P90X FAQ Wiki

Welcome to the P90X FAQ Wiki. I wrote this as I went through the P90X program in 2009, and I hope you will find here all the P90X information that's missing from the guide and hard to find on the official forums.

Note that I'm not a fitness instructor or medical professional. I simply found this information online, from sources as reliable as I could discover, and I reference each piece of information back to its source. NOTE: some time in 2009, TeamBeachBody has migrated their forums to a new forum software, rendering all existing links to the forum dead. Worse, they didn't migrate the users properly, so most folks' accounts (including mine) have been lost under a generic user tbbuser. This means you may find quite a few broken links to Beachbody's site.

Note to advertisers: please contact me if you're interested in advertising your P90X products that genuinely help.

-- Dan Dascalescu

What is P90X?

P90X is an exercise/training/workout/weight loss/get ripped/bodybuilding/fitness programs for both men and women. It is one of the few programs advertised in magazines and via infomercials that actually works, in my own experience and according to a large following of users who have gone through the program and blogged or video-blogged their results.

The program is said to work because of its key element, "muscle confusion". However, the effectiveness of muscle confusion is dubious; see Muscle confusion myth and muscle-confusion.org). The reason P90X does work is more likley because alternating through 11 DVDs makes it way less boring than the typical exercise programs, and more people are inclined to follow through.

Success stories

P90X is marketed by BeachBody.com and appears to get you in excellent shape in 90 days (see pictures below), provided you commit to 75-minute intense daily training sessions and watch your diet.

There are many success videos about P90X on Youtube, and here are some that I liked (with before and after pictures):

Men

  1. Definition and weight loss
  2. Another nice one
  3. "Before" and "after" pictures right at the beginning. Some exercise shots. Other pictures at 2:40.

Women's P90X videos

  1. Day 1 through day 30, plus related videos

My own story

P90X was the most intense exercise program I ever got myself into. That I was able to keep up with it, in itself, has been a self-confidence boost. Other benefits:

  • endurance: significant increase. After about 3 weeks of P90X, my endurance experienced a tipping point: in my cardio class, at the end of 2 minutes of sit-ups, most others were grunting and collapsing, while I kept going, surprised. I attribute this in most part to the Ab Ripper X workout from P90X.
  • abdominal fat loss: about two months into P90X, during one post-workout shower, I could feel for the first time my washboard abs. The sensation was exhilarating, and the reactions of members of the opposite sex to said washboard abs ranged from "That's crazy" to "HOLY SHIT".
  • strength: I took the "Fit Test" before starting P90X. I could not do more than 6 pull-ups. At the end of the program, I did 12. The graph shows my progress from Day 1 to Day 90 at the "Chest & Back" exercise routines.
    P90X_progress_chart
  • muscle gain was low in my case, despite using creatine; however, my somatotype is ectomorph (aka "hard-gainer"). Also, it is advised to eat more carbs, rather than protein, for mass gain, and P90X targets fat loss through carb intake reduction.
  • very predictable diet: P90X tells you exactly how much to eat (and also most of "what", if you look in this FAQ). This may not sound appealing to you, but I found it freed up quite a lot of decision time - I didn't have to think much about my meals.

The downside: I found that P90X for me took significantly longer than the 60 minutes of strength training + 13 minutes of Ab Ripper X. There were two main causes:

  • I rested more between sets, as advised for ectomorphs {{fact}}
  • I used an adjustable dumbbell set, which required me to reassemble the weights on each bar from set to set. I estimate that you can go much quicker through the workout if you have separate weights.

Permanence of results

On purpose, I stopped almost any form of physical exercise after completing P90X, and I resumed an ordinary (albeit healthy) diet.

Two months later, here was the situation:

  • strength: I can still do 11 pull-ups
  • fat gain: my abs are no longer "washboard", but there is visible definition

I then resumed doing ~20 minutes of strenuous endurance training, once or twice a week. After a year:

  • strength: I could still do 10 or 11 reverse-grip chin-ups
  • fat gain: my abs had some padding but there still was visible definition
  • endurance had decreased, but not by more than 25% subjectively.

So, does P90X work?

In my experience, P90X worked very well for losing fat and gaining strength and endurance, and not so well for gaining muscle mass (see Occam's Protocol for that). The diet was confusingly explained, somewhat hard to personalize, and somewhat difficult to follow in the first few weeks, but you can refer to this FAQ for help. Probably the best thing about P90X is that it doesn't get boring, and you're much more likely to finish it, than other programs which may be more effective, but more dull at the same time. There are 11 P90X DVDs in the package (plus a "How to bring it" DVD and one for "Ab Ripper X" which is also at the end of a few other DVDs), which will keep you interested for a while.

