An engineers approach to diet and work-outs (part 2)

This is my second blog post series on my attempts at fighting obesity through the means of applying control theory to dieting and working out. Control theory is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering and mathematics that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems with inputs

In my first post in this series on applying control theory to dieting and working out,  I proposed an alternative to the use of the Body Mass Index (BMI) as primary output for our dieting and exercise efforts. Given that a basic control system has an output, a feedback loop end an input, we still need to look at the input and feedback loop. I will come to those later in this series. In this blog post I shall try to elaborate on the Body Strength Index (BSI) component of the  Generic Body Health Index  (GBHI) that I described in my first post, and I will explain why strength training and power lifting complement a good and healthy diet in our attempt at a healthier body composition.

As I described in my first post, the GHBI is a value in the complex plain made up of two components. The first component is the Body Fat Index (BFI) that describes how close our body is to the leanest we can get without going into under-fat conditions. Its sufficient for health purposes to get out of the over-fat range, but as most of us also want to look good on the beach and all, we should not mind overshooting that goal as long as we stay out of the under-fat range. Its important to once more make the distinction between loosing weight and getting leaner. We are going to seriously work out  and are gain muscle mass to get a healthier body composition. This means we may or may not loose any weight while getting leaner. It might even mean that we are going to be gaining weight as a result of getting leaner. This may be a cognitive challenge to many of us. The concept of ‘loosing weight’ as a way to get healthier has been so pervasively entrenched into our collective perception that it takes quite a mental leap to abandon it and to accept that gaining weight while getting leaner is something to be happy about.

The second component is Basic Strength Index (BSI) that describes how close our body is to the strongest we can get without getting into professional power-lifting. There are several reasons why adding this component to the GHBI, and getting serious about our body strength makes sense:

  • By working out all your muscles, you are telling your body that you are “using” all your muscles. Given that its a ‘use it or loose it’ game, this is essential to keep your body from eating your muscles while leaving your fat-mass untouched.
  • When you get stronger you will actually gain muscle mass.
  • Muscle mass consumes calories. I’m not talking about calories burned during work-out, these are mostly sugars, it consumes calories 24/7. So when you increase muscle mass you increase your base metabolic rate.
  • Muscle mass acts as a sugar store for your body. This helps absorb carbohydrate spikes in your diet that otherwise would go straight to increasing your fat-mass.
  • Higher muscle mass reduces the bodies relative fat mass.
  • Focusing on muscle strength rather than muscle mass gives most of the above advantages without your body getting to bulky. You will end up with compact muscles with a high metabolic increase per kg of muscle mass rather than with body-building muscles with a relatively low metabolic increase per kg.
  • Negative changes to your power stats are a good indication that your diet is off, this allows us to react relatively quickly to an unbalanced diet.

Again we run into our psychological cognitive wall. By increasing our muscle mass we are deliberately increasing our weight. If we aren’t loosing fat at at least the same rate this means we are gaining weight. Whats more, as I described in the previous post, if both your body strength and your body fat are relatively low, you will want to focus first on balance rather than body fat.During such an initial period, you will slightly increase your body fat and significantly increase your muscle and total mass. A phase that bodybuilders and power lifters often refer to as bulking. You could easily gain 5kg or even 10kg in such a period, and when getting in shape this increase in body mass can be quite a psychological burden.

I’ve said it a couple of times before, your body weight and BMI are not that relevant for your progress. Its essential that you get used to the idea:

Changes in your total body weight are in no way indicative of changes in your body health.


So now that we have established the importance of working out and of using strength training as a tool for improving our body composition, we have a look at what our work-out schedule should ideally look like:

  • Work out every muscle at least once a week and at most twice a week.
  • Make sure you work out for a total of at least 5 hours per week, double that if you can manage it.
  • Give every major muscle group at least two resting days between workouts.
  • Start each exercise with  a 8..10 rep set, increase the weight progressively up to the point where you can only manage 1 or 2 reps.
  • Make sure the big 3 (squat, bench-press, dead-lift) are part of your weekly routine, preferably on different days.
  • If you must do cardio, do high-intensity cardio and do it at the end of your workout. Avoid using muscles during cardio you also used during the strength part of your workout.
  • Try to work out around the same time on every day you work out. So if you work out in the evening on week days also try to work out in the evening in the weekends.


The big 3 that I just mentioned are going to be our primary measuring tool for calculating the BSI. If you are very strong and aren’t doing professional power lifting, benching plus squatting plus dead-lifting a total of seven times your own body weight should be quite an impressive accomplishment, especially if at the same time we are striving for low total body fat. The BSI puts this ‘seven time your own body weight’ as the ultimate strength goal to strive for (just like the low value of the healthy body fat percentage is the ultimate fat percentage level to strive for) .  Working out and eating healthy and sufficiently is going to help us towards this goal. Eating sufficiently however isn’t in the end going to get us towards the goal of truly getting leaner, so we will need to strike a balance and find a path between the caloric  deficit that helps us quickly loose body fat and the caloric surplus that helps us to quickly get stronger and gain muscle mass. One major help in striking the balance on a caloric level lies in picking the right macro nutrients and in picking the right time to consume them. In my next post in this series I shall be elaborating on what I found is a good ratio for the different macro nutrients, and on how you should time our intake of these macro nutrients relative to our workouts.


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