Nutrition Q&A With Nate Miyaki
written by Sean Hyson
I’m interrupting my series of get stronger/leaner tips (don’t worry, I’ll finish them up soon) to bring you an interview I did with Nate Miyaki. I’ve written about Nate before on this blog (see “The Oil Crisis”) and he’s really opened my eyes to some things in the short time I’ve known him. He’s one of my favorite nutrition guys in the industry now and I want you all to get more familiar with his work. It’s not always “sexy” and easy to define, but it gets results. And Nate is all about a HEALTHY, SUSTAINABLE approach to fat loss and muscle gain. He’s also a competitive bodybuilder with a really hot wife.
And that’s enough for me.
Sean: You like to keep track of the calories and macros of a diet. Unfortunately, most of us just don’t have the patience for that. How can we eyeball these numbers without breaking out food scales, protractors, and mad scientist lab equipment?
Nate: Some strength coaches proclaim that as long as you eat the right foods, or cut a certain macronutrient to zero, you don’t need to track anything else. That may be fine to go from out of shape to decent shape, or for the genetically elite or drug enhanced, but the average, natural dude is not going to get ripped to shreds with such a free-spirited, instinctual approach.
We can argue over optimum dietary approaches into eternity, but consistently hitting the right calories and macronutrients will always be the most important step in achieving ANY body composition goal.
Good food choices optimize the health aspects of a diet, and can do things like improve satiety, which makes staying within those numbers a lot easier. Diet structure can improve the practicality and sustainability of a plan. But science is science—targeted numbers will always have the biggest impact on the physiological processes behind physique transformation.
With that being said, however, knowing your numbers is not as backbreaking or impractical as it may seem. We’re looking for ballpark figures that we can refine based on progress. Here are some tracking short cuts for you:
THERE IS NO NEED TO WEIGH ANIMAL PROTEINS on a scale. Simply buy these foods in one pound (16oz) chunks and cut them up according to your dietary needs. If you are supposed to be eating 3oz servings at each meal, cut the chunk into 5 pieces. Four oz servings = 4 pieces. Five oz servings = 3 pieces. Eight oz servings = 2 pieces. It doesn’t have to be exact; we just want the right range.
You don’t have to measure non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, etc.) UNLESS they are cooked in butter or oil.
Most whole fruit is pre-measured for you. One piece of fruit is one serving. If not—for example, berries—go with a small bowl full.
The most important food to measure is starchy carbohydrates, which need to be modified up or down based on the goal of the diet (muscle gain or fat loss). When at home, simply use a measuring cup to serve your food instead of a traditional utensil. Portion precision with no extra steps.
When eating out at a restaurant, just eyeball the portion sizes. Four ounces of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of a deck of cards. One cup of starch is about the size of a closed fist or a baseball.
Sean: GREAT answer. That will help a lot of people enormously. Myself included! In general, you’re a fan of the intermittent fasting (IF) structure of dieting. But what are some of the ways you see it being misused or made less effective? Are there any populations or goals it’s not appropriate for?
IF can be great but people tend to forget that food choices still matter. So it is not for those lazy people looking for a miracle cure that allows them to eat crap every day just because they’ve fasted for hours.
And even for the lucky few who can get away with eating daily junk in the short-term, it is not a good long-term strategy when factoring in overall health.
Here’s the thing. Cellular integrity, insulin sensitivity, optimal nutrient partitioning, etc., can all degrade over time. So it’s not how your diet affects your body or biomarkers of health in some short-term window. It’s the accumulative effects of your diet over years and decades that matter most.
We’ll see how some of these sh*tloaders are doing 10–20 years from now. I’ve dealt with clients who were former athletes, who spent a good percentage of their lives looking awesome but not paying attention to the health impacts of their diet, who are now on 8 different medications and need a handful of blue pills just to get their wieners to move an inch. Not a good situation.
The way I like to see IF implemented is what I call Intermittent FEASTING. The main difference is that I recommend eating the majority of your calories and carbohydrates at night REGARDLESS of the time of day you train.
That’s mostly because of evolutionary and instinctual reasons. We evolved as hunter/gatherers, eating lightly while hunting during the day, feasting on whatever we caught at night. Nowadays, it’s also for social reasons. Most people are blasting away through work during the day not all that hungry, but want to enjoy a real dinner, not lettuce leaves, while with their family, friends, or business colleagues at night. And it’s also for psychological reasons. Most people can sacrifice, eat lighter, and make better food choices during the day if they get the reward of a big, complete, satiating dinner at night.
But there is some physiology behind it, too. If you train at lunch time, for example, and then have a big, insulin-spiking, starchy carb-loaded post-workout meal, it can trigger rebound hypoglycemia and leave you tired and brain-fogged a few hours later. That’s fine if you have nothing else to do all day, but not so great if you have to go back to an office job.
I’d rather have people eat lighter during the day so they can stay sharp, remain in a fat-burning/energy production mode, and then make some modifications around the workout to prevent catabolic activity, and then, finally, feast at night when they can actually kick back, relax, and optimally digest their food.
