These highlights are from the Kindle version of Engineering the Alpha: A Real World Guide to an Unreal Life by John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein.
The real culprits are behavioral decisions and lifestyle choices that have disrupted the functioning of your hormones. This is the stealth bomber of the health industry because guys aren’t made aware they can naturally control their hormones. More importantly, no one seems to stress how much your hormones control how you look, feel, and age. Today’s diets and exercise programs have played their role in creating a society full of men suffering from hormonal dysfunction.
We believe that the Alpha is the most evolved version of you. This is not about being the AMOG—the Alpha Male of the Group. That’s an unfulfilling approach. Just think about it. Your mind-set isn’t “I want to be good” or “I want to be better.” It’s “I want to be better than the other guys in the room.” That approach makes it hard to ever feel satisfied or experience the positive feelings that come with achievement and success. Your goals should be based on your own expectations, not on something as abstract and unpredictable as who else is in the room.
Get your clothes tailored. A $200 suit that fits well looks better than a $500 suit that doesn’t.
Answer all insults with a smile. Alphas understand that not everyone is going to like them, and some people will be vocal about it. There’s no point giving them the satisfaction of giving a shit.
Learn how to cook. If you’re approaching thirty and you can’t make a few meals, take the next month and learn. Seriously, time to grow the fuck up. Alphas know how to feed themselves. It’s a basic human function.
The fitness industry is just like the food industry—or any industry, for that matter. The truth is always hiding somewhere between what you see and what you believe.
If we should remember Jose Canseco for anything, it’s that he shed light on a reality that was overlooked by all: people who focus on hormones age better, look better, and perform the way they want. But you don’t need a chemistry set to become superhuman. You can achieve that naturally. No pills, no shots, no injections. As we’ve already mentioned, the benefits go far beyond looking fucking awesome. Your hormones are the key to optimizing physical, social, and cognitive performance.
Not targeting your hormones through diet and training means less intelligence and a limited capacity for achievement. The key is a hormone called BDNF—one of the biggest scientific advances that no one is talking about. What it stands for (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) isn’t as important as what it means because if you don’t produce more BDNF, it could stand for “brain does not function.” The concept is best understood this way: Have you ever seen the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? In it, Cooper’s character takes a pill that maximizes brain functioning. He becomes brilliant—not because he suddenly has more knowledge but because his brain is firing and operating at a more efficient pace. This is BDNF.
New research from Australia has found that declining testosterone is not as much a result of aging as we once thought. Your decline in hormonal production is actually the result of your health and your body fat. “It is critical that doctors understand that declining testosterone levels are not a natural part of aging and that they are most likely due to health-related behaviors or health status itself,” says Gary Wittert, MD and study coauthor.
Every day there are millions of cellular reactions occurring in your body. Some of this activity causes damage within your body. As with any equipment that is used a lot, the daily stress causes breakdown. Fortunately, your body is built for such circumstances and can naturally heal anything that isn’t working at an optimal level. This is autophagy. So what happens when your internal repair is slow and lazy and doesn’t get the job done? That’s when you have a damaged internal environment. More specifically, when your workers don’t repair your mitochondria—the cellular power plant of your body—then your body is basically fucked.
Cortisol is one of the power players in the hormone game. Quite simply: fuck with cortisol, and it will fuck you up. That said, cortisol isn’t all bad. It’s tied to your fight-or-flight response. So the occasional surge in cortisol can be helpful for everything from lifting more weight to improving your immunity and even helping brain function and memory. But like most things in life, the poison is in the dose. Cortisol levels are oftentimes increased due to stress.
If your insulin is spiking and crashing all over the place every single day, you’ve got a problem. You’re going to cause something called insulin resistance, which is the opposite of what we want—insulin sensitivity. With insulin resistance your insulin is chronically high, which means your body is primed for fat storage.
Believing that you are the only one who can fix things is the height of egotism, the proverbial, “If you want something done right, just do it yourself.” This mind-set is one of the most damaging opinions you can have.
People who rest on their laurels are arrogant. On the other hand, pride is acknowledging your success but always retaining the mind-set of an intern. You have to earn every opportunity, hustle for every success, and prove yourself over and over again—no matter who you are and what you’ve done previously.
Joseph Campbell was an American writer and lecturer who was best known for his discussions of mythology—particularly comparative mythology. He examined the myths across cultures, generations, and centuries, and he realized that all great stories converged around analogous concepts. Campbell plotted an outline that covered the universal patterns that appear in myths from the cultures of antiquity like Greece, Sumer, and Babylon; medieval and Renaissance-age folklore from Germany, Spain, and Britain; and even more modern stories in books that were published through the mid-twentieth century. This pattern results in a seventeen-stage storytelling structure known as the monomyth. Also known as the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth was covered in Campbell’s definitive work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The monomyth is universal, and the journey exists in the lives of all men—you, me, your buddies at the bar—and not just the characters in the books you read and the movies you watch. The problem: we fail to realize that we are the hero and that our life should be a tale worth telling.
