It never ceases to amaze me that almost every unfit woman I know seems to believe that exercising with weights will get them to look like this. Is that an excuse or a genuine misconception? If it’s the latter, then these women can be helped.
My friend X finally decided to do something about his less than perfect figure. So he signed up for a membership at a classy gym and became so disciplined with his workouts that even his trainer was beginning to get worried. Intuitively, he also knew that to grow muscles, he had to eat more protein than the average individual. So he also bought a tonne of supplements, almost maxing out his credit card in the process.
Three months passed. X had been working himself to exhaustion at the gym day after day. While X did put on weight and became stronger, he was less than satisfied with his figure. His tummy was still bulging and his muscles, even though they were palpably firmer now, were wrapped up and concealed under a layer of fat. He looked bigger and a bit shapelier, but it was far from that Donnie Yen’s chiselled look.
X is not alone. Many people who simply jump into resistance training (and protein supplementation) do gain a lot of muscle and strength. After they hit the gym, their appetites often improve tremendously and they end up eating a lot. They not only gain muscle, they also gain fat. It doesn’t matter how much protein and how little the other food groups they consume. When muscle is gained, fat is also gained.
If you eat enough to satiate your appetite, you gain fat along with the muscle. If you don’t eat enough, your performance suffers and you won’t be able to exercise optimally. How does one unravel this knotty problem?
There is a simple solution that all professional bodybuilders use – drugs. Anabolic steroids (various forms of androgens) stimulate the growth of muscle, bone and red blood cells. They also reduce the deposition of fat – which works beautifully for bodybuilders. I won’t go too deeply into drugs, but some of the adverse effects include:
1. severe acne, oily skin and hair
2. hair loss
3. liver disease, such as liver tumors and cysts
4. kidney disease heart disease, such as heart attack and stroke
5. altered mood, irritability, increased aggression, depression or suicidal tendencies
6. alterations in cholesterol and other blood lipids
7. high blood pressure
8. gynecomastia (abnormal development of mammary glands in men causing breast enlargement)
9. shrinking of testicles, azoospermia (absence of sperm in semen)
10. menstrual irregularities in women infertility excess facial or body hair (hirsutism), deeper voice in women.
Drugs are out, especially for amateurs like you and me. We don’t need or even want to look like some of the guys and gals up there. Some fashionable gurus out there advocate a ketogenic diet. Those of you who are familiar with my style know that I’m an anti-keto guy. That’s because taking a low carb diet dampens your performance and actually prevents you from hitting your target. You need carbs – lots of it to build muscle. But you can’t just build.
The trick is to alternate two phases of “training”. Actually the training is more or less the same. The phases has more to do with diet, but if you’re familiar with my style, you’ll know that diet is a dirty word for me. However, when I talk about diet here, I don’t mean the kind of food group restriction that the diet gurus advocate. I simply mean that you adjust the amount of each food group that goes on your plate. In one phase, you add (calories) and in the other phase, you add and subtract at the same time. The first phase which everybody knows, involves building or bulking up. For this phase, you need to eat 2.2g protein and 4.4g carbohydrates for every kg of body weight. Allow yourself at most 1g per kg of body weight.
Yes, it is a “high carb” diet by the keto gurus’ definition, but not in my dictionary. You will gain a little fat in the process, but you’ll need the carbs to work out optimally. Do this continuously for a month and you’ll see your weight gain steadily – which means that you’ll need to eat even more as you progress. The counter intuitive part of this regime is that most people assume that you need to eat more protein to grow more muscle. This is not the case at all.
Next, the counter intuitive “subtraction” phase which does not simply subtract everything. No, it does not involve fasting. You can’t fast if you’re building, only when you’re maintaining. Continue the same workout routine (or at least try to) and reverse your protein/carb ratio. This means 4.4g protein, 2.2g carbohydrates for every kg. Try cutting fat down to as close to zero as possible and let the keto gurus scream. You’ll notice that your athletic performance suffers and you may even feel a little hungry at times, but believe me, you will not feel as grumpy and miserable as the folks who are doing intermittent fasting or keto diets. That’s due to your increase in protein intake which not only keeps you feeling full longer but also prevents muscle loss.
Preventing muscle loss does not seem like a concern for folks who do fasting or other forms of dieting, but it’s very real. Fasting also causes basal metabolic rate to go down. Your energy levels decrease to conserve fat because ironically, your body believes that these are lean times and it wants to conserve fat. That’s why moderate fasting or starving yourself for a short period of time will not yield the results you expect. Only extreme fasting results in significant weight loss and that’s a very unhealthy way to lose weight. To make your body burn fat, you must make it think that you are not starving.
At the end of a month on this regime (not just the diet but also the workout), you’ll find that you’ve not just lost weight but retained your muscle. Your muscles may not have grown any bigger, but they look bigger and more defined because of fat loss. What do you do after this? Yes, you return to the bulking phase again.
Is all this sustainable in the long run? Honestly, I don’t think so. Discipline is one thing. Budget is another. A 180g of cottage cheese can cost $6-8. For my size, I need to eat almost 2 pieces of that during my trimming phase. Even professionals like Donnie Yen have their lull periods when they slack and grow fat. But at long as you set your expedition targets often enough – 3 times a year with 1-2 months training before every trip, you should do OK. During those lull periods, you can do your fasting, but remember never to scrimp on the protein.