And don’t believe the hype that eating big at night will make you fat. Total myth. EATING AT NIGHT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FAT. Eating too much/too many calories makes you fat. If you’ve eaten large and/or frequent meals throughout the day, and then eat another large dinner on top of that, chances are you will overshoot your daily calorie needs and gain fat. It’s the total food intake not the distribution that is the problem.
If you eat lighter during the day and are active, chances are you’ll enter dinner in a relatively large calorie deficit with depleted energy reserves, and even a large meal with a significant amount of carbohydrates will be used to restore energy reserves first, before spilling over into fat stores. You need to look at this recommended diet structure as an entire big picture (fast AND feast), not at isolated topics.
Check out this study:
Sofer et al. 2011. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring) Apr 7.
Sean: Wow. Did you just drop a study on us? Actual research?? We don’t see a lot of that on blogs. Now what about IF with regard to special populations?
Nate: I’ve had to make some modifications when working with performance athletes.
Here’s the short summary. With a large, carb-based feast at night, you should have plenty of MUSCLE glycogen reserves to fuel muscular contractions during your training sessions the next day, even if you fasted all day long, or even two days long.
However, LIVER glycogen is what regulates normal, system-wide blood sugar and brain and CNS functioning. And liver glycogen stores are smaller and more transient than muscle glycogen. Low levels of LIVER glycogen are what normally cause fatigue or impair performance. In other words, the muscles could keep going, but the brain and CNS say, “stop”.
During resting conditions, the body only uses about 5-6g/hour of liver glycogen to regulate circulating blood sugar. During high-intensity activity, this can jump 8–10x.
So depending on the “fasting window”, some athletes have complained of low energy, or poor performance, or running out of gas and hitting the wall while training completely fasted or running on just a low-carb lunch. That’s not a huge deal if you are only training for cosmetic reasons, but it is problematic if performance is your top priority.
So we can do things like add 1–2 pieces of whole fruit 0–60 minutes pre-workout to provide just enough circulating glucose to get through the workout, without the rebound hypoglycemia and blood sugar crash often associated with refined sugar drinks.
A second demographic I’ve had to make modifications for are some of the athletes I advise who train intensely 2x a day. MMA fighters, for example. Although I recommend that most people eat all of their starchy carbohydrates at night, twice a day training is an exception.
So we go with more nutrition following their morning training session to immediately start the recovery and refueling processes, and to adequately prepare them for their evening training sessions.
Sean: I’ve experimented with IF, including Jason Ferruggia’s Renegade Diet, which I’m a big fan of. I found that I could lean out and stay that way quickly but I couldn’t gain weight. I just couldn’t jam in enough carbs and calories later in the day to grow. How do you solve this problem? Is it just a matter of eating earlier?
Nate: Yeah, that really goes back to your first question—why I recommend tracking calories and macros. Remember, targeted numbers have the biggest impact on your physique goals. When trying to gain mass, you have to hit your prescribed numbers regardless of what diet structure you use.
First off, you CAN gain weight with my Intermittent Feast structure, which is based off of 2 meals a day. You just have to eat big, baby. Serge Nubret, the legendary bodybuilder who was in Pumping Iron, used to eat something ridiculous like 6 pounds of meat with beans and rice for dinner. In a previous muscle-gaining phase, an average dinner for me was 16oz of animal protein with 8 cups of rice.
But more important, I think this question points to a bigger problem within our industry—trying to slot everyone into one universal diet regardless of their situation or goal. I hope people don’t look at my Intermittent Feast approach as a dogmatic system, but rather as a set of informed guidelines.
I promote the hunt and feast structure, not because I believe it’s the only way, or because I give a sh*t about cavemen, but simply because I think it’s an easy and efficient path to get the physique enhancement job done. With that being said, adjustments and refinements are sometimes necessary.
So depending on digestive tolerance, as calories increase into bulking levels, you may need to make some modifications. Here is a progression:
1. Start by splitting the dinner feast into two smaller meals—one early dinner (say 4 or 5pm) and one late dinner (7 or 8pm).
2. If that doesn’t allow you to fit all of your calories and macros in, progress by adding more food to your lunch meal.
3. Finally, you may need to add additional meals/snacks. It may eventually lead you back to doing a more traditional bodybuilding spread of several small meals throughout the day. If that’s what works for you, that’s totally fine.
I’m not one of these coaches that bash bodybuilding nutrition. It absolutely is effective. Most of the top bodybuilders still follow a basic spread, and I’ve used that approach myself with great success. Where I think it falls short is in terms of its practicality, functionality, and long-term sustainability for the 95% of us with careers outside of that profession.
I’ll be back later this week with more of my interview with Nate. If you think he offered up some good info here, just wait. He was extremely generous in revealing his secrets, and there’s much more to come. Nate also recently released an e-book, Intermittent Feast, which you can pick up HERE.
Subscribers to MY NEWSLETTER are getting a special deal on the product. As a favor to me, Nate is throwing in a separate e-book, The Samurai Diet, absolutely FREE with purchase of Intermittent Feast. Both are great products I highly recommend.