People want to change and become better, but when they don’t believe they can, they end up stuck in the same place: the first stage of the Hero’s Journey—the Ordinary World. According to Campbell, the Ordinary World is the boring and mundane existence where the hero lives at the beginning of his journey. It marks the sharpest contrast from the Special World where the hero eventually ends up. The Ordinary World is Luke’s farm in Star Wars.
At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, it was found that a larger eating window was associated with more fat storage and a higher likelihood of health problems such as diabetes and liver disease.
By cutting down how long you have to eat, your body does a better job of metabolizing your fat, glucose, and cholesterol.
Eating six meals per day does not help you burn more fat.
French researchers found that there is “no evidence of improved weight loss” by eating more frequently. And they even went a step farther to show that in terms of the number of calories you burn per day, it does not matter if you graze or gorge—assuming that you’re eating the number of calories you need to lose weight.
Canadian researchers decided to compare three meals per day to six meals per day, breaking the six into three main meals and three snacks (the routine that has been advocated by every diet book written in the last twenty years). The results? There was no significant difference in weight loss, but the people who ate three meals per day were more satisfied and felt less hunger.
Eating late at night is actually one of the best things you can do for your body.
Science shows us that all exercise burns calories, but all activity is not created equal. The low-intensity, long-duration cardio might help you drop weight, but a significant percentage of that might be muscle. Whereas weight training or high-intensity work (whether with resistance-training exercises or sprints) will ensure that the majority of calories you burn are fat.
The companies we recommend are certified GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). With this rating, you know for certain that you’re getting exactly what the label says—and nothing it doesn’t—every single time. You can find a GMP stamp on the front of the packaging or on the back next to the nutrition information.
Insulin resistance may be the key to preventing prostate and pancreatic cancers—two of the most common forms in men—and warding off diabetes and heart disease.
It should come as no surprise that mentors play a role in creating a better life. Almost every successful person has a mentor, and the mentor archetype—or wise man—appears with the hero in nearly every story you’ve ever heard, from antiquity to pop culture;* in fact, it’s so familiar that it’s sometimes easy to overlook just how ubiquitous it is.
Named for the Greek word leptos, meaning “thin,” leptin is produced in your fat cells—which means that the more fat you have, the higher your baseline levels of leptin will be. Here’s why this is important: one of the master hormones, leptin influences the production and secretion of other hormones that regulate metabolism, such as thyroid hormones T3 and T4. When leptin levels are high, your production of T3 and T4 will also be relatively high, allowing you to burn fat faster; when leptin levels drop, these other hormones go too.
After all, no matter how long you’ve been on a diet or how close you are to your goal, the real determinant of success is how balanced your hormones are. Hormones in check are the real secret to unlocking the “unrealistic” changes that separate the ordinary from the elite.
That’s what self-mastery is about. You need to control the drive for sex and temper it with the drive for love, the drive for improvement, and the decision to act in certain ways to achieve a higher level of self-actualization, rather than to compete with others and win a masochistic pissing contest.
In the end, when everything is equal, your success and your happiness are directly linked to your confidence. And the strongest psychological determinant of confidence is—you guessed it—your physical and sexual presence.
Lifting weights increases GH and testosterone—in a big way. Finnish researchers found that guys who regularly lift free weights (like dumbbells and barbells) boost their testosterone levels by up to 49 percent. And that testosterone increase is directly linked to more sexual virility.
Eat protein before bed. When you’re throwing down your carbs, make sure you’re combining them with some protein. It can be a chicken breast or just a scoop of protein powder. Protein contains amino acids, one of which is L-tryptophan.
Scaling the corporate ladder is not about being the smartest guy in the room; it’s about making the best decisions. And those better decisions will occur with better confidence, more focus and clarity, and less self-doubt—all of which derives from other areas of your life.
LBM is the amount of muscle you have on your body. To figure out your LBM, just use this three-step process: 1. Figure out your body fat percentage. 2. Subtract your body fat percentage from 100. This is your fat-free mass. 3. Multiply your fat-free mass (as a percentage) by your body weight. This result is your LBM. So let’s say you’re a 200-pound man with 20 percent body fat. 1. You’re 20% body fat. 2. 100 – 20 = 80% fat-free mass. 3. 200 pounds x 0.8 = 160 pounds. Your LBM is 160. As your percentage of body fat changes, so will your LBM.
The problem with carbs is eating them alone. Instead, you should try to have carbs with protein. Eating carbs and protein together slows the rate of digestion of the carbs, lowers the glycemic/insulin response, and can generally offset some of the negatives that come with carbohydrate consumption.
