Q: As a woman, how much protein or creatine should I be taking? There’s so much stuff out there. I want to get big, but I don’t want to take steroids.
A: First of all, thanks for using common sense. I don’t recommend steroid use to anyone, especially women. Anabolic steroids are derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. Most women who experiment with steroids end up with some undesirable masculine side effects, including a deeper voice, facial hair, enlarged sexual organs and a decidedly rough appearance. Worst of all, many of the side effects are permanent, which means they stay with you long after the desired effects of the drugs have subsided.
If you’re looking to increase your muscular size, supplements such as protein powders, creatine and glutamine should do the trick. Those, along with a well-thought-out nutritional program and the right training routine, will help you get more muscular.
Your protein consumption is based on your lean bodyweight. You should be eating one to 1.5 grams of protein for each pound of lean tissue you’re carrying. If your bodyweight is 160 pounds, and you’re 15 percent bodyfat, then you have approximately 136 pounds of lean muscle. That means you should be getting 136 to 204 grams of protein per day, which is plenty for gaining muscle.
Supplementing with creatine will help supply you with additional power for your workouts. Whenever you perform high-intensity anaerobic exercise, such as weight training, your body uses ATP during the first few seconds of work. After your ATP is depleted, your body uses creatine phosphate for the remaining work. By supplementing with creatine monohydrate, you’re providing a backup source of energy for the muscle. You should be able to perform more repetitions with the same weight or use more weight for your workouts. Five grams of supplemental creatine per day is all you need to get the best results. I take my creatine immediately after my workout or first thing in the morning on my off days from the gym.
You are correct in your statement about the number of supplements that are available. Don’t fall for the magic-pill fallacy, as so many bodybuilders do. Build your physique with a great training routine and a superior nutrition program and let the supplements be the icing on the cake. Protein powders and creatine are great additions to a bodybuilding program, but they can’t take the place of your workouts and your diet.
Q: I’m looking to drop my bodyfat percentage. I work out with weights three to four days per week. The sessions are usually 40 minutes to an hour. I do low-intensity cardio right before my workout. I use the treadmill, putting the incline at 4 and the speed at 4.2. So with weights, cardio and ab work I’m in the gym for just under two hours. My diet consists of egg whites and oatmeal with some fruit for breakfast, a low-carb meal replacement midmorning, chicken or turkey with vegetables and a piece of fruit or some nuts for lunch, another low-carb shake in the midafternoon and then dinner, which is sometimes liquid, sometimes solid, depending on what time I come home from work. On workout days I have a postworkout drink around 8:30 or 9 p.m. I’m taking in 2,200 to 2,600 calories, 220 to 250 grams of protein, 170 to 215 grams of carbs (depending on the postworkout shake) and 40 to 70 grams of fat (from protein foods, nuts and eggs). I’m usually finished eating on a nonworkout day by 7:30 or 8 p.m. I eat every 2 1/2 hours (I pack my food everyday because I’m at work for 10 to 11 hours a day, and I sit for most of the day). I currently weigh 227 pounds at 29 percent bodyfat, which is too high. I just started doing morning cardio sessions four to five days per week. It’s my fifth week on the program and my bodyfat and weight are still the same! Shouldn’t I be seeing some results? I’m not really worried too much about my size; my main focus is to bring my bodyfat levels down to single digits. Should I add a protein drink before bed or should I start taking fat burners? How do all those people in those ads do it, the ones who get shredded in only 12 weeks? By the way, I’m trying to avoid low-carb diets.
A: I can understand your frustration. You’re putting in a lot of work to bring down your bodyfat levels. Congrats on your dedication and perseverance. Let’s see if we can come up with a solution to your problem.
First of all, let’s look at what you’re doing right. I like the fact that you’re recording all the food you eat every day. That’s very important in making progress and evaluating your current program for changes. You mentioned that you’re eating five meals a day on your days off from training and six meals per day on your training days. That’s the way to do it.
You also know your bodyfat percentage and bodyweight. You have a clear goal of what you want to achieve from your training and diet program, which is very important in staying motivated.
If you’re not currently weighing all your food and getting an exact measurement of the calories, protein, carbs and fats you’re taking in every day, that should be your first step. It will take the guesswork out of what you’re eating each day.
The key to getting extremely lean, as in single-digit bodyfat percentages, is to keep your metabolism racing. Once the metabolism slows down, the body will stop burning fat, and it may even burn muscle instead. That’s a disaster for a bodybuilder trying to get leaner since reduced muscle mass will slow down the metabolism even more.
