Q: I’m a mature bodybuilding enthusiast. I’ve never competed, but I have been training hard with weights most of my life. A few years ago I got too busy with my business. I was still getting in some workouts, but I was ordering in a lot of pizza and fast food. I didn’t realize what was happening, and over the course of two years I gained 50 pounds of pure blubber. I had a rare black-tie event to attend, and when I discovered that I was a good six inches too big in the waist to fit into my tuxedo pants, I knew things had to change. It took me six months on a super-low-carb diet and quite a bit of cardio to lose the weight, but I got the 50 pounds off. Now I’m a bit saggy and weak and think I lost muscle in the process. I know I need to increase my carbs to get back to gaining muscle. Every time I eat a reasonable amount of carbs, I gain back three to five pounds in just a day. How can I bring my carbs back to where I’m gaining muscle without also gaining back the fat?
A: Thanks for the great question! It’s one that I’ve been asked a number of times in just the past few weeks. First, however, I want to say a few things about my philosophy of diet and weight loss. Those who have followed my IRON MAN columns over the years know that I like to see people take their time and drop weight slowly by following a diet that is not extremely low in any of the macronutrients. I recommend trying to lose about one pound per week by following a diet that is high protein, moderate carb and relatively (but not extremely) lowfat.
I like to start people at 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbs and 20 percent fat, and make adjustments as we see how the fat-loss/weight-loss process is going from week to week. That type of diet combined with a solid weight-training program and regular cardiovascular exercise never fails to yield lasting results. What I do not recommend is losing more than two pounds per week (you were losing an average of just over two pounds per week) or cutting any of your macronutrients to extremely low levels.
Remember, the faster you lose the weight, the faster you gain it back, and going to the extreme on any facet of your diet becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. I suggest a three-pronged approach: hard weight training, regular cardio and a healthful, moderate diet.
With all that in mind, here’s what you need to do in order to regain the muscle you have lost and rekindle your metabolic flame. It will take a great deal of discipline and attention to detail, but you will be so happy with the results.
I know from the details of your note that you have been getting only about 30 grams of carbohydrates per day. Right now your fat cells are super-sensitive to carbs, so what you have to do is add carbs back into your diet very gradually and allow your body to adjust to increasing levels. If you do it correctly, your carbohydrate sensitivity will fade—unless you have a pathological condition—and your metabolism will increase.
Start by add 20 grams of carbs per day back into your diet. That will bring you up to 50 grams per day. Maintain that for two weeks.
After week two add another 20 grams/day. That will bring your carb intake up to 70 grams per day. Maintain that level for two weeks.
Then add 20 more grams per day for a two-week period. You can continue adding carbs every two weeks until you start to see an increase in bodyfat. When that happens, you have to back it down just a bit and level off.
It’s important to get your bodyfat measured by skinfold calipers, DEXA scan or hydrostatic weighing every two weeks to make sure that you’re not gaining fat. You will see an immediate increase in bodyweight of three to five pounds over the first few days when your glycogen stores fill up. That’s good.
The two other keys to success with this protocol are spacing out your carbohydrates and consuming low-glycemic carbs. Initially, because you’re starting with only 50 grams per day, you should get only 10 to 15 grams of carbs per feeding. When you get up to the 100-plus range, you can have 20 to 25 grams at a time, but don’t exceed 25 grams in a meal.
Examples of good low-glycemic carbs include whole oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice and fresh fruits such as grapefruit, peaches, apples, oranges and berries. You should eat a protein along with your carbs, as that will effectively lower the glycemic index of any carbohydrate.
Keep a journal of your food intake and your workouts. Be diligent, and your rewards will be huge! You will add muscle, stay lean and have more energy, you’ll just feel a helluva lot better in general! Keep me posted on how it’s working for you.
Train hard and eat clean!
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on Blogs in the top menu bar. Check out his new Web site at Shredderbuilt.com. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to DaveGoodin@iCloud.com. IM