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Big, Strong and Ripped?

Studies have shown that taking in simple carbohydrates along with an easy-to-digest form of protein like whey protein isolate greatly enhances muscle recuperation and growth by shuttling those important carbs and amino acids directly into the muscle cells after a hard workout.

Q: I’m currently about six weeks into an eight-week program to build my strength (I recently did 225 pounds in the deadlift for five reps and 250 for one). My goal is to lose about a foot off my gut as well, but I really don’t want to lose any of my hard-earned strength and muscle. My waistline is hovering right around 40 inches and needs to go down to 30 or 31. The interesting part is that I may look like an endomorph, but my body type is ectomorphic—I put on muscle slowly (if I shove down meal after meal), but I lose size very quickly if, for example, I get ill. I’m starting to add cardio four to five days a week (30 minutes in the morning) and limit my carb intake to oatmeal in the morning, some additional complex carbs during lunch and then sticking with veggies in the evening. I’m also trying to keep up the protein intake.

Here’s my diet:

1) 9 or 10 a.m., breakfast: eight egg whites scrambled (with some onions and capsicum), two slices of whole-wheat toast (a little butter and honey) and tea or a cup of oatmeal with some honey and skim milk

2) Noon, lunch: fish or chicken and a cup of rice and veggies

3) Midafternoon: salmon or chicken, salad

4) 5 or 6 p.m.: Muscle Milk Light Shake and 20 ounces of 1 percent skim milk

5) 7 to 10 p.m.: workout, during which I have Scivations Xtend (about 30 to 40 grams of BCAAs and 10 grams of glutamine) in 1.5 liters of water plus Substance WPI (whey protein, 44 grams)

6) 45 minutes after my workout, dinner: chicken or salmon and salad or steak and veggies

Now, I do screw up my eating from time to time, and I get in only five meals, which are a challenge to get down anyway. My supplements are Universal Animal Pak, Universal Mstack, Universal Stack2, sometimes CLA and sometimes omega-3s (three times a day with meals).

I do three to four work sets of the following exercise after warmup sets:

Monday, legs: squats, sissy squats, leg extensions, Romanian deadlifts, leg curls, calf raises, seated calf raises

Tuesday, chest: bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, decline dumbbell presses, incline- or flat-bench flyes

Wednesday, back: deadlifts, pulldowns (I’m trying to do chins but am just not strong enough yet), bent-over rows, hyperextensions

Thursday, shoulders: barbell or dumbbell presses, wide-grip upright rows supersetted with  laterals (I need to improve my medial deltoids), incline bench laterals, shrugs

Friday, arms and abs: close-grip bench presses, dips, overhead extensions, barbell curls, incline curls, preacher curls or concentration curls (I sometimes superset triceps and biceps)

It’s basically an eight-week program on which the three primary lifts start out at 10 reps and end with a one-rep max at the end of week 8 (done for three working sets). All other exercises hover around eight to 10 reps.

Starting 1RM (several cycles ago):

Bench press: 155 pounds

Deadlift: 135 pounds

Squat: 140 pounds

Lifts as of this week:

Bench press: 225 pounds (3RM)

Deadlift: 225 pounds (5RM)

Squat: 290 pounds (4RM)

So my strength levels are definitely improving. I don’t want to get on a cutting cycle for fear of losing size and strength. Actually, it’s primarily because I was so embarrassingly weak when I started last year and my strength has improved so much that I fear getting on a cutting cycle is going to wash out all my strength.

What should I do after the cycle is over? I was thinking of following a 5 x 5 program and continuing my cardio about five days per week, for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning. I was planning on eating the same or upping my carbs a bit and changing some of my supplements.

A: You’re trying to do two things at the same time—add muscle and strength while simultaneously losing fat. That is possible. I had a client last year who was training consistently but had let himself go and gained a lot of bodyfat. He started training harder and eating better when he started training with me, and he made incredible progress. He began with a 42-inch waist at 194 pounds in December 2006. In October 2007 he competed in a bodybuilding contest weighing 155 pounds with a 28-inch waist. He lost an amazing 14 inches off his waist while increasing his muscle mass and strength.

The diet you’re on now looks very good for building muscle and losing fat. It’s high in protein and very moderate in carbohydrates. You’re smart to eat most of your carbs in the morning and afternoon, as the fat stores in your body aren’t as insulin sensitive in the morning as they are at night.

If the diet is working, I think you should continue eating the way you are—with a couple of alterations. First, take out the whole-wheat bread with honey and butter and replace it with oatmeal. The oatmeal is lower on the glycemic index and will probably contain more fiber than the bread. 

You might also want to eliminate the milk from your oatmeal and your protein drink. Milk contains lactose, which is a sugar. When I’m dieting to lose fat, I always eliminate as many simple sugars as possible. 

Another suggestion would be to include a recovery drink immediately after your training. Studies have shown that taking in simple carbohydrates along with an easy-to-digest form of protein like whey protein isolate greatly enhances muscle recuperation and growth by shuttling those important carbs and amino acids directly into the muscle cells after a hard workout.

