By Denis Faye
“How do I get past this plateau?” “Why do I have to do yoga?” “How on earth can the sweet, orangey goodness of P90X® Results and Recovery Formula be good for you?” As an Advice Staff member on the Beachbody Message Boards, these are the kinds of questions I’ve fielded almost every day for the last 6 years. In that time, I’ve answered over 23,000 posts on the Nutrition or Fitness forums. There’s no longer much that throws me, with the exception of one question: “Is it possible that I’m allergic to water?” But besides that one, the questions online tend to be fairly routine. They’re good questions, mind you, but let me put it this way, you’re not the only one around wondering when his or her six-pack abs are going to show up.
So, for your amusement and, hopefully, your education, here are the top eight questions I get asked on the boards.
1. “I’m eating at a large calorie deficit and exercising really hard, yet the scale isn’t moving. What gives?”
Plateau, huh? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s one of two things. If you’re not dropping pounds yet your inches are changing for the positive, odds are you are actually losing fat but also gaining muscle. That’s what’s balancing out the scale.
I know it’s a frustrating situation, but if you’ve been looking in the mirror or putting on clothes, you’ve probably noticed that you’re looking better and your clothes are fitting looser, so it’s not all bad.
When this happens, I’ve found that approximately week 6 is the magic time when the scale starts moving, so hang in there, tiger!
The other probable cause is that you’re undereating, which can force your body into starvation mode.
Back in the days when folks hunted and gathered, there were no 7-Elevens. Because of this, people sometimes had to go for days with little or no food. According to Darwin, people who survived these times of famine were the people who, well, survived these times of famine. And in order to do this, their bodies adapted by slowing down their metabolisms and holding onto emergency fuel supplies (aka “fat”) during lean times. This is starvation mode.
Almost every time I tell someone to eat more to knock out a plateau, I get an argument because people who’ve lost weight by eating less have trouble adjusting their mindsets. But as your body composition changes, you have to eat to support it. If I can finally turn them around, the scale almost always starts moving again.
2.”What’s the deal with Recovery Formula?”
P90X Results and Recovery Formula is a four-parts-carbohydrates-to-one-part-protein powder that speeds muscle recovery.
When you exercise anaerobically (weight training, the high end of intervals, etc.), you burn blood sugar and glycogen. If you give it your all for about an hour, you’ll probably deplete both of those resources. The carbs in Recovery Formula rush in to replenish that blood sugar and glycogen. Meanwhile, the protein piggybacks in, getting to muscles for a head start on resynthesis.
This 4:1 recovery drink model was conceived by John Ivy and Robert Portman in a landmark study you can read in the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition.
That’s my main answer to this query, but there are sometimes subtle variations on the question. Let’s address a few of those here.
First off, the carb-protein balance should be between 3:1 and 5:1 to work optimally. If you take in more protein than that or you add fat or fiber, it slows the absorption of the carbohydrates and you miss the post-workout window of about 1 hour during which nutrients are absorbed readily.
Secondly, while Recovery Formula primarily works for strength workouts, there’s an anaerobic component to most of our “aerobic,” or cardio, workouts, which you know if you’ve done P90X’s “Plyometrics” workout.
Because not every workout is going to hammer you, you should decide how much Recovery Formula you need on a sliding scale. If you’re so wasted that you’re having difficulty moving the muscle groups you just worked, then a full serving of Recovery Formula is called for. If you feel a little shaky but not trashed, you probably have a little glycogen left over, so drink half a serving.
Another factor in deciding how you use Recovery Formula is how much blood sugar you began your workout with. If your diet is very lean, you may be tapped to begin with, so sipping a little during your workout would be hugely beneficial. There’s no hard and fast rule. If you feel perfectly good post-workout, you likely didn’t train hard enough for Recovery Formula. It’s really up to you to gauge how you feel, and use some common sense.
Finally, Recovery Formula is specially designed for maximum absorption, and it has a lot of extra goodies in it. But if you’re getting fit on the cheap, you can make your own recovery drink with apples or grape juice (the acids in orange juice mess with the absorption process, so don’t use that) and a couple tablespoons of vanilla protein powder.
And no, it doesn’t taste weird. It tastes like a fruit juice float.
Oh, and Beachbody’s Meal Replacement Shake is also a decent replacement.
3. “Why do I have to do yoga?”