Reviews, blogs and other information

Here's the best of the information I found about the P90X workout system:

P90X official resources

P90X FAQ

I wrote this FAQ for two reasons:

  1. the information in the P90X Nutrition Plan is incomplete and contradictory
  2. it's very hard to find useful information in the official P90X forums:
    • the forums are full of noise - probably 80% of the posts are about people posting pics, encouraging each other and making small talk, which is fine but doesn't help when real P90X questions receive almost no attention
    • the P90X forums are censored (the only URLs allowed are to beachbody.com, for example)
    • the P90X forum is so image-laden that it looks worse than a teen's MySpace page. Fortunately, in October 2008, images were forcibly downsized to smaller dimensions.
    • many forum members are P90X fanatics, crowd-followers, and not exactly objective. For example, the most popular nutrition tracking site among P90X-ers is fitday.com, in spite of Livestrong.com having way more foods and capabilities. Many can't spell and it's not hard to imagine a link between the inability to spell correctly (or use a browser with a spell checker) and an inability to accurately report progress or diet figures.

Note that there is a P90X FAQ category on the beachbody forum, but it's rather slim (only 16 questions), and you need to dig a lot to find useful information about P90X nutrition. That is exactly what I did. Enjoy the results below.

Is P90X right for me?

P90X is a well-balanced program, aimed at weight loss, strength gain, endurance and flexibility. It is not aimed at muscle building (gaining mass). Starting Strength is recommended as better than P90X for adding muscle. I tried Occam's Protocol and I gained 2 lbs of muscle in 19 days, but I also gained 2.2 lbs of fat.

From personal experience, P90X has increased definition (washboard abs), strength and endurance, but did not help me put on muscle visibly. However, I am an ectomorph ("hard gainer").

What gear do I need for P90X?

Good news - nothing too expensive. Here is a list; details and recommendations can be found below in the FAQ.

  • Gear:
    1. measuring cup. Essential for mixing up recovery drinks, protein shakes and what not, and for measuring frozen vegetables by cup. I've been happy with my Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup but recommend a 3-cup one.
    2. pull-up/chin-up bar - WARNING: the one that BeachBody ships with the P90X bundle is crap, a friend of mine reported. Try Amazon, there are many good inexpensive chin-up bars for less than $30.
    3. resistance bands (more for toning than muscle gain), or for those who want more muscle gains, a set of weights/dumbbells
      • if you use resistance bands, you'll need an armless chair
    4. heart rate monitor (recommended for Plyometrics). See my product guide for heart rate monitors.
    5. yoga/pilates/exercise mat. Recommended unless you have something else cushy to sweat on. The thicker the mat, the better. In the Yoga X DVD, you're going to see that Tony needs extra padding. I used a 5/8" thick Harbinger Ribbed Durafoam Mat, and had all the necessary padding.
    6. body tape (to measure muscle or waist circumference precisely)
    7. a fixed chair or support for help with pull-ups. Chairs with wheels will roll from under your feet. A garbage can will do.
  • Supplements:
    1. protein powder
    2. micronized creatine (better than creatine monohydrate)
    3. protein bars. From the selection available at Trader Joe's, the best protein bar I found was Clif Builder's 20g Protein Bar.

Things you don't really need:

  • P90X recovery drink - can be made from apple or grape juice, protein powder, and creatine, albeit one user claims it's not as good as the P90X Results and Recovery Formula{{fact}} and BeachBody Advice Staff compares it to a Toyota Camry vs. a BMW: both get you there (ref).
  • Yoga blocks. You can use pretty much any solid object. Your protein tube will work.

Should I work out in the morning or in the evening?

There's disagreement on that. The Nutrition Plan briefly mentions working out first thing in the morning. However, one forum member claims:

A major university controlled study showed that individuals who did strength training in the evening (after 6PM) compared to those who did the same workouts in the morning (before 9AM) had 7-8% more muscle gains. Your muscles get rebuilt while you sleep and the sooner you give them rest the better.

The nutrition plan says 'drink 12oz of water 2h before the workout', but the workout is supposed to be the first thing in the morning

This is a known contradiction in the P90X Nutrition Plan. Just drink water as far in advance before the workout as convenient, and don't wake up 2 hours before you intend to, just to drink the water.

I'm confused about the whole nutrition plan! Can you give an example of a day's meals?

Don't worry, many people find the P90X nutrition plan confusing or downright contradictory. Here is an example of a P90X diet for one day, at Phase I, Level I. It helps to...

Reproduce the page with the portion diagram (the one with the squares) for each day. As you go having your meals during the day, cross out the corresponding portions. By the end of the day you know whether you met your diet requirements. I actually made out a chart with the information I need for my determined level and got rid of all the rest.

My favorite food isn't in the Nutrition Plan list. Why can't they just list the P90X diet Nutrition Facts, like on a nutrition label?