Optimum Nutrition has a product called 2:1:1 Recovery, which contains 35 grams of protein and 70 grams of carbs, or try Muscle-Link’s RecoverX, which contains 40 grams of protein and 60 grams of carbs. Either one would make a big difference in your diet. You could have the drink immediately after your workout and still eat your dinner about 30 to 45 minutes later. Also, make sure that you space your meals about 2 1/2 to three hours apart so your blood sugar stays stable. Waiting too long between meals allows your blood sugar to drop, and then, when you eat your next meal, the blood sugar rises more than normal. When you’re losing fat, you don’t want that yo-yo effect on your blood sugar; you want to eat consistently so it’s always stable. 

If the diet doesn’t work to lower your bodyfat, you should begin writing down everything you eat and counting the calories as well as the grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats. When you can look at your diet in black and white, you can often see mistakes you might be making or what’s working and what isn’t. 

As for your training program, it’s obviously increasing your strength, which is important. I think you could cut back your training from five consecutive days to only four days a week, with one rest day after two days of training. I don’t agree with training that many days in a row if you’re trying to increase muscle mass. Your body needs a full day of rest after two or three days of heavy, hard training. 

You could include training a smaller bodypart with a larger bodypart a couple of days a week, which would give you an extra day of rest. For example, train your triceps on your chest day and your biceps on your back day. The arms consist of small muscle groups that don’t require a lot of sets. Make sure you’re not using more than 25 total work sets at any workout. 

I don’t think you need cardio five times a week. That’s too much if you’re on a good fat-loss diet. Cut your cardio back to two to three days a week and give the diet a chance to do its job. If you’re trying to increase your muscle mass and strength, doing cardio almost every day will affect your recuperation and slow down your gains. 


Q: My first question is whether there’s a specific routine that you recommend for someone who’s losing fat for an extended period of time. My current program is fairly simple: I use a split routine composed almost entirely of basic compound lifts that I perform as heavy as possible, keeping my total sets for the day at 35 or under, four days per week. I vary my rep ranges for each set, usually beginning at 12 or 10 with lighter weight, finishing at six or four with considerably heavier weight. My second question concerns postworkout nutrition. For the past month or so I’ve changed from my normal high-glycemic-index carbohydrate-and-whey protein mix to whey protein with whole oats as my carb source. I did it for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve heard (though I’m not certain how accurate it is) that the type of carbohydrate you take in after weight training has no effect on the rate of protein synthesis, the only variable being the speed of glycogen storage, which would take a little longer to refill. Even so, it should make no appreciable difference before weight  training the next day. The other reason is that, if the type of postworkout carbohydrate has no effect on protein synthesis and glycogen replacement is completed before the next training session regardless, using lower-G.I. carbs won’t cause a drastic insulin spike. So fat burning continues to take place and is not delayed for several hours, as it would be with high-G.I. carbs. What exactly is your opinion on the topic?

A: I think your training routine is right on target. Even if you’re trying to lose fat, you still want to train the muscles heavy with the basic exercises and make sure you take off enough days during the week to recuperate. So many people still make the mistake of going lighter and doing more reps, but that only makes the muscles smaller while you cut back on calories. Keep training heavy and build as much muscle as possible while you’re trying to lose fat.

As for eating oatmeal instead of high-G.I. carbs after your workout, I think you should go back to the high-glycemic carbs. Even if it doesn’t affect the rate of protein synthesis, you still want the carbs to be stored in the muscles very quickly.

If you eat a carb such as oatmeal, it will be digested much more slowly because of its high-fiber content. Always remember that a simple sugar will raise your insulin level, which will shuttle both the carbs and protein into the muscle cells much faster than a slower-digesting carbohydrate. 

I used to have a drink that was carb only after my workout till Chris Aceto recommended that I add whey protein because, he said, in addition to the simple carbs restoring the glycogen, I’d also be restoring the amino acids in my muscle cells by combining the simple carbs with the easy-to-digest whey protein. 

I always prefer to have a recovery drink rather than a whole-food meal after my workout because a drink is digested much faster. I have it immediately after my workout. I drink it in my car as I’m leaving the parking lot. 

When I get home, I prepare my next meal, which is lunch, since I train in the early afternoon. It usually consists of lean ground turkey, sweet potato and broccoli and provides the protein and complex carbs I need after my workout, working in conjunction with the recovery drink. 

You’re worried about slowing down the fat-burning process by raising your insulin level. That doesn’t apply after a workout. Your body is in a unique metabolic state after a heavy training session, and it needs those carbs and protein immediately—so you actually do want to raise your insulin level to get those nutrients into your muscles right away.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Natural Mr. Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free (800) 900-UNIV (8648). His new book, Natural Bodybuilding, and new training DVD, “Real Muscle,” are now available from Home Gym Warehouse, or (800) 447-0008.  IM

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