Q: I compete in the over-50 class of a local natural bodybuilding contest every year. It gives me a reason to get into shape for the summer. Last year I came in fifth in my class. I’m getting beat by guys who look half my size in the gym. I think that I’m losing too much muscle. By the time my bodyfat is low enough for me to see my abs, I’ve shrunk. Any advice?
A: Yes. A few natural competitors can diet down and get shredded without losing much muscle, but it’s very tough. There are also guys who look almost contest ready all year, but when they get ready for a show, they lose a lot of muscle and look flat onstage. Of course, everyone’s metabolic rate is different, and when you’re over 50, skin quality can be an issue. Knowing your body is a key piece of the puzzle—but you can approach it in a variety of ways and yield great results.
The last time I got into contest shape, I used a 12-week diet from my competition years. It took me from 230 pounds down to 210, and I looked pretty good—but I decided to stay in shape for the entire year and for the following year as well. I was doing a lot of photo shoots and getting a lot of acting roles in New York City. I got down as low as 205 (at 6’) that first year. I lived on grilled chicken and salmon, broccoli, beans, hummus and two protein drinks made with half water, half apple juice and two scoops of pure whey (no flavor). I also had a piece of fruit here and there, but that was it—nothing else.
After the initial 12 weeks on that diet I felt tired and weak for three months. I wasn’t that motivated to keep training, but it was an experiment, so at 46 years of age I continued.
Normally after a contest or a photo shoot I go right back to where I feel most comfortable. I was used to filling out my clothes more and lifting heavier weight when I wasn’t contest ready, but I was on a mission, so I dieted on. For the next 18 months the only thing that changed was that I ate more often—still the same food—and I slowly got bigger, harder and more separated. How is that possible? I wrote down everything because I’d done something that I’d never been able to do in the past: gain weight when getting ready for a contest—or, in this case, commercial work.
Something started working for me after about month six—something that I never would have experienced if I’d listened to my ice cream craving at the end of every workout. Right around that time I increased my intake of the same foods again—and added another protein shake—and the results kept going against everything that I’d ever heard. I kept getting bigger and stronger while on an extremely limited diet. By the time a year passed, I’d gained 10 pounds of muscle—but it looked as if I’d gained 25 pounds because my skin was so tight and my arms had grown almost a full inch and a half. My power level was way up on lifts that I hadn’t done since I was in my early 30s.
By the fall of my 47th year—35th year of lifting—and some 22 months into the diet—I weighed just shy of 220 pounds, and I was more ripped than I’d ever been in my life. That’s a net muscle gain of almost 15 pounds during those two years. I knew that I looked good when people started to ask me if I was taking anything. All I was taking was protein powder with diluted apple juice, plain grilled chicken, hummus, broccoli and some other greens on occasion. I also ate a handful of pecans or macadamia nuts every few days—but nothing notable really. I’d tossed the fruit and the beans, but I was eating five plates of muscle food a day.
It took me two years to reach that pinnacle of natural bodybuilding. What was so amazing about the whole experience was that once I got over the initial six months, I felt fantastic, powerful, huge and always ripped and ready for any shoot or audition.
I recommend that you try it if you’re serious. See if it works for you because when it works, it is profoundly noticeable. People couldn’t believe the size that I put on or the separated, ripped, vascular, thin-skin work of art that emerged. IM
Editor’s note: Contact Paul Burke via e-mail at [email protected]. Burke has a master’s degree in integrated studies from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s been a champion bodybuilder and arm wrestler, and he’s considered a leader in the field of over-40 fitness training. You can purchase his books, Burke’s Law—a New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male and The Neo-Dieter’s Handbook, from Home Gym Warehouse. Call (800) 447-0008, or visit www.Home-Gym.com. His training DVD “Burke’s Law” is also now available.