The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)
No matter how often or how hard you work out, if you eat poorly, or not enough, you’ll never get the results you want. You can’t work like a horse and eat like a chicken and expect to gain muscle. Your muscles need protein and carbs, and lots of them, to build new tissue. In this section, I dive into the necessary nutritional information—just enough but no more—that’ll help
FUEL & GEAR
you eat right for your fitness goals. Toward the end I offer a quick overview of the best things to wear for a bodyweight workout, from shirt to shoes to headphones. And don't miss the playlist at the end of the chapter to get you moving and grooving.
Deciding what to eat shouldn’t be complicated. Here are four simple principles to keep in mind.
PRINCIPLE 1: EAT REAL FOOD
Walk through the typical American grocery store and read the labels on the food. With all the synthetic chemicals and processed ingredients, much of what’s on the shelf barely counts as food at all. Our bodies didn’t evolve to live on potato chips, soda, and frozen meals. I follow author Michael Pollan’s advice to eat real food. Buy ingredients—fresh produce, meats, and dairy—instead of processed, pre-prepared foods. If you buy organic, you can be sure your produce and grains haven’t been treated with pesticides.
PRINCIPLE 2: EAT WHAT YOU NEED
According to the National Institutes of Health, meals in restaurants have grown twice or even three times as big as they were 20 years ago, and obesity rates have kept pace. In 1971, 14.1 percent of Americans were obese. Today it’s 34.9 percent, and supersized meals are a major reason why.
Many Americans don’t realize it, but a serving of chicken should be the size of your palm, a bowl of cereal should be the size of your fist, and pasta should be limited to one handful per serving. When you eat what you need and combine that with a strategic workout plan, great results are inevitable.
PRINCIPLE 3: EAT MORE OFTEN
The idea of three meals a day is a throw-back to a different era. If you’re trying to gain muscle, three meals a day isn’t going to cut it. If you’re trying to lose body fat, it’s better to eat smaller meals more frequently, about every 2 to 3 hours. Eating like this maintains your blood sugar at stable levels throughout the day and keeps your digestive system working. It also prevents that sluggish feeling we get when we eat too much, which I know completely kills my motivation to work out.
PRINCIPLE 4: FOOD TIMING
When you eat is just as important to achieving your fitness goals as what you eat. To build muscle, eat both carbs and protein before you exercise to get the energy you need to perform your best. Do the same thing after a workout, too. Many people emphasize eating just protein after exercise, but at that point, your body’s main priority is refueling its glycogen stores. If all you eat postworkout is protein, your liver will break a large portion of that protein down and rebuild it as glucose to refill those stores, and only whatever’s left over will be used to synthesize new muscle tissue. If you eat “protein-sparing” carbs postworkout, your body will use those carbs to refuel your glycogen stores, and all the protein you consume will be available for growth.
If you’re trying to build muscle and get rid of fat, you want to eat a small amount of good fats before you work out. The idea is that if you consume, say, a handful of nuts, your body is already in a fat-processing mode when you start to work out, and you can keep that going as you exercise. If you’re craving carbs after your workout, you have a two-hour window to eat them. Your metabolism is at its peak and your muscles are trying to replenish their exhausted glycogen stores, so your body will use those carbs for that instead of storing them as fat.
FOR MUSCLE GAIN
Whey protein shake
½ cup oatmeal
FOR BURNING FAT
FOR MUSCLE GAIN
Peanut butter on rice cakes
Tuna on whole-wheat bread
Turkey and cheese with apple slices
FOR BURNING FAT
Hard-boiled egg and snap peas
Steamed vegetables and tofu
Cottage cheese with blueberries
and whole-wheat toast
The key to smart eating for strengthening is to understand some basic information on how protein, carbohydrates, and fats, plus water, interact with each other and with your body. Fruit and pasta are both mainly carbs, for example, but your body processes them differently. The quality of each nutrient matters as much as the quantity.
Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids, which can be linked together in thousands of combinations to form different proteins. Most amino acids are made by the body, but eight of them are not and must come from food. These eight are known as the “essential amino acids.” Animal products like dairy, eggs, and meat are called “complete proteins” because they contain all of the essential amino acids. Proteins that you find in foods such as beans and legumes are not complete because they may only have four or five of the essential amino acids—but, if eaten in the right combination with other foods, they can supply you with complete proteins. Your body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbs, so you need to eat it every day. Essential amino acids are key to growth, which is why it’s critical that you consume enough complete proteins. If you’re hoping to gain muscle, you should consume more than the baseline of 0.5 grams of complete protein per pound of body weight each day. Your daily goal should be to consume from 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of body weight.
In recent years, carbs have gotten a bad rap, but just like protein, they’re essential for an optimally functioning body. They supply nearly half of the energy you need, and certain carbs, like fiber, are necessary for digestion and toxin elimination. The trouble comes when we combine carbohydrate consumption with inactivity. The body converts both simple and complex carbs into glucose (sugar) for energy, but when we sit around for most of the day, those sugars circulate in the bloodstream instead of being used, eventually getting stored for the long term as fat.
If your main goal is to build muscle, I recommend that 55 to 60 percent of your calories come from carbs. If you’re more focused on losing body fat, shoot for something closer to 45 percent, but remember that if you cut too many carbs out, you risk undermining your strength. Either way, choose complex carbs over simple ones, as it takes the body longer to digest complex carbs, resulting in less glucose available to turn into fat. You’ll find complex carbs in whole foods like vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that men consume more fat, sodium, and calories on days when they drink, even in moderation, than on days when they abstain.
Fats have been blamed for making us obese and causing cardiovascular disease, but this is not exactly the case. Fat in your diet is different from fat on your body. Fat is essential in order for your body to function properly.
An active person does not need to be afraid of eating fat, as it’s a great source of energy. Roughly 30 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from fats. Believe it or not, if you’re trying to lose fat and are exercising regularly, shoot for closer to 40 percent.
Be aware that fats come in two broad categories: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature—like butter, lard, or coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature—think olive oil, fish oil, or peanut oil. As you choose your fats, try to balance saturated with unsaturated.
BETTER, NOT LESS
FOODS FOR AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE
Jennifer Koslo, an Austin, Texas-based nutritionist and board-certified sports dietitian who has competed in marathons and triathlons for decades, says that if you’re looking to shed fat, pack on muscle, or both, the formula is simple: Adopt a consistent exercise routine, and create a moderate calorie deficit. “The key is to provide your body with the right balance of nutrients at the right time, and avoid extreme dips in calorie intake,” she says. Overreliance on protein bars and shakes is a recipe for trouble; they’re calorie bombs and can be high in unhealthy fats.
Trendy diets that eliminate entire food groups tend to produce only short-term results. Healthy snacks are essential to sustaining energy throughout the day and prevent overindulging in the really damaging stuff. Here are six that earn her approval:
✵Hummus and veggies
✵Nuts (1 ounce) and a piece of fruit
✵A slice of whole-grain bread with nut butter
✵Oatmeal with sliced almonds and berries
✵Beans wrapped in lettuce or a whole-grain tortilla
Koslo advises eating a variety of high-quality foods in moderation.
1Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables, which can be quickly mixed into smoothies and steamed, respectively.
2Spend a few hours on the weekend cooking for the week ahead. Cook up some brown rice, grill a few chicken breasts, chop vegetables, and then store them in the refrigerator as individual servings.
3Veggies add color and nutrient value to everything. Put spinach in your smoothies, cauliflower in your eggs, and butternut squash in your macaroni and cheese.
Ever been told that energy drinks and sports gels are a must when you’re working out regularly? Koslo recommends skipping them. Most energy drinks are spiked with caffeine and sugar, and the way they disrupt your sleep will cancel out any modest performance enhancement they give you. And while sports gels do deliver the necessary sugar for training, they’re also full of preservatives. Better to get the kick you need from raisins, dates, and other dried fruits.
SKIP THE STORE AND MAKE YOUR OWN
Most Americans are sedentary and tend to get more protein than they need. Unless you’ve just been cast in the next Terminator movie, odds are you’re not looking to pack on pounds and pounds of muscle. You’re probably aiming to get generally stronger and fitter so that more of your body weight is lean tissue rather than fat.
Protein bars deliver extra protein, but even the better ones usually also deliver calories, sugar, and sodium. If you’re hooked on these bars, they’re easy and much healthier to make yourself. Here’s a simple recipe for a homemade bar you can make in less than 5 minutes from start to finish. Egg whites provide high-quality protein and act as a binder for energizing oats and antioxidant-rich cranberries, and flaxseed delivers healthy fats.
On days when you’re feeling super lazy, just head for a jar of peanut butter. A two-tablespoon serving delivers 8 grams of protein. But make sure the only ingredients are peanuts and oil—and pass if you see sugar or hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
OATMEAL-CRANBERRY PROTEIN BAR
¼ cup oats
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 egg white
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried cranberries
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1In a microwave-safe bowl or mug, mix the oats, honey, flour, egg white, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, cranberries, and flaxseed.
