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Flexible Dieting and “Bro” Eating: The Hybrid Approach

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Guest Post By Nick Smoot

Flexible dieting is all the rage.  I should know. I’ve been a flexible dieter for the past four years.  And I don’t see myself switching to anything else anytime soon.

However, just because I’m a flexible dieter doesn’t mean I don’t eat healthy. In other words, it doesn’t mean I don’t eat like a “bro.”

There seems to be a misconception that flexible dieting and “bro” eating are mutually exclusive.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is a “Bro” Eater?

A “bro” eater is anyone who eats nothing but nutrient dense foods. They’re usually a little obsessive about it.They’re the ones you see:  

  • Eating chicken breast and sweet potato six times per day
  • Bringing Tupperware containers into restaurants. (Eric’s note: Please, punch yourself in the throat.)
  • Filling the glove box of their cars with albacore tuna and a can opener
  • Panicking at the thought of having to attend a social event that doesn’t include lean meat and grilled vegetables

Ok, I exaggerate.  But only slightly.

And the key point is real: bro eaters aren’t that good at compromise (sugar and processed junk is off limits…except on cheat days).

What is a Flexible Dieter?

Flexible dieters,  on the other hand, eat almost anything they want.  It just has to fit within their daily allotment of calories and macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats.)

They’re the ones you see:

  • Scanning bar codes at the grocery store (to log their macros into a calorie counting app)
  • Bringing food scales into restaurants
  • Searching menus and figuring out what they want to eat BEFORE they show up to a restaurant
  • Doing more math calculations than most college students do in an algebra semester…all in the name of figuring out how many pop tarts they can eat around workouts Again, I exaggerate.  But you get the idea.

Flexible dieters are all about compromise.

accelerate hypertrophy, flexible dieters

Both Approaches Have Drawbacks

As you can probably tell, neither approach alone is ideal. Each has drawbacks. 

“Bro” Eating Drawback #1 – Deprivation

Where “bro” eating goes wrong when followed to a “T” is it excludes the foods most people love and enjoy.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE pizza. And cheesecake. And burgers, Chinese food, cookies, pasta, and just about anything else that’s loaded with sugar, fat, and an insane amount of salt.

It’s not worth it to me to give up these foods just so I can rock a six-pack for three months. Most people agree.

This is why, for the most part,  “bro” eating alone isn’t a good choice for long-term, sustainable fat loss.

Going a week or two without our favorite foods? No problem. Trying to go months, or even years, without the foods we cherish and enjoy? Not gonna happen.

At best, we’ll fall off the wagon, realize what we’re doing wrong, and incorporate more balance into our lives.

At worst, we’ll develop a poor relationship with food (maybe even an eating disorder), spin our wheels for a while (from constant yo-yo dieting), and then wind up bigger and more miserable than we were before we started. This happens to all too many people. 

Depriving yourself, even for a short period of time, is NOT the path to successful fat loss.

“Bro” Eating Drawback #2 – Ignoring Calories

he second place “bro” eating goes wrong is in  ignoring the energy equation. Most “bro” eaters assume that just because they eat “clean,” they can eat as much as they want and “calories don’t matter.” This isn’t true.

If you consume more calories (energy) than you burn on a daily basis, you’re going to gain weight.  And if you burn more calories than you consume on a daily basis, you’re going to lose weight. Period.

The energy equation comes into play no matter what type of food you’re eating.

Whether it’s broccoli and spinach …or poptarts and Krispy Kreme donuts…,if your calories aren’t in line with your current goals, you’re not going to make any progress.

Flexible Dieting Drawback – Not Prioritizing Nutrients

The real pitfall of flexible dieting is that too many people take the whole “tracking macros” thing way too far.Food becomes a numbers game.  And it comes at the expense of common sense.

Sure, quantity of food is the main determinant of weight loss. But vitamins and minerals matter. Fiber matters.

And failing to get in enough micronutrients and fiber on a daily basis will wreak havoc on your health and overall performance. Of course, health is both physical AND mental.  So taking it to the extreme and eating nothing but nutrient dense foods probably isn’t that healthy either.

But that doesn’t mean you can eat like a five year old and expect to get good results.

What’s happening on the inside of your body is just as important as what’s happening on the outside.

For the Best of Both Worlds, Combine Each Approach

By now, I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that combining “bro” eating and flexible dieting is far more beneficial than following either approach individually. 

So how do you tie the two together? It’s really quite simple.  Just follow these guidelines:  

  1. [Bro] Eat a majority of nutrient dense foods.  This ensures adequate health and performance.
  1. [Flexible Dieting] But don’t deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy.  Eat anything you want.  Just be sure to do so in moderation

(Note: Personally, I like the 80:20 rule. 80% of your diet from nutrient dense foods, and 20% of your diet from anything else).

