personally skip HIIT completely but, if you must, 2x week max away from training days.
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    Subbing so i can read after ozarks

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    Originally Posted by MrRippedZilla View Post
    Meal frequency wouldn't make any real difference to the thermic effect of food over 24hrs if overall caloric/macro composition was the same. I *think* that's what you were wondering about.
    Meal frequency is more of a practical thing - if you're a hardgainer who requires a large caloric surplus to really put on weight then obviously it's going to be more difficult to consume all of those calories over 2-3 meals vs 5-6. Stuff like that.
    My thought process was more around how much your intestines can actually absorb in a certain time period.

    I.e 2000 calories spread out over a 24 hour period or 2000 calories eaten in a 30min window. Would the amount of protein, carbs and fats actually broken down and absorbed into your bloodstream be the same?

    If digestion was less efficient in a shortened window, might the 2000cal half hour meal appear more like a 1200-1500 cal meal from a math standpoint. The rest passing right through..

    That could be another way total calories wouldn’t equal the expected math for bulking. Everything in your bulking section would apply to the net calories absorbed by the body. No idea if that really effects the amount of calories absorbed by the body but your information had me thinking of that as another possible exception.
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    Great read! Thank you for taking the time to gather the data and post it.

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    Veteran MrRippedZilla's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Viduus View Post
    My thought process was more around how much your intestines can actually absorb in a certain time period.
    I.e 2000 calories spread out over a 24 hour period or 2000 calories eaten in a 30min window. Would the amount of protein, carbs and fats actually broken down and absorbed into your bloodstream be the same?
    If digestion was less efficient in a shortened window, might the 2000cal half hour meal appear more like a 1200-1500 cal meal from a math standpoint. The rest passing right through..
    That could be another way total calories wouldn’t equal the expected math for bulking. Everything in your bulking section would apply to the net calories absorbed by the body. No idea if that really effects the amount of calories absorbed by the body but your information had me thinking of that as another possible exception.
    Irrelevant long term unless you're dealing with extremes (1 vs 10 meals per day, etc).

    I've mentioned on the board, somewhere, data that shows IF (intermittent fasting, 2-3 meals total per day) to be slightly superior for fat loss due to the adherence factor - people feeling fuller with bigger, less frequent, meals - not anything to do with absorption. Same thing in reverse for bulking with people gaining less muscle with IF because it's simply more difficult to eat what you need to grow. Tool also dragged a long post out of me with regards to protein frequency with the same conclusion - only relevant at extremes.

    Over the short term, yes, your body might struggle and be less efficient at absorbing what it needs but that works both ways. If meal frequency is too frequent, and we see this with protein feedings, then it has the ability to reduce absorption. We're pretty good at adapting to different feeding conditions given enough time. Otherwise we wouldn't be around today
    Last edited by MrRippedZilla; 09-03-2018 at 07:17 PM.
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    I've been reading up a fair amount on different aspects of dieting, and this read was some great supplemental info to have in the old data bank, thanks.
    Sometimes in life you have to stop and think, Is it worth the jail time?

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    Im not sure we can say it enough Zilla but I'm certain it doesnt get said enough....THANK YOU for what you do for us.

    Wish I would have known you a long time ago. Even recently, I really could have used this when I was coaching wrestling. I had many spirited disagreements with parents and athletes on what to expect in gaining mass and being active. Fukin YouTube is a swamp.

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    After reading this I was curious as to what calories I burnt during my average working day. Just as a rough guess for past 3 days I have kept my phone in my pocket while working and my steps have been roughly 7000 steps per day. On top of that I would have the calories burnt at each job as I am an engineer. I think I need to eat a lot more when it’s time to bulk

  26. #14
    Senior Member Lean_dude27's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by MrRippedZilla View Post
    This topic was inspired by a combination of this thread from POB and the generic "add/drop 500 cals" advice I see across the boards. We're going to dig into data for bulking followed by cutting and, hopefully, give some more practical recommendations to help us do things a bit more accurately.

    Bulking


    The caloric surplus you calculate vs the caloric surplus actually in play can be vastly different predominantly due to the wild inter-individual differences in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). NEAT refers to unconscious physical activity such as fidgeting, maintaining posture, etc - stuff you don't really think about doing but are actually doing.

    To truly understand how large the inter-individual differences can be when it comes to NEAT, we'll be focused on this classic study.
    - They took non-obese, 25-36yr old adults and fed them a 1,000 calorie surplus for 8 weeks. No training or exercise protocol needed.
    - Body comp was measured via DXA & energy expenditure (EE) via doubly labeled water. Both gold standard methods.
    - The results of this surplus:
    metabolic table2.jpg
    Most would've predicted that a 1000cal/day surplus should lead to a weight gain of 2lbs per week. So, for a total of 8 weeks, we should expect a total weight gain of 16lbs. Right?
    Well, in this carefully controlled study, only 4.7kg (10.34lbs) was gained on average. That means most would've over predicted the weight gain by 54.7%. That's a big miscalculation.

    Worth noting, of that 1,000cal surplus, only 432cals were stored & 521cals burnt off. Two-thirds of the latter through NEAT - the key difference maker.
    The range of NEAT increase was a huge variable (100-700cals/day) and explains why we have some folks who are "hard gainers". If you're eating 1,000 cals more but also, unconsciously , burning off 692 of those cals then...that "calculated" surplus isn't really what you thought it was.

    Summary & recommendations

    So, how much of a caloric surplus is needed for bulking? Answer: it depends.
    For some folks, a 200-300cal increase will be plenty. For others, you may need to go 700-800. And for a select few, such as the person in the study who only gained 1.4kg (3.1lbs), 1000+ might be required.
    Trial & error is necessary. I'd advice starting on the lower-mid range (depending on how susceptible yo are to fat gain) and adjusting from there based on results.

    How much weight gain to aim for? Here you go:

    - For natural beginners I honestly wouldn't focus too much on how much to gain as long as you're gaining. Focus on progression in the gym and dieting fundamentals (protein intake, etc) and leave the rest for later down the road.
    - For non-newbie naturals an average gain of 2-3lbs/month is PLENTY. For women in the same category, go 1.5-2.5lbs/month.

    - For enhanced lifters you can easily justify going to 5-8lbs/month for guys, 4-5lbs/month for women. Obviously it will depend on dosages, how comfortable you are with stretch marks, etc, etc but even at this rate I don't see fat gain being a real issue.


    Cutting

    This section will build off some of the stuff from this thread with regards to the metabolic adaptations that occur when dieting that make the "calculated" weight loss inaccurate. In other words, you lose less than you expected with NEAT playing a big part again. So, how much less and why?

    Does metabolic compensation explain the majority of less-than-expected weight loss in obese adults during a short-term severe diet and exercise intervention? (PM for full paper)

    OBJECTIVE:
    We investigated to what extent changes in metabolic rate and composition of weight loss explained the less-than-expected weight loss in obese men and women during a diet-plus-exercise intervention.
    DESIGN:
    In all, 16 obese men and women (41 ± 9 years; body mass index (BMI) 39 ± 6 kg m(-2)) were investigated in energy balance before, after and twice during a 12-week very-low-energy diet(565-650 kcal per day) plus exercise (aerobic plus resistance training) intervention. The relative energy deficit (EDef) from baseline requirements was severe (74%-87%). Body composition was measured by deuterium dilution and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and resting metabolic rate (RMR) was measured by indirect calorimetry. Fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) were converted into energy equivalents using constants 9.45 kcal per g FM and 1.13 kcal per g FFM. Predicted weight loss was calculated from the EDef using the '7700 kcal kg(-1) rule'.
    RESULTS:
    Changes in weight (-18.6 ± 5.0 kg), FM (-15.5 ± 4.3 kg) and FFM (-3.1 ± 1.9 kg) did not differ between genders. Measured weight loss was on average 67% of the predicted value, but ranged from 39% to 94%. Relative EDef was correlated with the decrease in RMR (R=0.70, P<0.01), and the decrease in RMR correlated with the difference between actual and expected weight loss (R=0.51, P<0.01). Changes in metabolic rate explained on average 67% of the less-than-expected weight loss, and variability in the proportion of weight lost as FM accounted for a further 5%. On average, after adjustment for changes in metabolic rate and body composition of weight lost, actual weight loss reached 90% of the predicted values.
    CONCLUSION:
    Although weight loss was 33% lower than predicted at baseline from standard energy equivalents, the majority of this differential was explained by physiological variables. Although lower-than-expected weight loss is often attributed to incomplete adherence to prescribed interventions, the influence of baseline calculation errors and metabolic downregulation should not be discounted.


