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Naturally Huge: Low Carb or No Carb?

The best way to lose bodyfat and keep muscle.

Q: I’m 22 years old and have been a natural bodybuilder for more than four years. I’m 5’11’, weigh 203 pounds and have 14 percent bodyfat. I’m trying to cut up for the summer and have spoken with a couple of professional bodybuilders. They’ve given me different opinions on the best way to lose bodyfat and keep muscle. This is the diet I feel has worked the best for me over the past couple of years and the one I’m currently using:

Meal 1: Protein powder mixed with water
Meal 2: 10 hard-boiled egg whites with a scoop of protein powder and 1 tablespoon of canola oil
Meal 3: Protein powder mixed with water
Meal 4: 1/2 pound cooked lean ground turkey and 1 tablespoon canola oil
Meal 5: Protein powder mixed with water
Meal 6: 1/2 pound cooked lean ground turkey and 1 tablespoon canola oil
Meal 7: Protein powder mixed with water

How does that diet sound to you? I’ve been on it for eight weeks and have lost around 13 pounds. I lift five days on and two days off, one bodypart per day.

A: The diet seems a little too extreme for my taste. All it consists of is protein with a small amount of fat’three tablespoons of canola oil. Protein is definitely important for building and maintaining muscle tissue while trying to lose bodyfat, but you need more than just protein. Although it’s a very inefficient source of energy, your body will use protein for fuel if there’s nothing else available.

The idea behind such a diet is that the body will burn stored bodyfat in the absence of carbohydrates. A low-carb diet’or in your case a no-carb diet’will definitely shed the pounds, but you’re in danger of losing valuable muscle tissue because of the lack of carbs. Carbohydrates are commonly called protein-sparing, which means the body uses them as an energy source, sparing the protein for building and maintaining muscle tissue. Without the energy that carbohydrates provide, your body will be forced to tap into your protein stores for fuel. That will result in a loss of muscle tissue.

You mentioned that you asked a couple of professional bodybuilders for advice. If they’re professionals, they’re no doubt using steroids and other drugs while dieting. Even with the help that steroids provide in maintaining muscle mass, anyone would have a hard time holding onto lean tissue while following a diet that doesn’t allow any carbohydrates.

If you’re natural, you need a totally different diet. Bodybuilders using drugs can cut out carbs and still maintain their muscle tissue, while natural bodybuilders cannot. The body tends to give up muscle tissue before it gives up bodyfat. If you aren’t using steroids and you want to eliminate as much bodyfat as possible while maintaining all your muscle tissue, you need to do everything perfectly. There’s very little room for error.

I’ve always believed in keeping my carb intake slightly higher than my protein while dieting to get ripped or, at most, equal amounts of protein and carbs. That way I’ll have the energy to continue training heavy and provide my muscles with the glycogen they need to maintain my muscle tissue. If I drop my carbs too low, I immediately notice a loss in muscle mass and fullness.

Some natural bodybuilders disagree with me on that. They feel they need to drastically reduce their carb intake in order to get ripped. Even they don’t totally eliminate carbs, however, because they also realize how important carbs are for maintaining muscle.

Many bodybuilders who cannot get ripped while eating an ample amount of carbs use a cycle method of dieting. It involves eating a diet that’s high in protein along with fibrous carbs’vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. After following that restrictive diet for, say, two to three days, you increase your carb intake for one day by eating more starchy carbs, such as brown rice, oatmeal and potatoes. The break from low-carb dieting will spare muscle tissue that would surely be lost after an extended period of time on a low-carb plan.

Another way to include carbohydrates in your diet while still eliminating bodyfat is to eat all the starchy carbs in the morning and afternoon and only vegetables with your protein in the evening. I often do that when I’ve mis-timed my diet and need to get ripped quicker. Vegetables and other fibrous carbs will rarely be stored as bodyfat. When’s the last time you saw anyone get fat from eating too many vegetables?

If you feel that you won’t be able to get ripped while including carbohydrates in your diet, try one of the methods I mentioned above for getting lean. Remember, in order to be truly ripped, you must maintain all your hard-earned muscle while losing all your bodyfat. Losing weight rapidly by following a low-carb diet will most certainly result in a loss of muscle tissue.

Q: I’m 15 years old and starting bodybuilding training. My program is all mass-building exercises with low reps and heavy weights’because of my body type, ectomorph. My question is, Should I train three times a week, working all my bodyparts once a week, or six times a week, working my bodyparts twice a week? I feel fine training six days a week, but the gym owner says I should only be doing three days. Any more and I won’t make gains. Which is best?

A: As a beginning bodybuilder you can train your muscle groups more often than once a week. You’re still learning the different exercises and developing the important nerve-to-muscle pathways that will enable you to train intensely and make the muscles bigger and stronger. If you’re picking up weights for the first time, you should begin with a very basic routine that will develop all the muscle groups and get you accustomed to weight-training exercise. It would include one basic movement for each bodypart, beginning with one set per exercise and gradually building up to three sets.

Here’s an example of a beginning routine:

Chest: Bench presses 3 x 10
Back: Chins 3 x 10
Lower back: Hyperextensions 3 x 15
Shoulders: Standing cleans and presses 3 x 10
Triceps: Parallel bar dips 3 x 10
Biceps: Barbell curls 3 x 10
Thighs: Squats 3 x 10
Hamstrings: Leg curls 3 x 10
Calves: Standing calf raises 3 x 15
Upper abs: Incline situps 3 x 20
Lower abs: Hanging knee raises 3 x 20

After using the above routine for three to six months, you should notice a substantial change in both your strength and muscle mass. At that point in your training, you can move on to more of an intermediate bodybuilding routine, adding more exercises for each bodypart and splitting up your bodyparts so you work the whole body over two workouts instead of just one.

There are many ways you can divide up your bodyparts. The one that makes the most sense is the push-pull system, which has you work the pushing muscles’chest, shoulders and triceps’at one workout and the pulling muscles’back, biceps and legs’the next. Using push-pull means you won’t overtrain any bodyparts by training them too often or by training them consecutively’for example, training chest one day followed by shoulders and triceps the next day.

Here’s an intermediate training routine using basic exercises:

Workout 1
Bench presses 3 x 10, 8, 6
Incline presses 3 x 10, 8, 6
Standing military presses 3 x 10, 8, 6
Upright rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Triceps pushdowns 3 x 10, 8, 6
Parallel bar dips 3 x 8-10
Standing calf raises 3 x 10-15
Seated calf raises 3 x 12-15
Crunches 2-3 x 20-30

Workout 2
Squats 4 x 12, 10, 8, 6
Leg curls 3 x 10, 8, 6
Wide-grip chins 3 x 10-12
Barbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 6
Deadlifts 3 x 6-8
Barbell curls 2 x 10, 8
Incline curls 2 x 8, 6
Wrist curls 3 x 10-12
Hanging knee raises 2-3 x 20

You’ll be doing 25 to 26 sets at each of those workouts compared to the 33 sets you did on the beginner routine. To train your whole body now would involve 50 to 52 sets, which is too much to do in one workout. That’s why you need to split up the workouts. There are two popular ways of structuring a push-pull routine. You can train each bodypart twice a week. For example, perform workout 1 on Monday and Thursday and workout 2 on Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday are rest days. The other method is to work out only three times per week and to alternate workouts 1 and 2. For example, if you were going to train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, do workout 1 on Monday, Workout 2 on Wednesday and workout 1 again on Friday. The following week, you begin with workout 2 on Monday, workout 1 on Wednesday and so on.

I agree with your gym owner that you probably only need to train three days per week. If you’re an ectomorph and you need to put on size, the best way to do that is to train heavy and hard using the basic exercises, limit the number of sets you do per exercise and per workout and get plenty of rest and recuperation. Remember, you’ll only grow while resting and eating. If you train three days per week, you’ll have the other four days of the week to recuperate and grow. Eat plenty of calories and get enough sleep each night, and nobody will accuse you of looking like an ectomorph ever again.

Editor’s note: John Hansen is the ’98 Natural Mr. Olympia and a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at You can send correspondence to P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM

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