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I Want to Look More Muscular. What’s the Best Way to Make Gains?



There’s one thing that all the biggest, most muscular people on the planet have in common.

It’s not great genetics.

(Good genes help, but plenty of people have gotten huge without having been blessed with it at birth.)

It’s not that they all just live at the gym and do nothing else, or follow some magical workout. (When it comes to building muscle, many different approaches — low rep/high weight, high rep/low weight, straight sets, supersets, and on and on — can work. There is no one that’s “best.”)

And it’s not that they’re on performance-enhancing drugs. (You can pack on plenty of muscle naturally — look no further than any drug-free bodybuilding competition for proof.)

The thing they all have in common is this:


Not the answer you expected? Here’s why being patient is so important.

The Problem with Bulking and Cutting

First, when most people set out to build muscle, they go through a phase where they eat a lot and train a lot. You’ve probably heard it called “bulking.”

Then, after a few weeks or months, they switch. Maybe they get self-conscious about the size the gained. Or maybe they think they’re starting to look fat. So they trim back on calories and change their training to try and burn the fat off. This phase is called “cutting.”

Most people bounce back and forth between these two phases — bulking and cutting, bulking and cutting — without making any real progress. Why? Because each new phase undoes the success of the last.

On our website, we’ve talked about Set Point Theory. It’s the idea that the body identifies with a certain weight and then becomes resistant to change. In our previous article, we discussed how it applied to weight loss. It’s one of the reasons why losing weight — and keeping it off — can be so hard.

But the concept also applies to muscle gain. Your body is used to being a certain weight. When you change that through strength training, it will take measures to go back to how it was — unless you teach it that this more muscular weight is it’s new normal.

Have a Born Fitness coach guide your gainz!


You teach your body that through what’s called a maintenance phase. In a lecture on his site Renaissance Periodization, Dr. Mike Israetel discusses how people hold themselves back if they do not include this phase in their training. (The content itself is paywalled, but totally worth buying if you like to nerd out on the science of muscle-building.)

I don’t want to give too much away or do violence to the quality and depth of his explanation. So I’ll summarize it like this: During a maintenance phase, you ease up on training a little bit. And you aim to eat what’s called an isocaloric diet, meaning you try to eat as many calories as you’d need, but not more.

Sample Muscle-Building Macronutrient Formula

This formula from Adam’s Great Abs Experiment will help:

For Total Calories Per Day:

Take the body weight you wish to maintain and multiply it by 10 if you are training 1 hour or less per week. For each additional hour you train per week, add 1 to the multiplier. So if you’d muscled up to 200 pounds, and trained 4 hours per week, you’d multiply 13 by 200 and get 2,600 calories per day as your mark. You can split that total across however many meals per day you prefer to eat (two, three, four, five, whatever).


Eat at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So if you were 200 pounds, you’d aim for 200 grams of protein (800 calories total) per day.


Eat half a gram of fat per pound of bodyweight. So at 200 pounds, you’d target 100 grams of fat (900 calories) per day.


Determine how many carbohydrates to eat by subtracting the protein and fat calories from your daily total, and then dividing the remainder by 4. To continue the example we’ve been using here, it would be 2,600 calories total minus 800 calories (protein) and 900 calories (fat), leaving you with 900 calories for carbs. Divide that by 4 and you get 225 calories of carbs per day.

While the length of your maintenance phase can vary, you’d want to approach it as if it were something you could do for several months or even years. Why? Because — again — you want this to be your new normal.

You want to think of building muscle not in terms of days and weeks, but months and years. The biggest, most muscular people in the world are the ones who show up for training, again and again, for years on end.


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Should I Cut Out Alcohol to Get Rid of Fat?




First, I’ll toast you to a good question here. (I’m drinking green tea right now, but feel free to have a sip of whatever you wish.) When people ask “does alcohol make you fat,” or “should I stop drinking to lose weight,” the answer is complex, but can be summed up with:

  • No, you don’t have to ditch alcohol to lose fat…
  • BUT, if you do cut out drinking, it might help.

Alcohol And Weight Loss: It’s Complicated

Let’s start with the first point here. From a metabolic perspective, alcohol and your body have a weird relationship. There’s actually been a lot of research into it over the years because it’s so surprising.

Numerous studies, both observational and in controlled settings, have shown that people can consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol and not necessarily gain weight. (Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.)

An infographic showing what one standard alcoholic drink looks like

Part of this may be due to alcohol’s unique effect on the body. Your body can’t store alcohol and the 7 calories per gram it delivers. (Yup, it does have calories — more per gram than carbs and protein, but less than fat.) So instead the body fast-tracks that booze through your system.

Additionally, a high percentage of calories from alcohol get burned up by your metabolism through a process called the thermic effect of food (TEF). The thermic effect of alcohol is about 22.5%, which puts it on par with protein (which has a TEF of 25-30%) and well ahead of carbs (6-8%) and fat (2-3%).

All of which is to say: Alcohol on it’s own won’t necessarily make or break your weight loss goals.

“If you enjoy a few drinks during the week, it is still possible to have a highly successful fat loss journey,” says Born Fitness Head Nutrition Coach Natalie Sabin.

Now for the but…

Why Alcohol Might Make You Fat

Just because your body doesn’t store alcohol’s calories, it doesn’t mean you (and your fat cells) get off scot-free.

When your body is processing those calories from all those hoppy IPAs, or just one more glass of wine, they take the place of other calories you could be burning — like the bacon double cheeseburger you had on the way home from the bar. With beer calories taking its place in the metabolic line, the burger’s calories become part of you (and your belly).

In fact, some research would lead you to believe that the problem isn’t necessarily the alcohol itself. It’s what can come along with drinking. You know, like nachos. Or two dozen wings. Or a box of Totino’s Pizza Rolls if it’s 2 a.m. and you’re in college.

“Many folks who drink alcohol also have a tendency to eat more,” Sabin says.

A review published in Physiology & Behavior backs her up on this. It found that, sure enough, drinking before or during a meal tends to increase food intake.

Also, note that even though your body can’t store alcohol, it can (and does) store the calories mixed with it — like the 83g of sugar in a frozen margarita.

So What Should You Do?

1. Examine how much you’re drinking currently. For some this can be very eye-opening on it’s own. You might see that the “beer or two” you have “now and then” is actually “a couple drinks every night, plus about a dozen on the weekend.” Remember, the studies mentioned previously involved light to moderate drinking — i.e. one drink per day for women, two for men. Drinking more than that is conclusively not good. Heavier drinking is associated with weight gain and increased waist circumference, as well as poor health. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third-leading cause of premature death in the U.S. If your drinking exceeds that one to two drinks per day guideline, then yeah, cutting back (or going dry) likely will help you lose fat.

2. Pay attention to what else you do when you drink. If your occasional cocktail with friends is just that — a cocktail — then the caloric load probably isn’t all that significant. But if your drinks seem to come with a late night pizza chaser, you might have an issue on your hands. Here again, cutting out drinks might help your fat loss.

3. Let’s say your drinking (and appetite) is under control, but you still aren’t losing fat. And let’s say your drink-per-day is a must-have. If that’s the case, you could try and offset the calories by trimming elsewhere. For example, a glass of wine is around 120 calories. A typical beer is about 150 calories (although those heavier microbrews that are so popular nowadays can be double that). Cut out 30 to 40g of carbs from somewhere else, and pay attention to any changes. “Remember, to get rid of fat you need to create a calorie deficit,” Sabin says. “That means burn more calories than you are consuming — whether that’s eating OR drinking.”


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When to Do It, and When to Avoid It?




When to Do It, and When to Avoid It?

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. Most of them having nothing to do with fitness and nutrition. But my nutrition blunders run especially deep. 

