Q: I’ve been following you in IRON MAN, and I need someone at your level to help me get over my current impasse. I’m 72 years old. When I was 59, I competed in a bodybuilding contest in San Diego and got second in my age division. I was at about 6 percent bodyfat and weighed 185 pounds at 6’1”. I trained under a pro who has trained many top competitors, and her program got me where I’d like to be again—not at 185 pounds necessarily, as I’ve put on some muscles since then. The only problem is that at 72, I’m not getting the fat-loss response. I started my journey back to contest condition at 19.7 percent bodyfat 15 weeks ago. Now I’m at 11.9 percent at 200 pounds, but I have come to a skidding stop despite a ketogenic “cycle diet,” daily gym workouts and six hours of cardio per week. I’ve been stuck for six weeks. Last time, in my late 50s, I was shredded top to bottom by week 12 on her diet and workout program. This time, however, my muscle mass has not gone down. My coach wants me to keep what I have and fears that accelerated “crash” programs will rob me of muscle. You are not as ancient as I am, Dave, but you may have run into this kind of situation before. I’m not interested in competing—I just want to look as if I could compete. I intend to maintain at about 7 to 8 percent bodyfat, and I have the discipline to do it; but I think I need more than sheer discipline now, and I’m hoping you have some ideas. My coach has dropped my total calories to about 1,850 per day. In the ketogenic cycle-diet phase just completed, I had very little carbs, no salt and 250 grams of protein, mostly white fish, egg whites and poultry. My calories were cycled from a high of 2,200 to a low of 1,800. I would take two scoops of whey with 30 grams of BCAAs in powder form as I did my noon workout (she did not prescribe this—I got the idea from Charles Poliquin). The rest was real food. I work full time. A one-hour weight workout plus an hour of cardio is all I can manage—and sometimes I cut that back. I generally get in five to six hours of jogging per week. I’m not taking any supplements except the BCAAs—not even creatine. So how do I break down this stone wall I seem to be up against?
A: First of all, hats off to you for your dedication to training all these years. You, sir, are a shining example of the merits of true bodybuilding!
Now, before I address solutions to get your body improving again, let’s take a look at your progress thus far. You said that you reached 6 percent bodyfat at 185 pounds when you competed at age 59. At that time you were carrying 11.1 pounds of bodyfat and 173.9 pounds of lean bodyweight. This year you started your diet at 19.7 percent bodyfat. Working backward from your current body composition, I estimate that you started at about 220 pounds, with about 43.5 pounds of bodyfat. Currently, at 11.9 percent bodyfat and 200 pounds your stats are 23.8 pounds of bodyfat and 176.2 pounds of lean mass.
So in 15 weeks you’ve lost 19.7 pounds of bodyfat (assuming you haven’t gained any muscle). That’s just a little more than a pound per week. In my book that’s an excellent rate of fat loss! Now you’ve hit a plateau, however, and we need to get you moving again.
Look at your goal. You want to get down to 7 to 8 percent bodyfat and maintain it. Assuming that you don’t gain muscle as you continue to lose fat (don’t rule it out though), you will need to lose eight to 10 more pounds of fat to reach your body-composition goal. So your goal weight is 190 to 192. You should plan to take at least eight to 10 weeks to so it.
I agree with your coach: A crash program is not the way to go, especially since you want to live at 7 to 8 percent bodyfat. You definitely do not want to lose any of your hard-earned muscle, and crash diets will rob you of it. The other consideration is that crash-loss diets also come with a rebound effect. Your goal is not just to get to a low level of bodyfat but also maintain it long term. I have learned over the years that as long as I lose the bodyfat slowly, it’s easy to keep it low, provided I am disciplined with my training and diet. I’ve had a number of years in which I have been able to maintain my bodyfat under 3 percent for up to six months without feeling weak or ragged out—and then Thanksgiving Day always rolls around!
My suggestion for you is a four-pronged attack. We don’t want to shock your body; we just want to coax it into giving up more fat and holding on to your muscle (or adding to it). You will need to make subtle adjustments to your supplementation program, diet, cardiovascular exercise and, possibly, weight training. You may want to start with just supplementation. Adding the right supplements could get you moving again—but I will make suggestions in all phases, just in case.
Your use of whey protein and BCAAs, per Charles Poulquin, is an excellent idea. If you are not already taking a multivitamin/multimineral supplement, I highly recommend it.
Next, add creatine to your nutritional program. I use a scoop of CreaSol (by Muscle-Link) in my postworkout protein drink. Creatine supplementation increases intramuscular fluid, making your muscles bigger and fuller. It also increases muscular endurance, which means more reps per set at a given weight. Doing more reps equals more muscle over time!
Essential fatty acids are another addition that I highly recommend, especially at your age. EFAs are instrumental in hormone production, as well as improving the elasticity of skin, tendon and muscle tissue. Added bonuses are the powerful anti-inflammatory effect and the dramatic positive effect they have on cholesterol profile.
While the EFAs will help get your hormones moving in a more positive direction, to really increase the muscle-building and fat-burning effects of your training, you should add GH Stak and ZMA-T to your regimen. The GH Stak will help increase your natural growth hormone output, while the ZMA-T will increase testosterone and speed recovery—it can also improve sleep. Those are two supplements that I believe in and have taken religiously for years.
In terms of your diet I don’t want to step on your coach’s toes, but I’m not a big fan of carb cycling. It’s been my experience that people who do it become extremely carb sensitive. It can work well for getting into contest shape, but since you want to maintain low bodyfat, I don’t recommend it. I suggest a moderate-carb diet with macronutrient levels at 40 percent carb, 40 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Shoot for an average of 2,000 calories a day: 200 grams of carbohydrate, 200 grams of protein and 45 grams of fat. It’s okay if you don’t hit the numbers exactly every day. In fact, it’s best for your metabolism if you have some day-to-day variation. But you want your week to average at about those numbers.
Cardiovascular exercise will continue to be instrumental in your fat loss. I recommend that you switch to fast walking or biking rather than jogging. Your body takes much more of a pounding from the impact of jogging, but if you enjoy it, keep doing it.
My suggestions on cardio training:
1) 30 minutes at 75 percent of max heart rate first thing in the morning (sip BCAA solution)
2) 15 minutes at 90 percent of max heart rate after weight-training sessions
3) Three 15-minute sessions at 90 percent of max heart rate with 10-minute rest intervals between them on non-weight-training days.
You didn’t mention what your weight training split is like, but here is what I suggest. You can adjust the days to fit your schedule:
Day 1: Legs
Day 2: Chest, biceps
Day 3: Abs, cardio
Day 4: Back
Day 5: Shoulders, triceps
Day 6: Abs, cardio
Day 7: Cardio
Alternate heavy workouts (sets of six reps) with light, high-rep workouts (sets of 15 reps)
Start your back workout with deadlifts or rack deadlifts, but do three sets of 10 on squats to warm up for your deadlifts (use only about 60 percent of what you’d normally squat for 10 reps).
Give these suggestions a try. Remember to be patient! You’re the guy who wants to walk around looking like he could step onstage at any time. Get your skinfolds taken once a week if you can. Sometimes the changes are so small that we can’t see them, but the measurements will show them and keep you motivated. If your skinfolds are not moving down, then decrease your calories a little. If you’re losing more than a pound per week, either increase your calories or reduce your cardio. Let me know how your progress goes.
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. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM