Roman: Okay, since some people may not know you, can you give us a brief introduction to who you are? Not in the existential kind of way (we’ll get to that later) but just what you do, what you’ve written, who you help, and all that.
Pilon: Sure thing. My name is Brad Pilon and I write about building muscle and losing fat. My background starts in sports supplements where I worked in Clinical Research and Product Development for over six years, before getting a little bored of that industry and deciding to go back to school for graduate work. This is where I started studying short term fasting. It was this graduate work in fasting that led to me writing Eat Stop Eat.
But, before you start thinking of tree-hugging yoga type stuff, let me assure you, I’m still a bodybuilder at heart – so when I say fasting I want to you think ‘getting lean’ instead of ‘getting skinny’. I also have an interest in the ‘controls’ of muscle mass…what makes us grow, what stops us from growing out of control – incredible hulk style. This is what led me to write both ‘How Much Protein‘ and ‘Anabolic Again‘. Other than that I’m your typical Canadian Family man.
Roman: Cool stuff—I think it’s fair to say that most people think of you more as a fat loss and nutrition guy than a bodybuilder, so it’s good to set the record straight. I want to talk more about those projects in a bit.
But first, some fun stuff. The first time I met our [now-]mutual friend Craig Ballantyne, he told me a bunch of lies about Canada, since I’d never been there. Having been there twice now, I have a bit more perspective. Since you’re also Canadian riddle me this: is it true that everyone in Canada still wears jean jackets? I know Vince Del Monte is heavily influence by Bryan Adams, but I’m not sure how much carryover there is.
Pilon: I’m willing to bet you that by the end of 2011 Jean Jackets will be back in style. It’s a little known fact that most trends start in Canada and travel south. Oh, and you guys are going to LOVE Bel Biv Devoe.
Roman: Ha! I did not realize that most trends were Canadian in origin…I’m going to get my fact checkers on that. Thanks for the BBD reference. Okay, next question: you are one of the only fitness professionals who opts to wear a beard year-round. Is this because you are Canadian, or because you are a hippie? Or, are you secretly a lumberjack, as Craig has tried to tell me?
Pilon: True story – When I was working in the supplement industry my then employer wanted me to start appearing in those ads: you know the ones—6 pages long, lots of science terms and guys in white lab coats playing with beakers full of colored liquids? I grew the beard to get out of a photo shoot…and it just sort of stuck. I’ve shaved it once in the last decade…for my wedding, and I still regret that decision (my wedding pictures are basically a red-headed woman with some guy who looks like he’s about 17 years old). That being said, I did get married up in Cottage country…so there might be a little bit of hippie in me.
Roman: Okay, okay. It’s worth noting that nearly everything Ballantyne says is suspect, particularly about facial hair, since his recent decision to wear a mustache, which I cannot endorse. Anyway, so you’re not a hippie in the technical definition (since you don’t do Yoga) of the word (not that I have anything against hippies, anyway) but in hippie-esque fashion, you DO occasionally talk about being veggie and vegan and the benefits of that. What I like about you is that you don’t spend your time proselytizing about it and telling everyone else they suck.
Pilon: I hate that as much as you do. OK here’s the truth – I’m the farthest thing from a vegan, and I’m the farthest thing from a Paleo person. I consider myself a Diet Agnostic. There are so many cultures around the world and through our history… all with different diet beliefs and practices…and there are healthy and unhealthy people in all of these cultures…so how can we say that there is one perfect diet for everyone…or even suggest that the human body is so horrible at adapting that we have to eat ‘perfectly’ every day? So I talk about vegans like I talk about carnivores…because they all have something that we can learn…both good and bad.
Roman: I like that term—dietary Agnostic. We’ll talk more about that in a bit. Now, I’m a carnivore and I love steak almost as love as I love…actually I can’t think of anything to compare that to. Mainly because I love steak so much.
So, here is your opportunity: convince me why I should be vegan.
Pilon: I’ll do one better: I think you should take vegan cooking classes…ignore all the dogma and gospel, but learn how they prepare their food (because a lot of it is out-of-this-world awesome)…then add some steak on top of whatever you make…best of both worlds. The number one thing that we can ALL learn from vegans is how to make some amazing meals from just veggies…
Roman: Haha okay, I get it, you have no intention of trying to convert me. I appreciate your acceptance of my love of meat. Now, I know that both Craig and John Berardi have done successful experiments where they have gone vegan (or mostly vegan) for a few weeks or months at a time. In Craig’s case he was able to maintain his physique, and in JB’s case he was able to re-gain muscle and stay lean. So there is some merit, I’m not questioning that.
However, one of the things we see a lot in the industry is pro-Vegan people pointing to bodybuilder X or athlete Y being vegan and having a good physique.
In almost all cases that I can think of, though, those people haven’t been lifelong vegans. Now, I have trained 3 lifelong vegans and I have to tell you it’s hard as anything to pack mass on these guys. I’ve never seen someone with a truly well-developed physique that’s a life-long vegan.
Which brings us to the question: If I have twin sons (let’s say I name them Romulus and Remus, in honor of the old Roman legend) and decide to raise one as a vegan and one as a omnivore, and train them the same way, what happens?
Romulus eats meats and veggies, and Remus gets a comparable amount of protein and nutrition from a vegan only diet. They have identical genes and identical training programs.
This is actually a more than a thought experiment, because 1) I may genetically modify any and all of my offspring and 2) depending on your answer the outcome may be affected.
So, let’s hear it.
Pilon: Best. Question. Ever. OK…since you brought up the bodybuilders first I’ll answer like this:
If they are on the same ‘doses’ there will be no difference. Protein just isn’t the rate limiter in muscle growth…it may effect the RATE in which we build muscle, but it doesn’t control the ‘end point.’ So if you had a bit of an ‘injected boost’ I’d say “no difference” Otherwise I’ll be honest…I have no clue. But since they’re your kids and I’m guessing their mom would be a TEN, I’m sure they’d be fine either way.
Roman: Hahaha okay, well I wasn’t planning on making steroids part of the equation, but I guess once you admit to wanting to genetically engineer your kids, it’s a reasonable assumption. Good answer, though.
Let’s transition away from nutrition for a moment. I read an incredible piece on your blog that I really enjoyed called, “How to be Awesome.” There’s a link to it, so everyone should read it, but the main thrust of it is basically being true to yourself and doing stuff you like, which will in turn make you happy and allow you to make others happy.
You give the example of a sort of bodybuilder vs. a crossfitter internet debate. I like that you said you should “own your LIKES” — which basically means that if (in this case) appearance is more important than performance to our bodybuilder, he should train in the way that makes him happy.
WOW. This flies in the face of most of the dogmatic bullshit you see on the interwebz. On a lot of the forums you have people from various camps spewing the most base, vitriolic inanity at each other because they don’t agree with someone’s goals–and that goes for a good number of “guru’s” or fitness pros.
I’ve always been intensely repulsed by dogmatism of any kind, so this really spoke to me–can you expand on your thoughts about just sort of letting people do their thing, and why it’s important to focus on what makes you happy?
Pilon: Sure thing…the “awesome’ line of posts came at a time when I was just sick of writing about nutrition, because everyone wanted me to attack the idea of being vegan or paleo or defend fasting against every naysayer with a keyboard. What I came to realize is that to some people these ways of eating are like the new religions. They are true, die-hard belief systems. Right and wrong. Black and white. I also realized that a large portion of health and fitness writing is more ‘belief system propaganda’ than it is education (and to be honest, I can be just as guilty at this as the next person…it’s hard to avoid)
To make matters worse, thanks to amazing marketing people are constantly jumping from belief to belief, based on what I like to call “goal hijacking”.
Here’s an example:
You start off wanting big arms. So you go on-line and look up ‘how to get big arms’. You get a basic workout program and start it. Pretty soon some ‘expert’ at your gym is telling you your workout sucks and you should go to website X to get ‘educated’.
On website X you learn that training for big arms is stupid and you should really be doing the major compound lifts.
So you get a bit deeper into training and really start getting into these ‘core lifts’…then one day you read about powerlifting and decide to give it ago because it’s cool.
So you get into powerlifting and learn that the general powerlfiting consensus on this particular site is to get big at all costs…so you forsake your 6 pack and start putting on some mass.
After a while you find out that having a big bench press isn’t cool, and the squat is the coolest exercise in existence, so you decide to become a ‘squat specialist’
But you’re still not happy because one day you’re surfing the net and you see a pic of John Romaneillo and you think to yourself…man, I want arms like that guy. And end up right back where you started…you just wanted bigger arms.
You let you goals get hijacked over and over…by people telling you your goals aren’t cool.
You can’t allow this. You have to own your goals. They are yours – no one else’s.
I decided along ago that I train for look. My goal is to get a perfect Adonis Index, and I’m steadfast in this goal…When people ask me my squat or deadlift or bench numbers, I can confidently answer I don’t really care – that’s not my goal.
