Podcast Program Shop Apex Athlete Training Team Free Training Templates Login

Eat Like an Athlete: High Flux Your Way to Apex Performance (And Get Jacked in the Process)

Apr 05, 2020

As an aspiring meat monkey, a high flux diet can be the difference between you crushing PRs in the gym, building a monster engine, and increasing overall jacktitude or floundering about in a low energy state.

Learn why eating more and doing more is the holy grail of long term performance and body comp.

It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are trying to lose fat and maintain it long term and the only tool in your toolbox is to lower calories…you are screwed. Straight up. Many of the simple stories that we constantly see usually start and end with that ONE thing:

  • You just need to eat less. 
  • You just need to workout more. 
  • You just need to move more.

Is it really that simple? Yes and no. Although many of these interventions work, initially, it isn’t very helpful to consider them THE answer. This especially starts to become a thin argument when we look at people as individuals, with different genetics, different environments, and different lives. So, in the real world are these simple stories useful? I’d argue that they are dangerous, especially when people blindly follow expert advice.

SOLUTION? HIGH ENERGY FLUX

Although I am against simple stories, if we combine them, we start to develop a better answer that gives us some more options. Again, we are avoiding this ONE thing mentality and I have found this concept of higher energy flux much more useful as a coach and as an individual.

What is energy flux?

It is the movement of energy through a system.

Calories in = Calories out

The things we eat = The things we do

When we look at higher energy flux versus lower energy flux, we are simply looking at eating more and doing more versus eating less and doing less. The SAME person can be in a DIFFERENT energy flux while being in an energy deficit, balance, or surplus. The main difference is the calories one has to take in to be in balance, this will determine your starting point for either a deficit or a surplus. CRAZY.

The same person can be eating 3000 calories or 2000 calories and theoretically be in the same deficit depending on which energy flux they are currently in.

We actually have two recent studies that looked at this exact equation and we can start to see the potential benefits.

The first one is a study by Humme et al. 2016 [1] which looked at 239 subjects (154 adolescents and 75 women) did baseline testing with a 3 year (adolescence) and 2 year (women).  The major measurement outside of RMR and BF% was their TEI and TEE, or simply energy balance. They tested this using a 2 week doubly labeled water test to see what their energy balance before and after.

The results are pretty shocking because the simple story is that the people who eat less should theoretically lose weight over time…but this isn’t what happened. When they compared subjects in a higher energy flux (eating more and doing more) to lower energy flux (eating less and doing less), the higher energy flux actually PREDICTED long term weight loss. The crazy thing is that the subjects in lower energy flux actually GAINED weight in the long term.

The second study is by Paris et al. 2016 [2] was a study with 6 obese adults (BMI of 30 and not dieted for 12 months) where they looked at high energy flux versus low energy flux. After a weight reduced period (7% body weight) and a stabilization period of 3 weeks, they tested both energy balances for 4 days.

Although this study didn’t look at long term weight loss, it did present findings related to hunger that are interesting, but ultimately logical. During the low flux period participants were subjectively hungrier for the 4 day period by a huge margin. This is HUGE for anyone looking to push the human system long term in either a fat loss period or weight maintenance period. Hunger can derail the best of us, especially in our current environment where hyperpalatable foods are in abundance.

Lastly, and this is completely observational, we live in a world of excess and unlimited food cues. From an evolution perspective we are designed to eat food because as our hunter gatherer ancestors evolved, they realized food was scarce, it was costly energy expenditure wise, and when it was in abundance, they ate ALL of it in preparation for periods of low food availability. We DON’T have that problem anymore. What we are left with is this system that is designed to eat food when we see food…and we see food at almost every turn in modern day society; imagine being hungry and if that is a situation that is helpful to our fat loss or weight maintenance goals.

TO SUMMARIZE:

  • Being in a higher energy flux is predictive of long-term fat loss
  • Higher energy flux is one of our best weapons to fight against a hostile environment that is very easy to overindulge.
  • Hunger signalling is much lower when someone is in higher energy flux.

Perfect…higher energy flux is a great tool to use, but what does that look like in the real world? How do we push this thing? 

EAT MORE.

The one thing we can always fall back on in the fat loss world is that lower calories is the gift that does NOT keep giving. After weight loss occurs energy expenditure starts to become reduced unconsciously (Non resting energy expenditure) because our system is trying to conserve calories. This is adaptive thermogenesis. 

All this means is that the lower we go calorie wise, yes, we lose weight initially, but that process slows down over time because our bodies are amazing systems and become increasingly efficient. This process happens over a period of time and can have major implications for our ability to lose or maintain fat loss long term.

So, eat more.

Harris et al. 2006 [3] did an amazing overfeeding study that looked at individuals who were fed 1000 calories above their weight maintenance calories for 7 days straight. Although I wouldn’t suggest this long term, there was actually an increase in BMR (Basal metabolic rate)/metabolism acutely and a slow increase over time. This paints the picture that it isn’t as simple as eating less and eating more can actually turn up the system and allow us to burn more energy.

The one thing to note is that when compared to other overfeeding studies this response to change in BMR was variable. This is exactly what I see observationally as well. Sometimes when dealing with nutrition clients, we get to the point where we are trying to maintain fat loss and an increase in calories actually causes them to lose weight. On the other end, adding calories sometimes means that they just maintain or slightly gain on much more calories. 