When a form of exercise has had over 3,000 years to evolve, it tends to be highly effective. It increases strength, balance, and flexibility in a way that no other exercise can. A lot of people write in to ask if they can replace it with stretching, but it’s just not the same thing. Stretching does little, if anything, for strength and balance.
I know yoga can be hard, but if you stick it out, it’ll pay off. If you don’t believe me, here’s what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Time magazine about the longevity of his basketball career: “My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil. But it was yoga that made my training complete. There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga.”
4. “How long can I do the high-protein first phase of the P90X nutrition plan?”
For most of us, not very long. It’s slated to go a month, but most of you won’t go past week 2, and some won’t make it a week. This phase is designed to teach you how to identify how carbs work with your body for energy and to more efficiently use your body’s fat stores. Sounds cool, but if you do it too long, you’ll hinder your progress, because when you follow a high-protein diet, you’re denying yourself the carbohydrates to do P90X workouts effectively.
The body does use body fat for energy during some activities, such as cardio, but only to a degree. When you deny yourself the carbohydrates it needs and then push beyond the capacity of fat mobilization for energy, your body activates a process called ketosis, which burns additional body fat for use as fuel for the muscles and brain. When ketosis fails, your body will enter a carb-depleted state called “the bonk,” and you won’t be able to exercise effectively.
Continued ketosis wears on your kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Obese and out-of-shape people may be able to follow a high-protein diet for a while because they have plenty of fat reserves and, frankly, they aren’t yet capable of exercising at a high level. But still, 6 weeks is about as long as anyone should be able to stay in phase one.
How do you know where you fall? If you add some carbs and instantly feel better, you’ll know it’s time for a change. If you add too many carbs, you will start to feel sluggish, which is the lesson phase one is designed to teach.
5. “I’ve injured myself. Should I just work through the pain?”
Never, ever work through injury pain. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s muscle pain or an injury, but if you’re hurt, stop. And if you’re unsure, err on the cautious side. If you can do other workouts that don’t affect the injury, fine, but rest the injury and ice it every day to help with swelling. If it clears up in a week, resume exercising, but make a point of warming up the injured area a little longer before working out and stretch the area as often as you can, particularly post-workout. Stretching an injury helps prevent scar tissue from forming on the muscles. If it doesn’t clear up, you can try more rest or get to a doctor or a physical therapist ASAP.
If you take care of it, it’ll most likely heal. If not, it will probably become chronic, which means you could be stuck with it for life.
6. “Why don’t I have six-pack abs yet?”
You very well may already have a washboard stomach, but that last bit of chub is covering it. Unfortunately, you can’t spot burn fat. We all have our problem areas—the last places fat wants to leave. Typically, for guys, it’s the gut, and for the ladies, it’s the hips.
So basically, all you can do is keep at it. Eat right and work hard, and eventually, you’ll get those abs. Keep in mind that your body will be super resistant to lose the last of its emergency fuel supply, so you’re going to have to work with a pretty small calorie deficit, or you might go into starvation mode. (See question one.)
7. “My breasts are getting smaller as I lose weight. How can I stop this?”
Breasts are mainly fat. Unlike hips, they often seem to be the first thing to go on women. It’s kind of a bummer, but seriously, the rest of you is thinning out too, and you’re going to look much hotter in a bikini with or without your current cup size.
And, for the record, I don’t get this question all that much, but it’s a real crowd-pleaser, so I thought I’d throw it in the mix.
8. “Why can’t I eat less on P90X?”
Because P90X isn’t a weight loss program. Yes, burning fat is a primary component of the program, but it’s only part of the plan.
P90X is designed for people with some degree of fitness. Our other programs, such as Power 90® and Slim in 6®, are designed for people who are less fit. Out-of-shape people generally can’t spend a long time working out above their anaerobic threshold, and therefore, they don’t burn fat for fuel efficiently. Training while eating fewer calories can help improve this.
Typically, as these people work their way up the Beachbody fitness ranks, they need to up their calories to continue to get results. They need to support their increased metabolisms, and they need the fuel to repair their muscles after the more intense workouts. Otherwise, they risk getting injured or getting a chronic illness.
Assuming you can do P90X, you should already be in this higher fitness range.
Of course, this can be different for everyone, so it’s up to you to experiment and find a calorie range that’s right for you. Just don’t undereat. If you overeat slightly, your fitness will eventually catch up with your nutrition. But if you undereat and ignore your body’s warning signs, then you will break down sooner or later.