How Often Should You Eat For Fat Loss and Hypertrophy?

You’ve probably heard from your local gym bro that you need to eat at least 5 meals a day to optimize fat-burning and muscle gains; but is that actually true? Is there any truth to the old-school thinking of eating 5-6 times a day to “stoke the metabolic fire”? This is what we are going to be discussing today! I’d love to hear your guys’s thoughts on this as well!

The Proposed Mechanism

Let’s first talk about why some people think that eating more times throughout the day leads to greater muscle gains and improved body composition through more fat-burning.

For muscle gains, people feel that more meals is better because you are getting more “protein-feedings” throughout the day which should in theory increase the time in which you’re in an anabolic state, leading to greater gains than less meals.

For fat-burning, the claim is that eating more frequently keeps your body in a more frequent state of heightened metabolism than less meals. This is known as postprandial (after eating) thermogenesis (heat production). The body’s metabolic pathways require energy to work which comes from calories and food. So you should be burning more fat, right?

Not exactly.

I’ll be honest. I followed these tenets myself when I was younger for a few years because they felt intuitive and I thought they made sense. However, as I learned more and looked at the research, I discovered that it doesn’t make much of a difference. Let me explain!

The Research

In 2015, there was an excellent meta-analysis published by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, James Krieger, and others addressing the questions around meal frequency and its effects on body composition (almost literally the title). What they found may shock you! Kidding, I’m not a click-baiting prick. I hope you know that by now, dear reader.

They defined body composition as the culmination of body mass, fat mass, and lean mass which they measured through each of those criterion with the addition of body fat percent.

To keep this section short and sweet, they basically found that none of these factors are significantly influenced by feeding frequency when calories are equated between experimental and control groups¹, which is the proper way to evaluate whether or not there is an effect.

There was one study out of the 15 that were pooled together that did influence the data to show a favorable outcome for 5+ meals compared to 1-2 meals on fat mass and fat-free mass; however, when this study was taken out of the evaluation for further accuracy purposes (this is known as a sensitivity analysis), there showed no differences as with the other metrics¹.

From this meta-analysis, we can conclude pretty well that meal frequency doesn’t really affect your body composition much with all other variables in check. We’ll talk about the practical application of this in a moment. Let’s finish this section talking about the protein issue.

Onto protein!

Since we already determined that frequency doesn’t really matter, that also lumps in protein feedings as not necessarily significant:

The findings from nitrogen-balance studies have been inconsistent on the topic, with some showing a positive correlation between meal frequency and nitrogen retention and others showing no such relationship”

Nitrogen balance studies reveal the rate of protein metabolism with a positive balance meaning that input of N is greater than losses of N through metabolism and other bodily processes. A positive Nitrogen balance is typically associated with growth because amino acids contain a Nitrogen (amine) group which is part of what classifies it as an amino acid and thus protein; however, as mentioned above, the research is not concise on whether this matters. As of now, we can’t say which is better, so don’t stress yourself out about spacing out your protein to maximize anabolism.

What is going to matter more is total daily protein intake based on your personal needs. So long as you have that in check, you should be okay. The consensus is not yet in on whether or not you should distribute your daily protein evenly across your meals¹. Some studies show greater body composition outcomes with similar-protein meals while others do not¹. We don’t know yet.

Practical Application

Why does any of this matter? I basically just told you that none of this stuff is as important as you may have once thought. Did I shatter your dreams? I’m sorry. But, there is some good news out of this: You can customize these things to whatever fits your lifestyle!

You should revel in the fact that meal frequency isn’t very important! If you’re a 9-5 worker or have other more odd hours for work, it may be hard to get the mystical 5-6 meals/day. Maybe you can only have 2-3 meals each day. Guess what? That’s great! That means they can be bigger than the 5-6 small meals! Sometimes it’s just nice to have a big pile of food (but not go overboard with it).

I know for myself it’s much easier to have 2 full meals and then snacks. It makes my life easier and if I have to pivot or make changes because I’ll be especially busy that day, the snacks give me the flexibility to do so.

It’s important to always consider your personal lifestyle and how the decisions you make regarding training or nutrition are going to impact your life. The goal should be to augment and improve your life, not take away from it. How often you eat really should not be a decision that stresses you out. Choose what’s easy and convenient for you and be on your way!

Regarding protein, since we don’t really know the best way to space it out (if there is a best way), don’t worry about it. Just focus on getting the necessary amount of protein for yourself and your needs; however I do have some advice on how to do it to make your life easier:

  • Spacing out protein for me has been effective because it allows me to control my appetite. Protein is the most satiating (helps you feel satisfied) macronutrient, so take advantage of that with each meal or as often as you can!
  • If you’re struggling with eating a lot of protein in food, don’t hesitate to have a shake. Having a shake with each meal may help to curb hunger.
  • Explore different protein options! While I love meat and eat a lot of chicken, I’m always excited to try a new recipe with just eggs or using legumes or even a different type of meat I’ve never had. Lean sources are great because they provide a lot of protein with little fat that can add up quickly.

I hope you found this useful and understand further to not sweat the small stuff. Meal frequency is certainly one of the more over-hyped things that actually doesn’t matter a lot. What frequency works for you and what do you do for your protein? Thanks for reading!

References

¹Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Alan Albert Aragon, James W. Krieger; Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 73, Issue 2, 1 February 2015, Pages 69–82, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuu017

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There’s No Such Thing As Good and Bad Food

Hi everyone! My latest two podcasts have proven very fruitful for myself and the Bodkast as a whole because, not only has it opened the doors for a new audience courtesy of Andres Vargas at https://www.thestrengthcave.com, it has also allowed me to collaborate with Andres.

I am now writing a monthly article on his site, but no worries, I will also be sharing it here so you can read it. I will share the link here and you can check out Andres’s site because he also has some really great content that’s more training-related that I think you would enjoy.

For now, here’s my first article about the concept of “good” and “bad” food. Enjoy!

You can also check out the two podcasts that we made with Andres here.

Correlations: How The Media Ruin Science

We’ve all seen those headlines and articles claiming something along the lines of “Scientists prove that [food or beverage] causes [adverse medical condition].” For example, meat and cancer (which I debunked here).

The problem with a lot of these claims are that most of these things are not “proven” and there is usually not enough evidence to establish causality (one thing or action causes a certain effect to occur every time you have that thing or do that action). Many of these headlines pull their “facts” from a type of research known as observational study.

These studies essentially follow people and record a certain behavior or pattern and look to find any common trends between the people being observed to develop an association or possible link between “behavior X” and “outcome Y”. These are your meat and cancer studies or red wine and heart health studies (you’ve probably seen basic moms post about that one to justify their alcoholism, I know I have!).

Why does this matter you might ask? Well science gets reported often in the news and state and local representatives, in an ideal world, want to protect their constituents, so they will do what they can to service their community. If a study gets misreported by media claiming that meat causes cancer or dihydrogen monoxide is harmful to our health, then misinformation may be spread by the representative who is simply trying to help their community by banning water or meat because the public who watches the news demands they do something about this travesty!

Here’s another example of why we can’t rely on solely observational studies to make our decisions. Ice cream and drowning. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Ice cream sales are highly correlated with drowning deaths. This means that as ice cream sales increase, so do deaths from drowning. Does ice cream lead to drowning? Or do drownings lead to buying ice cream? Probably not for either. There’s something else at work here known as a “confounding variable” that is clouding the conclusion. Ice cream sales increase likely during the Summer and more people are also likely in the pool during the Summer, also leading to increased potential for drownings.

We have to be careful with news stories that reference research studies because observational research is popular among journalists because they can make bold claims like the ones mentioned before; however, as we’ve seen, those claims don’t actually hold up/are not what the study is actually saying.

On a related note: Be very careful of the word “proven”. Rarely is something proven in science by research and when it is, it has been studied over and over and over and over and over and over and…you get the point. It takes a long time, potentially decades, to establish causality or proof that one thing causes another. We can make associations about things, but causality is a completely different concept because it has to happen 100% of the time. If meat really did “cause” cancer, then there would be an actually be an outright ban on meat to protect the public; however, it’s only an association and it’s weak at that. Not everyone who eats meat will get cancer.