DO MORE. MOVE MORE.

If you are reading this, I am already assuming you lift…so I won’t even ask. The best practice movement wise, activity wise, or lifting wise is not where this write up will focus. I’ll leave that to the individual coaches who program this stuff. My purpose is to arm you with a different perspective that might help you utilize a different set of tools to push your fat loss goals. 

The most compelling data that I could find in a free-living population on this idea of doing more and moving more was the Amish. For those of you who don’t know who the Amish are, they are known for simple living, plain dress attire, and unwillingness to enjoy the modern conveniences of the modern world. For all intents and purposes, they are a community of farmers who choose to live in the late 1800s – pre-World War 2 era.

Bassett et al. 2004 [4] looked at BMI, Body Fat %, and tracked activity for an Amish community (N=98), and the results were shocking. At a community level they averaged 16.7 +- 9.6 body fat %, while the males in particular were at an outstanding 9.4 +- 4.3 and a 0% obesity prevalence. They essentially solved this modern-day puzzle of obesity…all I could see when going through the research was how do we become more Amish!?

The biggest points to their success were pretty simple and I think aspects of it are easy to include into our practices. As farmers, woodworkers, and construction workers, they were physically active most of the day. The women, although homemakers and helpers, were still extremely active even while not in traditionally physical active jobs. At an average of 20000 steps for the males (N=53) and 15000 steps for the women (N=45), this was an ACTIVE population.

The amazing thing about this whole study, is that Amish communities aren’t what we would dub “clean” eaters. In an unpublished study they reported higher than normal caloric intakes (3599 kcals for men and 2019kcals for women). Generally, because of the era they choose to live in, the diet is typical of pre-World War 2 rural diet which consists of meat, potatoes, gravy, eggs, vegetables, bread, pies, and cakes….it is essentially a diet quite calorically dense and high in fat and refined sugar.

This is high energy flux.

EAT MORE, DO MORE, MOVE MORE.

Now again, these are only recommendations and there are a lot of details that are going to be contextually dependent, but that is where this information becomes a guideline. If long term fat loss or weight maintenance is the goal, we need to take a different approach if we want it to be sustainable. Give the body what it needs, find the modality that you want to use to push physical activity (for me its lifting weights), and move more throughout the day. This isn’t game breaking advice but combining these tactically is often overlooked as an intervention. 

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

If we are looking to move people on from the perpetual purgatory of dieting, we need to start looking at higher flux diets as an intervention. How do we start this process? Take all the simple stories and combine them.

  1. Increase calories. Start at an additional 250-500 per day (likely towards that higher-end if you’re reading this) and make small increments as your metabolism adjusts. 
  2. Increase your daily step count. It’s one thing to crush workouts, but your training actually accounts for a small amount of your overall activity throughout the day. If you want to truly become a metabolic furnace, you need to move more. Period. Start with an additional 1,000 steps per day from where you are currently at and get to the point where you’re getting in at least 10k throughout the day. 
  3. Increase your physical activity using whichever metric you use to track progress. This is the good stuff - set some performance metrics and get after it. If you improve your output, you’re improving your ability to move energy through your system. 

Remember when it comes to coaching people through nutrition or doing your own nutrition, this is about leverage points. Which areas do you struggle with? It is incredibly easy to do the stuff we are good at but if you have an opportunity to attack some of the areas we tend to overlook, we may start to develop better answers. 

The purpose of this article is to highlight that things are not always simple and being simple can lead us down some less than ideal situations. Use the concepts and tools you have available and start to create a plan that doesn’t leave you preaching “Just Eat Less.”

Editors Note: Dean did an entire presentation at a recent "Bro Research Retreat" hosted by Dr. Ben House. You can view that presentation here.

References:

[1] Hume, D. J., Yokum, S., & Stice, E. (2016). Low energy intake plus low energy expenditure (low energy flux), not energy surfeit, predicts future body fat gain. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition103(6), 1389–1396. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.127753

[2] Paris, H. L., Foright, R. M., Werth, K. A., Larson, L. C., Beals, J. W., Cox-York, K., … Melby, C. L. (2016). Increasing energy flux to decrease the biological drive toward weight regain after weight loss - A proof-of-concept pilot study. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN11, e12–e20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2015.11.005

[3] Harris, A. M., Jensen, M. D., & Levine, J. A. (2006). Weekly changes in basal metabolic rate with eight weeks of overfeeding. Obesity14(4), 690–695. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2006.78

[4] Bassett, D. R., Schneider, P. L., & Huntington, G. E. (2004). Physical Activity in an Old Order Amish Community. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise36(1), 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.MSS.0000106184.71258.32

About the Author

Dean is a nutrition coach for Stronger U, which is a company that provides 1 on 1 nutrition coaching. He is also the co-host of "The Fitness Devil" podcast which hosts some of the best coaches in the fitness industry. He is also a personal trainer who owns a private studio in Edmonton, Alberta. As a former Canadian Collegiate Football athlete and an Elite Powerlifter, Dean is no stranger to the strength world and is always looking for new ways to make an impact in the fitness industry. You can find him on Instagram @@guedo.power

Close

50% Complete

One More Step...