You should also cut back on the amount of fruit and nuts you’re eating each day. Fruit is a simple sugar, and simple sugars should be severely restricted while you’re trying to lose bodyfat. I usually have half a banana with my protein drinks, but the rest of my diet is all lowfat protein and complex, fibrous carbs. The nuts are very high in fat, so you should also eliminate them from your diet. Instead, add some flaxseed oil to your protein drinks’a total of two tablespoons per day’to add essential fatty acids to your diet.
At dinner you should make an effort to eat a regular meal instead of relying on another protein drink. Have a protein source such as lean flank steak or a coldwater fish containing lots of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or mackerel. Keep the carbs low in the evening, since the receptor sites on the fat cells are more sensitive during the evening. Have a vegetable salad with no-fat dressing instead.
You should probably have more carbs at lunch instead of just vegetables. Try having a baked potato, brown rice or a sweet potato instead. You’ll need the carbs to restore your glycogen levels so you can have an effective workout in the evening. In fact, I don’t see how you could be eating 170 to 215 grams of carbs from the diet you listed. Aside from the oatmeal, everything else you mentioned is very low carb. If your protein drinks are low in carbs and all you are eating besides protein is vegetables (provided you drop the fruit), then you’ll need to add some complex carbs to your diet to have energy for your workouts.
Prior to your workouts make sure to have a meal. I usually have a protein drink with some oatmeal. After the workout I have three scoops of RecoverX (an awesome postworkout supplement designed with bodybuilders in mind) along with my creatine. A serving of RecoverX contains 40 grams of whey protein and 60 grams of simple carbs, which is perfect following an intense, heavy workout. [See page 254 for more information.] Now let’s put all those numbers together. Since you weigh 227 pounds with 29 percent bodyfat, you have a lean body mass of 161 pounds. You want to take in between 1.25 and 1.5 grams of protein for each pound of lean body mass. That’s 201 to 241.5 grams of protein each day. If you take the higher number, that’s 966 calories from protein (241.5 grams x 4 calories per gram of protein).
Your fat intake should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of your total calories. If we can assume a daily intake of 2,500 calories, 15 percent of that number would be 375 calories from fat. Since a gram of fat contains nine calories, you should be taking in 42 grams of fat per day (42 x 9 calories per gram of fat = 378 calories).
The carbohydrates are the remaining variable in the equation. If you’re eating 2,500 calories minus 966 calories from protein and minus 378 calories from fat, that would leave you with 1,156 calories from carbs. Since each carbohydrate is equal to four calories per gram, you should be eating 289 grams of carbs per day.
To sum up, if you’re taking in 2,500 calories a day, you should be eating 241.5 grams of protein, 289 grams of carbs and 42 grams of fat. Those numbers are very close to the ones you came up with. You just need to increase the amount of your complex carbs slightly and decrease your simple sugars and fats.
Try to schedule your diet so that you’re eating more carbs in the morning and afternoon (as well as your postworkout drink). Taper off the carbs during the evening hours, since your insulin levels are more sensitive during that time. Also, decrease your carbs on your days off from training. Your training is an extremely important part of losing bodyfat. You need to continue to train hard and heavy in order to maintain (or build) your muscle mass. You also need to do everything possible to avoid losing muscle tissue as you lose bodyfat.
It sounds as if you may be doing too much cardio while simultaneously following a very restrictive diet. When losing bodyfat and increasing your metabolism, you need to slowly coax the body. Doing everything at once typically forces the body to shut down and actually hold onto bodyfat. You should do cardio after your weight-training sessions, not before. That way you’ll deplete your glycogen storage and the body will burn stored bodyfat much more easily. Doing your cardio first will use up valuable carbohydrates that you’re going to need for the heavy weight-training sessions that follow.
If I were you, I wouldn’t do any cardio on the days you weight train. Save your energy for the weights and let your diet handle the fat burning. In fact, I think you should put a hold on all cardio work and just concentrate on the diet instead. After several weeks of following a very controlled diet, you can either slowly cut back on your calories by limiting your carbs or add some cardio sessions on your days off from the gym. Try three 30-minutes sessions per week at first and note your progress. Remember, change one variable at a time and let the body slowly adapt to the changes instead of forcing it into losing bodyfat.
Editor’s note: John Hansen is the ’98 Natural Mr. Olympia and a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www.naturalolympia.com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM