THE MINIMUM EFFECTIVE DOSE
From Microwaves to Fat-Loss
Arthur Jones was a precocious young child and particularly fond of crocodiles.
He read his father's entire medical library before he was 12. The home environment might have had something to do with it, seeing as his parents, grandfather, great-grandfather, half-brother, and half-sister were all doctors.
From humble beginnings in Oklahoma, he would mature into one of the most influential figures in the exercise science world. He would also become, in the words of more than a few, a particularly "angry genius."
One of Jones's protégés, Ellington Darden PhD, shares a prototypical Jones anecdote:
In 1970, Arthur invited Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Franco Colombu to visit him in Lake Helen, Florida, right after the 1970 Mr. Olympia. Arthur picked them up at the airport in his Cadillac, with Arnold in the passenger seat and Franco in the back. There are probably 12 stoplights in between the airport and the Interstate, so it was a lot of stop-and-go driving.
Now, you have to know that Arthur was a man who talked loud and dominated every conversation. But he couldn't get Arnold to shut up. He was just blabbing in his German or whatever and Arthur was having a hard time understanding what he was saying. So Arthur was getting annoyed and told him to quiet down, but Arnold just kept talking and talking.
By the time they got onto the Interstate, Arthur had had enough. So he pulled over to the side of the road, got out, walked around, opened Arnold's door, grabbed him by the shirt collar, yanked him out, and said something to the effect of, "Listen here, you son of a bitch. If you don't shut the hell up, a man twice your age is going to whip your ass right out here in front of I-4 traffic. Just dare me."
Within five seconds Arnold had apologized, got back in the car, and was a perfect gentlemen for the next three or four days.
Jones was more frequently pissed off than anything else.
He was infuriated by what he considered stupidity in every corner of the exercise science world, and he channeled this anger into defying the odds. This included putting 63.21 pounds on champion bodybuilder Casey Viator in 28 days and putting himself on the Forbes 400 list by founding and selling exercise equipment manufacturer Nautilus, which was estimated to have grossed $300 million per year at its zenith.
He had no patience for fuzzy thinking in fields that depended on scientific clarity. In response to researchers who drew conclusions about muscular function using electromyography (EMG), Arthur attached their machines to a cadaver and moved its limbs to record similar "activity." Internal friction, that is.
Jones lamented his fleeting time: "My age being what it is, universal acceptance of what we are now doing may not come within my lifetime; but it will come, because what we are doing is clearly established by simple laws of basic physics that cannot be denied forever." He passed away on August 28, 2007, of natural causes, 80 years old and as ornery as ever.
Jones left a number of important legacies, one of which will be the cornerstone of everything we'll discuss: the minimum effective dose.
The Minimum Effective Dose
The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome.
Jones referred to this critical point as the "minimum effective load," as he was concerned exclusively with weight-bearing exercise, but we will look at precise "dosing" of both exercise and anything you ingest.1
Anything beyond the MED is wasteful.
To boil water, the MED is 212°F (100°C) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it "more boiled." Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.
If you need 15 minutes in the sun to trigger a melanin response, 15 minutes is your MED for tanning. More than 15 minutes is redundant and will just result in burning and a forced break from the beach. During this forced break from the beach, let's assume one week, someone else who heeded his natural 15-minute MED will be able to fit in four more tanning sessions. He is four shades darker, whereas you have returned to your pale pre-beach self. Sad little manatee. In biological systems, exceeding your MED can freeze progress for weeks, even months.
In the context of body redesign, there are two fundamental MEDs to keep in mind:
To remove stored fat -- do the least necessary to trigger a fat-loss cascade of specific hormones.
To add muscle in small or large quantities -- do the least necessary to trigger local (specific muscles) and systemic (hormonal 2) growth mechanisms.
Knocking over the dominos that trigger both of these events takes surprisingly little. Don't complicate them.
For a given muscle group like the shoulders, activating the local growth mechanism might require just 80 seconds of tension using 50 pounds once every seven days, for example. That stimulus, just like the 212°F for boiling water, is enough to trigger certain prostaglandins, transcription factors, and all manner of complicated biological reactions. What are "transcription factors"? You don't need to know. In fact, you don't need to understand any of the biology, just as you don't need to understand radiation to use a microwave oven. Press a few buttons in the right order and you're done.
In our context: 80 seconds as a target is all you need to understand. That is the button.
If, instead of 80 seconds, you mimic a glossy magazine routine--say, an arbitrary 5 sets of 10 repetitions--it is the muscular equivalent of sitting in the sun for an hour with a 15-minute MED. Not only is this wasteful, it is a predictable path for preventing and even reversing gains. The organs and glands that help repair damaged tissue have more limitations than your enthusiasm. The kidneys, as one example, can clear the blood of a finite maximum waste concentration each day (approximately 450 mmol, or millimoles per liter). If you do a marathon three-hour workout and make your bloodstream look like an LA traffic jam, you stand the real chance of hitting a biochemical bottleneck.
Again: the good news is that you don't need to know anything about your kidneys to use this information. All you need to know is:
80 seconds is the dose prescription.
More is not better. Indeed, your greatest challenge will be resisting the temptation to do more.
The MED not only delivers the most dramatic results, but it does so in the least time possible. Jones's words should echo in your head: "REMEMBER: it is impossible to evaluate, or even understand, anything that you cannot measure."
80 secs. of 20 lbs. 10:00 mins. of 54°F water 200 mg of allicin extract before bed
These are the types of prescriptions you should seek, and these are the types of prescriptions I will offer.
RULES THAT CHANGE THE RULES
Everything Popular Is Wrong
This is clearly a lie. Gaining 34 lb in 28 days requires a caloric surplus of 4300 calories per day, so for a guy his size, he must have eaten 7000 calories a day. He expects me to believe that he dropped 4% in bodyfat as a result of eating 7000 calories? . . ."
I took a big swig of Malbec and read the blog comment again. Ah, the Internet. How far we haven't come.
It was amusing, and one of hundreds of similar comments on this particular blog post, but the fact remained: I had gained 34 pounds of muscle, lost 4 pounds of fat, and decreased my total cholesterol from 222 to 147, all in 28 days, without anabolics or statins like Lipitor.
The entire experiment had been recorded by Dr. Peggy Plato, director of the Sport and Fitness Evaluation Program at San Jose State University, who used hydrostatic weighing tanks, medical scales, and a tape measure to track everything from waist circumference to bodyfat percentage. My total time in the gym over four weeks?
Four hours.3 Eight 30-minute workouts.
The data didn't lie.
But isn't weight loss or gain as simple as calories in and calories out?
It's attractive in its simplicity, yes, but so is cold fusion. It doesn't work quite as advertised.
German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe had the right perspective: "Mysteries are not necessarily miracles." To do the impossible (sail around the world, break the four-minute mile, reach the moon), you need to ignore the popular.
Charles Munger, right-hand adviser to Warren Buffett, the richest man on the planet, is known for his unparalleled clear thinking and near-failure-proof track record. How did he refine his thinking to help build a $3 trillion business in Berkshire Hathaway?
The answer is "mental models," or analytical rules-of-thumb4 pulled from disciplines outside of investing, ranging from physics to evolutionary biology.
Eighty to 90 models have helped Charles Munger develop, in Warren Buffett's words, "the best 30-second mind in the world. He goes from A to Z in one move. He sees the essence of everything before you even finish the sentence."
Charles Munger likes to quote Charles Darwin:
Even people who aren't geniuses can outthink the rest of mankind if they develop certain thinking habits.
In the 4HB, the following mental models, pulled from a variety of disciplines, are what will separate your results from the rest of mankind.
New Rules for Rapid Redesign
NO EXERCISE BURNS MANY CALORIES.
Did you eat half an Oreo cookie? No problem. If you're a 220-pound male, you just need to climb 27 flights of stairs to burn it off.
F*cking hell, right? It's enough to make a lumberjack cry. Confused and angry? You should be.
As usual, the focus is on the least important piece of the puzzle.
But why do scientists harp on the calorie? Simple. It's cheap to estimate, and it is a popular variable for publication in journals. This, dear friends, is referred to as "parking lot" science, so-called after a joke about a poor drunk man who loses his keys during a night on the town.
His friends find him on his hands and knees looking for his keys under a streetlight, even though he knows he lost them somewhere else. "Why are you looking for your keys under the streetlight?" they ask. He responds confidently, "Because there's more light over here. I can see better."