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To demonstrate how hard it is to prove something, consider this: Gravity is still a theory. Our explanation of why we observe the effects of gravity is only a theory, meaning we’re pretty sure but not 100% sure. So when someone says that science has proven that processed foods are cancerous or that this causes that, put on your skeptic hat because that person is probably speaking in hyperbole to argue their point rather than present fact.

You may have also heard that insulin causes obesity or “this one thing” causes obesity. Put your skeptic hat on for a minute: There are so many aspects to our lives that could contribute to weight and fat gain, how is it possible that we can pin all the weight gain for the billions of people that gain weight and fat every year? I’m willing to say that it’s impossible. While this may start to sound like a rant, I think it’s appropriate to say because many people will blame one issue when there’s a plethora of other potential things going on.

If you approach someone’s weight problem thinking that there’s only one underlying issue and you try to treat just that one thing, you’re probably going to fail because they could have other factors or behaviors in their life that could be adding onto the complexity of obesity. It’s also belittling to the person to say they just need to stop doing “x” and when they do it, they’re still obese. Don’t be a dick. Be an empathetic non-dick and realize obesity is a complex issue that has many potential causes and it’s up to the trainer or care provider to find those causes and help the person get through them instead of blaming insulin, processed foods, or their lack of motivation. That’s being a dick.

All of this leads to the famous phrase said by many people in the sciences: Correlation does not equal causation. I hope I’ve burned into your mind why this is. I also hope that, if you’ve stuck around for this long to read this (thank you by the way), then you understand to be more skeptical when you see a sweeping headline claiming causality or that science proved something.

Because if we can’t even be 100% sure about gravity, how the hell are we going to be sure about a food causing cancer? 

Thanks for reading! What questionable shit have you seen online or on the news?

Coaching in the Year 3000 with Andres Vargas

This is part dos of our discussion with Andres Vargas! Find part uno and all the other episodes here! Andres is a functional fitness and health coach who I personally believe will be spearheading a movement in fitness coaching towards incorporating the total wellness of an athlete to complement and influence what they do in the gym. We talk about some coaching advice and suggestions from him to new coaches, his story of how he got into sport and exercise and science, and then his unique philosophy and coaching strategy.

I think you’ll get a lot from this one whether you’re an athlete or coach, because we touch on some factors that you may not have considered that may be affecting your training!

You can find Andres Vargas on all social media @TheStrengthCave, his website is thestrengthcave.com, and feel free to email him at Andres@thestrengthcave.com.

Time Stamps:
0:00 Introduction
3:00 How The Strength Cave started
6:52 How Andres got into sport and exercise science
14:30 How Andres blends the art and science of coaching for his clients
20:20 How to be an “evidence-based” coach
24:30 Does Andres work with a dietitian?
30:50 Andres’s coaching philosophy for athletes
33:00 Andres’s extensive intake process
35:00 The parallels between IIFYMer’s and normal American’s diets
39:20 The benefit of not eating as much hyper-palatable foods from a taste perspective
40:20 Andres’s thoughts on sugar addiction and gut health
47:50 How Andres helps clients stay on track after a binge
51:00 The metrics that Andres measures to ensure client success in and out of the gym
53:05 Why Andres doesn’t track training volume and intensity
55:00 Using session RPE and duration as opposed to lift-specific RPE
1:01:00 The wellness questionnaire to complement training metrics
1:03:50 The impact that wellness factors can have on performance
1:11:40 Wrapping up and where to find Andres.

Thanks for watching!

We Get It. You Hate Cardio. But Here’s Why You Might Want To Do It.

I hear from people all the time, including myself, that they absolutely despise cardio. They hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns! It’s definitely not for everyone, but cardiovascular training does do some good things for you that I personally think some in the fitness community overlook because they don’t want to lose their gains.

Before I move on, I want to provide an observation that I have about the fitness space that will prime this conversation: as fitness enthusiasts and those of us who are a bit more focused on our training more than the typical gym-goer, I think we can sometimes be quick to forget the point of all the training and eating.

We get caught up with #grinding and chasing our goals of a better physique or being a stronger lifter that we forget all the other amazing things exercise does for us. In this case, cardio in particular.

This article will serve as a refresher to understand some of the things that cardiovascular exercise can do for our health and why we should care collectively as a fitfam community. I will also talk shortly about times when you should not do cardio at the end.

