Archive for the ‘Guides’ Category

Yes, this is something I have dealt with and it IS doable.  There are tons of variables for this particular situation and I will try to give options for a variety of circumstances.  I write college in the title because I think this is the most common type of person searching for this information, but I hope I can help anyone operating on a budget.

1. Use what is given to you — campus dining

You probably have access to on campus dining in some capacity.  This may be complete shit or it might be pretty good.  Either way, take advantage of this as much as possible.  My experience is that while sometimes there are tasty choices available, finding a meal with a decent protein content is rather difficult.  I do not necessarily blame the schools, protein-containing foods (aka meats) are just more expensive.  Many schools are now providing nutrition information for campus dining establishments and if yours doesn’t you should push and prod them for information.  Either way, you should be able to come up with decent estimates for what you’re taking in from there.  If you’re counting calories, my suggestion is to just keep your estimate consistent.

Eat whatever wholesome foods are afforded to you in this context.  My school had a nice selection of fruits and vegetables.   We even had a “to go” program that allowed me to do some stocking up.  You should have red lights flashing in your head when you see a meat-based meal…eat it.  Whether you’re going to use it or not, most colleges are going to make you buy a meal plan.  You may as well maximize your value and keep money in your pocket.  This isn’t free license to load up on the pizza every day, though.

2. Real food is cheap

Fruits and vegetables, yes.  Think about how little some of these basic foods cost.  A weeks worth of bananas would be less than a couple bucks, more than  a week of apples for a five-spot, 2.5 pounds of oatmeal for three dollars, etc.  These are low cost foods and you have to make the most of them, especially since you know deep down that they are good for you.  More importantly for a student, anyone can prepare these foods.  Maybe grab some cinnamon or something of the like to make your oatmeal taste better, I usually do that and add sucralose (a big bag of generic is fairly cheap and lasts forever).  Based on your personal tastes and selection, you can kind of take it from here.  The gist of this is to stock up on these whole foods that need little preserving and little preparation.

If you have any access to conventional kitchenware, like a common room oven, you’ve hit the jackpot.  If you’re like me, you have probably bought some pre-cooked chicken or other meat (frozen or refrigerated) and paid an arm and a leg for it.  However, this allowed you to microwave it as an easy prep that kept you from leaving your room.  And if you can’t access an oven, you may have to consider this as an option.  Most campuses I’ve been to, however, have at least limited common access to a kitchen.  Buy regular, refrigerated, uncooked chicken breast (or another meat if you’re feeling cheeky) as this is the cheapest “preparation” due to its unpreparedness.  Acquire a pan that many ovens actually have inside them already and broil that chicken.  Broil more than you can eat at once, you can refrigerate it and reheat for future meals!  This is cheaper than buying pre-cooked and you’re not dealing with preservatives or whatever else may be dumbing down the quality of those pre-cooked options.

3. “Shortcut” options

Some people actually have a hard time getting enough calories.  Others, even with considerable effort, struggle to meet the protein demands of a proper resistance training diet.  Of course there are some that just have a hard time feeling satiated or at least satisfying the sweet tooth.  I have options for everyone.

Calorie dense foods that won’t make you feel too guilty

-Don’t buy “weight gainers” in this situation unless you really just despise eating food

-Peanut butter


-Whole milk/chocolate milk (in moderation)


These are just some that come to mind that aren’t devoid of nutritional value but can pack a calorie punch without making you feel overfull.  Many will find that these are good to eat just because they’re yummy.

Protein options

Whole foods are preferred, there’s no way around it.  Don’t use the following option as a primary protein source, only use it to help you AFTER you’ve maximized your protein intake via food.  Do not make the new dieter/trainee’s mistake of consuming protein powder as your main dietary source of protein.  Yes, protein powder is my suggestion here.  My experience is that buying online will allow you the best selection and by far the best selection of flavors that you might even look forward to drinking, but that can be up to you.  There will be another post one day describing some of the better tasting protein products.   The source of protein in this case doesn’t matter much, can be whey, egg, casein, soy, a blend of all of them.  Just don’t get something with a ton of added sugar or fats, you don’t need that unless perhaps you fall into the above category and hate eating peanut butter.

Low-cal, no-cal options for satiation

The old school way is to slam a good deal of water upon the first twinge of hunger.  This is in fact rather effective due to the weight in your stomach and the waiting game before eating can often make you reconsider your initial impulse to stuff your face.  There are other options though.

For something solid(ish), you can go after some sugar-free yogurt.  A cup of this stuff is 5-15 calories, so you’d have to eat a lot for it to be an issue.  Don’t spoil it by putting whip cream on there, though.  This is very cheap also.

Diet soda.  If you’re an alarmist about artificial sweeteners, you can ignore this and wait for some posts on this very subject coming through my pipeline.   If you’re sensible, you should think about having some diet soda.  I strongly advise against the needless abuse of stimulants when you could be saving your tolerance for selective ergogenic use, so my weapon of choice is diet root beer.  There are some other options though.  Flavoring systems have drastically improved and even if you don’t care for it at first, you get used to it rather quickly.  I now find “regular” soda to be kind of yucky.  These drinks are zero cal, taste good, and you can drink quite a bit of it and never know the difference.  A big liter of something like this is very inexpensive and if you buy a store’s generic, it can be very cheap in cans as well.

4.  No variety? No problem!  Seasonings save the day

One of the easiest things you can do to save some cash is not bend over backwards trying to have different foods everyday.  To this day it is rare that I do not eat some chicken, oatmeal, an apple, and a banana every single day.   I typically will have at least 1 serving of protein powder in skim milk as well.  The rest of your nutritional needs can be varied as well with some of those other low-cost options or your campus dining (if applicable).

To keep your meats less boring, you should start experimenting with seasonings, marinades, rubs, etc.  My favorite preparation of any meat is with lemon juice and pepper, sometimes even lemon pepper.  If you’re watching sodium (which is unnecessary unless you have high blood pressure), Mrs. Dash has a decent lemon pepper available.  Lemon juice also has zero calories.  I also love Lawry’s seasoning salt as well as Steak n Shake’s house seasoning.