Or take fasting – It fits my goals perfectly. I want to be as lean as possible while enjoying the foods I like to eat. I don’t care about what YOU like to eat, or whether or not you have a gluten or dairy allergy…my goal was to eat what I want to eat while being lean. I’m proud to say I own this goal.
That’s a large part of being awesome. Not letting people attack your goals. You need to own the things that make you happy.
Roman: That is really, really quality stuff. Basically, being awesome means, “be you” and “don’t hate.” And actually it sort of relates to my next question.
You’re one of the intermittent fasting dudes–and the IF guys have come to be known for being…well, a bit aggressive, going to the point of lambasting anyone who preaches any other sort of nutritional approach. In your Awesome piece, you said, “[t]o me, fasting is awesome. I hope you like it too, but it’s not going to bother me if you’re not a fan.” That sets you a bit apart (and, if I may be frank, above) some of your fellows–and I don’t doubt such openness is one reason why your book has become so successful.
So, before we talk more about the differences between some specific IF-ers, let’s get a definition. Can you first give us a general definition of what Intermittent Fasting is? Then, can you tell us specifically about your approach.
Pilon: Easy – The purposeful abstinence from food for a predetermined amount of time, typically between 12 and 72 hours, used intermittently with periods of eating. Basically it’s the concept that it’s OK to take the occasional break from eating now and again.
Roman: Cool, I like that definition: nice and simple. Now, a LOT of people are seeing great results with IF, but there is more than one way to starve skin a cat. How does your method differ from that of someone like Martin Berkhan or Mike O’Donnell?
Pilon: I should know this, so I hope both these guys forgive me if I screw it up. I think Martin is a 16 hour fast with an 8 hour eating window, and Mike is a two meal a day version?
Roman: I believe so, yeah.
Pilon: Okay, well, Eat Stop Eat is what I like to call a flexible form of intermittent fasting. You fast once or twice a week for a 24 hour period spread over two days…and you keep it FLEXIBLE.
So if you were planning on fasting on Monday at 3 PM, but all of a sudden you get called to a lunch meeting, it’s not a big deal, just move your fast.
Eat Stop Eat is also about being flexible in general. While it is completely possible to get really lean by eating SUPER clean, my goal is to help people get lean while eating ‘So-So’ clean. Lots of Fruits, Veggies and the occasional Cinnabon. That sorta thing.
Think along the lines of a long term strategy to get lean and stay lean, while still eating the foods you like…that’s ESE.
Roman: That fits in well with your overall personality. Okay, back to Canadian questions: is it true that in Canadian Football, the punter can actually run downfield, pick up the ball and run it back after he has punted it?
Yep, and our balls are bigger too. Send me your address and I’ll mail you Canadian Football…you’ll love it.
Roman: That’s…that’s just messed up. I think I want to play this kooky Canuck version, if only to really confuse myself. Okay, next question. Before we return to IF stuff, general nutrition. I know this is simple shit, but people still don’t get it. Do you count calories? If so, why/why not?
Pilon: Yes and no…I have rough goals, and even rougher estimates. I read your calorie recommendations on your blog and mine are pretty similar. I like to AIM for about 10-12 x ideal body weight…so for me around 1,700 to about 2,000 calories as a ROLLING average. (This does NOT mean this is how much I eat, it’s just what I aim for)
Obviously, like everyone else I’m going to overshoot these numbers, but like I said they’re a rough goal. Next I know the general calorie counts of my favorite foods…then I just work from there. I’m a realist…I know that if my weight is slowly creeping up then I’m eating more than I need to, so I just cut back a little.
So my approach is a body-centric approach as opposed to a calorie-centric approach. I eat whatever amount of calories I need in order to maintain the weight I want, as opposed to the calorie-centric approach of trying to work around eating a specific number of calories with blind hope that this will end up giving you the body you want.
Overthink Calories or pretend like these things are exact measurements (which they are not) and you are going to A) hurt your weight loss efforts and B) drive yourself nuts measuring every aspect of your nutrition.
Roman: Interesting perspective, and one I share. I have said that ALL Calorie formulas are, at best, a crapshoot—at least in the sense that we have no idea about “exact” numbers. However, I always like to give people Calorie and macronutrient goals so that they have a way to measure food intake.
As people get more and more experience, they can use less and less dedicated structure. So I guess for the beginners and the very advance (fitness competitors) I thinks it’s necessary, but for other people I think it definitely helps but you can wing it. Cool.
Next, let’s move into some specific questions from my Facebook Fan Page that people posted, if that’s cool.