Your Heart Will Love You Long Time

“Cardio is good for my heart. No shit. Next!”

You’ve heard the what but perhaps never the why or how. When you do cardiovascular exercise, your heart has to pump more blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your cells. As you continue to exercise over time, your heart, like other muscles, will adapt to the workload that you’re doing through hypertrophy (increase in cell size as opposed to number of cells).

As a result, your heart literally increases in size to handle the exercise demand. This is known as physiological cardiac hypertrophy¹. There’s another form of cardiac hypertrophy known instead as ‘Pathological’ because it results from excessive stress on the heart from pressure in the heart’s chambers. The heart will still increase in size but will have a reduced output and function, leading to heart disease over time.

When you do cardio, your heart gets stronger by increasing the stroke volume (SV). SV is the amount of blood that gets pumped out with each heart beat. Since SV increases, your heart can beat slower and still deliver the same amount of oxygen throughout your body. This is why athletes have a slower heartbeat than a non-exerciser. Fun facts!

Cardio can also aid your training because it may help you get through high RPE sets (8, 9,  10 RPE). If you’ve ever pushed yourself really hard, you know that you begin to breathe heavily and a lot. If you include cardio in your training, you may be able to reduce the depth and amount of breaths during these sets, allowing you to focus on executing the reps safely and effectively.

To conclude this portion, cardio is a great option for long-term health and function. If you want to stay moving for a long time, cardio is a good idea to do throughout your life in some shape or form.

Do Away With The Diabeetus

I had to say it. Diabetes (more specifically Type 2) complications can be alleviated with cardio training. Even if you don’t have it, it can control your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, both important factors in longevity and overall health. Cardio-and most forms of exercise, frankly-cause your muscles to demand more glucose to give your muscles the energy to continue training. To coordinate this, your pancreas secretes insulin to shuttle the glucose into your cells and out of your bloodstream. This action increases your muscles’s sensitivity to insulin since their demand for glucose is greater than normal².

Interestingly, when people with Type 2 exercised, their level of glucose that was taken up by the cells in response to the activity was that of a normal person without Diabetes when it is normally impaired³.

While lots of people live happy and healthy lives with diabetes, it can certainly be an obstacle to reaching your fitness goals of strength, weight loss, or a greater physique. You must become mindful of your blood sugar level. If you’re not, you risk the complications of hyper- or hypoglycemia leading to weakness, fainting, excess urination, and a bunch of other annoying and potentially life-threatening issues. Last thing you want happening while mid-squat is fainting.

What I am NOT saying is cardio is going to fix all of your problems. What I AM saying is that cardio is a tool in your toolbox for managing your health over time. It’s an effective way to maintain and/or improve your health along with resistance training; however, as we saw in last week’s post, it’s not that great for weight loss on its own.

When To NOT Do Cardio

There are certainly situations where I believe cardio should not be implemented.

Cardio should be used as a tool for reaching your goals and for achieving or maintaining good health. If it makes you extremely anxious to miss a session, cut it short due to time constrains, or you feel an inexplicable expectation  brought on by yourself that you must do cardio to reach your goals, then you should not do it. Fitness via any method is meant to improve and support your life, not take it over. If you’re feeling anxious about it in any way, it’s time to take a break from it.

Additionally, if you’re using cardio because you feel that it’s the only way to lose weight or fat, then you should also separate yourself from it because that is 100% not the case and only causing you unnecessary stress and anxiety.

While the benefits I mentioned above are certainly important, they are not the only things that cardiovascular training does. I didn’t go into the mood-enhancing and cognitive benefits of cardio but there certainly are some. Give it a try. Next time you run or do something cardio-y, take note of how you feel before, during, and after, and I’m willling to bet you’ll feel an increased perception of happiness and self-efficacy after you do it.

Let me know how you feel in the comments! Thanks for reading!

References

¹Physiological and Pathological Cardiac Hypertrophy

²Exercise and type 2 diabetes: molecular mechanisms regulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle

³Splanchnic and muscle metabolism during exercise in NIDDM patients.

 

 

Which Form of Cardio Is Best For Fat Loss? Comparing HIIT vs. MICT

It’s time we settle this debate. It’s a battle as old as time itself. Is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Moderate Intensity Continuous Training (MICT) better for fat loss? Luckily, there was a recent meta-analysis published that provides some interesting insight on what the answer might be.