Other options include a variety of marinades, just be mindful of the fact that most of these have some caloric value.  BBQ naked chicken can be awesome.  You can also check out Walden Farms products, they have an entire line of things that are zero calorie like BBQ sauce, pancake syrup, etc.  I haven’t tried all of their stuff though, so don’t hold me accountable if you don’t like something.   There is also a “fat burning” hot sauce out there called Thermogenesauce, might be worth a look if you want a no-cal option that has some good fat burning ingredients as well.

You can do it

You may find my suggestions not entirely useful or you may end up with a completely different routine in the same situation.  That’s great.  The end goal here is to let you know that just because you have budget restrictions, you need not end or hurt your quest to change your physique.  Eating out and buying a variety of expensive foods is great, but you can do it on a budget as well.  Don’t let your circumstances stand in the way of your gains!

It is in vogue to simply recommend products to people.  However, this is inherently biased for a number of reasons and to begin with, I’m going to avoid it.  It is also time sensitive and I don’t wish to have this entire concept become outdated in short order.   So for Part 1, I’m going to equip you with the tools to evaluate products yourself.  If you want to try your mettle, you can argue with my product recommendations in Part 2.

There are several ingredients that may appear in pre-workouts you’ll first want to consider that I don’t categorize as “pre-workout ingredients” since they do not need to be dosed pre-workout.   The ones that I expect you to see that I have already covered in my Your Guide to Supplements – Part 2 article are:

Creatine and Beta-Alanine

With no further ado, ingredient recommendations along with dosage suggestions:

Nitrates:  These are surprisingly well-studied and have benefits for just about any kind of athlete.  This is the one ingredient that is actually an exogenous source of nitric oxide.  Yeah, that buzzword from the 1990s…finally, nitrates are the ingredient that deliver it.  Benefits include maximal strength gain, endurance increase, and sometimes intense pumps.  Depending on what kind of workout you follow, you should notice at least one if not all of these effects.  Too high of a dose Word to the wise: you cannot buy something that is simply nitrates.  It is not stable in powder form, so it is typically bonded with an amino acid or creatine.  1 gram of creatine nitrate yields a roughly ideal dose of nitrates (be aware that it does not yield enough creatine, so you will need to purchase extra creatine from somewhere).   There are also a few products that bind it to leucine, beta-alanine and others.  Look for something ending in nitrate.  Finally, don’t buy a product that has a plant extract for nitrates.  The most popular extract is beet root and it takes 100s of grams of beet root to yield an effective nitrate dose.   Nobody can possibly dose it properly in a preworkout powder.

Citrulline Malate (or just L-Citrulline) : Citrulline malate is not abundantly researched in humans but does have one study in particular that showed very nice results and there is enough animal study, common sense, and anecdote to recommend it.  This works through nitric oxide as well, though it is endogenous and therefore has a theoretical limitation compared to nitrates.  Using them both in conjunction seems ideal.  Malic acid (the malate) has its own endurance benefits as well.  The sourcing of this is more straightforward than nitrates, but the ratio of citrulline to malic acid is a worthy question to ask.  What we’re beginning to see is companies selling citrulline malate products that are almost all malate, the cheaper ingredient.  You want a 1:1 ratio preferably.  If you’re looking to buy in bulk, buy from SNS and no one else. Dosing: 2-8 grams of 1:1 citrulline malate

L-Carnitine-L-Tartate (LCLT): This is a form of the famed carnitine that actually works.  L-carnitine in its normal form doesn’t do much of anything, but some of its altered forms like LCLT do in fact do something.  LCLT, when taken pre-workout (preferably hours pre-workout, but normal timing is okay) can increase both intra-workout and post workout recovery.  I don’t think these benefits need any extra explanation, you want those benefits if you can get them. Dosing: 1-2 grams 

Creatinol-O-Phosphate:  First of all, no, this is not a form of creatine.  The naming similarity is just coincidence.  Not all of the methods of action are currently known, but there is good research backing this supplement.  This shares some similarities in effect to nitric oxide supplements like the aforementioned, but has a different method of action.  It increases the amount of ATP (the basic unit of cellular energy) in the muscles which allows for greater strength, greater endurance, and even better intra-workout recovery.  Sounds great, right?  Well, to date there is no pre-workout product that doses it effectively.  Why?  Well, it is fairly expensive.  If you see it near the end of a proprietary blend, you can rest assured it is underdosed and just there to catch your eye.  Moreover, Patrick Arnold has tested almost every mainstream supplier and found that most are selling a bunk product.  If yours reacts with baking soda by fizzing, it is okay.  If not, you have a problem.  The only legitimate brand I know of is SNS at this point.  Dosing: 2-3 grams

Nootropics: Some of these work, but they are incredibly user dependent and there are just too many to name.  Some to look for include: glucuronolactone, DMAE, rhodiola rosea, l-theanine, ginkgo biloba, ALCAR, and countless others.   These are different than stimulants and are usually added to a caffeine-based focus blend to help enhance the effects of caffeine, especially to remove the jittery effect of caffeine and oftentimes to add to a more focused and/or euphoric feeling.   It will likely take some experimenting to figure these out if you want to know which you like and which you don’t.   These can be used in non-stimulant formulas, but the chances of a felt effect are drastically reduced. Dosing varies greatly

Ingredients with less clinical backing, but strong user feedback and may reflect well on the formulator of a product

AgmatineThis is an ingredient that is unresearched in humans for exercise but has some intriguing physiological effects that may extend beyond the scope of exercise.  User reports usually note the pump effect along with some other ergogenic benefits and a few users note better overall well-being or nutrient partitioning.  These claims are hard to verify anecdotally.  It is not a terribly expensive ingredient, however, and may be worth a shot to see how it works for you.  Dosing: 500mg-1 gram

L-Leucine: A quick dosing of leucine preworkout while in a fasted state follows the protocol of the studies that led to mass use of BCAA supplements.   I do not suggest BCAA supplements but if you are fasted (like training first thing in the morning), the correct dose of leucine before you work out can trigger MPS (muscle protein synthesis).  You want that.  Dosing: roughly 4 grams

That’s it for now.  I may expand this list at a later time if research and innovative formulations come about.  If you think I can’t possibly have gotten them all, well, I probably haven’t.  However, there really just aren’t many ingredients that work.  Beware of products with a million ingredients.

