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Gaining and Overtraining

Q: I’m a 27-year bodybuilding enthusiast. My fitness journey started when I was 15. I was a fat kid until one day I decided to make a change. I lost more than 45 pounds, taking my weight from 180 to somewhere in the 130s. While I lost the weight, I became borderline obsessive about my diet. Eventually, I snapped out of it, and my weight hovered around 140 at my high school graduation. During college I began lifting weights and even joined the rowing team. I graduated with a bodyweight of about 175. When I moved on to law school, my bodybuilding goal was to get bigger, but no matter how hard I tried’using various routines and diets’my body didn’t really go anywhere, and neither did my strength. I was taking in about 3,400 calories per day. If I gained weight, it was usually in my stomach, and given my previous fat-kid syndrome, it drove me nuts. I graduated from law school at a bodyweight of about 183 and entered the United States Army as a JAG lawyer.

The Army completely changed my fitness goals. They wanted me lighter and leaner, so I began running. My bodyweight is now about 168, but I still don’t have a true six-pack. I am, however, just as strong as I was at 183. By Army standards I’m in great shape. My two-mile run is 11:30, and I can perform 95 pushups in two minutes and 90 situps in two minutes.

I still lift weights four days a week at night and attend mandatory P.T. five days a week in the morning. I usually run four to five miles in a formation three days per week and do some military muscle-failure workouts two days per week using bodyweight. I try to eat every two to three hours. I get at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and my total calorie intake is 2,700 to 2,800 per day.

My current workout is four days per week, using all the basic exercises. I train each bodypart twice per week, eight to 12 sets per bodypart on a heavy/light system. I usually throw in an extra three-to-four-mile run on Sunday. My strength is average. I squat 245 for 20 reps on light day, and my max is around 315. I bench 185 for 10 reps, and my max is 225.

My goal is to be ripped because the Army doesn’t want a bigger soldier; however, I want to continue to gain strength. Although bodyfat is low, I’m not ripped. What am I doing wrong? Overtraining? Undereating? Overeating?

A: You’re obviously in great shape to be able to run five miles a day five days a week plus calisthenics in addition to four days a week of weight training and your extra run on Sunday. I don’t know exactly what your diet consists of, but I’m guessing that you may be overtraining and possibly undereating in your quest to lose more bodyfat and get that ripped look.

Running is notorious for eating up muscle tissue, and most bodybuilders stay away from it as a method of getting leaner. Running is too intense an aerobic exercise, and too much of it can break down muscle for energy. If you want to preserve muscle while losing fat, perform your cardio activity with moderate intensity.

Since you’re required to run as part of your job with the military, you need to adjust your diet and supplement program. Eating the right nutrients at the right time can help prevent tissue loss.

You mentioned that you’re eating approximately 2,800 calories a day, including one gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. What you’re eating and the timing of those meals are critical for losing bodyfat and adding muscle tissue.

If you’re not doing it already, I definitely recommend that you eat a good meal consisting of high-quality protein and complex carbs before your early-morning run and P.T. training. The amino acids from the protein and the glycogen from the carbohydrate will help preserve muscle tissue during your workout. You should also take a tablespoon of glutamine before and after your training to help prevent tissue breakdown. After your morning session eat another meal consisting of protein and carbs. I recommend lean beef or chicken with a sweet potato and vegetables. The nutrients from those foods will help you build and repair muscle tissue. ALL Continue to eat meals like that throughout the day, alternating protein drinks with whole-food meals. I make my protein drinks with Pro-Fusion protein powder or Muscle Meals meal-replacement powders, both of which contain high-quality whey, egg and micellar casein proteins. I mix the powder in water with a tablespoon of flaxseed oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids.

If you eat the right foods, you can probably increase your calories without increasing your bodyfat. You’ll have to keep track of your progress, but I’m confident that you’ll raise your metabolism by eating more often to balance out your high activity level.

I also recommend getting more protein. Instead of getting one gram for each pound of bodyweight, bump it up to 1.5 grams of protein for each pound of bodyweight. The amino acids from the protein will help prevent muscle tissue breakdown from the weight-training and cardio workouts.

Here’s a sample diet you can try:

Breakfast (1 hour before your morning workout): 1 egg, 8 egg whites, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup blueberries.
Postworkout meal: 5 ounces chicken breast, 150 grams sweet potato, 3 ounces broccoli.
Protein drink (2 hours after postworkout meal): 2 cups water, 2 servings Pro-Fusion protein powder, 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil.
Midafternoon meal (2 hours after protein drink): 5 ounces steak, 150 grams sweet potato, asparagus.
Protein drink (2 hours after midafternoon meal): Muscle Meals meal replacement.
Preworkout drink (30 minutes before your weight-training session): 1 serving whey protein mixed with 1 serving CreaSol titrated creatine powder.
Postworkout meal (immediately after weight-training session): 3 scoops RecoverX mixed with 1 serving CreaSol titrated creatine powder.
Last meal (one hour before bed): 2 cups water, 2 servings Pro-Fusion protein powder plus 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter.

That diet gives you almost 3,000 calories, with 343 grams of protein, 250 grams of carbs and 64 grams of fat. It’s probably more food than you’re currently eating, but I think you need the extra calories because of your activity. The protein is high to prevent muscle breakdown, and the carbohydrates are moderately high to help fuel your high-intensity workouts.

More important than the number of calories, though, is the quality of the food you eat. That sample diet has eight small meals that will feed both metabolism and muscle tissues throughout the day. Increasing your metabolism is really the key to shedding excess bodyfat and creating a lean, muscular physique.

I also suggest you modify your weight-training program so you don’t train too many bodyparts in one workout. You could train your whole body in three days instead of two and keep your workouts shorter with fewer overall sets. That way you’re doing fewer than 25 sets a workout, which would really help with your recuperation. Here’s how your new workout schedule would look:

First week. Monday: chest, biceps, triceps; Tuesday: abs, legs; Wednesday: off; Thursday: delts, back; Friday or Saturday: chest, biceps, triceps

Second week. Monday: abs, legs; Tuesday: delts, back; Wednesday: off; Thursday: chest, arms; Friday: abs, legs

Third week. Monday: delts, back; Tuesday: chest, arms; Wednesday: off; Thursday: abs, legs; Friday or Saturday: delts, back And so on. That routine will enable you to train heavy (six to 10 reps) every workout because your muscles will be getting more days of rest than your present routine gives you before you train them again. It doesn’t make sense to train more often and have to compromise by having a light day as the second workout of the week. It’s better to train heavy and then fully recuperate before training with growth-producing intensity again.

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 www 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, is now available from Human Kinetics Publishing. IM

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