In our new Q&A column, we field your questions about testosterone, carnivore diets, probiotics, how to eat more without getting fat, and more.
TRT or 'Roid Cycle?
Q: Would 250 mg. of testosterone a week be considered testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) or a low-dosage cycle? Would you recommend taking something to regulate estrogen with it?
A: Well, 250 mg. of testosterone a week doesn't qualify as testosterone replacement unless you used to be lead castrati for the 17th century Vienna Boy's Choir. It's definitely a low-dose steroid cycle, but I can see why you're confused.
More and more TRT docs are starting their patients out at 200 or more milligrams of testosterone a week and automatically starting them on something like the drug Arimidex to regulate estrogen.
This practice isn't exactly criminal, but it is kind of smarmy. Most doctors, when they're prescribing drugs, try to start you out on a low dose of a drug to see how you respond. That allows them to call an audible and increase the dosage if needed.
Not so with most TRT docs. They wink and give you an amount of testosterone that's more suited for TRT in a bull moose or lowland gorilla.
As far as reducing estrogen, it shouldn't even be attempted unless you're manifesting symptoms like itchy or puffy nipples, depression, moodiness, or an anemic sex drive because having the right amount of estrogen is crucial to male health. Too little estrogen, though, and you get funky arteries, brittle bones, achy joints, and run a risk of heart problems.
TRT should start at about 100 mg. a week and be given in bi-weekly (twice a week) subcutaneous injections (not intra-muscular).
Giving the shot subcutaneously (in the lower abdomen with an insulin needle) appears to lead to less aromatization (conversion to estrogen), as does giving a shot twice a week instead of once a week (it lowers the testosterone spike you'd get from a single injection, thus automatically leading to less conversion to estrogen).
Noted TRT specialist Dr. John Crisler, who pioneered these seemingly unorthodox methods, even believes that subcutaneous testosterone injections give you more bang for the buck, even suggesting that 80 mg. of testosterone given sub-Q works as well as 100 mg. given intramuscularly, which is all the more reason to give Arimidex based on symptoms rather than dosage.
If, however, you're paranoid about estrogen, you can eat more cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) or take resveratrol, a polyphenol that has a whole host of effects, including regulating estrogen. – TC Luoma
The All-Meat Diet
Q: What do you think of the carnivore diet?
A: For those who don't know, a carnivore diet is an all-meat diet, usually lots of red meat. No fruits, veggies, grains, or plants of any of kind. Plants are "toxic." Some practitioners have a small amount of dairy foods and eggs; some don't. Usually, alcohol and coffee are no-no's too, since they're plant based.
Got it? Okay, let's break this down.
Unstable People Love It!
I have to get this out of the way first. I've known some folks who were drawn to this eating style. A couple were actually former vegans. That's right, they went from "meat is murder" to "I brush my teeth with flank steak."
Now, how do I say this gently? They were all as nutty as a jar of Jif – not psychologically stable.
It's a correlation I've noticed: people who are little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs are often drawn to extreme diets. It doesn't matter what the diet or eating pattern is, as long as it's extreme and makes them feel superior: veganism, the carnivore diet, hours and hours of fasting every day, "keto for life," raw food diets, etc. They're all kind of insufferable.
And that doesn't mean there's no value in these methods. But once an eating style goes from tool to glassy-eyed food religion, I have to question to current mental state of the dieter.
Much like eating disorders, psychologists believe it's not really about the food, but deeper issues that are expressed via controllable actions, like eating, or not eating, or binge eating... or eating like a weirdo. So, keep that in mind.
It's About What You're NOT Eating
Many people claim that a meat-only diet has cured them of all their ailments. I actually don't doubt that.
The carnivore diet is basically an elimination diet. If someone had leaky gut issues or undiagnosed food allergies, I'm sure they feel better on the meat diet, not because meat is magical and all plants are "toxic" but because they're no longer eating whatever it was that was causing them problems.
It May Work If Your Diet Was Missing Stuff
Some women claim to feel great on this diet. Now, if those women were anemic or close to it (very low iron) then eating more red meat would probably fix that problem and they'd feel much better. (Low iron in females can cause a host of problems, even things like depression and mental confusion.)
But, a high-dose iron supplement would've helped too, without the extreme dietary change.
I could also see how a sudden influx of quality protein and fat would make a person feel better if they were previously lacking in those macros. A zero-saturated fat diet would cause a lot of problems and eating red meat would fix them. But again, this could have been fixed without the extreme reverse-vegan diet.
