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The Right Way to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle

Despite the colorful marketing tactics of many so-called experts, the fact is there are few people who are true body-transformation specialists. Anyone can regurgitate the same generic exercise recommendations, but someone who has made a career out of helping people get jaw-dropping results is noteworthy. 

John "Roman" Romaniello is one of those people. Roman is an author and coach who has been a featured guest on Good Morning America and a contributor to Shape, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness. He’s also the developer of two body-transformation systems, Final Phase Fat Loss and The Superhero Workout. After he claimed that anyone could get a “superhero body,” we had to get him to spill some of his transformation secrets to our readers.

Kevin Neeld (KN): Let’s get right into it. There’s a commonly held belief that you can’t put on muscle and burn fat at the same time. As someone who's made a career out of helping people look better naked, what’s your take on this?

John Romaniello (JR): Well, that really depends on your definition of "the same time." For a lot of people, they think in very stark terms and, therefore, that means achieving those goals concurrently. That is, they think that it would mean losing fat and gaining muscle each and every day. And, certainly, that's pretty difficult. It's possible, of course, but generally requires an approach that's very well tailored to the individual, particularly in terms of nutritional requirements.

It's something that I have a lot of experience with, and my online coaching clients do pretty well with it, mainly because I have a pretty specific theory on calorie formulas that get great results and is easily adjustable for nearly any person.

Outside of those instances, when people achieve recomposition without something tailored to them, it's usually a sort of "aside" achievement. That is, people on a fat loss program will gain muscle, or vice versa. This happens more accidentally than not, usually because people are primed from a previous program or simply because they're really getting their nutrition just right for them.

Now, as I said, all of that is the answer to your question if we're taking a very specific view of the term "the same time." If you take a broader view, it's really very achievable to put on muscle and burn fat "at the same time."

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KN: Can you give us an example of how you would design a program to achieve this recomposition?

JR: In my approach to programming, I look at "the same time" to really encompass a span of time in which one to two goals will be achieved. Within that span of time, you can have short periods of microprogramming intended to achieve just one thing.

For example, I may write a 12-week program designed to help people lose fat and gain muscle "at the same time." Now, in order to make this possible and achievable for nearly every single person who does the workouts, I break the program up into four phases, each with a different goal (power, fat loss, muscle gain, density).

The result is that within the context of that single 12-week program, multiple goals will be individually achieved. And so at the end of the 12-week period, the client has gained muscle and lost fat "at the same time."

It's just a matter of perspective. And by keeping the training cycles relatively short (12 to 16 weeks), I find that most trainees can accomplish a lot while staying motivated.

KN: Training or nutrition: People have argued for years over which is more important for fat loss. Is there a right answer to this question?

JR: If I had to give you a really cut-and-dry answer, I think it would have to be nutrition. If your diet is dialed in, you can train in a pretty subpar manner and still get passable results. On the other hand, if your training is fantastic but your diet is crap, you have a harder road ahead of you.

However, since most things aren't really cut and dry, my answer is a bit more situational. Really, if you compare which is more important for fat loss, the answer is whichever one you're paying less attention to. Some people are great at dieting and train somewhat inconsistently -- for those people, getting on a great training program and following it will be the best thing for you.

On the other hand, there are those who really hit their training hard; they just find it difficult to keep a clean diet. For those guys, paying attention to nutrition will be most important.

Which is just a long answer to a simple question, because the truth of it is there's no right answer, and, of course, they're both important.

KN: What are two nutrition strategies that men can start implementing immediately to build a better body?

JR: The first would be to look at food objectively and try to figure out what's "right" for you. Often times, people don’t know that they have allergies or sensitivities to many types of foods -- the two most common are dairy products and gluten. While I’m not an alarmist and certainly don’t think that everyone across the board needs to cut these out, I do think that just about everyone can benefit from a month-long elimination diet where they methodically test to see what foods affect them negatively.

The second one should be to try and understand how you can diet most effectively, from an emotional and psychological perspective.

You see, in my experience, there are two types of dieters with two very specific types of needs: freedom dieters and rules dieters
Freedom Dieters: These people do well with guidelines rather than rules. All you need to do is tell them "eat low carbs," and they'll have no problem automatically eating more protein, avoiding bread and getting their fats in. As soon as you try to restrict them and put them on some sort of schedule, or have them count calories or perform carb cycling, they tend to fail.

Rules Dieters: These people need restrictions. Rules dieters find limitations oddly freeing, because the restrictions create a framework that’s easy to follow. Essentially, rules dieters don’t do well when they’re let off plan, mainly because they are usually emotionally attached to food in some way.

Once you understand which category you fall into, you'll be able to pick a diet or nutritional strategy that works for you. Freedom dieters often do well with programs that incorporate pretty basic rules, like intermittent fasting -- simply don't eat for X period of time, then eat healthy foods. Very simple. Rules diets are better with strict plans that offer cheat days and the like.

Both types of plans work well, but picking the one right for you will make the difference between something you "do" and something you "live."

KN: Building an awesome physique doesn’t just have physical benefits, it can completely overhaul a man’s confidence. Talk about some of the psychosocial benefits of a physique makeover.

JR: I think there's an automatic increase in confidence that comes with a physical transformation. It's not just the muscle. Having muscle doesn't automatically make you confident -- there are a lot of big guys who are pretty timid and even obsequious. The thing that helps instill confidence is the reaction to the transformation -- the way people look at you and the difference between that and how they used to look at you.

The simple fact of the matter is that we do care what other people think of us, and, for most of us, the more attention we get, the higher our confidence will be.

Also, there is a lot to be said for your belief in yourself after achieving a goal. When one completes a transformation, there's an immediate sense of satisfaction that can bleed into your general attitude: I did this difficult thing, so now I believe in myself. It's why people walk a little taller after a promotion. On a grander scale, it's why athletes have touchdown dances. You achieve something; you feel great. That, in turn, makes the world react to you a bit differently.

On a physiological level, it's worth noting that when you start training intensely, and as you gain muscle, testosterone increases, and that has an almost immediate positive effect on confidence.

There's no single reason or single way that these things will happen, but rather a confluence of all of the factors I mentioned.

KN: The economy is still in the dumps, and adherence to exercise programs tends to fizzle after a few moderately dedicated weeks. What tips can you give men that have the drive but may not have the finances to hire a nutrition and training coach?

JR: Well, while it's true that having someone to push you certainly helps, I'd argue that one of the main reasons having a trainer gets results, for many people at least, is that it creates an inherent system of accountability. Oh, sure, the motivation and knowledge a trainer brings to the table is truly important, but having someone to answer to is what pushes most people over the edge.

And, so, if we look at that, we begin to realize that if finances preclude coaching, having a coach isn't necessary to achieve results -- as long as you're on a good program and find other ways to foster accountability. And, thankfully, most of them are free!

Accountability is really an interesting thing because it's an internal reaction to an external force. It's you driving yourself to achieve a personal goal, which becomes more tangible because of someone else. Weird, right? As we said, a trainer can fill that role -- but so can nearly anyone else.

One thing that helps is making your goals as public as possible. When my clients sign up with me, I encourage them to post their goals on Facebook and Twitter, let people know what they hope to achieve and that they're working with someone to make it happen. If you're at dinner and no one knows you're on a diet, why not have the bread? There's no consequence. However, if everyone you know is aware you're trying to lose some fat, you won't want to "disappoint them" by falling off your diet in front of them.

Another thing to try is what my buddy Tim Ferriss calls "the flash diet." This is simply taking your cell phone or camera and snapping a pic of everything you eat. This creates a pattern interrupt and forces you to look somewhat objectively about what you're going to eat. Taking it a step further: You could then post that pic to your social networks and keep everyone to whom you're accountable know that you are sticking to your diet.

Ultimately, I would say that accountability is the most important thing.

The other thing people should do is create a deadline, which, in turn, helps you foster internal accountability. Just knowing you're training for something -- be it a beach party, vacation, wedding, etc. -- makes you a lot more likely to stick with your program.

KN: Great stuff, Roman. We appreciate your time and words of wisdom!