If you are one of many users of coffee, energy drinks, pre-workout drinks, caffeinated soda, or all of the above, you probably consume your fair share of stimulants on a daily basis.  If you have ever wondered why your first dose of your favorite pre-workout got you pumped up but now does nothing, this is for you.  If you wonder why you feel like shit without your morning cup of coffee, this is for you.  If you would like to optimize your performance in the gym, at work, in the classroom, or otherwise via the use of stimulants, read on.

What is a stimulant?

I’m not going to get real technical here, but stimulants, generally speaking, boost energy via central nervous system stimulation.  In addition to energy boost, you can also expect mood and focus enhancement.  This isn’t hocus pocus or painfully subtle like most supplements, this is a real in your face feeling.  Anyone that’s had an inordinate amount of stimulants at once knows this (think about your first Red Bull, coffee, Mountain Dew, pre-workout mix, etc.).

I suggest using stimulants to your advantage for these effects.  For optimal effects, take stimulants on an empty stomach 30 minutes prior to the event you desire to have your performance enhanced in (workout, study session, etc).  However, there are several caveats about responsible use.

How to use?

A lot of folks just use them constantly via coffee/energy drink/soda intake and become so dependent that they are necessary just to keep up normal energy levels.  While this has no safety effects to speak of, this isn’t the most efficient use of stimulants, in my opinion.  For one, stimulants will work better each use if you use them as little as possible.  Every use induces tolerance and you cannot just keep upping the dose, you can reach a point of danger at extremely high doses and eventually you will just be wasting your money.

Long term use also induces tolerance.  Even if you are judicious with your use, over time they just won’t work as well.  This is where cycling comes into play.  Basically, you will take time off completely from stimulants periodically to lose your tolerance.   Here’s a quick breakdown on my suggestions for optimal cycling:

Daily stimulant use: Cycle every two months.  Two months on, 3-4 weeks off.  Don’t use for more than three straight months.  Plan for life events like final exams accordingly.

3-4 times/weekly use: Either take 3-4 weeks off every 4 months, or take two weeks off every 2 months.  I think the longer time off works better but you have some flexibility.

Sporadic use: You don’t really need to cycle, but if you feel you aren’t getting desired effects go ahead and take more time off than normal.

Cycling off can kind of stink.  Stimulants are addictive.  Ever seen someone try to go off cigarettes and they get withdrawals?  The same thing, albeit in a smaller scale, is likely here.  Those first few days cycling off may make you feel sluggish, grouchy, and you may even get some headaches.  This will go away with time and you will soon feel much better.  Don’t give in and just take caffeine to mask the headache!  If you are having a lot of trouble with this, try tapering down doses.  Spend a week at half your normal intake, then take half of that the next week, then go off completely after that. After those few weeks off, you will love how stimulants work for you again and you will see why cycling off was worth it.

Remember, there is no problem being off of stimulants more often than I’ve suggested.  Not being reliant on them is great.  I have given suggestions assuming that the reader wants to use them as much as possible and with the greatest effects possible.

Which stimulants to use?

To quickly name and summarize the distinguishing characteristics of popular stimulants, here we go:

Caffeine – By far the most common.  Naturally occurring in coffee, chocolate, others.  Often found in soda, energy drinks, preworkout drinks.  Effects are mild and include energy boost, focus boost, small mood boost, small appetite suppression, and a slight diuretic effect.  Dosing: Assess tolerance at 100mg.  200-400mg for acute effects, keep daily intake under 1000mg.

Ephedrine – Once found in popular ephedra supplements, ephedrine is now banned as a dietary supplement and can only be obtained through OTC asthma meds like Bronkaid and Primatene.  Works in synergy with caffeine and should always be taken with caffeine for fat burning effects.  While users report energy and focus boost, this is a fat burning stimulant and there is clinical backing for this.  When used with caffeine, appetite suppression and diuretic effects are very notable.  More dangerous than other stimulants to those with heart problems.  Other negative side effects include raised heart rate, sweating, crash, and “stim dick.” Dosing: 12.5 mg to assess tolerance.  25mg is upper limit per dose, do not dose more than three times daily.

DMAA– Also known as 1,3-dimethylamylamine, geranium extract, etc.  This is to be banned soon based mostly upon the fact that it is not in fact found in geranium plants as advertised.  Popularized by USPLabs Jack3d, DMAA is a staple in any “high-stim” cocktail nowadays.  It is a powerful stimulant that can cause euphoria, exceptional energy, and some appetite suppression.  Side effects include crash, quick tolerance, and “stim dick.” If you take a DMAA containing product and instantly feel sleepy, you have dosed it far too high.  Some people just will not respond well to this.  UPDATE: DMAA has been banned.  It is legal to purchase and use for now, but manufacturers may not produce any more of it.  What is for sale now is all there is.  Companies are scrambling for alternatives and if anything truly interesting comes up I’ll continue updating this post.  Dosing: 25mg to assess tolerance.  25-100mg in single use, 100mg daily limit.

Yohimbine – Usually comes in one of two forms (Yohimbine HCl or Alpha-Yohimbine/Rauwolscine).  Oftentimes not felt, this is a fat burning stimulant.  Works differently than ephedrine and is particularly effective at mobilizing stubborn fat.  Effects are lessened or completely diminished in the presence of insulin so may be best for ketogenic dieters and definitely must be taken on completely empty stomach (fasted).  A variety of negative side effects are associated with Yohimbine HCl, so if you do not respond well turn to Alpha-Yohimbine.  I would feel comfortable using Alpha-Yohimbine during a stimulant break.  Dosing: 25mg per use.  No more than 3 uses per day.

NMT – I felt a subtler-than-DMAA but decent feeling with NMT (N-Methyl-Tyramine).  It seems to enhance mood fairly well over anything else, in my experience.  I’ve found that responses can vary quite a bit on this stimulant, some with no felt effect, others getting headaches, and others like myself feeling a mild stimulant sensation that adds well to caffeine.  Worth a shot in the post-DMAA world.  Dosage: 35-70mg per use.