In this post, we will uncover what the met-analysis showed, what it means for you if you do cardio, recommendations on which method to do based on different circumstances and situations, and I’ll finish with putting in a case for cardiovascular training that you may have not considered. For the sake of ease, we’re going to lump HIIT and SIT (Sprint-Interval Training) together because they are similar forms of activity.

So everyone is up to speed, let’s quickly define the two terms. HIIT is typically a series of quick and intense bouts of training where an exercise is repeated either for reps or a certain amount of time while going all out and pushing near 100% with each interval. After the reps are met or time is up, you rest shortly for usually no more than a minute and then you do it again. Think of Crossfit or Tabata workouts for HIIT inspiration.

MICT, on the other hand, is your typical cardio. When people say the word ‘cardio’ you probably think of treadmills, StairMasters, and ellipticals. That’s MICT for the most part. Another part to it is that you don’t adjust the intensity of the exercise. So you stay on level 6 for 20 minutes, for example, without any significant changes.

Before we move on, I want to preface the discussion with this: Cardio is not necessary for fat loss or weight loss. If you’re doing cardio only for these reasons, you’re going to hate your gym life and make yourself miserable. There are a myriad of athletes who don’t do cardio and cut weight just fine such as powerlifters. Of course, if you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, cardio is a bit more necessary but it’s a short-term endeavor which is more acceptable. Don’t feel pressured to do cardio to lose weight. Refer to my blog post on calories in, calories out to learn how to learn more how fat loss works and how to establish a caloric deficit to really get on track with your goals.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here we go. 

Good news is you can really pick whichever form you’d like, because the meta-analysis showed that both methods are equally effective for fat loss. An important point to note here is that the experiment was matched for energy expenditure. This means that the subjects doing HIIT burned the same amount of calories as the people doing MICT¹ during the experiment. Since each method is equally effective, then choosing which method you want to use could be based on things like the time spent on the activity, desired rigor, and personal preference.

On other important note to consider is the degree to which both methods were effective, which wasn’t a lot. Both HIIT and MICT contributed to a body fat reduction of less than 2% on their own. So yes, these methods can be used to elicit fat loss, but probably should not be used on their own. If you’re just doing cardio but not in a net calorie deficit, you won’t experience weight or fat loss. There may be some other benefits you see like improved mood, for example, but body comp. changes may not be seen. That’s why establishing a calorie deficit is nearly essential while incorporating weight training can increase the rate of loss while improving you health further and the way you look if you’re wanting to add muscle. Basically, you can’t just do cardio and not care about our diet or training and expect to shed pounds of fat. Cardio’s effect isn’t that significant!

Moving on.

For time constraints, HIIT is clearly the better option. You can knock out rigorous bouts of training using a seemingly endless variety of exercises in 5-10 minutes and then you’re done.

In addition, if your goal is to build some muscle, this is also a good method, as it may have some crossover effects. Think about it: you’re still likely lifting weights as part of HIIT, so you’re getting in some volume, although the benefit will be likely be minor, if any.

Another touted benefit of HIIT is potential appetite suppression. The meta-analysis pointed to some studies that showed there is a potential suppression of appetite when doing sprints or other forms of HIIT¹ when compared to MICT; although the research is inconclusive because other studies were cited that showed no change, so it’s still up in the air. For you, this is an excellent chance to experiment and see if that works for you or not!

One important note is that HIIT should be VERY hard. In the study, they define HIIT as “80-100% of peak heart rate or aerobic capacity”¹, meaning, this isn’t a bit of huffing and puffing, and then you’re done. HIIT is meant to very intense, so you should be bent over heaving and gasping for breath and possibly on the floor by the end of whatever you did.

It’s not a walk in the park. It’s more like a sprint in the park because a bear is chasing you and is right on your ass. This is a great transition to talk about the cons of HIIT, because there definitely are some!