I’ve done everything from waking up twice in the middle of the night to drink protein shakes (gotta eat every 3 hours, right?) to slugging 20-30g of BCAAs throughout the day to “stay anabolic” (this still feels like my “pet rock” moment).

When it comes to carb-loading, I’ve experimented with extremes: I’d wake up 2 hours prior to my workout and eat about 100-150g of carbohydrates. (Think: Two bowls of oatmeal + fruit + 2 slices of bread just to make sure my glycogen stores were “fully loaded” to build muscle.) And I once avoided carbs completely, because fasted exercise burns more fat, right? (Nope!)

The truth is always more about sustainable behaviors than trying to “hack” your body. For instance, fasted cardio does not burn more fat, but if you feel better doing it, then go for it. And carbs can help build more muscle, but you don’t need to eat yourself silly.

Still, the question remains for most:

Should you eat carbs before a workout?

From a scientific standpoint, research suggests a little bit of carb-loading can be a great thing for your workout performance.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, compared endurance performance when consuming different amounts — and types — of carbohydrates.

The high-carb group ate 1.5g/kg of bodyweight before completing 90 minutes of intense exercise (think: a long run). This group saw better performance and were able to maintain their intensity for a longer period of time, whereas the lower-carb group had better fat oxidation, but were quicker to fatigue.

Looking at the results, it was a little murky to determine if the type of carbohydrate (low vs. high glycemic index) made any difference.

When to Carb Load

If you’re going to do long-lasting activity (especially endurance-type exercise, like running, biking, etc.) and performance is your goal (running longer, faster, and experiencing less fatigue), than pre-workout carbs is a better approach than avoiding carbs or going for a lower-carb meal.

In general, the longer the activity, the greater the “need” for carbs to help boost your workout.

But remember: if “forcing” your carbohydrate intake before a workout means you don’t work out, or makes you feel sick to your stomach, then don’t do it. Carb loading isn’t worth it if the meal that disrupts your workout.


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Healthy Breakfast Recipes for Any Situation




We live in an age of information overload. Nowhere is this more clear than when you go looking for breakfast recipes. Type “healthy breakfast recipes” into any search engine, and you’ll be greeted by a long list of articles offering you even longer lists — 50+ ideas here, 38 more ways to cook eggs there, and on and on. Which creates an ironic problem:

Choices are great, but having too many options is paralyzing. There’s probably something you want to eat somewhere in those healthy breakfast lists, but it’s buried an endless scroll of random stuff.

Just as frustrating? Many of the recipes don’t feel like good fit for you. Either because they’re too complicated, have the wrong mix of ingredients, or just don’t sound all that appetizing.

Instead of getting frustrated, we’ve simplified our favorite healthy breakfast recipes into categories that will work for you.

Hate to cook, or have almost no time to do it? Not a problem.

Burned out from eating breakfast staples like oatmeal and eggs over and over again? Don’t worry, we have alternatives.

Wrangling with an addiction to bacon? Never fear. We have love for your bacon love.  

Based on feedback we’ve received from our coaching clients, here are some of the most common problems you face at breakfast — and the meals that can get the job done for your life and body.

The breakfast problem: You don’t have time to eat.

If your mornings are so hectic that you barely have time to chew, much less cook, you aren’t alone. Far from it. In fact UK-based market research showed that nearly half of all people have to eat breakfast outside of their home at least once per week. A similar report in the U.S. showed a growing number of people need portable breakfasts.

Here’s the good news: There are plenty of healthy breakfast options that don’t require you to start your morning at the stove. In fact, you won’t even need to dirty a dish. Simply prep these the night before (or even on the weekend), and you have grab-and-go healthy breakfasts that can roll out the door when you do.

Healthy breakfast recipes: eggs on-the-go
Healthy breakfast recipes: eggs on-the-go

Eggs on the Go (full recipe here) – Get a high-protein breakfast that’s packed with veggies that fits in the palm of your hand. Tastes so good you’ll feel like you sat down for your favorite omelette, but you can do it on the road. You get it all with no mess and no clean-up. Spend 25 minutes making these one night — you’ll have eliminated the need to think about breakfast for the rest of the week.

