Q: I’m 38 years old and have been seriously dieting for about four weeks. My weight is 236, and I’ve been getting 2,100 calories per day on average, trying to lose fat while building muscle. I’m also doing moderate cardio for 45 minutes a day five days per week, walking on the treadmill at an average rate of 4.5 miles per hour. I’ve been maintaining my diet at 45 percent complex carbs, 45 percent protein and 10 percent fat. I give myself Saturday and Sunday to cheat a little, but not anything more than maybe 3,500 calories max per day. I’ve also been weight training intensely approximately four to five days per week. I know I’ve gained muscle, but I don’t feel that I’m losing fat as quickly as I should. I’ve cut back on the cardio a bit this week, but I see no difference on the scale or when I measure my waistline. This was much easier in my 20s. I was wondering what you recommend. Are my calories so low my body is shutting down? I work from home, so outside the exercise I’ve been doing, I’m not very active.
A: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “This was much easier in my 20s.” As you’re discovering, our bodies change as we get older, and what used to work no longer does.
The main difference is that our hormone levels change as we age. Specifically, testosterone and growth hormone decline after our 20s. Since testosterone is responsible for strength and muscle mass and growth hormone regulates fat deposition, you can see how the decline in those two important hormones can have a negative effect on our physiques.
Of course, exercising and following a good nutrition program can help overcome the natural changes. Weight training helps maintain and build more muscle by creating a demand for those muscles. Without that demand, muscles atrophy from both nonuse and the testosterone decline.
Following the right diet is also crucial in maintaining a youthful look. Fat accumulates much more easily than it did when we were younger. Foods that formerly had no effect on us now add pounds of unwanted fat.
Although you’ve lowered your calorie count to only 2,100 per day, you may still be eating too much carbohydrate. Unfortunately, even complex carbs like brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread can contribute to fat storage as we get older.
You mentioned that 45 percent of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. That’s 236 grams a day along with 236 grams of protein and 50 grams of fat. At a bodyweight of 236 you’re eating one gram of protein and one gram of carbohydrate for each pound of bodyweight.
If you change the distribution of your macronutrients to fewer carbs, you can radically change the look of your physique without cutting calories. In fact, you might be able to increase the calories that you take in while still getting leaner.
If you increased your protein intake to 1.25 or 1.5 grams for each pound of bodyweight, you’d be getting 295 to 354 grams per day. That would provide your muscles with more amino acids to keep your body in a more positive nitrogen balance as well as help keep your blood sugar more stable. It’s also important to increase your protein intake when you start decreasing your carbs.
A low-carb diet will eventually lead to muscle loss because we need carbohydrate for energy during workouts. When you don’t get enough carbs, your body sacrifices muscle for energy—although the increased protein intake helps to prevent that.
By cycling your carbohydrate intake, you can reduce fat deposition while maintaining your energy and muscle size. You eat more on the days you train and less on your rest days. That way you’re essentially “starving” the fat cells; by increasing carbohydrates on your training days, you help restore the muscle glycogen that you use during training, and you have more energy available for your workouts. Restoring glycogen in muscle cells is a crucial part of building muscle and recovering from workouts.
I recommend that you reduce your carbohydrate intake to a little less than one gram for each pound of bodyweight—.95—on the days that you train and go down to .75 carbs per gram of bodyweight on the days you don’t work out. For your bodyweight of 236 you’d be eating 224 grams of carb on your training days and only 177 grams on your rest days. If you trained four days a week, your carb intake per week would average 204 grams a day—much less than the 236 you’re taking in now.
Putting it all together, this is what your new diet would look like:
Protein: 295 grams
Carb: 224 grams
Fat: 60 grams
Protein: 350 grams
Carb: 177 grams
Fat: 50 grams
You can see that you’d get 400 to 500 calories more than you get now. That doesn’t matter, though, because your carbohydrate intake is much less. The macronutrients make more difference in your physique than the calorie intake.
You could probably reduce your cardio to only three to four days a week. If you did cardio first thing in the morning on the days you don’t train, that would bring it down to three days a week. Try that before you add more cardio because I think the reduction in your carb intake will give you the results you’re looking for.
The only other suggestion I would make is to be careful with your “cheat days.” I usually won’t cheat at all when I’m trying to lose fat because it puts me behind. I gain some weight and add size to my waist for a couple of days after my cheat, and it takes several more days just to get my weight and waist down to what they were before I cheated. If I don’t cheat, I’m getting leaner instead of trying to get back to what I was before I cheated. When you get older, you can’t cheat as much and get by with it the way you could when you were younger.
The ’09 ABA Natural North America Championships
For the third year in a row I promoted the ABA Natural North America Championships in Bolingbrook, Illinois. The contest took place on August 1, 2009, at Bolingbrook High School. Our special guest performer was the awesome Jennifer Abrams, one of the top natural female bodybuilders in the country. She won the ABA Natural Illinois Championships earlier this year, and she’s one of the favorites for the Natural Olympia Championships in Chicago in 2010.
The Natural North America Championships is part of the ABA/INBA organization. The overall winners are now eligible to compete in the Natural Universe and Natural Olympia Championships. The Natural Olympia will be held on October 17 in Queensland, Australia, and the Natural Universe will take place on November 14, 2009, in Los Angeles.
The men’s overall contest was extremely tough. The incredible Thomas Anderson, the overall winner in last year’s contest and a class winner at the ’08 Natural Olympia, returned this year to win the title again. He was pushed hard by 52-year-old Ronald DeBry from Salt Lake City. Ronald was ripped and vascular, but Thomas’ overall shape and proportion were just enough to give him a four-to-three majority from the judges.
The highlight of the evening came when some legends of bodybuilding appeared onstage for a special presentation. Nineteen sixty-six AAU Mr. America Bob Gajda, ’64 Most Muscular Man Bill Seno and three-time Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva—“the Myth”—were all on hand to receive a standing ovation.
Here are the results of the ’09 ABA Natural North America Championships:
1) Stacy Kvernmo, 2) Shannon Goering
1) Brittany Ramsey, 2) Jessica Olson, 3) Jennifer Ericksen,
4) Samantha Lyle
1) Kris Carver, 2) Wali Khan, 3) Yanni Souyoutizidis,
4) Drew Milliken
Junior Men (ages 20-21)
Short: P.J. Geldenhuis
Tall: Michael Orwig
Overall: P.J. Geldenhuis
Masters Men (40-49)
1) Stan Sayler, 2) Larry Johnson, 3) Jamie Johnson
Grand Masters (50-59)
1) Jeff Weeden
Ultra Grand Masters (60-69)
1) Art Miller
Overall Masters Men
1) Jeff Weeden
1) Jessica Olson,
2) Karen Johnson
1) Karen Johnson
1) Heather Frystak,
2) Samantha Lyle, 3) Jennifer Ericksen
Short: 1) Thomas Anderson, 2) Ron DeBry,
3) P.J. Geldenhuis
Tall: 1) Michael Orwig,
2) Gary LeBeau, 3) Larry Johnson
Overall: Thomas Anderson
I want to sincerely thank all my sponsors for helping to support natural bodybuilding and fitness. My main sponsors were Optimum Nutrition and American Bodybuilding, along with IRON MAN magazine (all the overall winners received a one-year free subscription compliments of John Balik), JM Steel, Pride Nutrition, Nutrition Discounters, Capitol Nutrition and the Vitamin Shoppe.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com, or send questions or comments to him via e-mail at John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at www.NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. You can send written correspondence to John Hansen, P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. IM