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Dear Mark: Bodyweight with Weights; Glycemic Index Versus Load

For today’s edition of Dear Mark [1], I’m answering a pair of questions from readers. First comes from Gaspare, who heard me talking on Joe Rogan’s podcast [2] in January and wonders whether bodyweight training and weight training can complement each other. It turns out they can. Then, I discuss glycemic index, glycemic load, how foods can have low glycemic loads but still be bad for weight gain, and how focusing on glycemic index and glycemic load might be misleading, if not an outright mistake.

Let’s go:

Hello,

I heard about you from Rogan’s Podcast, So I ended up buying your book Primal Blueprint(haven’t started it yet). On Rogan’s podcast you mentioned doing 80% of your 1RepMax for about 4-5 reps and as many sets as you can handle. But on your blog I mainly see you talking about bodyweight stuff. Can you “get away” with using mainly bodyweight stuff and maybe using weights 1x a week? Thanks for your time and your advice, Im really looking forward to learning more!

-Gaspare

Yup. That’s actually very similar to how I train every week.

The foundation is bodyweight movement, things I can do without the gym or any additional equipment. So tons of walking, much of it done in nature; occasional sprinting, often uphill; and a lot of bodyweight strength training.

Most of my upper body training is bodyweight, sometimes with a weight vest to increase resistance. Pullups [3], dips [4], and pushups [5] are plenty for most people looking to build upper body strength and look good with their shirt off. Doubly so if you throw on a weight vest or loop a kettlebell [6] over your foot (parents can strap a child to their bodies [7] or train kids to hang on and hold for dear life).

But it’s tough to get an effective lower-body stimulus from just bodyweight. You could do all the bodyweight squats in the world—and don’t get me wrong, I do them all the time—but beyond a certain point you won’t really be getting stronger. Purists will promote single leg squats, but not everyone has the flexibility for that, and in my view they’re more of a parlor trick than an effective way to train the lower body. Besides, at some point, you’ll just be doing dozens and dozens of single leg squats and run into the same issues you do with traditional bodyweight squats [8].

That’s where weights come in.

I don’t mess around with heavy barbell squats anymore. If I’m doing squats, I like the hack squat machine. They can be done with barbells, albeit a bit awkwardly, but I just find the machine effective enough and more convenient. I’ll also sometimes use the trap bar for deadlifts, as those become more of a hybrid quad/hamstring/glute exercise; stand on stacked weights to get more depth. Training minimalists might pick up a kettlebell or two for swings and goblet squats [9] and presses and rows.

So yeah, weights aren’t necessary but they really do help optimize your workout, especially for the lower body, and they don’t have to be intimidating or heavy or scary at all.

Keep in mind that I’m not training for anything specific. There are no races, no competitions, no big events for which I need to prep. I’m just training to stay fit, strong, and fast enough to enjoy life, play Ultimate [10], snowboard, standup paddle [11], hike, and look good naked [12]. If I were training seriously, I’d throw in a day of heavy weight training (squats, deadlifts, etc) each week, making sure to keep the reps low and the intensity high.

Mark:

Thanks for creating this blog – just a terrific resource. I have a question about glycemic load. I scanned the list of foods catalogued here –

http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm

One portion of the list that jumped out at me was that white breads showed reasonably low load, which had me scratching my head because one aspect of my personal experiences with bread has been that its absence from my diet really seems to boost weight loss (or maintenance).

I realize you must get saturated with emails, but I am curious about this.

Take care.

Glycemic load is different than, but dependent on, glycemic index.

Glycemic index measures the blood glucose response to 50 grams of carbs from a given food. To measure the glycemic index (GI) of a baked potato [13], you’d feed the subject 50 grams of carbs’ worth of baked potato [14]. The carb amount used to determine GI is always fixed; the amount of food used to determine it fluctuates.

Glycemic load (GL) measures the glycemic index of a normal serving of a given food. If a food has a high GI but lower GL, that means the official serving size used to determine the glycemic load provides fewer than the 50 grams of carbs used to determine the glycemic index. Most food serving sizes—at least the ones used in official GL/GI tests—provide fewer than 50 grams of carbs.

In reality, people eat way more than a single serving of white bread, pasta, white rice [15], and other foods that have low glycemic loads. The official GL may be lower for bread, but that’s not how most people eat it. This is why you (and thousands of others) notice better fat loss upon giving up bread.

Focusing on GI or GL just doesn’t really work:

You can have a “low-GL diet” full of white bread or an equally low-GL one full of fruit and tubers. Which would be better for your waistline?

GI values are generated by feeding foods in isolation. To get the GI of white bread, a subject will eat only white bread and track his blood glucose response. A food eaten in isolation (how GI is tested) has a different glycemic index than that same food eaten in a meal (how people actually eat). Almost everything you’d encounter in a typical meal—like fiber [16], fat [17], protein [18], dairy [19], and vinegar [20]—have been shown to reduce the GI of specific foods. In other words, eating food reduces GI.

That’s why neither glycemic index nor glycemic load are consistently helpful in predicting health outcomes or weight loss. They’ve done tons of studies on GI/GL diets and mostly come up empty. There’s just not much evidence [21] they improve weight loss.

Chris Kresser did a podcast [22] on the topic, coming to a very similar conclusion—focusing on GI and GL is ineffective.

Thanks for the kind words, by the way. I appreciate you reading it!

That’s it for today, folks. Take care and be sure to throw in your input down below!