Rob Riches is one of the world’s leading fitness models and athletes.
Imagine twin brothers who eat the same quantity and types of food every day. Neither brother eats junk food and each cooks and prepares their own meal from wholesome, nutrient-dense food they buy themselves. It seems that if they both eat the same types of foods, and both around the same amount of calories each day that they would expect to see the same results. But that’s not always the case – and it’s likely to come down to consistency of meal portions and timing throughout the day.
To continue the thought experiment, let’s assume there’s a healthy level of competition between the brothers, with both noting total calories (including ratios of protein, carbs and fat) each day, as well as measuring their weight and body-fat levels. They train at the same time, and at the same intensity. Brother One is in no way out of shape – but he struggles to lower his body-fat level to that of his brother, and can’t understand why his brother has more visible abs and muscle definition when they do everything the same – except when they eat!
He ain’t heavy
Brother One works a desk job and although that doesn’t stop him from being able to take in his own food and eat pretty much when he needs to, he gets distracted with work throughout the day and often forgets to eat one or two of his prepared meals He usually makes up for it by chowing down an extra-large protein shake when he finishes work before of hitting the gym with his brother.
Another factor is that Brother One is invited out a couple of times a week with his work colleagues, and although he doesn’t engage in much drinking or eating of bad foods like they do, he does find himself consuming a few more extra calories than he would have had he not gone out with them. To make up for this increase in daily calories, and not wanting to fall further behind his brother, he compensates by reducing a few portions of his meals the next day, maybe even missing one altogether, depending on how many extra he had the night before.
At the end of the week, both brothers might have consumed a near-identical amount of calories each week, with Brother Two consuming a tiny bit more. Throughout the week, they both consume roughly the same amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat, both have worked out together at the same time, taken the same supplements, and performed the same amount of cardio. So what’s holding Brother One back? It’s meal structure, and calorie consistency.
The fact that he has days of higher calories and lower calories is the problem. Where Brother One has a busy day and doesn’t get enough calories, is body may perceive this as a drop in calories and hold on to fat, but it’s not much of a drop and it shouldn’t affect him. Where it does start to cause problems is in the following days when he begins to yo-yo his calories up and down, and when his body will start to see his daily calorie intake as excessive or insufficient for optimal functioning. It will do this based on what the previous days have been like and determine whether excess calories be stored as fat or, if too few calories, it could lead to catabolism and fat-loss resistance.
Imagine if Brother One felt that he didn’t have as good a workout as he usually does after work on Tuesday, so the next day he wants to make up for the drop in calories and consumes a little extra food in the hope he’ll make up for his deficit the day before. Work was still busy, so to make sure he gets all the extra calories in he crams another meal in after his workout in the evening. The body not only receives a flux of extra calories during that meal, leading to a higher release of the fat-storing hormone insulin, but it also receives more calories than it did the day before, leading it to believe it’s in storage mode and has no need to search for fuel by breaking down fat cells. This will also reset the body’s metabolism, causing it to expect a higher amount of calories than it did in previous days.
When he wakes up the next day, Thursday, brother one is still feeling a bit stuffed from his big post-workout feed the previous night, so he skips a few of his solid meals for shakes, and switches one of his meals that contains brown rice for a salad, in fear that those calories may be stored as fat. Due to his increase yesterday, the body is now expecting a higher amount of calories than before, and perceives this much lower intake as a sign of ‘starvation’ (starvation meaning that there is a deficiency in the caloric energy consumed) and so the body will search for fuel elsewhere.
Brother one is expecting that his fat cells will provide the answer, but the body doesn’t want to disrupt its survival fuel-storage tanks – the fat cells – as these are now much more resistant to giving up fat as fuel due to the irregular intake of calories. So, instead, the body will take what it needs from muscle as well as down-regulate the metabolism once again – meaning when more calories are consumed, the body deems this extra amount to be above what it needs and sets about storing it as fat!
You can see that on Friday and Saturday Brother One takes his calorie intake up to the highest of the week, before dropping it to the lowest on Sunday. This will no doubt result in some fat storage, followed by fat resistance and muscle loss on Sunday.
By now you can see where this is going. Brother One is constantly giving his body too many and too few calories each day, based on how much or how little food he eats and when he eats it, as well as how his metabolism has been reset based on his previous day’s eating habits.
The eating habits of Brother One over a week might vary as much as 50% in calories. This much of a change will cause his body’s metabolism to fluctuate and, to a degree, cause some calories to be stored as fat when the body receives more than it requires. In other words, cramming too many calories in at one sitting as opposed to spreading them out over the day.
When fewer calories are consumed, based on the higher calorie fluctuations from previous days, the body will resist tapping into fat stores (reserve energy/survival fuel) and, instead, catabolise healthy, metabolically active muscle for the essential nutrients it requires, thus having the effect of lowering the metabolism. This yo-yo effect of daily calorie consumption is going to play havoc with any success brother one has in controlling fat loss, certainly if he wishes to achieve an ultra-lean physique like that of his brother’s.
The comparison between the two brothers is reminiscent of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Brother Two remains constant, with a steady pace applied to his nutrition like the consistent speed of the tortoise. Brother One, who tries to compensate for lower-calorie days by consuming more the next, can be likened to the hare, who speeds ahead in the race only to slow things right down to take a nap. The hare’s downfall is his inconsistency to maintain speed. Just as Brother One’s downfall is his inconsistency to maintain meal cadence.
Compare the pair
When you compare the eating habits of the two brothers, you can see how and why brother two seems to have much better control over his metabolism and how his body uses and stores fuel. With balanced meals portioned frequently throughout the day, he’s able to provide his body with all the essential nutrients at regular intervals throughout the day, which in turn will help keep blood-sugar levels maintained and insulin levels much more stable. By doing this, he is nourishing his body with the fuel it needs every few hours, with very little going towards fat storage. Remember, there is always a mixture of fuel being stored as muscle energy and fat energy; it is never exclusively one or the other. The same goes when energy is called upon from either muscle or fat cells.
The consistency of brother two really stabilises his metabolism and keeps his body in a state where it has no ‘shocks’ – or big increases or drops in calories – nor need to act upon these big changes, resulting in fat storage or muscle breakdown. At the very least, fatty-acid breakdown is consistent.
Oh, and Brother Two works in the same office as Brother One. The only thing he does differently is stick to regular eating patterns. If brother two simply changes his eating patterns and sticks to a more consistent routine, he’ll soon start to see changes. That’s all. No extra cardio, no drastic calorie reduction or cutting out of carbs altogether. Just being consistent with what he eats, how much he eats and when he eats will have an enormous impact on his body composition.
I understand that the above example is very black and white. Brother two isn’t going to suddenly store everything as fat and lose all his muscles to an extreme, but keep in mind that fat and muscle sit at opposite ends of a seesaw – when you want one thing to happen there will be an effect on the other.
Perhaps the biggest key to your success at achieving a fitness-model body – and you can do it – is consistency. (After all, I did it and I’ve been able to replicate these results in thousands of people who have followed my methods.) It’s worth repeating: consistency in doing the right thing each time will be the key to your success. As you’ve seen from just a week of eating habits from brother one, fluctuations in your diet, even if it’s just when you eat, can be all it takes to keep you from lowering your body-fat levels further.