2Flatten the mixture into the bottom of the bowl, and microwave on high for 45 seconds.
3Once it’s cool, pop the mixture out of the bowl and enjoy, or throw it into a zip-top bag and take it with you for later.
TOTAL FAT: 7G
WHAT I'VE LEARNED
There's this American dream to put enough away that you can golf and build a birdhouse or just be in a Barcalounger watching football all day. I'll never be that guy. Our desires as men are to work, plow ahead, and overcome conflict. —KEVIN BACON
Water is absolutely crucial to nearly all your biological processes and makes up about 60 percent of your total body weight. Muscles themselves are 75 percent water. A general recommendation for water intake is 3 liters, or 12 cups per day, but not all water we consume comes from a glass. Fruit and vegetables offer our bodies water, too. On average we get about one liter (4 cups) from food, which leaves us with the classic recommendation of 8 cups per day. Obviously things like body size, climate, and activity level will affect the amount of water you need. Vigorous exercise can as much as double fluid requirements.
Thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration. Typically by the time you feel thirsty, you’ve already lost 1 to 2 percent of your body’s water. Muscle strength will reduce with more significant water loss (closer to 4 percent). Drink regularly, throughout the day, to stay hydrated and maintain the muscle mass you’ve worked so hard to build.
WORKOUT CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES
When you dress for optimal fitness, it’s essential to wear the right material and feel good about how you look. Here are a few of my basics.
I prefer tank tops to shirts with any kind of sleeves because they give me a bit more freedom of movement and keep me a little cooler. Sweat is inevitable when you work out, so I opt for moisture-wicking fabrics, which carry sweat away from my body, minimizing chafing and general discomfort.
Compression shorts keep you in place while still allowing a full range of motion. Again, moisture-wicking fabrics provide maximum comfort.
The most important quality in a shoe is comfort. I’m not a big fan of toe-drop shoes, where the heel is higher than the front of the shoe. These shoes force your pelvis into a forward tilt, which is not good for core stability or any movement. Unfortunately, this is the style of most shoes commercially available. I recommend looking for a neutral shoe or even going barefoot from time to time. If you have pronation or supination issues—i.e., if your ankles tend to roll inward or outward—go to a specialist who can help you figure out the best shoe for you. I like Nike Free and New Balance Minimus.
Calisthenics is an age-old fitness technique, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use modern technology to fine-tune it. A fitness tracker can help you keep track of your activity, nutrition, and other stats. I like the Fitbit Charge HR because it syncs with your heart rate so you can accurately monitor calories burned. I use it in conjunction with the nutrition app MyFitnessPal, which has a large database of foods and a simple interface, making it an easy and reliable way to track calories you take in versus calories you expend.
Dress with intent. Noted fitness—er, funny—expert Jerry Seinfeld joked that choosing sweatpants as casual wear tells the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society.” You may have replaced your baggy cotton sweats with moisture-wicking polyblends, but the rules haven’t changed: Save your sweat-managing gear for the activities that make you sweat.
For music, my favorite app is Spotify. You can create different playlists for different workouts or just search for whatever you feel like listening to at the moment.
Music can pump up a workout, but cords can tangle you up. The easy fix is a pair of wireless headphones. You get great tunes without worrying that you’ll trip and fall while doing lunges or squats. My favorite wireless headphones are by Beats. They’ve got great sound and good battery life.
A BEATS PRIMER
AMP UP YOUR TRAINING WITH A GREAT PLAYLIST
Fitness is about improving the duration and quality of your life. It’s the longest game there is, which means it’s important to find ways to keep boredom at bay. One of the easiest methods is to change your tune—or, in this case, your tunes. The right playlist of songs can make all the difference to a workout.
Lots of ready-made fitness compilations are built to deliver a steady rate of beats per minute. But that can get monotonous, especially if the songs aren’t to your personal taste. The key to sustaining your interest and energy through a challenging workout isn’t a uniform tempo—it’s an absorbing narrative.
It may sound unconventional, but give it a try. Arrange your songs to tell a story, even if it’s one that makes sense only to you. Choose music you feel a visceral response to, whether it’s an urge to dance, an urge to cry, or just a powerful tug of nostalgia. Sequence the songs with the same care you put into making a mixtape (or Spotify playlist) for your first crush. You’ll want to see the story through to its conclusion even if your body is struggling, the same way you want to find out what happens at the end of a movie.