Healthy breakfast recipes: overnight oats
Healthy breakfast recipes: overnight oats

Peanut Butter Banana Overnight Oats (full recipe here) – Get all the health benefits of oatmeal, and the protein to start your day right, no cooking required. You simply mix the ingredients together the night before, which takes about 5 minutes. The next morning, voila! Breakfast is ready, and so are you.

Healthy breakfast recipes: PB&J energy balls
Healthy breakfast recipes: PB&J energy balls

PB&J Energy Balls (full recipe here) – Here’s a helpful hand-friendly snack that’s great if you have to eat on the go (i.e. in your car). Like the overnight oats above, there’s no cooking required. A food processor is all you need. Knock out one batch on a weekend, and your healthy breakfasts are ready for the week.

The problem: All you want is cereal. 

People are eating less breakfast cereal than they once did, but a bowl of something crispy plus milk remains a morning ritual for many. The good news: You can eat cereal and have it be a healthy start to your day.

  1. Added sugar. While it’s not true for all cereals, plenty of breakfast cereals come packed with added sugar. Look at many cereal labels and you’ll see “sugar,” “corn syrup” (a.k.a. more sugar), or plenty of sugar’s other code names (honey, agave nectar, etc.) listed early and often. You do not have to fear sugar, but you should aim to keep your intake of added sugars to below 150 calories per day if you are a man, and 100 if you are a woman. Some especially sugar-packed cereals (usually ones targeted at kids) deliver more than half of that per serving. And FYI: No one eats a single serving of cereal. Your best bet: Check the nutrition labels. Look for a cereal with more fiber and a sugar content in the single digits.
  2. Low in protein. Cereals come from grains, and grains generally aren’t high in protein compared to their total calorie count. Yes, adding milk helps. But why not steer your breakfast toward even greater balance by adding a protein source like eggs on the side? Doing that provides a mix of carbs, protein and healthy fats. Here are the two main knocks against cereal (and how to solve them):

Or if you want to give your breakfast bowl a total makeover, we recommend:

Healthy breakfast recipes: Breakfast for champions
Healthy breakfast recipes: Breakfast for champions

The True Breakfast For Champions (full recipe here) – Crunchy, crispy, sweet and satisfying, this bowl delivers all the whole grain goodness without much added sugar. [Honey is an ingredient, but you can ditch it if you want.] For many, the blueberries and bananas provide more than enough sweetness. Combine them with the fiber from the steel cut oats and healthy fats from the almonds, and you’ve got everything you need to fuel your body to win the day.

The problem: You hate oatmeal.

Why does seemingly every health outlet suggest eating oatmeal? There are several reasons to love it:

But look, nobody can blame you if oatmeal isn’t your thing. And there are plenty of ways to get fiber—the main driver behind many of these benefits—without turning to oats. A piece of high-fiber bread (we like Ezekiel 4:9, but look for any bread with “100% whole grain” or “whole wheat” on the label) can have nearly as much fiber as oatmeal. Toast it with a side of bacon or eggs (or both!) and you’ve got a healthy, well-rounded breakfast.

Or if you’re open to the idea of a bowl, but just don’t want it to be oats, try this new take:

Healthy breakfast recipes: Goji coconut quinoa bowl
Healthy breakfast recipes: Goji coconut quinoa bowl

Goji Coconut Quinoa Bowl (full recipe here) – We don’t like ranking whole foods against one another, but one could argue that quinoa is like Oats 2.0. You still get a fiber-rich carbohydrate, but quinoa is also high in protein. The almond slices, goji berries and coconut flakes don’t just add taste and texture, they also amp up the nutrient content.

The problem: You hate most healthy breakfast recipes.

If you are fed up with pancakes, cereal, oats, and everything else that most people think of as breakfast foods, you aren’t alone. In fact, Born Fitness coach Natalie Sabin counts herself among you.