For the researcher seeking tenure, grant money, or lucrative corporate consulting contracts, the maxim "publish or perish" applies. If you need to include 100 or 1,000 test subjects and can only afford to measure a few simple things, you need to paint those measurements as tremendously important.
Alas, mentally on your hands and knees is no way to spend life, nor is chafing your ass on a stationary bike.
Instead of focusing on calories-out as exercise-dependent, we will look at two underexploited paths: heat and hormones.
So relax. You'll be able to eat as much as you want, and then some. New exhaust pipes will solve the problem.
A DRUG IS A DRUG IS A DRUG
Calling something a "drug," a "dietary supplement," "over-the-counter," or a "nutriceutical" is a legal distinction, not a biochemical one.
None of these labels mean that something is safe or effective. Legal herbs can kill you just as dead as illegal narcotics. Supplements, often unpatentable molecules and therefore unappealing for drug development, can decrease cholesterol from 222 to 147 in four weeks, as I have done, or they can be inert and do absolutely nothing.
Think "all-natural" is safer than synthetic? Split peas are all-natural, but so is arsenic. Human growth hormone (HGH) can be extracted from the brains of all-natural cadavers, but unfortunately it often brings Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with it, which is why HGH is now manufactured using recombinant DNA.
Besides whole foods (which we'll treat separately as "food"), anything you put in your mouth or your bloodstream that has an effect--whether it's a cream, injection, pill, or powder--is a drug. Treat them all as such. Don't distract yourself with labels that are meaningless to us.
THE 20-POUND RECOMP GOAL
For the vast majority of you reading this book who weigh more than 120 pounds, 20 pounds of recomposition (which I'll define below) will make you look and feel like a new person, so I suggest this as a goal. If you weigh less than 120 pounds, aim for 10 pounds; otherwise, 20 pounds is your new, specific goal.
Even if you have 100+ pounds to lose, start with 20.
On a 1-10 attractiveness scale, 20 pounds appears to be the critical threshold for going from a 6 to a 9 or 10, at least as tested with male perception of females.
The term "recomposition" is important. It does not mean a 20-pound reduction in weight. It's a 20-pound change in appearance. A 20-pound "recomp" could entail losing 20 pounds of fat or gaining 20 pounds of muscle, but it most often involves losing 15 pounds of fat and gaining 5 pounds of muscle, or some blend in between.
Designing the best physique includes both subtraction and addition.
THE 100-UNIT SLIDER: DIET, EXERCISE, AND DRUGS
How, then, do we get to 20 pounds?
Imagine a ruler with 100 lines on it, representing 100 total units, and two sliders. This allows us to split the 100 units into three areas that total 100. These three areas represent diet, exercise, and drugs.
An equal split would look like this:
________/________/________ (33% diet, 33% drugs, 33% exercise)
It is possible to reach your 20-pound recomp goal with any combination of the three, but some combinations are better than others. One hundred percent drugs can get you there, for example, but it will produce the most long term side effects. One hundred percent exercise can get you there, but if injuries or circumstances interfere, the return to baseline is fast.
/__________/ (100% drugs) = side effects
//__________ (100% exercise) = easy to derail
Here is the ratio of most of the fat-loss case studies in this book:
______/_/___ (60% diet, 10% drugs, 30% exercise)
If you're unable to follow a prescribed diet, as is sometimes the case with travel or vegetarianism, you'll need to move the sliders to increase the % attention paid to exercise and drugs. For example:
_/____/_____ (10% diet, 45% drugs, 45% exercise)
The numbers need not be measured, but this concept is critical to keep in mind as the world interferes with plans. Learning diet and exercise principles is priority #1, as these are the bedrock elements. Relying too much on drugs makes your liver and kidneys unhappy.
The percentages will also depend on your personal preferences and "adherence," which we cover next.
1. Credit is due to Dr. Doug McGuff, who's written extensively on this and who will reappear later.
2. In fancier and more accurate terms, neuroendocrine.
3. In this case, the "4-Hour Body" is quite literal.
4. These "mental models" are often referred to as heuristics or analytical frameworks.
Copyright © 2010 by Timothy Ferriss. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.