Get Lean and Muscular by Abandoning Conventional Wisdom

Eirik Garnas Boat Organic Fitness

Lean and somewhat muscular, but far from the bodybuilding size.

Official dietary recommendations and conventional beliefs have led many people to the conclusion that eating a calorie restricted low-fat diet and spending hours on the treadmill is the way to go for a lean and healthy body. However, this popular notion has little support in evolutionary biology, physiology and scientific research. I have repeatedly highlighted the fact that humans can be lean and healthy on a wide spectrum of diets as long as we eat ‘natural’, whole foods (1,2). I’ve also reviewed the literature on exercise and weight loss and found that although physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, exercising more isn’t especially effective for losing weight (3). It seems that to really be lean and healthy, we have to get rid of old beliefs and notions regarding exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle.

In this post I’m going to summarize some of the major aspects of my lifestyle. While this doesn’t mean that this is the optimal way for everyone, it should serve as a testament that it’s possible to be lean while doing the opposite of what we’re told by official health authorities.

The fact is that I have covered a lot of these topics on the site before, so I’m not going to discuss the scientific backing for every point. However, I’ll add some references to studies and articles that give a more thorough explanation of the topic.

I eat plenty of saturated fat
While official dietary guidelines recommend that we keep saturated fat intake at a minimum, the most recent systematic reviews show that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease (4,5). Although this doesn’t mean that eating butter and bacon all day long is a good idea, it does provide evidence that saturated fat is a safe fuel for the human body.

I drink when I’m thirsty
Why drink 8 glasses a day when you can rather listen to your body?

I rarely do cardioEirik Garnas Bent Over Row Organic Fitness
A lot of people seem to believe that we have to exercise to get lean, but this is not supported in the scientific literature (6). I rarely do any form of cardio, but primarily sprint, row and lift weights to build muscle and improve metabolic and cardiovascular health.

I train every muscle group multiple times per week
Gym talk and articles in fitness magazines have led many trainees to think that killing each muscle group with 20-30 sets once per week is the optimal way to go for muscle growth. However, this notion has little support in sports science (7,8)

I eat a ‘high’ fat diet
Offcial dietary recommendations suggest that getting 40-60% of the daily energy from carbohydrate is the optimal range for pretty much everyone. However, I’ve repeatedly highlighted the fact that the macronutrient composition doesn’t tell us very much about the healthfulness of the diet, and that humans can be lean and healthy on diets with widely different levels of carbohydrate, protein, and fat (9,10).

I eat a couple of large meals each day
The idea that you have to eat small meals every other hour to keep a stable blood sugar level and avoid the loss of muscle makes absolutely no sense.

I try to increase the diversity and resilience of my microbiome by coming in contact with bacteria
While the conventional belief is that bacteria should be avoided to the degree possible, I’ve repeatedly highlighted the fact that we have co-evolved with the vast microbial ecosystems found in soil, water and the rest of the environment, and that exposure to bacteria is essential to our health and well-being (11,12). I try to avoid being to hygienic, and use natural body care products. I also eat fermented food, prebiotics, probiotic supplements and dirty vegetables to promote a healthy microbiome.

I rarely eat grains
While properly prepared whole grains can be a part of a healthy diet, they certainly aren’t the staff of life as many make them out to be.

I eat a ‘high’ protein diet
While official dietary guidelines suggest that everyone should get between 10-20% of their energy from protein, the fact is that humans have evolved eating diets that typically contained between 19-35% protein (13). There are few, if any, health risks associated with a protein intake that is above the official recommendation (14).

I eat to satiety
It’s often assumed that calorie restriction is the way to go for weight loss, but the fact is that a well functioning homeostatic system is what we should be aiming for if we want a lean physique (15).

I eat a lot of red meat
Contrary to popular belief, grass-fed meat has been an important staple food in the human diet for millions of years, and meat consumption is not associated with cancer or any other disease (16).

I often skip breakfast
Contrary to what your dietitian might be saying, breakfast is not the “most important meal of the day”. Some reports even suggest that skipping breakfast altogether is beneficial (17,18).

So, basically the only official dietary recommendations I follow are to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish. Again, this is not to say that everyone should live and eat this way. Humans can thrive in different environments, eating a wide spectrum of diets. The most important thing is that we take care of the human microbiome, control the inflammatory mileu in the body and live in a way that is consistent with out evolutionary heritage.


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Comments

  1. Good article summed up my opinion fairly well!

    Its amazing how people stick to the conventional wisdom thing. I’ve had people tell me off for my diet (similar to yours) whilst I am far fitter and stronger than they are, i sleep better and feel happier. Yet somehow I’m the unhealthy one…

    Then again with the rubbish on TV and commercials maybe its not a wonder that many people get swayed by this rubbish!

    Anyway good read have been enjoying a few of your articles recently.

  2. I absolutely love your blog/articles, Eirik. Love that you hammer on major misconceptions in the health/fitness world. I’m encouraged that one day people will stop harping on the necessity of eating 11 servings of “whole grains” every day along with drinking a gallon of water ;) Rubbish, indeed…

    Keep ‘em coming!

    • Eirik Garnas says:

      Thank you Sasha! The sad thing is that nutrition students (like myself) still learn that a grain-based, low fat diet is the way to go for everyone… Hopefully one day evolutionary biology, microbiology etc. will be an important part of nutrition courses.

  3. John Knapp says:

    Eirik, have you ever read anything by Matt Stone? He is an author who argues that low metabolism is what causes people to gain weight. His take on it is people should eat crazy amounts of food for like a month to get their body’s metabolism back in order, then actually eat substantial amounts of foods (as long as their real foods) to get their health back. Some of his acolytes claim to be dropping weight eating between 3-4500 calories of food per day. He recommends people take their temperature every day and aim for the high 98F to 99F degrees as an indicator of a revving metabolism. What’s your take on this?

    • Eirik Garnas says:

      Hey John! I’ve heard about Matt Stone, but haven’t read any of his work. Do you have any good articles that summarize his views?

      • John Knapp says:

        http://eatmore2weighless.com/matt-stone-diets-metabolism/

        There’s one that might help. He has his own page on Amazon, and if you subscribe to his site 180degreehealth.com (no cost, just have to register) he sometimes will give his books out for free (Kindle editions). I have gotten two of his books for free, but still can’t make up my mind about his stuff. Some rings true, but eating with complete abandon still seems not quite right to me. He also has a facebook page called 180degreehealth.com

        • Eirik Garnas says:

          Okey, I just wrote a reply to your comment, but it got so long that I’m turning it into a post that will explain my take on things. It will be a short post explaining why deliberately destricting calories and exercising more doesn’t work for permanent weight loss. I think you’ll find that it supports (and probably contradicts) some of Matt Stone’s ideas!

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