Q: I’m looking for advice. I have stubborn belly fat—I’m 45—but am pretty tight everywhere else. I’ve competed naturally for years and still maintain a healthful lifestyle and diet, even though I can go a little overboard on pasta. About a year and half ago I had knee-replacement surgery and was forced to lay off training for about six months. I accumulated a lot of bodyfat in my belly, possibly from the stress of the operation. I’ve heard that cortisol can affect your abdominal fat, but I’m not sold on the idea yet. Have you used any supplements that could help or trained anyone with my particular problem? Also, I’m not delusional. I know I can’t expect to maintain the same size, density and level of fitness I did in my 20s and 30s, but I’d at least like to have a flat stomach.
A: I’m sorry to hear that you had to get a knee replacement, especially as young as you are. But I’m happy to hear that you’re back to training and getting your body back in shape.
Let’s get down to your question. First of all, while studies have shown a correlation between high cortisol counts and high abdominal fat, cortisol does not make you fat, nor does it make you have more belly fat. Some companies have taken a small bit of scientific information and used it to sell their products. They tell consumers that it’s not their fault that they’re fat—it’s because of cortisol, “And we have a pill to reduce your cortisol!” People don’t want to hear that they’re fat because they’ve overeaten for years and have not exercised enough. They don’t want to hear that in order to get rid of the fat they’re going to have to consistently eat a clean diet and consistently exercise. That kind of honesty doesn’t sell very well.
I suspect that your belly fat is due mainly to genetics and inactivity while you were recovering from your surgery. You weren’t able to train, and that probably stressed you out tremendously. Quite often people respond to stress—and the accompanying higher cortisol—by eating more.
You’re accustomed to hard training on a regular basis. If you followed the same diet during your six-month recovery period as you did when you were training, you’d accumulate bodyfat because you weren’t burning off the number of calories you did when you were able to train. Compound the problem with the loss of muscle and the metabolic slowdown that comes with not being able to work out. Then add the fact that our loved ones like to comfort us with food when we’re feeling poorly—hell, I like to comfort myself with food—and you can see that the calories were adding up on you pretty darn fast.
Where you store your bodyfat is largely genetic. If you have more fat cells in your abdominal area, and most men do, more bodyfat will accumulate there when you gain fat. I’m one of those very lucky people who store bodyfat very evenly over my whole body. Quite often when I’ve gained 10 to 12 pounds in the off-season, most of my clients can’t tell that I’ve put on weight—or at least that’s what they tell me.
My best friend, on the other hand, stores much more bodyfat around his waist. Years ago when he was training for a bodybuilding show, he ended up losing 70 pounds and got down to 3.5 percent bodyfat. When he was still about 20 pounds away from contest shape, his arms, legs, chest and shoulders were ripped to shreds, but he still held considerable bodyfat on his abdomen. When he lost the final 20 pounds, everything was shredded, his waist was tiny—he went from a 40-inch to a 27-inch waist—his six-pack was poppin’, and he won his weight class.
As a competitor you know how much easier it is to gain fat than it is to lose it. And the gaining takes place so much more quickly! You need to approach your waist reduction just as you would a contest. You also have to deal with having a new knee, however, so you must be much more cautious with your weight training. Since you’ve lost muscle and your metabolism has slowed, you’ll probably have to lower your calories more than you would on a contest diet. You have to be consistent, and you have to be patient.
Shoot for losing one pound of bodyfat per week. If you find yourself losing weight faster than that, increase your calories. I also recommend that you monitor your bodyfat using skinfold calipers. You might find that as you add muscle, your bodyweight might stay constant or even go up, even though you’re losing bodyfat. Monitoring your skinfolds is the best way to determine whether your bodyfat is dropping.
Remember to gradually work your way back into training. Start with low volume in both cardio and weight training, and increase your volume and intensity gradually. You certainly don’t want to suffer setbacks due to injuries from too much training at too high an intensity.
Okay, earlier I said that cortisol doesn’t make you fat, but the fact is that cortisol can definitely slow the muscle-building process. Managing your cortisol slows down protein breakdown caused by training, which enables you to gain muscle faster. More muscle enables you to handle more weight in your workouts. Training with more weight enables you to burn more calories. Adding muscle also speeds your metabolism, which enables you to burn more calories at rest. So as you can see, managing your cortisol can speed up fat loss.
Two great supplements can help you manage cortisol. Cort-Bloc taken before your workout has been shown to suppress the cortisol increase related to intense exercise. RecoverX, used immediately after exercise, helps suppress cortisol because the carbohydrates in RecoverX elevate your insulin count. Not only does insulin suppresses cortisol, but it also transports amino acids and glucose from the RecoverX into the muscle cells for faster recovery and accelerated muscle building.
Another supplement that I highly recommend is GH Stak. It’s a unique blend of amino acids and other nutrients that stimulate your body to release more natural growth hormone. Growth hormone is instrumental in muscle building and repair and in the fat-burning process. I used GH Stak religiously while I was recovering from a hamstring reattachment surgery a couple of years ago. The speed of my recovery was absolutely phenomenal! My orthopedic surgeon was astounded—especially considering my age. And I won the overall title at my first bodybuilding show back—the ’08 NPC John Sherman Classic—less than a year after the surgery.
Keep in mind that the supplements aren’t magical. They’ll definitely aid your quest to lose that belly fat and gain back muscle, but you must be both consistent and smart with your training and your diet.
One more thing: You can expect to have the muscle density and fitness that you had in your 20s and 30s. Hell, my 50-year-old body would blow the doors off the body I had when I was in my 20s. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that you can’t do it. The main difference between my training now and when I was younger is that I have to be much stricter on my form these days. I move the weights more smoothly and more deliberately. I pay much more attention to contracting the muscle I’m supposed to be working. And my off-season diet is about 100 times better than it was back in the day.
Don’t let your age limit your mind, and don’t forget that your mind certainly can limit your body. Be patient and be consistent! Train hard, eat clean, and let me know how you’re doing.
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected] IM