I recently ran across the Mesomorphosis web pages and your articles and responses therein. I would like to say that I am very impressed with your knowledge and feel that you have probably provided me with more useful information in reading just your articles on this site, than I have been able to find in numerous other sites around the web combined. So I would like to ask a few questions and see if you would be able to help me with them.
I did not work out for 1 1/2 years due to extenuating circusmstances, now I am back in the gym and loving it again. My first problem is this. Over that time, my bodyweight went up to 235 lbs. at 6’2″. I even got a body comp test that brought me in at 27% (needless to say my jaw dropped at that). Although I don’t look it, I seem to be able to pack the fat into hidden places so that it is not obvious. Well, in the last 6 months, I have started on creatine (actually I started doing that EAS, sucker buy my products, contest) and HMB and all the other products promoted by good ole’ Bill Phillips. Anyway, my weight went up to 242 after using the supplements, and I saw visible differences as to my fat loss and muscle gain, but now I have reached some sort of plateau that is getting to me. My last 2 body comp tests have come out at 18% bodyfat weighing in at 229 and 231. I seem to have trouble getting under the weight of 230 lbs. I have been using the typical diet that EAS is promoting in all their winners from last year (www.eas.com) but its not working anymore. Additionally, my muscles now have basically stopped growing altogether, and worse, they are
not nearly as hard as they have been in the past. Am I just destroying myself somehow? I workout 3-4 days a week on a split routing (chest/tris, back/bis, legs), and I eat a diet basically consisting of grilled chicken,
brown rice, steamed vegetables, EAS supplements, and ECA stacks. I also do 2-3 sessions of cardio (20-30 minutes) a week. BUT ITS NOT WORKING!!!
Like I said, I am completely frustrated, I don’t know where to go from here. I read all this information about dieting and supplements and all, but there is so much information, and then one discredits the other, and then back, I don’t really know where to look, and I am totally confused. I just know that I have good potential, but am missing some key information or something.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read through this entire rant.
One thing to note is that very low fat, mod carb, high protein diets (ala the typical EAS diet) don’t work for everyone. So it may be time for you to try another dietary approach. For a lot of people, increasing dietary fat (so that it makes up no less than 20% of total calories) to slightly higher levels can get fat loss started again (as well as helping muscle growth because too little dietary fat can decrease testosterone levels). So you might try moving to a Zone/Isocaloric type of diet where you daily diet is made up of 30% protein, 40% carbs and 30% fat (somewhere in that range, the numbers aren’t that critical as long as you’re within shooting distance).
Additionally, after some period of time, almost all fat loss diets stop working. YOu didn’t mention exaclty how long you’ve been fat loss dieting but a lot of people find that alternating 4 weeks of dieting with 1 week at maintenance calories works better for long term fat loss than just hammering away at the same diet.
You didn’t mention your caloric intake on the diet but I have found that lowering calories too far can cause fat loss to slow. A good rule of thumb is 10-12 calories per pound or so. This seems to give the best fat loss with little muscle loss.
As far as not growing any more, my guess is that you’ve just adapted to the workout you’re using. The body is highly adaptive and, just like diets, any workout will eventually stop working. So you might move from the split you’re using now to something a little different. Although it seems simple a 4 day split where you work upper body two days per wek (say Mon/Thu) and lower body the other two (Tue/Fri) works well. So it would look like this:
Mon: Upper body
Tue: lower body
Thu: upper body
Fri: lower body
Yes this means you would work your entire upper and/or lower body in the same workout. While common dogma would hold this to be insufficient, with all of the indirect workload (i.e. chest work hits delts and tris) you can get a lot of work done (you might do 4-6 sets for chest/back, 2-3 for delts and lats and then 1-2 for arms). On top of that, assuming your goal is still fat loss, you can add 20-40′ of cardio after the weight workouts. By performing your cardio after weight training, your body will use more bodyfat (since you have depleted blood glucose and glycogen during the weight training). Alternately do your cardio first thing in the morning. If training each bodypart twice each week is too much, consider the following split:
Mon: upper body
Wed: lower body
Fri: upper body
Mon: lower body
Wed: upper body
Fri: lower body
This hits each bodypart three times every 2 weeks, and gives more recovery.