But, But, the Inuit!
Carnivore diet advocates also like to talk about the primitive tribes who seemed to survive and even thrive on all-meat diets. But they may be overlooking a few things.
For example, traditional Inuit peoples also ate the stomach contents of the animals they hunted. So they did eat plants, just pre-eaten plants. Other primitive "carnivore tribes" also consumed every part of the animal, even the skin, hooves, and bones. So they were getting fiber too. Early man may have also consumed small amounts of dirt and soft rocks to get the minerals they needed, something still practiced by primitive tribes today.
A Deficiency of Common Sense
The most vehement carnivore dieters also claim you won't suffer from any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. For example, they point out that meat contains vitamin C, but many miss the fact that the vitamin is largely lost when meat is cooked. To remedy this, many carnivore dieters are, you guessed it, eating raw meat.
Longevity wise, the best way to live a longer life is to not smoke, wear your seatbelt, and not be fat. And you wouldn't be fat on an all-meat diet.
But you'd also be missing a plethora of plant compounds that keep you healthy for the long haul, like polyphenols. Would not being fat outweigh the nutritional deficiencies? Hard to say.
Now I have no doubt that an all-meat diet would lead to fat loss. When humans greatly limit food variety, we have natural mechanisms in place that reduce hunger. Plus, all that protein would be very filling. Then there's the obvious: meat doesn't contain sugar, and sugar is usually the chubby person's main problem.
As far as muscle gain goes, this is basically a keto diet, which as Christian Thibaudeau has pointed out, will greatly slow or even halt muscle gains. Yes, you need carbs to build muscle.
In the big picture, an all-meat diet could work if you supplement the hell out of it, much like a vegan diet. But if either extreme is the One Right Way to Eat for humans, then supplementation of basic vitamins and minerals shouldn't be necessary, right?
Finally, many people suffering from extreme autoimmune problems have found relief with a carnivore diet. It may not be the cure, but if it keeps them from being in constant pain then it's a great tool until we figure out the root cause (and hopefully a cure) for autoimmune issues.
So, except for a few very rare exceptions, the carnivore diet is just the latest really exciting but totally silly eating plan for unstable people who really need attention. – Chris Shugart
Saturated Fat: Animals vs. Coconuts
Q: Why is saturated fat from coconut oil healthy and saturated fat from animals bad?
A: Let's start by throwing out the terms "good" and "bad," because both coconut oil and saturated fat from animals have, in certain situations, both negative and positive consequences on health.
While saturated fat from animals is often demonized as causing heart disease, there is, in fact, no experimental evidence that links saturated fat to heart disease. All our fears are based on assumptions derived from casual observation.
We simply noted that saturated fat raises cholesterol, saw that cholesterol is implicated in heart disease, assumed saturated fat leads to heart disease, and then nagged Grandpa not to eat bacon until he prayed for an early death.
But that's too simple a "truth." Other research has shown that ingesting saturated fat from animals reduces lipoprotein(A), a substance that's implicated in heart disease. Saturated fat also improves liver, brain, and lung health, along with contributing to stronger bones.
Coconut oil is equally enigmatic. There are at least five studies that show it has identical or better effects on health than other low-saturated fat oil like sunflower, peanut, or even olive oil.
But there are also several human studies that show coconut oil to have a negative effect on blood lipids, including LDL cholesterol, at least when compared to lower saturated-fat oils.
My best advice is to continue to moderate saturated fat intake while including coconut oil in your "starting rotation" of cooking oils, cooking with it one day, and then switching to olive and canola on subsequent days before using coconut oil again. – TC Luoma
Why the Conflicting Info, T Nation?
Q: I hate it when T Nation publishes an article about something, then a few weeks later publishes an article that says the opposite! You give me a headache. What gives?
A: Okay, fair question.
First, our sarcastic answer:
You mean to tell us that articles written by two different coaches sometimes offer two different opinions on the very same topic? We'll look into this right away, because everyone knows there's only one way to get strong and build muscle. Same with nutrition – there's only one way to eat!
We'll send out a note to our 350-plus contributors and tell them they're no longer allowed to disagree with one another or offer different perspectives. That really confuses some readers and may force those readers to think rationally, weigh the variables, try both ideas, and see what works best for their bodies and goals.
If a contributor insists on not providing the pre-approved One Correct Answer then we'll send him to the T Nation Camp for Re-Education where he'll be educated so hard he'll lose the ability to think for himself.