Danavir asks, “what to do when intermittent fasting twice a week stops helping lose weight?” So it seems that progress has stopped for Danavir. How do we fix this?
Pilon: Three options – Eat less on the days you are eating, examine what you are currently eating and look for the things that have changed lately, or just take a break from fasting…reset, relax and start again. It’s that simple.
Roman: Adam wants to know your thoughts on Joel Marion’s cheating concept. Don’t hold back, here; you know he’s my boy and that I dig the information and I use the practice, but we all know that different approaches work. So let’s hear your thoughts. As a follow up question (and this may get answered in the first part), Danavir also wants to know about combining IF with a cheat day in the same week.
Pilon: Now, I would say it’s complete and utter bulllshit, but after learning that Joel is 6 foot 4 and like 250 pounds, I’m going to say it’s awesome (yeah, I’m a wuss like that). (ROMAN’S NOTE: Joel is 6’4’’ and I have seen him at a lean 260, which is just freaky big/lean.) In all seriousness I have no problems with the occasional cheat day. After all… what would a holiday be without food? Food IS celebration.
My only concern is that when people stuff themselves to the point where they are actually forcing in food, I worry about possibly negative health consequences. But I think if memory serves me…Joel’s ‘cheat days’ are only occasional …which is basically what we all do anyways.
So allowing a cheat day is a way to keep diets ‘real’ and ‘possible’ long term and to help people avoid feeling guilty when they overeat, which is a good thing.
Roman: That’s about what I figured you’d say. I guess as long as you’re not over-doing it, you’re okay with it. It’s worth noting that one of the rules for Marion-style cheat days is “never eat to the point of discomfort,” which sounds simple but tends to keep people in check.
Okay, one of my questions about IF: how important is the timing of the fast?
From what I have read, if you’re doing a 16 hour fast and 8 hour feeding window, it’s best to fast for about 3-4 hours upon rising, then feed for 8; and then begin fasting once more.
However, let’s say that do to scheduling it was really only convenient for someone to feed from 6 or 7am for about 8 hours, then fast until bedtime. In other words, this person can’t fast upon rising.
What kind of difference would we expect to see there?
Pilon: Really we are taking minutia for the vast majority of people. Here’s the best advice I can give…keep this stuff flexible so you can do it long term…if you get caught up in overanalyzing everything and you are going to burn out quickly.
You have to do what fits into your lifestyle, you simply cannot try to fit your lifestyle into your diet…that just doesn’t work long term.
Roman: Here’s a question that never fails to touch on some controversial stuff: what are your thoughts on Post-workout nutrition. I’ve asked this to so many different fit-pros, and gotten a different answer each time.
Can you give us your general view for “regular” people, and then for more advanced trainees?
Pilon: Sure. Here’s my thoughts on Post-Workout nutrition: if you are training regularly every single meal you eat is both post-workout and pre-workout. Muscle adaptation is a long and slow process. It’s not like it takes one hour to recover from a workout.
I know, I know: there is lots of evidence and theory suggesting that post workout meals are essential for muscle building, but let’s not forget that the whole meal-timing thing was industry created. We created times for you to consume our stuff. The more times we created the more stuff you consumed. Pre-workout, during-workout, post-workout, nighttime…if there’s a time, we’ll make a product for it. So there will always be a level of industry driven hype to go along with this idea.
And while post workout nutrition may make a difference for the beginner, for an advanced trainer who’s not a 19-year-old kid growing like a weed the results tend to be mediocre at best. Bottom line is that making gains is all about consistency in the gym.
Roman: That hasn’t been my experience…it’s become more essential for me the more advanced I get. As I got stronger the workouts just took more out of me and I definitely noticed a difference with PWO Nutrition. But, that’s the great thing about being Awesome—we can disagree or have different views and still b cool.
Okay, time to pimp your stuff. Tell me all about EatStopEat and the results that you’ve seen, and why people should perhaps buy it.
Pilon: The people that like Eat Stop Eat like it a lot. If you are looking for diet dogma, rules, and lists this is not the diet for you. So you really have to examine your goals – are you looking for a diet or a way to get lean. It’s for people who want to get lean.
The best thing about Eat Stop Eat is that it’s a long-term solution. I still hear from people who bought ESE almost 5 years ago, who are still using it to this day. They used it to lose weight then they used it to maintain their new weight. Not many diet programs can say that.
Roman: You’re spitting the truth with that one. Okay man, thank you so much for your time and for giving us some great info.
Pilon: Anytime, thanks for the interview.
For more info about Brad, check out his Blog.