Monounsaturated fats are found mostly in high-fat fruits such as avocados as well as nuts like pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and cashews. This type of fat can also be found in olive oil. Monounsaturated fats help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. They’ve also been proven to help fight weight gain and may even help reduce body fat levels.
Like monounsaturated fats, these good fats help fight bad cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats stay liquid even in the cold because their melting point is lower than that of monounsaturated fats. You can find polyunsaturated fats in foods like salmon, fish oil, sunflower oil, seeds, and soy. Polyunsaturated fats contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have largely been processed out of our food.
Listen, saturated fat is one of the best sources of energy for your body. It’s why your body naturally stores carbohydrates as saturated fat. Are you going to argue with one of the most basic structures of how your body was intended to work? Not to mention, saturated fats are some of the most satiating foods, meaning they keep you fuller longer. And research shows diets that are higher in saturated fats are oftentimes lower in total calories consumed. And, as we alluded to already, saturated fats boost testosterone.
Trans fats are made by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation. Manufacturers take liquid vegetable oil (an otherwise decent monounsaturated fat) and pack it with hydrogen atoms, which convert it into a solid fat. This makes what seems to be an ideal fat for the food industry because it has a high melting point and a smooth texture, and it can be reused in deep-fat frying. Essentially, trans fats come about as a result of overprocessing our foods in order to offer consumers a longer shelf life. If your food is pre-packaged, it’s a pretty safe bet that it has its fair share of trans fats.
The nine amino acids that can only be obtained from the food you eat are called essential amino acids. For those interested in such things, the essential amino acids are:
For those of you looking to gain muscle and eat tons of protein, set your intake at about 1.5 grams per pound of your desired LBM, which means that if you currently have 160 pounds of lean mass and you’d like to gain 10 pounds of muscle, just multiply 170 by 1.5 and arrive at 255 grams of protein. Move up from there as needed or desired.
When you diet hard and drop calories significantly for a few days, leptin begins to drop. Again, leptin is a master hormone, and it’s partly responsible for regulating your thyroid. And your thyroid is integral to your ability to lose weight. So when your leptin levels drop, so too do thyroid hormones T3 and T4. When this happens, your metabolism slows down dramatically, and you lose less weight.
To prevent fat-loss stagnation and the dreaded weight-loss plateau, we need to make sure that we consistently spike your leptin levels when it drops too low. The way to do this is so awesome that it’s hard to believe: you spend an entire day once per week eating whatever you want.
The cheat—er, strategic overfeed—bumps your leptin levels up, allowing you to lose fat again. This means that you’ll actually lose fat faster than if you had no cheat day at all. So even though you take in a ton of calories, the hormonal impact from the cheat offsets what you eat in a way that has a much greater benefit than if you avoided the splurge altogether.
Insulin sensitivity is not higher in particular hours of the morning. It’s higher after a minimum of eight hours of fasting. It just so happens that you fast when you sleep, so the information is misleading. More specifically, insulin sensitivity is higher when your glycogen levels (the energy stores in your body) are depleted, like after your sleeping fast.
The amount of energy you burn depends on the food you eat. This is known as the thermic effect of food. Of all the foods you eat, protein is the most metabolically expensive—it costs more energy to break down, digest, and put to use than either carbohydrates or fat. Up to 30 percent of the calories you eat from protein are burned during the digestion and processing of those foods. That’s one of the main reasons why diets with protein are so great; the more protein you eat, the more calories you burn.
For starters, there’s the improved insulin sensitivity that comes with fasting, especially when paired with the exercises in part 3. Fasting also increases the secretion of GH, offsets cortisol production, helps control leptin and ghrelin levels to keep you satisfied, and even facilitates a healthier environment for testosterone production.
Select an eight-hour window—any eight-hour window—and use that as your eating time. You could start eating at 9:30 A.M. and then have your dinner at 5:30 P.M. For us, that means we start eating at two P.M. and end at ten P.M.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Because even if you fail, it can lead to something so much greater. That’s what happened to Rocky. Once he took on a real challenge—“Clubber” Lang—he was easily defeated.* This was the road Rocky needed to take to become a real champion.
There’s a direct relationship between insulin management and nutrient uptake: the more insulin sensitive you are, the more nutrients (especially from carbs) will be directed into your muscle cells rather than your fat cells.
Whereas most guys think they need to add muscle first and then cut fat, the best way to add more muscle is to start by dropping fat and improving insulin sensitivity. And that’s exactly what you’ll accomplish.
Lactic acid training is a difficult progression that increases the amount of time your muscles remain under tension.
The diet, which will be explained soon, is the most important part of Phase I—nearly everyone coming into the program will have some level of insulin resistance (or insulin insensitivity). Because of this, the nutritional programming is designed to rapidly get your endocrine system back on track by immediately addressing insulin in a truly aggressive manner.