Okay, now our nice answer:
T Nation has always welcomed different opinions, and so do our coaches and experts. As that smart-ass guy above said, we've had hundreds of contributors since 1998. They may not all agree with one another, naturally.
Even we editors don't always agree with each other on every topic, and that's okay. For example, TC likes baseball. I do not like baseball and therefore TC is Hitler.
See, we're all reasonable here.
Seriously, this may blow your mind but sometimes the very same expert will (wait for it) change his mind based on new science or his or her new experiences. We respect that, and we'd kinda question the expertise of any strength coach or diet professional who didn't at least modify and update his methods over time.
Our experts themselves welcome disagreement. Do you think that when the contributor who wrote the "Squats Are the Best Exercise" article meets the guy who wrote the "Squats Are Overrated" article he'll punch him in the pancreas? Doesn't happen. Usually they buy each other beers, have a discussion, and both leave the table better coaches.
Also, keep context in mind. The powerlifting coach is going to offer you different squatting advice than the bodybuilding guru. One is helping you hoist the most plates for one rep in a competition. The other is helping you build big quads. They really don't even disagree with one another.
Now, some reading comprehension skills may be required on your part there. Use context clues before having a tantrum on Facebook.
In short, the fields of diet and nutrition are always evolving and advancing, due in large part to sites like T Nation that welcome new ideas, invite challenges to old ideas, and even encourage well thought-out disagreement. That's how we all get better, even if it gives you a headache. – Chris Shugart
Probiotics, Sourdough Bread, and Apple Cider Vinegar
Q: How do probiotics survive the baking process in sourdough bread and how would the ones in apple cider vinegar stay alive unrefrigerated?
A: The probiotics don't survive the baking process. Sourdough is made with a probiotic starter that contains beneficial lactobacilli, but once you stick the raw bread loaves into the oven, you in effect sterilize them, much the same as pasteurization does to milk.
That doesn't mean the bread isn't a worthy food. Before baking, the bacteria from the starter break down the gluten in the bread into its constituent amino acids (for those that wring their pearls over gluten).
Likewise, the bacteria produce acetic, propionic, and lactic acid, all of which reduce the availability of some of the starches to your digestive system, thereby lowering the bread's glycemic index. Lastly, the bacteria facilitates the breakdown of phytic acid in the bread, thus freeing up the bread's nutrients for digestion.
But as far as the finished product being a probiotic that benefits gut health? Nope. But it's a common misconception.
And What About ACV?
We also have to look at apple cider vinegar through the same microbiological lens. Most apple cider vinegar is, again, the product of a probiotic process; the bacteria works on the sugars found in apples and produced acetic acid, aka vinegar. Most apple cider vinegars in the stores, however, are filtered and pasteurized – they've had all the bacteria removed or killed. Consequently, they don't need refrigeration.
This type of apple cider vinegar is still useful in that taking a couple of tablespoons before a meal improves post-meal blood sugar readings by a significant amount.
Things are different with the unpasteurized version. It contains what purveyors of ACV call "the mother," which are the strands of protein, enzymes, and bacteria that give the product its murky appearance. Since the unpasteurized version contains these bacteria, it's thought by some to be a probiotic, but in truth, the bacteria contained in ACV have not, as of yet, been shown to survive GI transit.
Regardless, ACV with the mother does appear to be beneficial to existing bacteria, along with aiding in the digestion of proteins and fats (by stimulating the release of stomach acid).
This is the kind that should be stored in the refrigerator, as the low temperature will bring bacterial metabolism to a standstill, which is good. If you kept it at room temperature, the bacteria would continue to grow and multiply and "eat up" all the substrate in the vinegar until eventually they'd run out of food and die, ruining the apple cider vinegar in the process.
So, if you buy a bottle of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, keep it in the fridge after opening it. – TC Luoma
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Eating More Without Gaining Fat
Q: How can I increase my calories without putting on fat? I have no particular reason for increasing them; just wanting to eat a lot without gaining weight. (I'm a female.)
A: This question is kind of like asking, "How can I pour gasoline on myself and play with matches... without catching on fire?"
And there's not a ton of background info to go off. If you're in a caloric deficit and asking how to eat more, that's a bit different than if you're already eating a surplus and asking the same question. But for the sake of simplicity, let's just say that you've been eating to maintain your body composition and weight.
First, be warned, there's no magic solution that'll prevent fat gain if you're not willing to alter your activity level and lifestyle while increasing caloric intake. That said, there are ways to minimize the risk. Here are three:
1 – Limit Your Choices
Opt for satiating, protein-rich foods, which will help you FEEL like you're eating more without increasing your total calories by a substantial amount.