“Breakfast foods have just never been my thing,” Sabin says. “So I make meals that I like, no matter what time of day it is.” Which is why she routinely opts for non-traditional morning meals like:

A recurring theme you’ll see running through those meals: leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with making part of tonight’s dinner into tomorrow’s breakfast. However if you want to put something completely new together for breakfast, but don’t want it to taste breakfast-y, here’s a morning meal that many breakfast food haters love:

Healthy breakfast recipes: breakfast pita
Healthy breakfast recipes: breakfast pita

The Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Pita (full recipe here) –  Start your day with a savory high-protein sandwich. The chicken sausage combined with zesty parmesan gives you a meal so delicious you won’t even know there’s spinach in there too. (Kidding, spinach! You know we love you.)

Healthy breakfast recipes: the scramble
Healthy breakfast recipes: the scramble

The Bro Scramble (full recipe here): Eggs, roasted veggies and bacon, together at last. Here’s a power-packed recipe that will impress your friends — or provide you with meals for a couple of days if you don’t feel like sharing.You’ll be delighted by the combination of flavors and textures. The combo of sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts will keep you feeling full to lunch. Best of all, they all come together in a single pan, meaning no mess and very little to clean up.

The problem: You don’t eat enough protein.

With all of the delicious carb-dense options for breakfast, it can seem like the breakfast gods forgot about protein. Sometimes the easiest route is a protein shake, and here’s how to make sure it doesn’t taste like watered down protein powder:

Healthy breakfast recipes: maca chai protein shake
Healthy breakfast recipes: maca chai protein shake

The Maca Chai Protein Shake (full recipe here): Haven’t heard of Maca? Here’s why you should get hip to it: The Peruvian powder has been shown to have beneficial effects on hormones as well as promise in fighting disease. Combine that with the Greek yogurt and protein powder in this recipe and suddenly you’ve got all the tasty smoothness of a Starbucks frappuchino. But where frappuchinos are packed with sugar, this drink comes stacked with 39 grams of protein.

The problem: You don’t like eggs (or are tired of eating them every day)

Eggs are an awesome breakfast staple for numerous reasons:

  • Eggs are a source of high-quality protein.
  • Eggs provide 18 vitamins and minerals, including several that many people are deficient in, such as zinc.
  • The healthy fats eggs contain makes many of these micronutrients easier for your body to absorb.
  • Some of the protein strains within eggs have anti-cancer and tumor suppression properties.
  • People knock eggs for being a source of cholesterol, but here’s the thing: There’s a difference between dietary cholesterol (what you eat) and blood cholesterol (what’s coursing through your veins). Numerous studies indicate the cholesterol from eggs has little to no effect on your body’s actual blood cholesterol levels. A body of research even shows that egg consumption has positive effects on HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the body. (Here are three different examples.)

But if you’re feeling burned out from eating them — of if you just don’t like them — we get it. Other great go-tos include Greek yogurt, milk, protein powder, chicken and salmon — either smoked, cured (a.k.a. “lox”), or just leftover from the night before.

Here are two non-egg recipes that you might enjoy:

Healthy breakfast recipes: berry parfait
Healthy breakfast recipes: berry parfait

The Berry Nutty Parfait (full recipe here): Talk about easy. You can have this one ready in 5 minutes (max). Fruit, granola and yogurt are a simple yet potent combination. You get protein and healthy fats (both great for keeping you full) along with powerful antioxidants from the berries, which have been linked to better brain health and numerous other benefits. Pretty sweet indeed!

Healthy breakfast recipes: bacon & date protein pancakes
Healthy breakfast recipes: bacon & date protein pancakes

Bacon & Date Protein Pancakes (full recipe here): What’s the only thing better than a plate stacked with flapjacks? Having that stack be packed with bacon and protein. Each bite is a sweet, salty, savory explosion of flavor. It’ll taste so good you’ll think you should feel bad — but when you see that there’s three times more protein than there is fat, you’ll know you don’t have to.


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