HIIT is not for everyone. People who never trained before and overweight and obese individuals are perfectly capable of doing some form of HIIT, but it may not be the best option initially because it can come with an increased susceptibility to injury. For an obese person, the quick movements at near-maximal effort, jumping, etc. can be especially burdensome since they carry around a lot of extra weight, damaging their joints and/or bones. For a newbie, it’s a lot of extremely intense work hat they’re not used to, potentially scaring the person away from any form of exercise if you throw them in the deep end at the beginning.

Last con is that cardio is not weight training, and so precautions should be taken if you are weight training to ensure that your HIIT is not interfering with your lifting performance. Some people get very sore from HIIT, which could hinder their lifts. Plan accordingly and give yourself enough time to recover from HIIT if you also plan on lifting weights.

This is not to say no obese person or newbie should never start with HIIT. Some people enjoy the challenge and feeling the burn in their lungs from the get-go and can do it safely; others need to ease into it. Either one is fine, the safety is what’s ultimately important, so you don’t bust your ass trying to do a kettlebell swing.

We can quickly breeze over MICT because it’s bascially warranted whenever HIIT isn’t appropriate as mentioned in the previous paragraphs above.

MICT is the better option if you simply enjoy it more and don’t have time contraints. If you don’t like feeling like you’re about to die (exaggeration) from your cardio, then HIIT probably isn’t up your alley, not to say you can’t work up to getting better a tolerating it.

MICT is also better if you’re dealing with some type of injury. If you have a back injury that prevents you from bending over or causes pain with rotating your torso, MICT has plenty of ways where you can still do cardio without those problems arising.

If you’re overweight, obese, or are new to the gym/cardio, I recommend MICT because it’s a great way to ease into exercise without overloading to dangerous levels of work.

I don’t recommend MICT-or any form of cardio for that matter-if you think that it’s the only way to lose weight, by running on a treadmill for hours. As mentioned before, cardio is not necessary for fat loss. All these reasons for cardio should be supported by the fact you enjoy the training, not because you think cardio is the only way to lose weight.

In short, HIIT and MICT have both been equally shown to influence fat and weight loss (to a small degree). Cardio-however you do it-is simply another tool in your fitness tool belt. You can decide to use it or not. HIIT is good for time constraints, augmenting your lifting, and possibly for appetite suppression. MICT is effective for beginners or overweight and obese people, those concerned that HIIT may interfere with their weight-training sessions, and those who just enjoy getting in some movement without feeling like death.

Have some thoughts on cardio? Comment below and tell me what you think!

References

¹Keating, S. E., Johnson, N. A., Mielke, G. I., and Coombes, J. S. (2017A systematic review and meta‐analysis of interval training versus moderate‐intensity continuous training on body adiposityObesity Reviews18: 943–964. doi: 10.1111/obr.12536.

Andres Vargas PhD(c) on Getting the Most Out of Your Strength/Bodybuilding Training

The podcast can be found at https://anchor.fm/theagorabodkast
Andres can be found on social media platforms @thestrengthcave
Website: https://thestrengthcave.com

Get tickets for Andres’s upcoming seminar here

Timestamps:
0:00 Introduction
1:00 Andres’s current training plan + how he’s recovering from back issues
4:44 Andres’s philosophy on specificity at different times of the training season
6:25 How have bodybuilding clients responded to a focus on general strength training?
8:27 Adapting your training variables and methods to continue progress
11:00 Taking time off the comp. lifts to set yourself up for strength gains later on
13:46 Should lifters focus on movement patterns rather than specific lifts?
17:10 General Physical Preparedness (GPP) and its relevance for all sports
18:25 Different approaches to improve GPP including High-Intensity Continuous Training (HICT)
20:40 How HICT can benefit strength and power athletes
23:30 Athletes neglect the importance of recovery
25:10 Physical pain signals as a sign of fatigue or poor recovery
27:40 How does Andres work around a client’s busy life to help them make progress?
33:05 The value of incorporating Strongman elements into strength and power athletes’s programs?
37:50 Powerlifting meet planning is more than lifting as much as you can
40:40 Prioritizing specific muscle groups and nutritional concerns for bodybuilders
44:40 Why a low fat diet is not advantageous for bodybuilders and/or gen.pop
48:30 A discussion about coaches being regarded as health care professionals and upcoming trends in the fitness industry
56:40 Andres’s upcoming seminar after the Olympia and wrap-up
Thanks for watching! Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share!