Start with a track with a long, portentous buildup, and end on an energetic anthem. Create playlists of different lengths for shorter and longer workouts. Include a dedicated track for warming up and one for cooling down. Transitions are key. You’ll marvel at the power boost you feel when one great track flows seamlessly into another. Follow these tips or figure out whatever else works for you to keep you focused and present in the exercises. That’s the best way to avoid injury and create the results you want.
TRACK 01 [WARMUP]
featuring Kevin Parker
HARD TIMES (COVER)
John Legend and The Roots
PASS THAT DUTCH
LORD KNOWS / FIGHTING STRONGER
Meek Mill, Jhené Aiko & Ludwig Goransson
DANCING ON MY OWN
TRACK 08 [COOLDOWN]
GOD MOVING OVER THE FACE OF THE WATERS
THE WORKOUT PROGRAMS
Working out on your own can often be a challenge, not only in terms of staying motivated but also in terms of keeping your routines creative. The body adapts to exercise pretty easily. After eight weeks the body can make significant adaptations, and a given workout can become less effective. You want to keep your body guessing so that it has to work to continually adapt to whatever you throw at it. To do that, you need to keep changing up your strategy. The problem is that most people don’t do this. They learn a few exercises and keep doing them over and over and over. Then they wonder why, if they’re going to the gym four days a week, their gains have stalled. To combat routine ruts, I’ve developed three workout programs you can use in progression—or interchangeably if you’re a seasoned exerciser—with lots of customization options to keep things fresh.
This four-week program, designed to condition, is aimed at someone who is relatively new to regular exercise. Each day provides a fully balanced workout that includes all the movement categories discussed earlier in the book. Begin with this program if you want to start with a balanced, full-body workout that also incorporates a good number of rest days to ensure proper recovery. If you’re already in great shape and want to dive into more-advanced exercises from the get-go, you can skip this program and go straight to the second one.
This eight-week program, designed to build strength, involves a larger workload for the movement categories targeted, but with fewer categories per workout. It also has fewer rest days and a slower repetition tempo than Program One.
TOTAL BODY SHRED
This 12-week program, designed to help you achieve total-body fitness, alternates between conditioning workouts that focus on time rather than repetition and strength workouts with high intensity intervals built in. It’s the culmination of the previous two programs and is a sustainable advanced workout.
CUSTOMIZING YOUR WORKOUT
One of the great things about calisthenics is that it’s variable. I want you to be able to pick the workout program that works for you on any given day, depending on your location or access to certain pieces of equipment. In Program One, the four workouts are interchangeable, since they are all full-body balanced. If you find one of the workouts too difficult, replace it with another one from that program. Each workout in Program Two and Program Three offers a mix of push and pull movements that work the body vertically and/or horizontally, with some focusing on ankle-driven and others on hip-driven movements. These have been carefully planned to ensure balanced workouts over the course of weeks and months. If you want to swap an individual exercise for another one, just make sure they are from the same movement category.
KEEP IT INTERESTING
Varying your exercises is important to keep your body guessing and changing for the better, but another big hurdle we all have is a mental one. Your brain gets bored doing the same thing over and over in the same place. That’s the beauty of bodyweight workouts. If you normally work out at home, go to the playground one day. When you’re traveling, go to a park or the beach, or even use your hotel room. Work out with a friend; it’s great to have someone else there pushing and motivating you. I also keep things fresh just by switching between different workout playlists.
To keep realizing substantial benefits from your exercise, you’ll need to vary your routine frequently. That isn’t easy, but if the workout programs feel too structured for you, you can still get a balanced, if less formal, workout by using a deck of cards to prevent you from falling into a rut.
Choose four exercises, preferably one pushing move, one pulling move, one core exercise, and one ankle-driven exercise. Each exercise corresponds to one suit in the cards. Shuffle the deck, then turn over one card at a time. The suit and number of the card indicates what exercise and number of reps you perform. Face cards can indicate 5 reps (or 10 or 20 or whatever challenges you). Jokers should be something particularly arduous, like 20 burpees, or a sprint around the block. You can also sub in increments of time for reps; for example, each number on the card might indicate 10 seconds of planking time.
Try to complete the entire deck of cards as quickly as you can, with as little rest between sets as possible.
For example, you might choose for diamonds to represent pull-ups, hearts to represent push-ups, clubs to equal squats, and spades to equal crunches. A seven of diamonds means seven pull-ups. A four of hearts means four push-ups. Change at least two of the four exercises before your next Gambler’s Workout—and, of course, shuffle the deck.
TURN TO CHAPTER 8
for SPECIFICS ON ALL THREE