It doesn't really work that way. For example, if you reverse-engineer some meals from the Meal Plan, the grams of protein in one P90X serving vary from 17 to 26, and the grams of carbohydrates vary from 26 to 86. That means you're stuck with eyeballing portions for size. Nutrition labels for your favorite foods or from the restaurant won't help much. For details, see my thread P90X Diet as a Nutrition Facts label. Here is an example of how to calculate the nutrition facts for the Phase I Level III plan:

3000 calories at 50% protein, 30% carbs, 20% fat

Mix in some facts:

1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Stir vigorously:

Protein = (3000 cal * 0.50) / 4 g/cal
Carbs = (3000 cal * 0.3) / 4 g/cal
Fat = (3000 cal * 0.2) / 9 g/cal

And enjoy:

Protein - 375g
Carbs - 225g
Fat - 67g 

See also the subsequently created official FAQ about the P90X nutrition plan in grams.

Why aren't Trader Joe's or Whole Foods mentioned at all?

Why there's no such thing as a P90X Trader Joe's Diet (or Whole Foods P90X Diet) is a mystery, given that the P90X creators live in Southern California, where these two healthy food chains are very popular.

There is the "Quick" meal plan, but that says that you should eat only one frozen dish per day, from a specific bunch of brands.

In the meantime I added a bunch of P90X-related comments for various Trader Joe's foods on TheDailyPlate.com. See the next question.

Can I follow a P90X diet without cooking?

Yes, you can. I'm doing just that and I wrote an extensive article titled How to eat healthy without cooking in less than 10 minutes a day. Below is my selection of very healthy foods that require no cooking. Those that need heating only require a microwave.

Protein

Protein, vegetarian

Protein bars

Vegetables

Dairy

Carbohydrates

If I eat out, how do I calculate the portion size at a buffet or restaurant?

Q: Will I have to carry around a balance or some other measuring device‽
A: No (but see this portable scale). With some effort, you can follow the P90X diet if you travel and/or eat out a lot (ref).

  1. Try to find your restaurant and meal at http://thedailyplate.com. They have pretty much everything.
  2. A secondary resource is http://dietfacts.com/fastfood.asp (lists 467 restaurants).
  3. As a rule of thumb, 1 serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards (ref). You may have been advised that 1 portion is the size of your fist, but that is inaccurate for P90X, since people's fists vary in size, and the P90X Nutrition Plan already takes individual size into account and has a fixed portion size.

The online nutrition plan doesn't match the P90X guide

True. Forget the online plan.

P90X should be done with the P90X nutrition guide.

Do I really need to eat that much?

Q: At Phase I, Level III, I need to eat 9 3oz pieces of chicken a day?! (765g).
A: To eat less, use protein powder or shakes instead of meat.

What exact supplements do I need to eat and when, before and after the workout?

Another good question. There is no clear consensus on that, but here's what the BeachBody Advice Staff seems to agree with (ref):

  • 2 hours before P90X exercise: 12oz water (reference)
  • 1 hour before workout: protein shake (reference)
  • 30 minutes before workout - creatine (if you take it; add it to the water below)
  • 15-30 minutes before exercise: 8-12oz water (per Nutrition Plan, p8)
  • every 15 minutes during exercise: 4-8oz water (per Nutrition Plan, p8)
  • 20 minutes after workout: recovery drink (reference) and have nothing else in the first hour after the workout (per Nutrition Plan, page 9) - contradicted below:
  • 40-50 minutes after workout: protein shake (reference) or a protein meal.
  • at least one P90X Peak Performance Bar a day as a meal alternative (per Fitness Guide, p11)

Another opinion is to have a Protein shake before, recovery drink after the workout

A protein shake should be taken approximately 1 hour prior to your workout (20 minutes or less and it may be a bit heavy to workout). This ensures your muscles are primed to absorb the protein more efficiently. The Recovery drink should be fairly soon after the workout, it creates an insulin spike, which helps keep down the cortisol levels in your body. Cardio workouts especially create a higher level of cortisol (which breaks down your muscle and stores away other calories as fat ~ negating your purpose of the workouts ~ high cortisol levels, also, cause a lot of other problems).

How expensive is P90X?

The diet may be a little more expensive than an ordinary one, but there are many tips on how to save on the P90X diet.

P90X alternative supplements

P90X alternative gear

Can I incorporate creatine in my P90X nutrition?

See this forum topic on creatine and carbs. It also has a good explanation of how the body uses fuel sources (carbohydrates and fat) for aerobic and anaerobic activities.

How do I get assigned a coach/change my coach?

See the coach FAQ

Where can I download P90X calendars and worksheets?

P90X log sheets and calendars download

Can I track what I eat online?

Use LiveStrong. It has way more foods in its database than Sparkpeople (ref) or fitday.com. Most of the people on the TeamBeachBody forums use Fitday (ref), even though it doesn't have any food brands (search for Trader Joe's or Safeway) and you'll have to tediously customize each food by hand.

Where is "WOWY"?

http://teambeachbody.com/about/tbb-game

How can I get/stay motivated?

General motivational techniques applies to P90X as well. Look up my motivation resources. For P90X specifically, check out catman's motivational thread on the forums. He's been adding inspirational or motivational quotes and principles since 2006-March, and the thread is now over 100 pages long.

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