    Brief comments on the methodology

    - At 565-650cals/day, all from lean meat & veggies, we're talking about a crash diet.
    - Protein intake was too low for both sexes (0.94g/kg for men, 0.9g/kg for women) and really needed to be at least 1.5g/kg in this context.
    - Not all meals were lab provided, which makes compliance issues (not doing what you were told) likely. Especially on a crash diet where we knowing bingeing is more likely.

    - On the plus side, these folks did undertake 4 cardio sessions & 2 lifting sessions per week. Cardio started at 30 mins per session and gradually built up to 60mins. Lifting involved full body work (shoulder press, chest press, lat pull downs, leg press, bench, squats, upright rows & ab stuff) starting at 60%1RM and working up to 80%1RM across 2 sets to begin with before moving on to 3 sets per movement.

    Results & discussion


    metabolic table.jpg
    The main discovery was that weight loss was 33% less than predicted. Here's why:
    - Resting metabolic rate (RMR) went down by 228cals/day (11%) & diet induced thermogenesis (DIT), which was only predicted not actually measured, went down by 236cals/day. That's a total of 464cals/day explaining 60% of the less than expected weight loss.
    - Less lean mass was lost than predicted. The calculation predicted 79% fat, 21% LBM loss but LBM loss was actually only 18.8% (3-3.1kg out of a total weight loss of 16.1-16.3kg). That's another 30%, taking us to 90% of the difference between predicted & real weight loss being explained.
    - The last 10% can be explained by lack of compliance by the subjects. Happens all the time and more likely with a study design like this.

    Why am I telling you all of this? To show that predicted weight loss becomes incredibly inaccurate once you're deep into your cut.
    Some metabolic adaptations are inevitable and easily explained. RMR drops because you now weigh less = less energy needed to maintain lower body weight. DIT drops because you've been consuming less food = less energy needed for digestion. These are components of adaptive thermogenesis.

    Adaptive thermogenesis is also responsible for the wildly varied drop in energy expenditure due primarily to a drop in NEAT. This drop can be anywhere from 10-27% depending on a myriad of factors (how long you've been dieting, how you've been dieting, activity levels, bf% change, etc). Some, but not all, of this is avoidable - do not go batshit crazy with the cardio, do not have batshit crazy macros and do lift some real weight to keep your muscles.


    Summary & recommendations

    So, we now know why predicting weight loss in inaccurate. What can we do about it?
    - Give yourself 15-20% leeway when it comes to caloric intake. Be flexible. That means being prepared to drop it by that extra amount as you get deeper into dieting. I generically recommend starting with a 20% deficit to see weekly results and rolling on from there.
    - Drugs will help reduce the impact of all of this. Not completely but more than good enough.

    Dealing with women specifically:
    - You girls tend to have lower energy requirements than men and that may cause problems down the line. A typical smaller female may need 1800-2000cals to maintain. 20% deficit knocks that down to 1450-1600cals. 15-25% leeway knocks that down to an average of 1150-1300 cals. This is why women are more susceptible to eating disorders and health issues when dieting.

    - Health issues are coming once fat intake gets too low. Thyroid will absolutely crash if calories get too low. It's difficult to track progress over a short timeframe due to the menstrual cycle impact on water retention. My point - taking extreme action can get you girls into big trouble really quickly.
    - Cardio, not taken to excess, will help tremendously. Do not rely on diet alone.
    - Diet breaks are your best friend. Use them.
    - Do not be afraid to reach out to someone who knows what the **** they're doing. Prevention is so much easier than treatment in this situation.

    Amazing read, Thank you!!

  27. The Following User Says Thank You to Lean_dude27 For This Useful Post:

    MrRippedZilla (09-12-2018)

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    Ha I've literally been searching for this info all morning on here, thanks for another great post that helps with adjusting my program.

  29. The Following User Says Thank You to Burkhardt2012 For This Useful Post:

    MrRippedZilla (02-18-2020)

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