PEA – Chemically related to amphetamine, this has poor oral bioavailability.  While chemistry struggles to explain it, PEA and its analogues (b-PEA, etc) are known to produce a strong euphoric feeling at proper doses.  It has a short half-life of 15 minutes so do not expect effects to last long.  May be useful for acute focus needs.  Dosing: Too user dependent and unresearched to say definitively.  Often a part of stimulant formulas that do not disclose dosing.

The takeaway?

Well, every prospective stimulant user should start with caffeine.  This is readily available and there is probably a drink you like the taste of that has it in it.  Once you think you’ve mastered the art of caffeine, you can try adding things in based on your needs.  For fat burning, ephedrine is tops and yohimbine is great as well.  For focus or further energy boost, you may look for DMAA and PEA containing products.  Things can be user dependent so you just have to experiment.

Note: There is more to preworkout drinks than just stimulants/energy/focus boosters.  I have now begun a series on Pre-Workouts that Work, starting like this article by pointing out the useful ingredients.

It’s time to talk about where to buy your supplements if you choose to use them.  For what it’s worth, this article applies to USA only.  I honestly don’t feel like doing the research for each and every country.

Brick and mortar stores (GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Complete Nutrition, others) – I’ve yet to see any chain store that is worth going to.  They are overpriced vs online retailers by as much as 50% for just about everything.  Unless you need something ASAP and are willing to overpay, there is literally no reason to go to any of these places.  Selection is generally terrible and restricted to the many huge brands that don’t make very effective products.  I haven’t even run into a sale that is worth dealing with.

I’ve touched on this elsewhere, but their salesmen are terrible.  Most are uninformed, and even more are just plain biased.  They get paid on commission for certain companies and products and will push you to use those more often than not.  Of course, the more things you buy, the more they get paid.  They will make it seem like you need this, that, and the other thing when that is rarely the case.   I’ve seen them give extremely unsafe advice before, to the peril of friends of mine.

Just stay away from these places.

Online Buying

An enormous portion of the supplement industry is moved online.  Up and coming brands as well as some very established ones can only be found on the net.  Even for brands you can find in brick and mortar stores, you’re saving an immense amount by buying online.  Generally, shipping prices are very fair, even on heavy proteins (many have flat rate shipping).  This isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list, but it should cover most of your bases. is a good place to check out, but some of these sites tend to even beat the sales at other sites.

These aren’t listed in any particular order, outside of which ones I expect you may have heard of down to the ones I don’t think you’ve heard of. – This is by far the biggest online supplement retailer (also referred to as for short).  They have a massive selection, good customer service, flat-rate shipping, and a lot of non-supplement items for sale.  The rub is that this is one of the higher priced online retailers, even with the 10% coupons that are always around (check the forum or your email for the current coupon).  They have gone away from almost every company that was involved in prohormone sales since they were raided by the FDA in 2009.  There are some very good and reliable brands that they have elected not to carry due to this, but they sell enough that it just doesn’t matter to them.  I usually don’t buy here unless they have a particularly good sale going on.

NutraPlanet – While there are no official numbers, NutraPlanet may be the second largest online retailer.  They tend to sell for less than, but also don’t have coupons.  They run more frequent and better sales than  Shipping is flat-rate, quick, and customer service is good.  They don’t carry as many brands, but have a better overall brand selection than  There are very small coupons for large orders.

Lockout Supplements – Lockout is a relatively small operation with one goal: to sell everything for less than their bigger competitors.  While they don’t have an enormous selection, it is very solid.  Again, everything is bottom of the barrel pricing and there are always 5% coupons (try “facebook”) around, 10% on holidays.  Be aware, though, that Lockout sells a good deal of prohormones and I don’t recommend these to anyone, really.  Just be careful and don’t buy something that you don’t know what it is.  Look for Lockout’s Deal of the Day, it is often the lowest price you’ll ever see that particular supplement.

Sports Nutrition Online (SNO) – You’ll probably hear some mixed opinions about SNO.  There was some drama several months ago with a company they shared a warehouse with — that company sold prohormones and the FDA raided the warehouse, causing a temporary shutdown at SNO.  This caused some customer service issues and there are now some folks that do not care to purchase there.  What those folks are missing out on is a revamped customer service team and some unbelievable sales.  In part to gain back customer trust, they have been selling popular supplements well below cost.  They will also give big discounts on supplements that are near their expiration date.  There are occasionally 5% coupons circulating, you can ask about it on their forum.  If a reader of an article orders from there has a problem with an order, you can contact me because I have friends at their corporate office.

Get Ripped Nutrition – This is a brick and mortar/online combo operation out of California.  They run a store but move much more online than in-store.   Prices are good, usually falling between and Lockout, but they run great specials and Daily Deals.  Shipping is reliable but not always super quick, unless you’re local.  They’ve had a special on Quest Bars for a while that is unbeatable.  They offer quantity discounts and free shipping, alongside a referral program.  The owner is a great guy that you can’t feel bad about buying from.

SmartPowders – This website shines when it comes to bulk ingredients.  While they have a pretty nice brand selection and run some nice sales, what sets SmartPowders apart is their single ingredient products.  If you’re interested in nootropics, you should already be familiar with SmartPowders.  The owner is a self-proclaimed quality control watchdog of the industry, so you should think that quality control and meeting label claims shouldn’t be a big issue.  You can email their customer service and ask him for Certificates of Authenticity, I’d imagine.


Disclaimer: Much of what I know about this style of dieting comes from the guru Lyle McDonald.  He runs a blog at and has written several books, which I suggest you buy.

I made a promise that effective dieting is simple in Everything You Need to Know About Your Diet.  For most people and most goals, this is essentially true.  However, sometimes it may seem that that diet plan may reach a point where it is no longer effective.  I have in fact reached that point.  People are in fact genetically different – some people can use a diet plan with moderate carbs and moderate fat and get to very low bodyfat levels.  Others, like myself and possibly you if you are reading this, are not so lucky.  Our bodies are well-suited to the world that prehistoric man lived in: when food was sparse and storing fat for fuel was an evolutionary advantage.  If you are one of these folks looking for a way around this genetic predisposition, read on.

Ketogenic dieting is difficult, requires a lot of attention to detail and effort, and is not worth doing if you can get lean with simpler diet plans like I have outlined in my previous diet write-up.  If you have successfully used that sort of diet plan to manipulate your weight but have been unable to burn off those last bits of fat, you may want to look into a ketogenic diet.

Remember – I only suggest this for cutting cycles.  If you’re looking to bulk up, just stick to my normal dieting suggestions.

What is ketogenic dieting and ketosis?

Ketogenic dieting broadly refers to various dieting strategies that employ the vast reduction and/or elimination of carbohydrates.  The name comes from the term ketosis, which refers to the state of carb deprivation in which your body begins using ketones instead of glucose for energy at the cellular level.  It is important to note that while this is often a side effect of carbohydrate reduction, there is no inherent advantage of being in ketosis vs. not.  Dieters for a very long were wrapped up in whether or not they were in ketosis, but this in fact not important at all.  For this reason, don’t bother buying ketostix or anything else to see if you are in ketosis because it doesn’t matter.

The matter of importance when cutting out carbs is to deplete glycogen.  I won’t go into the nitty gritty of the science here (and I probably couldn’t do it justice), but in depleting glycogen we force our bodies to use fat for fuel.  Glycogen is essentially stored glucose and we get glucose from carbohydrates.  We cut off glucose (and thus glycogen) supply via cutting out carbohydrates.  We deplete the glycogen that is already stored with high volume exercise.  In this state, big time fat burning can occur – but at a potential cost.  You may feel lethargic, cloudy-minded, irritable, or perhaps no different at all.  The more often you deplete glycogen, the better you begin to respond to it.  Personally, I never had any particularly negative reactions.

There are several different ways to structure a ketogenic diet.  The first incantation is to just go without carbs for an indefinite period of time.  I am opposed to this because you will get to a point where your athletic performance will be severely harmed due to long-term glycogen depletion.  Likewise, you will start to lose hard-earned muscle at an undesirable weight under most circumstances.  Another strategy is called Targeted Ketogenic Dieting (TKD).  This involves taking in small amounts of carbs before, during, and after exercise and going completely without the rest of the day.  I’m not a fan of this either, though I confess it may be better for people trying not to lose performance in the gym or playing field.  The kind I will be doing the most elaboration on is Cyclic Ketogenic Dieting (CKD).

CKD involves periodic “refeeds” in which you consume large amounts of carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen.  This can be a very anabolic moment and is instrumental in keeping (and possibly gaining) muscle mass during your cut.  I am a proponent of Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0, which is a 7 day CKD.  You would obviously want to do several 7 day cycles to notice any real long term effect.  Go to bodyrecomposition (link at beginning and end of this article) and buy the book for more info – seriously.

What does a good CKD diet setup look like?

First of all, this will merely be a template.  I will respond to specific questions as I’m able but I can’t cover them all without rewriting one of Lyle’s books.  That said, I’m going to give you an overview of Lyle’s Ultimate Diet 2.0.

As far as big picture goes, you’re going to first deplete muscle glycogen via restricting carbs and working out with a very high volume.   Once you’re fully depleted, you are going to carb load.  This will involve taking in an astronomical amount of carbs (1000-1500 grams) in a 24 hour span to replenish glycogen stores.  This is imperative for recovery, strength retention/gain, and overall state of mind.  Due to the fact you were glycogen depleted, you will not gain fat from the carb-up because your body will actually need to use all of those carbs.  You will follow the carb-load with a couple of calorie restricted but otherwise “normal” eating days.  Let’s map this out:

Monday/Tuesday: Eat at about half maintenance calories w/ 50g or less net carbs.  Net carbs are total carbs minus your fiber intake (your body doesn’t digest fiber like other nutrients, so it doesn’t count).  Make sure you meet protein requirements, the rest will be dietary fat (yes, you need the fats).  You will be doing high volume weight workouts both days – you can either do two full body workouts or an upper/lower split.  It doesn’t matter, just make sure you’re hitting every muscle group hard with roughly 100 working reps (5 sets of 20, 6 sets of 15 total).

Wednesday:  Diet is the same as Monday/Tuesday, but no weight workout.  You can do some sort of cardio on this day, but you may find that you’re too sore from the weight workouts.

Thursday AM: This is a tricky day.  You will restrict calories and carbs to begin the day.  Consume a small amount of carbs prior to a PM workout, which will be described shortly.

Thursday PM/Friday: After the small carb drink/food,  do an intense full-body workout.  We’re looking at 6-10 rep range, and just 2-3 sets per exercise.  You can choose exercises as you please.  Immediately following the workout is the carb-up.  Between this time and the time you go to bed Friday, you should consume 7-8g of carbs per pound of lean body mass.  At first you may have some sugars, but try to focus on starches and complex carbs as time goes on.  Of utmost importance is that you limit fats as low as possible.  This keeps fat gain from happening.  Ideally, you’d consume zero fat.  More than 50g or so is too much.  No work out on Friday.

Saturday: Carb-up has ended.  Don’t worry about your weight being up, you’ve taken on a lot of water.  Today is the power workout – maximal strength.  This is a full body workout with compound movements, primarily.  Looking at 2-3 sets in the 3-6 rep range.  This is the day to build strength because you’re completely well fed.  For diet, do a normal diet.  About 2g carbs per pound bodyweight, normal high protein amounts, and try to restrict fats.  Calories should be roughly 500 below maintenance, though you can increase it if you’re more worried about losing muscle.

Sunday: This is another rest day.  You may be sore from yesterday’s workout.  Again this is a more normal dieting day.  You can eat about your bodyweight in grams of carbs in the morning, but as the day goes on begin restricting carbs again to prepare for the low-carb days ahead of you.  The same variability on total calories from Saturday applies today.

And repeat.  You won’t want to do more than 4-6 cycles in a row.  Eat normally as I described in the intro to eating for a couple weeks and resume this diet if you want to cut further.