I can guarantee that if you're wanting to eat more than usual, and your only choices are baked chicken breast, fish, or lean beef, you likely won't want to eat THAT much more. Same goes for any vegetable which hasn't been fried or cooked in a bucket of lard.
In fact, if you're looking at healthy foods and wanting to eat more of those, that could be a sign you need to raise your calories. If you're looking at cake and wanting to eat more, well, then you probably don't NEED the extra calories, you just want them, which is what your question implies.
And if you do fall into that second category where you just really want desserts and snacks, then try to satisfy that desire with something higher in protein. There are a lot of options out there. This one's easy to make.
2 – Move More
Dr. Jade Teta has written about this before. There are two sustainable ways to lose fat and stay lean: eat more and exercise more, or eat less and exercise less.
Why not eat less and exercise more? Well, according to Dr. Teta, it works for shorter periods, but it's unsustainable long-term, which is why we see so many yo-yo dieters who gain more weight in the long run.
So eating more is possible without gaining fat, but you'd need to do so while increasing your physical activity. That doesn't necessarily mean marathon sessions of cardio or extremely high volume weight training.
That can mean going from 3 or 4 training days a week to 5 or 6. It can mean tacking a small HIIT session at the end of a few of your workouts. Or it can mean raising your NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) every day with a walk or two. You get the picture. Increase your activity level.
3 – Aim for Muscle Growth
If you're not a woman who's worried about looking too muscular, then one way to eat more without gaining conspicuous fat is to make hypertrophy your main goal and train in a way that supports it – no holds barred. That means no criticizing yourself for bigger traps, bigger thighs, bigger biceps, bigger anything. Build that shit, you lioness.
If what you're building is firm and spectacular, you'll know it's not fat gain.
I think every woman who loves lifting should at some point give herself the opportunity to build as much muscle as possible without worrying about getting too big. If that sounds uncomfortable right now, no worries... maybe consider it later.
The cool thing about this is that if you DO build significantly more muscle, you may look leaner because your body composition (ratio of muscle to fat) will have improved and you'll have developed a greater amount of muscle definition.
And if you gain a bit of fat while building muscle, you can always simmer down on the eating more thing. But you'll never know how much you can build unless you honestly try.
There are some warnings that come with this, though. Don't just stuff your face recklessly or do crazy binges in the name of bulking. Be reasonable about it because you truly can't force-feed muscle growth anyway. Coach Thibaudeau has written in depth about bulking before. And there is such a thing as anabolic resistance, which you don't want to touch.
So proceed with caution. Pay attention to what and how much more you're eating. If you're not already tracking your food intake, you might consider it, at least temporarily.
What's Next? Test It.
It's your body. If you want to eat more and see what happens, then chances are you'll learn a good lesson about that, no matter the results.
Off the record, it's possible to be a big eater without being fat. I always feel like I'm eating an overabundance of food, and like I ought to weigh at least 300 pounds by now. But for some reason, that's not the case.
Is it because what I eat is satiating and tricks me into thinking my intake is extremely high? Or is it because I'm constantly striving for hypertrophy, and the calories I consume go toward repairing and building muscle while restoring glycogen? The answer's unclear. Maybe it's both.
But when I notice other women (in the general population), our behaviors are the opposite. When eating, they'll nibble a bit of protein and go in for the kill on rolls, breads, breadsticks, or desserts. And when they exercise, they'll do mainly cardio workouts, or group dance exercise, maybe a boot camp now and then, but never really strain under the iron, chase a pump, increase load, or get explosive. (Again, this goes for the general population of women; not women who are dedicated lifters.)
And I can relate to them. As a former running addict, I was perpetually chubby and frustrated. It didn't matter how many miles I ran, or what diet I did, I was always a little puffy and always a little squishy.
Now, I'm NOT telling you this to make you think I'm currently ripped. Far from it actually. But my body composition holds fairly steady throughout the year simply because my priority is muscle growth. And I eat more food than any woman I know... without guilt, extra cardio, purging, fasting, whining about my weight, resorting to banned substances, or cutting out entire macronutrients.
Could I be leaner? Sure! And if that becomes the goal I'll eat less and exercise less, as Dr. Teta suggests.
So if there's something you want to do, like eating more, then try it. Give these strategies a shot and see if they help. If you don't get the results you want, adjust what you're doing, and try again.
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