Phase I will be comprised of what is known as metabolic resistance training. This style of training uses resistance (either weights or your own body weight) in a fast-paced, circuit-style workout; circuits are executed with very little rest between exercises and are arranged in a noncompeting fashion.
You’ll be challenged both anaerobically and aerobically—meaning you will work your muscles and your cardiovascular system. This leads to an increase in something called EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. As the name implies, EPOC is a measured increase in the rate of oxygen intake following strenuous exercise. In recovery, oxygen facilitates a number of processes that adapt the body to the exercise just performed (such as cellular repair, muscle growth, and hormonal optimization), so increased oxygen consumption can speed those processes. Another use of EPOC is to fuel the increased metabolism from exercise-induced increases in body temperature.
All of that is a really long way of saying that metabolic resistance training has been shown to drastically and rapidly increase metabolism, making it exceptional for fat loss. Metabolic resistance training has also been shown as one of the best ways to increase insulin sensitivity. While it is true that all weight training helps insulin sensitivity, two separate studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research have specifically demonstrated that the effect of metabolic resistance training on insulin sensitivity is greater than with other training modalities.
During the first two weeks of Prime, you will take in no carbohydrates whatsoever on the days that you don’t train with weights. On days you do train, you’re limited to 30 grams. We recommend that all 30 grams of carbs come in the form of a post-workout shake.
You’ll be eating your carbohydrates later in the day in order to maximize the effects of your naturally higher insulin sensitivity. On non-workout days, eat these carbs three to four hours before you go to bed. (If you go to bed at ten p.m., don’t eat carbs before six p.m.) Your meals prior to this will consist of protein and fat. On workout days, it’s best to have carbs after your workout; for this reason, we recommend training a bit later in the day. Your first meal of the day should consist of protein and fat and would ideally take place about three to four hours before your workout. Your next meal would be immediately after your workout, and all the allotted carbs for the day should be eaten then.
At this time, we would like to introduce you to your new favorite thing: MyPlate by Livestrong.com (www.livestrong.com/myplate). Livestrong.com has one of the most comprehensive food databases in the world, including listings for every food we include on the following lists—and nearly every food we didn’t! MyPlate uses that database to tell you the breakdown of the nutritional content. For any food you select from the list (or elsewhere), simply go to the website and type in the name of the food and how much you ate; MyPlate will do the rest. In addition to telling you the calorie content and exactly how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein are in the food, MyPlate can act as your food journal—just set up an account (it’s free), and you can save your meals.
Determine Your Daily Caloric Intake During Prime Of course, you’re not interested in maintaining; you want to lose fat and gain muscle—during Prime, you’re going to achieve the former and set yourself up for the latter. For this phase, you’re going to adjust your daily caloric intake as follows:
• To determine your calories for workout days, subtract 300 from your maintenance calories.
• To determine your calories for non-workout days, subtract 500 calories. So Steve would be eating 1,940 calories per day on workout days and 1,740 on non-workout days.
When you’re insulin resistant, you store more fat, which increases estrogen and lowers testosterone; when you’re insulin sensitive, you flip the switch so you lose fat, increase testosterone, and lower estrogen.
If you cut calories, your body will eventually adjust and hold on to more fat, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
The most important things for cheat days are carbs and overall calories, so as long as you’re consuming plenty of those, you can have foods that fall in line with your regular nutritional practices. Just eat more of them.
In the schedule we’ve provided you, cheat days fall on a Sunday with a full fast day following on Monday.
In order to regulate acidity, your pituitary gland will begin to produce and secrete tremendous amounts of GH, which is the single most effective biological compound your body can produce to elicit fat loss and muscle gain. Simply stated, training in a way that produces a lot of lactic acid—and thereby signals immense release of GH—is one of the single most effective ways to trigger simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain, especially if you’re in a caloric deficit of any kind (as you will be on non-workout days). As an added benefit, GH is specifically beneficial in that it can counteract the fat-storing effects of cortisol. You see, GH has an inverse relationship with cortisol—as GH goes up, cortisol goes down. And this combination is what will help you sleep better, provide an overall increase in feelings of wellness, and make it harder for your body to store belly fat.
In keeping with that line of thought, lactic acid training can, to some degree, be thought of as inverted tempo training. To that, we lift the weight over a period of four seconds (in most cases) and lower extremely fast in order to allow for nearly constant concentric tension and high levels of lactic acid production. To give an example, if you were doing an overhead press, a single rep would appear like this: Lift the weight over a period of 4 seconds Lower the weight as quickly as possible in good form Immediately begin lifting again. To reiterate, lifting in this way produces a tremendous amount of lactic acid, which in turn forces your body to produce exceptionally high amounts of GH.