You may want to supplement during this diet, though it isn’t necessary.

First, there are staples – fish oil is hugely important, read the Supplement Guide for more info.  You may want a multivitamin since you’ll be missing out on foods like fruits.  Low-carb protein powders may help with your protein intake, though they won’t do much for satiety (killing appetite).  Quest bars are also a great option for protein supplementation/meal replacement.

For enhanced fat-burning, an Ephedrine/Caffeine stack will work.  Getting ephedrine is tricky, though.  It is not allowed as a dietary supplement and you have to buy it in the OTC asthma medications Bronkaid or Primatene.  Your drugstore may have a generic as well.  You want to dose 25mg Ephedrine Sulfate or HCl 3 times daily with 200mg caffeine.  This is not only an excellent and cheap fat burning stack, it also will keep your energy up on low-carb days.  Do NOT take this on carb-up days, it interferes with the insulin response that is key to the whole process.  Read this link for more detailed info on EC until I write a fat burner article.  Always take stimulants like this on an empty stomach!!!

Another stimulant fat burner you can try is Yohimbine.  This is extremely effective at mobilizing those stubborn fat areas when insulin is not present in the bloodstream.  When you’re low-carb, guess what – no insulin.  You’ll want about 20mg 3x a day, depending on the source of yohimbine.  You can stack this with and at the same time as Ephedrine/Caffeine.  Some people get side effects from regular yohimbine HCl, so if that is the case I suggest you check alpha-yohimbine/rauwolscine.  The best product for this is called Genomyx Alpha-Burn.  Google it, use it.  You can use this separately from Caffeine and Ephedrine if you don’t want to do the E/C stack.  Still take it on empty stomach, still only take it on low-carb days.

Final Thoughts

The biggest qualm people have with the Ultimate Diet 2.0 is that they have to abandon their weights routine.  There is some flexibility here, as the nutrition is by far the most important part.  If you want to do something like 5/3/1, just adjust your assistance work based on which day of the week it is.  You’ll also want to rotate which body parts you do on which days because doing the same lift after carb-up each time will favor that one movement too much as far as growth goes.

Eating low-carb sucks.  This is not for the faint of heart, but rather those that are frustrated by the fact that normal dieting techniques have stopped working.  You’re basically restricted to meats and cheeses and low-carb veggies like spinach.  Quest Bars are keto-friendly too.  There are some protein powders that work, but be careful of those that have carbs in them (a few will be okay).

The carb-up seems like a time to eat whatever you want, but it is very important to restrict fats.  This eliminates a lot of foods, unfortunately.  You can risk eating some fats, but it may cause you to gain some fat back.  Foods like bread, spaghetti, some cereals, bagels, and others are your best bet.  Try to spread the carb-up into as many meals as possible.  It is very important to try restrict sugars during the carb-up (try to have no more than 100g, not counting sugars from milk) and cut them out completely during the “normal” days following the carb-up.

Good luck and enjoy getting the physique you never believed you could get.

Disclaimer: Much of what I know about this style of dieting comes from the guru Lyle McDonald.  He runs a blog at and has written several books, which I suggest you buy.

If you haven’t read Part 1, start there.

Reminder that this will be a fluid list – I will add things I’ve left out and update as more information becomes available. 

Moving on – I’ve left you knowing that supplements are FAR lower on the list of priorities than things like your diet and workout program.  I’ve also let you with some knowledge of where to get your info and where NOT to get your info.  Now I’m going to give you what you probably were looking for in the first place: supplements that you CAN take.  I say can because I can never say you SHOULD take supplements, they simply are not needed.

I’m going to break this down by categories first.  I’m not going to talk specific products here, and only touch on particular ingredients.  Eventually, I will write individual articles on each category and link them here.


PROTEIN: Supplemental protein is the most basic and widely heard of category of dietary supplements.  While you do need to take precaution that a company is reputable enough to meet label claims, it is basically true that protein is protein.  It is always best to try to get all of your protein via diet, but I understand especially well as a college student that this can be both difficult and expensive.  For those times, you have supplemental protein.  Whey, casein, rice, etc. doesn’t matter.  The only one to avoid is soy.  This has been shown to have an estrogen increasing effect in men.  However, don’t worry about moderate soy intake in foods – just don’t make it a primary source of protein and you’ll have no issues.  The final word of advice on these is not to buy the hype that you must take protein immediately post-workout, before bed, or any other particular time.  As I told you in my diet article, there is no evidence that nutrient (protein is a nutrient) timing is of relevance to non-endurance athletes.  As long as you consider protein as a food source and try your best to consume all of your protein via whole foods, I can say that supplemental protein works without reservation.  Just try to find one that tastes good and you enjoy drinking.

CREATINE: Creatine is a supplement that works.  However, it is a very misunderstood supplement so let’s discuss that quickly.  For one, it is completely safe.  Those that associate it with liver/kidney issues are misunderstanding medical signs.  To ease your fears, I will try to explain this – creatine supplementation will increase creatinine (see the spelling difference) levels in your system.  For non-supplement users, raised creatinine levels can be a sign of a medical issue.  Raised creatinine is an effect of a medical condition, not the cause of it.  Therefore, the increase in creatinine from creatine use is harmless.

Moving on from that, creatine is the most studied dietary supplement, ever.  It definitely works and it has become very affordable.  You need to know that there are different kinds of creatine, though.  The most common and arguably best form is creatine monohydrate.  It is cheap, effective, and most proven.  There are other “designer creatines” that vary in their cost, effectiveness, and prevalence.  The one of these to avoid is Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) – this has been proven ineffective.  Why use something other than creatine monohydrate?  There is a possibility that some people are pre-disposed to be nonresponders to creatine, and some of these other forms may help non-responders in particular.  Likewise, some good “designer creatines” may help speed absorption.  If you must get a more expensive form, try these: magnesium creatine chelate (MCC) and/or creatine malate.

The last bit on creatine is usage: for creatine monohydrate, the basic guideline is 5 grams daily.  There is no loading phase and there is no need to cycle it.  You will reach saturation after about a month and there isn’t a way to accelerate this (more isn’t better).  Once you are saturated, it won’t take as much to stay saturated but nonetheless it may be simpler to keep going at 5 grams daily.

A warning – this is not steroids.  You will not get some huge 30 pound increase on your bench press in a month or get some notable physique change.  The main effect you should notice is an added rep or so in moderate rep sets (4-6 reps).

BETA-ALANINE: While creatine is the most studied ingredient, beta-alanine is coming in second.  Almost all research shows beta-alanine to be effective at increasing endurance (think the 8-12 rep range).  Of course, it’s clear that a few more reps will be constructive for getting stronger.  You can get beta-alanine in a pre-workout type of beverage, but it doesn’t matter what time of day that you take it.  It is also best if you take it in two different doses.  Research shows it’s effectiveness between 3.2-6.4 grams per day, taken in at least two separate doses.  You may experience tingling of the skin with beta-alanine, but this is harmless and goes away with more usage.  Splitting doses and taking with carbohydrates can help to further alleviate this effect.  As I warned you with creatine, this is not a miracle substance: it will also take several weeks to reach saturation and even at that time you won’t turn into Superman.  We’re talking a couple added reps at the end of high rep sets here.

PRE-WORKOUT STIMULANTS:  One of the most popular categories of supplementation is the pre-workout drink.  The main reason that casual users find these to be effective is the stimulant content of these drinks.  It is definitely true that caffeine has energy, cognitive, and performance benefits.  The newly popular 1,3 dimethyamylamine (DMAA, geranamine, geranium oil/extract) is similarly effective and can have some benefits for those that are used to caffeine usage.  However, there are side effects and tolerance concerns that motivate me not to recommend DMAA.  Likewise, rumor has it that DMAA will soon be banned.  Nonetheless, I can tell you that caffeine works.  I will say that most pre-workout drinks sold in stores are a bunch of junk with caffeine sprinkled on top – but the caffeine is something you can feel.  If you are not informed on common pre-workout ingredients, I suggest you take a caffeine tablet or a cup of coffee for now if you must have something.  There will be more information coming later in this article and in a separate one (click here!) that should help you choose your pre-workouts more effectively.

JOINT SUPPLEMENTS: If you have joint issues, start with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM.  There are many products that combine the three, including a popular multivitamin.  Another ingredient you’ll want to look for is called cissus.  Also, fish oil may help your joint health (but more on that in a minute).  These are simple and relatively cost effective supplements that can make a real difference in the way you feel, especially as you age.  Also, these can make for excellent prevention (though not foolproof).

FISH OIL (EPA/DHA): First, when you hear about fish oil, we’re talking about the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.  The rest of the fat and Omega 3 content in your fish oil supplement is unneeded.  This is important because you will have to look at the label to know how much EPA and DHA there is vs. the total fish oil content.  Research suggests your best dose will be between 2000-3000mg combined EPA and DHA, so you will likely have to take more caplets than the label suggests.  You also need to factor this in when you calculate the cost effectiveness of your fish oil.

So what does it do?  As mentioned before, it does have joint health benefits. It also is known to have some muscle enhancing/anti-inflammatory effects.  More importantly, it has noted heart and brain health benefits that are very important in the long term.  These Omega 3’s are a big part of a healthy diet but are largely absent in American cuisine.


MULTIVITAMINS: This is a can of worms and has warranted its own article for more discussion.  Studies on your run of the mill, one-a-day, Centrum-esque multivitamins have shown them to be ineffective for the most part.  It seems pretty clear that cheap multivitamins that don’t source well (more on that in the multivitamin article) do NOT work though.  If you’re shopping at Wal-Mart for your multi, just save your money.  However, there is research on some individual vitamin and mineral forms that suggest some of them should work.  The main issue here is that you’re not supposed to “feel” a multivitamin, even if it is working.  Also, we’re not generally deficient to a dangerous extent very often in any particular vitamin/mineral.  Finally, there is just not enough conclusive research either way for me to say definitively that they are worth it.

FAT BURNERS: This is the most tantalizing category for people and I hesitate to even give it the “maybe” status.  A more accurate description would be “doesn’t work as described.”  It’s hard to paint with a broad brush, but most fat burners are stimulant-based.  With the ban of ephedrine and the side effects common to many other stimulants, almost all fat burners feature caffeine as the key ingredient.  The truth is that there is some usefulness to caffeine and a few other stimulants.  For one, there is “thermogenic” effect that will cause a marginal increase in metabolism.  You would literally feel warmer using this type of thing.  Also, some will experience a notable decrease in appetite when using stimulants.  There’s no doubt why that would be useful when dieting.  However, there’s no evidence of any direct fat burning property for fat burners.  Two more things: 1. Fat burners don’t make up for a poor diet – you will only drop fat when in a caloric deficit.  and 2. Stimulants act as a diuretic, so a higher than normal dose of stimulants can cause you to lose upwards of 5 pounds of water.  So don’t fall for the miracle drug because you lost a few pounds of water.

BCAAs: Branched Chain Amino Acids have become very popular in the industry.  BCAAs are very important physiologically.  The real question is whether you need to supplement them directly or if your protein consumption is enough.  There are a ton of people using BCAA products swearing that they enhance recovery and endurance.  However, there isn’t any sound research that tells us that supplemental BCAAs are useful for these functions.  The research out there has been riddled with conflicts of interest.  I invite you to read this link for more discussion on this controversial topic.

OTC SLEEP AIDS: A relatively popular area of supplementation are sleep enhancers.  There are a few that help induce sleep, and many others help with staying asleep.  I say these “might” work for several reasons: some in this category don’t work at all, some will work for some people, and there is also a strong potential for placebo.  For instance, the most popular (and ubiquitous) ingredient in this category is melatonin.  This is only useful for people who have hormonal imbalances.  However, many people take it and since they have peace of mind that they will sleep well, they do in fact sleep well and swear by it.  Another popular sleep aid is ZMA, and this can be effective for some people.  Some others have very averse reactions.  GABA is another ingredient that helps many but causes poor reactions in others.   There are many ingredients in this category and most of the best products use a variety of several to reach the best effect.  In the near future, I will review some to give you more ideas as to specific products.

PROBIOTICS: Probiotics are becoming widely available and are starting to gain interest in fitness circles, especially given the type of diets common to those trying to get high amounts of protein, fiber, etc.  Probiotics are bacteria that aid in digestion, many of which are already present or ought to be present in our digestive tract.  Due to bad luck, diet, or antibiotic use, many of us may be deficient in some of these bacteria.  Supplementary probiotics are surmised to survive the digestive process and form colonies, then performing their function.  The “maybe” part of this is that there are many strains and ways (like methods of encapsulation) to get probiotics and it’s difficult to examine each one.  The research that is out there is mixed.  At their best, you should flatulate less, have more regular and comfortable bowel movements, and absorb nutrients more efficiently.  The rub here, like multivitamins, is that the effects may be extremely subtle if you are not dealing with extreme flatulence or digestive discomfort.


This list is potentially endless, so I’ll only cover some of the most misused supplements to help you save your money.

GLUTAMINE:  Glutamine is an amino acid that makes up a huge portion of all your skeletal muscle.  On the surface, that alone makes one think that you must need it if you’d like to build more of that muscle.  This logic has caused glutamine to be one of the very most popular supplements available, purporting to be a key muscle builder.  Unfortunately, it has been proven rather conclusively that for a non-endurance athlete consuming a protein-rich diet, glutamine supplementation will not increase strength, build muscle, or aid recovery.  It can support the immune and digestive systems, however, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to help you through sickness.  Otherwise (unless you are a distance runner/biker), glutamine does not work!

ARGININE: Arginine is the prince to glutamine’s king.  Arginine is yet another amino acid that is supposed to aid in strength and increase pumps.  This is the ingredient that gave rise to the “nitric oxide” phenomenon.  This is another substance that it makes sense that it would do what we hope it does, but it just doesn’t.  Orally ingested arginine is effectively useless and is possibly even detrimental.  It has been proven to be a very effective placebo, however.  There are lots of people buying arginine and believing their workouts have improved.  The only usefulness of arginine is in products that also have nitrates (but that’s a different story).

HGH SUPPLEMENTS:  There are a bundle of supplements out there that purport to raise growth hormone levels.  These are completely ineffective.  The best ones are in fact sleep aids, as it is true that a deeper sleep will result in higher growth hormone release.  Most are just complete bunk, though.  Real growth hormone enhancement costs thousands of dollars and is given by medical doctors.

A reminder: this is not an endorsement of the use of any of these supplements. If you want a guide on supplement use, look ahead for Part 3.

Well, it’s the time of year that we all decide to change our physique.  In a couple weeks, it will be the time of year everyone gives up on that same decision.  Why does this happen?

It’s easy to say people are unmotivated and there is some truth to that.  Physique changes certainly require a good deal of dedication.  However, I think there are plenty of well-meaning folks that just get frustrated when bad plans are followed with bad results.  The first part of successful achievement of New Year’s resolutions (and any other goal, really) begins with the setting of the goal.  Let’s start with an example of my own –

I wanted to get a six pack. Who doesn’t? I would work hard and try not to eat too much for weeks at a time.  Alas, no six pack.  I continued to be disappointed and I’d eventually for some reason give up.  Maybe I’d binge on some Dairy Queen in my frustration.  Perhaps I’d try on that shirt that I liked but didn’t flatter me…and of course it still wouldn’t.  That stinks – where’s the progress?

You need to set realistic goals in both the short term and long term.  Focus on short term goals.  A physique change like obtaining a six pack is a worthy goal, but it may be far enough in the future (like it was for me) that you’ll torture yourself trying to obtain it.  Instead, if you focus on just losing that one pound per week or getting one rep stronger per workout and you will find yourself approaching those long term goals faster than ever.  I will of course refer you to Fitness 101 so that you can rest assured that your plan of action is well thought out.

What happens when you fail? Unfortunately, you’re going to have this great plan – you’re going to eat in a certain way, work out in a certain way, etc.  Then…your mother bakes you your favorite dessert.  And you eat it all in one sitting, effectively ruining your daily intake.  This is not when you quit!  So what, you lost a day – forget it.  Honestly, just enjoy yourself once you’ve let that day happen.  Tomorrow is a new day and you can get back on track.  Think of it like this: your positive days will so far outweigh those hiccups that the difference will be negligible.  This is no license to slack, but you have to put things in perspective.  A single missed day out of 30 still makes for a good month.  I use a nutrition example here, but you can apply this in many different ways.  I believe that setting short term goals is key to achieving a mindset that allows you to overcome failure.  Every day, regardless of how good or bad yesterday was, you have the same goal.  A good day does not mean that you approach the next day carelessly and a bad day does not mean that your next day is worthless.

I’ll even use this blog as an example of how my positive attitude will keep this going in times it wouldn’t have before.  Some of these posts, particularly guides, are rather long and take considerable effort.  My long term goal is to have several different guides that encompass all kinds of different parts of fitness and athletics.  However, I know that I cannot just make them all appear (especially with the quality I require of myself).  Instead, I write bit by bit.  I focus only on writing the next section and making it well.  Even this relatively short article was written in several different sessions.  Once, I sat down and couldn’t quite find the right words to say.  I just let it go, and now I’ve reset my mind and gotten back to writing.

One thing that helped me in particular once I’d really done some research is that you can really dive in all the way once you are certain that your plan will be effective.  The last thing you want is to let doubt creep in that even with perfect effort, you won’t get results.  This is part of the reason I created this blog in the first place, to let you rest assured that your efforts won’t be wasted.

I’d like to emphasize that the point of this article is not to give license to laziness.  However, we must acknowledge our humanity.  The people we admire aren’t perfect either, so we can’t put so much pressure on ourselves that we crumble at the first moment that things get hard.  You will find that the less pressure you put on yourself, the easier it is to do what you know you need to do.

To summarize:
– Set those big goals!
– Also set short term goals
– Focus on hitting daily goals
– Don’t get hung up on misses
– Results

Let’s make 2012 a big year.