  1. [Flexible Dieting] Track macros.  This isn’t a necessity, but it is the most accurate way to regulate and adjust your food intake.  A good starting place is 1g x your body weight in protein, .3-.5 x your body weight in fat, and then fill the rest of your calories in with carbohydrates.
  1. [Bro] But if you don’t like tracking macros, do your best to self-regulate your food intake.  Eat when you’re hungry (try to learn to disassociate “hunger” from “boredom”) and finish eating when you’re 80% full.
  1. [Flexible Dieting] When you stall in weight, make SMALL adjustments to the overall plan.  Either slightly decrease your food intake (either from fat or carbs), or add a bit of cardio.  Just be sure to take things slow.  And make adjustments only when they’re absolutely necessary.
  1. [Bro] Time your food properly.  This doesn’t have a huge effect on body composition, but making sure you have enough energy for your workouts or that you don’t go to bed hungry , and are more inclined to overeat, is pretty important.
  1. [Flexible Dieting]  Finally, be flexible. If you go over your food intake, skip a workout, or just have a sub-caliber day… don’t worry about it.  Shit happens, and in the large scheme of things, it really isn’t going to matter.  Just pick up where you left off, and keep grinding.  


Author Bio

Nick Smoot is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and fitness writer out of Newport News, VA.  He got his start in the fitness industry back in 2012, and since then he’s spent countless hours helping clients become the best versions of themselves possible.  In his free time, he enjoys lifting heavy things, eating, writing, traveling, nerding out on video games, and eating.
Visit Nick’s blog here, or feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or send him an email at nsmoot2@gmail.com,

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SHOULD Athletes Be Eating Junk Food?

Today’s Guest Post comes Courtesy of Mike Samuels of healthylivingheavylifting.com/ in Southampton, England. Mike and I have collaborated on a few posts together in the past (here and here).

Mike has been everywhere lately and has one of the most interactive Facebook pages around. 
Anyways, I reached out Mike because he specializes on Nutrition and gets great results in a style that I ‘ve never tried– the “If it Fits your Macros” philosophy.

The flexible plan allows people to eat foods they enjoy even if they aren’t the cleanest option and still make gains in the gym. 
I was hoping to learn a bit more about the IIFYM and surely did from Mike. Personally,  I’m not a huge fan of eating junk in any instance.

That said, if your current eating style isn’t providing enough fuel to support your training needs then it could be beneficial to loosen the reigns and get a few more calories. 

Athletes: Why You SHOULD Be Eating Junk Food

Whoops, that’s bound to ruffle a few feathers.

And that’s kind of the point. I’m “that guy.”

The one who brags about being a reformed clean eater, posts pictures of ice cream on Instagram, and likes the fact I eat pretzels and cereal on a daily basis while staying lean and getting strong.

But the purpose of this article is not to slate those who eat clean, or follow rules-based diets.

It’s not a piece on the scientific flaws with Paleo, or how low-carb is a fad that needs to die out. Nope, you won’t find much in the way of diet-bashing here. Instead, we’ll be delving in to exactly why eating junk food is not only something you CAN do, but something you SHOULD do.

“So I should Be Eating Junk Food?”


That’s not to say you want to base your diet around Pop Tarts, sandwiches and cookies, but for an athlete, these kinds of foods are an integral part of a solid eating plan.

First up, let’s define an athlete.

Enter the Athlete

For the purposes of this article, an athlete is –

  1. Someone who competes in sport on a regular basis and at a high level.
  2. Someone who is seeking to improve their performance in the gym, either with the goal of competing in an event such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman or CrossFit, or who just wants to see gains in their strength, size and fitness.

I’m guessing most of you reading this will fall into one of these categories. Therefore, you’re an athlete.

So, why the hell then, when you’re looking to build a well-oiled machine of a body and reach the peak of your physical prowess, should you be eating crap?


Debunking the Ferrari Myth

My favourite expression of the clean eater when talking about junk food vs “clean food” is –

“You wouldn’t put budget fuel in a Ferrari, so don’t fill your body with poor quality food.”

First, we’re not high-performance sports cars – we’re people, so that analogy starts to crumble.

Second, your body can’t tell “food quality.” It knows when you’re eating protein, carbohydrate and fat, and it recognises and uses vitamins and minerals. The body doesn’t know is whether these macro and micronutrients are coming from bread or sweet potato, or whether you’re eating an apple or an apple pie Quest bar.

Third, we have the issue of how to define food “quality.”

To someone on the Paleo diet, a quality food will be one that’s non-processed, and isn’t a grain, legume or dairy product. A low-carber would define quality as any food low in carbs. To a vegan it’d be a plant-based product. Some might only buy organic and free range….. Can you see how not having a set definition of quality makes deciding what’s good and what’s bad very difficult.

Getting the Calories In

When training at a high level, you need plenty of calories.

No two ways about it – calories are your body’s fuel, and without them, you’ll struggle.

While individual calorie intakes will differ greatly, most of us will go through spells of training where we really need to cram in the calories.

As an extreme example, take Michael Phelps and his diet here. He is 6’7” , 194 lbs and trains for up to 7 hours per day, and shovels down insane amounts of food. While he has an insane training schedule 12,000 calories is still A LOT of food.


Imagine if Phelps tried to get all his calories from “clean food.” I dread to think how he’d feel. He’s probably bloated to high heaven as it is, getting a large proportion of his calories from pizza, mayonnaise and energy drinks.

I pity his stomach and his toilet if he got this many calories from just oats, broccoli and chicken breast.

You may not need that many (and in fact, almost certainly don’t!) But, take a guy who trains 5 or 6 days a week for an hour, works a fairly active job and wants to bulk up.

I’d wager you’d be looking at somewhere between 22 and 26 calories per pound of bodyweight each day. At 180 lbs, that’d mean you’d need between 3,960 and 4,680 calories every day.

Junk food would be your saviour here. Sure, you COULD eat 4,500 calories plus of clean food, but it ain’t gonna be pretty.
(Eric’s Note: And for most, damn near impossible)

The Post-Workout Nutrition Window

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different views on workout nutrition.

Some value it above all else, believing it to be the be all and end all, and that it’s the most important time of the day for getting in nutrients.

Others disregard it entirely, stating that total daily calories and macronutrients are the only important factor.

The truth is that it’s somewhere in the middle for the average trainer.

You don’t need super fast-digesting carbs and an isolated protein source immediately PWO, but then again, getting some protein and some carbohydrate around your workouts is probably a pretty good idea.

For an athlete however, nutrient timing matters a lot more.

Check out Alan Aragon’s nutrient timing continuum:

athletes should eat junk food


Image Courtesy of:  http://www.precisionnutrition.com/nutrient-timing


If you’re training a couple of times per day, involved in endurance sports, or events that last more than a couple of hours (track meets, powerlifting competitions, even perhaps longer lifting workouts) the importance of workout nutrition is bumped up a notch.

When talking workout nutrition, we’re mainly talking carbs.

And for glycogen-dependant events, or when you need to refill your muscle glycogen stores quickly, fast-digesting carbs are where it’s at.Junk food to the rescue. The ideal foods in this scenario are high-carb, (preferably easily digestible) with little fiber and little fat (both of which slow digestion.)

Again, you could go with the “cleaner” option of potatoes, white pasta or fruit, but for convenience, taste and the fact they’re generally higher in calories, processed carbs such as caramel rice cakes, fig Newtons,, Oreos, or that old favourite – chocolate milk, win out over more nutrient-dense carb sources.

Avoiding a Fiber Overload

Fiber is a good thing, no doubt about it.

It helps keep you regular, aids digestion, and a high fiber intake has been linked time and time again with a reduced risk of certain diseases such as cancer, IBS and diverticulitis.

However, you can have too much of a good thing.

Ramp that fiber intake up past an optimal level, and you’re at risk of several nasties:

–       Diarrhea

–       Nutrient malabsorption

–       Gas

–       Stomach cramps

–       Constipation

Looking back at our active 180-lb guy who’s bulking, he might be eating in excess of 500 grams of carbs per day.

Eating only clean foods, his fiber would easily top 100 grams if he’s getting in plenty of oats, brown rice, beans, fruits and veggies.

For anyone bar someone with the most cast-iron of stomachs, this will almost certainly start to cause some of the above symptoms of excess fiber consumption.

As a rule of thumb, you need between 10 and 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories, though most women will find it beneficial to set a cap of around 45 grams per day, and men at 60 to 70 grams per day.

If you’re cramming down the carbs, and looking to limit fiber, then refined junk food carbs are your key to not spending your life in the bathroom.

So I HAVE to eat Junk Food?

No, you don’t HAVE to eat junk food.

But, it shouldn’t be completely discounted as part of a healthy diet either.

Without even touching on the aspect of completely restricting junk possibly leading to an obsessive nature about eating “clean” and causing binge eating tendencies, this article has addressed the physical benefits of including junk in your diet.

The majority of your diet should still be based around nutrient-dense foods – lean meats, oily fish, dairy, vegetables, fruits and unrefined grains.

But there certainly is a place for junk food, and not only as a “treat” – if you’re training hard and looking to optimize performance and health, sometimes that tub of ice cream is actually better than your berries and broccoli.

Thoughts or Experiences where junk food has helped your gains?
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athletes eat junk food

Mike Samuels works as a writer and online coach, based in Southampton, England. He is also a competing powerlifter. Mike loves lifting heavy stuff, helping people get shredded and drinking coffee.

Contact him at healthylivingheavylifting.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/HealthyLivingHeavyLifting

And check out his latest flexible dieting home study course – http://www.healthylivingheavylifting.com/flexible-fat-loss/


Aragon AA. Continuum of nutrient timing importance (original schematic). NSCA Personal Trainers Conference. April 2012
photo credit: free range jace via photopin cc

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