How to not break a sweat and get buff in 15 years

This was me recently, on my 40th birthday:


Yeah, yeah, I'm flexing. But I have not been to a gym in 5 years.

This was me in February 2006, age 25-something:


If you have a long enough time horizon, here is how you too can get good results with "minimal effort". The title is an exaggeration: if you keep up what I describe for 5 years, you'll see the results in 5 years, and probably sooner.

Calories in, calories out

If you want defined muscularity, you need to hit low body fat. To hit low body fat, you have to use up the fat you have now. To use up the fat, you have to eat fewer calories than you are using.

Long term, there are no tricks or workarounds. You need to track the calories you eat, without exception.

There's a lot we still don't know about how the body uses calories. We don't know the effects of different gut bacteria on digestion. We know the bioavailability of different foods varies. You might get way fewer calories from food that is stale or raw than from food that is recently cooked. A product might have 20% more calories than it says on the label.

This doesn't matter because it's not important that the calories are accurate. Instead, they need to be consistent. As you keep records and observe your body, you'll see what your calorie budget is to lose weight. If there are errors in the calorie count, this is not important, as long as the errors are consistent. Therefore, eat a consistent diet, and keep track of it.

Consistent tracking is largely impossible if you eat food prepared in restaurants, or by people who eyeball the ingredients. You'll want to be in control of your food preparation, or eat packaged foods with nutrients nicely printed on the label.

Protein

Every day, fitness buffs eat about 1g of protein per pound of body weight to maximize gainz. This is probably more than needed. Studies show the body can't really use more than about 0.7g/lb of protein per day. The extra is "just in case".

Robert Cheeke eats a completely vegan diet and is proper buff. He doesn't even focus on protein – he focuses on nutrients like vitamins and minerals instead. His pre-workout meal is bananas – actual bananas, literally.

Since I'm lazy, I don't merely want to maximize my gainz/effort ratio, but also minimize catabolism - consumption of muscle tissue by the body. Eating protein can make you feel fuller than carbohydrates, and if you eat a certain amount of protein per day it's easier to be in the "buff" mindset. And mindset is half the victory. Therefore I eat at least 0.7 g/lb of protein per day, since that's how much studies show the body can use, and it effectively removes doubts.

Fats

You should not avoid fats. Seriously, don't avoid fats. I try to hit 70 g of fats per day.

Half of my fats are from dark chocolate. If you eat as much dark chocolate as I do, you'll probably also want to add 2x 250 mg of magnesium to your daily diet, and get yourself the Squatty Potty. (I have it. It's great!)

There's probably no reason to avoid dietary cholesterol, etc. As far as we know, that's bollocks. The types of fats, etc, probably also don't matter nearly as much as not being obese.

I love my fats. They are tasty. I suggest you eat yours – but write down the calories.

Cravings and meal timing

Different things all work. If you prefer to skip breakfast or eat your entire daily budget in a single sitting, that is fine.

What I like is to start my day with breakfast, then spread my meals over the next 11 hours. This keeps cravings light during the day, and my appetite winds down toward the evening. I go to bed with some cravings but not a hole in my stomach.

A good level of cravings is nice. It enhances appreciation for food. I enjoy food much more when I eat a restricted calorie budget, than when I stuff my mouth. Light cravings make life better. Enjoy light cravings! They help you enjoy the food.

Intermittent fasting is popular these days. This is where you eat your entire calorie budget in 8 hours, then eat nothing until the next day. This is easier than it may sound because in those 8 hours, you eat a fair bit. I find this is not great for maintenance. Eating nothing for 16 hours takes more willpower, and the enjoyment of food when I'm stuffing my face is less. It puts me in a state where I want to eat, but it doesn't feel good to eat more, and it doesn't feel good to not eat.

There are situations where intermittent fasting can work well. An example could be if you're cutting decisively, so that your calorie budget will not get you stuffed, and your fasting window does not expose you to temptations to eat.

Exercise with no equipment

Like I said, I haven't been to a gym in 5 years. This doesn't mean I don't exercise. I exercise several times a day.

My usual objective is to not break a sweat. If I were to go to a gym, exercise for an hour, come home and shower, that would be a daily 2-hour ordeal. Many people enjoy this. If you enjoy this, you should do it. This writeup is for people who don't like setting aside two hours with no intellectual stimulus.

There are plentiful exercises you can do with zero equipment. All you need is 20 square feet and a floor. I hope you have 20 square feet of non-carpeted floor. If you only have carpeted floor, that sucks for pushups.

You should do exercises that work for you. I start most mornings with 60 jump-squats, 60 pushups and 60 plank leg crosses. (The guy in the video is moving on some fancy pads. You don't need them. Just lift the damn foot you're moving.) This takes me a bit over 3 minutes.

If I'm feeling energetic, I follow up with another 50 jump-squats, 50 pushups and 50 crunches, and then another 50 jump-squats. Together with the initial series of 60, this takes me a bit over 6 minutes.

I try to also do some L-sits. I should do them more often, but I don't make much progress and they're boring.

Then I'm done with my morning exercise and I go eat my favorite breakfast.

More exercises: some equipment

I do more exercise throughout the day. One of my favorite pieces of equipment are these 20-lb ankle weights:


I don't wear them on my ankles. It's kinda hard to put on 20-lb ankle weights. Instead, I wear them on my forearms and use them for weighted jump-squats. I like to do 80-100 jump-squats with these weights. I do these 2-3 times a day.

Another thing you can do, with or without weights, are leg blasters. These work your thighs more than simple jump-squats. I do them maybe once a week.

I also sometimes use a jump-rope. If you feel like cardio, that's some of the most intense cardio you can be doing.

An excellent help is a wall. With this advanced "wall" technology, you can do handstand pushups. Work up to it and don't break your neck, though!

Further exercises: more equipment

In terms of actual equipment, I have this bag:


I filled it with 145 lbs of gravel. Not sand, but gravel which I washed and dried so there isn't dust that gets everywhere.

At first, I could hardly lift this thing. Now I can do 45 reps or so (with rest breaks) and could do more if it wasn't boring.

Another thing I can't recommend enough is a way to do pull-ups. I use this pull-up station:


You probably don't even need the full station. A pull-up bar is just fine:


I don't know about you, but my body loves the feeling of hanging suspended for a change, as a counter-point to compression forces we usually bear sitting and standing. Pull-ups and chin-ups are some of the best-recommended exercises that work back and arm muscles that are hard to hit otherwise.

Time investment and motivation

At first, exercise may feel like a chore. But quickly, the body gets used to it and starts asking for it at regular intervals. You will notice it asking when you can no longer bear to sit down at the computer and feel compelled to stand up and move.

Several times a day, I do one or two of the above exercises – whenever the body is asking to move. I don't do so much as to punish the body. Exercise needs to be somewhat challenging, but the intent is to exercise joyfully, not to punish.

It's about the journey, not the destination. You should exercise as much as still feels good.

Don't exercise like you need to punish yourself for your past laziness. That way you create stress, not joy. You're going to feel briefly accomplished, and then you're going to avoid exercise. Then you're going to want to punish yourself more.

Occasional cardio is good. I do 30 minutes a few times a month. If you enjoy cardio, you can do it every day, why not.

Not doing any cardio at all may lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This can happen even if you're otherwise fit. At least, that happened to me in 2013, though it may have also been related to large quantities of zero-calorie Coke.

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