Frequently Asked Questions about The Lean Muscle Diet

2015 January 6
by Alan Aragon

First, a word of thanks…

Before getting into this, I’d like to thank everyone who bought the The Lean Muscle Diet, which I co-wrote with Lou Schuler, a veteran author who’s best known for his New Rules of Lifting series. A special shout-out goes to everyone patiently enduring the wait for your copy to arrive in the mail. The feedback Lou and I have received has been unanimously and highly positive. This is especially cool, since it’s so easy to tear things apart from the comfort of your keyboard. The internet gives people the perfect outlet to be honest (and ruthless), so once again, thanks to all for the praise. Now, on to the questions that have been popping up most frequently.

This is a Men’s Health book, but does it apply to women too?

Yes, it does! However, there are only 2 (possibly 3) simple adjustments that women will need to make in order to properly ‘hack’ the dietary programming to fit them:

  1. Use the lower end of the Standard Formula’s 9-11 multiplier (this will make sense to those who’ve read Chapter 5 of the book), unless you’re someone who’s struggling to gain weight. In practice, I’ve used a multiplier range of 8-10 for women. Right in the middle of that (a multiplier of 9) typically hits most womens’ requirements best. Keep in mind that this is not the case with all women. I have a colleague who used the upper end of the 8-10 multiplier range and it still wasn’t keeping weight on his college female strength athletes who were trying to gain weight. 
  2. When predicting gains in lean mass, go with the lower end of the ranges listed in the book. In my field observations, women tend to gain lean mass at about half the rate men do. However, don’t be too surprised if you discover that you’re one of the minority of women who can pack on muscle at the same rate as men. On a general note to both sexes, over-fat people who are either novices or deconditioned can experience recomp (concurrent muscle gain and fat loss) to the greatest degree, whereas people close to their limits in leanness or muscle mass have to focus on a singular goal. The closer you are to your potential in either goal, the less either phenomenon occurs.
  3. This next one is sort of an optional tweak. It’s not crucial since overdoing protein a little bit is rarely ever a bad thing, especially for dieters. Although using target bodyweight (in pounds) as a protein gram target will still work for women, they can choose to shoot lower with this type of protein target since women typically have a lower proportion of lean mass & higher proportion of fat mass. A more technical protein target would be approximately 1-1.4 g/lb of lean mass (as reflected in recent work by Helms, et al). Just remember that basing protein intake on target bodyweight is merely a proxy for lean mass plus a safety buffer. Let me emphasize the important principle that the numbers derived from formulas are not The Gospel; they are merely educated estimations.

Does the book talk about breaking through plateaus?

No it doesn’t, since the book is essentially about how to reach a favorable plateau. However, looking back, I can see the value in discussing the topic of plateaus explicitly. I can probably come up with a long list of things that I’d like to retro-fit into the book, but these are afterthoughts that we must live with. The target audience is the lay public, and ultimately, you have to keep things as simple as possible.

The premise of the plan is to eat at the predicted maintenance need of your target body comp, and if a stall happens that isn’t the final stall you’re looking for, then it’s implicit that you must either eat less, train more (or more intensely), or both. I didn’t delve into this with the general audience, since they might be better off working with a consistency model rather than one they perceive will need continual adjustment.

After some meditation about this question, I’ve decided to make my plateau article in the September 2014 issue of AARR available to the public. It captures the important elements I want people to learn about weight loss plateaus:

I hate math, is there any way to simplify the calculations?

Physique coach-extraordinaire Russell Taylor, whose new website will be live very soon, designed an Excel spreadsheet that crunches the numbers for you. It includes a lower-range multiplier that’s not in the book, a body composition calculator, and a non-linear carb intake calculator. This handy-dandy tool is available to AARR subscribers, and it can be downloaded from the members’ area (I highlighted the link so you can’t miss it). Below is a sneak-peek of the beast.

Russel Taylor LMD calculator

The calories I calculated are much higher (or lower) than what I know maintains me, what should I do?

It’s worth repeating that numbers derived from formulas are not The Gospel; they are merely educated estimations. What’s more, formulas and calculators (not just mine, but any of them out there) are useful mainly for those who have really no idea of what caloric intake level maintains their weight. For example, if the total calories you calculated are significantly higher than you know what maintains you, and your goal is weight loss, then ignore what the formula spit out and go with what you know maintains you at a given weight (taking into consideration potential changes in activity level).

This incompatibility happens with a minority of the population; the formulas in the book are mean to fit the requirements of the majority. I purposely left out the 8-10 multiplier range I use for women from the book, since most guys would be undereating based on that formula. However, there are some men – again in the minority – for whom an 8-10 multiplier range would be appropriate. Total calories aside, stick with the protein and fat recommendations in the book, and let carbs take the brunt of the reductions or increases you decide to make.

What knowledge and training level is the book written for? 

My knee-jerk answer to this is that the book speaks mainly to beginners and intermediates in the lay audience. However, the feedback I’ve gotten from high-level fitness professionals has proven the contrary. Those with a lot of technical knowledge and training experience have actually given me some of the strongest praise for the material.

That’s all for now folks, enjoy the new year’s battle for gym space. 🙂