Ultimately I gues the best general advice I can give is to change *something*. I relize that there’s a lot of contradictory information out there and I thnk part of the reason is that most approaches work to some
degree for some period of time. But very little works forever. So when you haven’t made any measurable progress in a couple of weeks, change something, your diet, your training split, your rep range, your lifting
speed, something, anything, for God’s sake ANYTHING (sorry, got carried away there). Frequently that change is all that’s needed to get progress going again.
I’m a natural competitive bodybuilder. I’ve tried various fat burners, and metabolizers over the course of the past several years, some with very good results and others with not so great results. I’ve also been expiramenting with a couple different water pills starting about 4-days out from the day of the show. In your opinion what are the best ones out there?
First the fat burners. Most of the ones on the market are crap. The old ‘lipotropics’ (like inositol, methionine, betaine, etc) never did anything to begin with. They prevent the buildup of fat in the liver but have no effect on subcutaneous fat. I also think carnitine is highly overrated and fairly useless. Although a couple of studies have shown increased fat utilization, and I know a lot of bodybuilders swear by the stuff, the majority of research has shown no effect in terms of fat burning with l-carnitine and I would generally say that I don’t think it’s the rate limiting step in fat burning anyhow.
Probably the most well researched fat burner is the ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin stack (ECA). There are dozens of studies on the ECA stack, and almost all of them support that it does enhance fat loss and may spare muscle loss while you’re dieting. This is probably my first choice as a fat burner.
Another supplement with a lot of research behind it is yohimbine. Yohimbine attacks fat burning from a different direction than the ECA stack. I’ll give you the short course. Fat cells have two general receptors types: beta receptors, which increase fat mobilization, and alpha receptors, which decrease fat mobilization. the ECA stack stimulates beta-receptors, so it increases fat burning. Yohimbine inhibits alpha receptors so it also increases fat burning (it’s basically a double negative, by inhibiting something that decreases fat burning, you increase fat burning). While yohimbine seems to be most researched in females, there are papers where yohimbine increases fat mobilization in men too. You can either alternate days of ECA or yohimbine or some people will use yohimbe first thing in the morning (before cardio) and then use ECA later in the day. For reasons I’ve discused in other Q&A, using ECA with yohimbine can be potentially very dangerous and I don’t recommend it.
A final fat burner that is getting some press (probably because the FDA may crack down on ephedrine) is norephedrine (also called phenylpropanolamine) which is the active ingredient in Dexatrim. One study in rats has shown that it is more thermogenic than ephedrine. It’s possible that alternating ECA and norephedrine/caffeine on different days might prevent any problems with receptor downregulation.
As far as water loss, I haven’t done a lot of research into it but the ones that seem to be most effective are dandelion root, buchu leaves, and watermelon seed. And don’t forget caffeine which is a diuretic.
Dear Mr. McDonald
I just read your suggestion for carbing up for another bodybuilder. I’m confused because it seems that you recommended for him to carb up at the start of the week before the contest rather than a couple of days before. I understood the water manipulation but no the fact of eating less carbs before the show. If you could get back to me as soon as possible, I would really appreciate it.
Basically removing the carbs from your diet before the show IS part of the water manipulation. The ideal look in bodybuilding is to have full, round muscles (which is a function of cramming as much water, glycogen, electrolytes, etc) into them while having minimal subcutaneous (under the skin) water. This is a tough look to achieve in general especially for naturals. Invariably you end up dry but flat, or full but holding water.
So first we have to get the muscles filled up, which is the purpose of the carb-up. But in addition to water, carbohydrate also drags in sodium with it (and you can’t cut out the sodium during your carb-up because it’s necessary for the glucose to get across the intestinal wall) which holds water under the skin.
So after your carb-up you’re left with a situation where your muscles are full but you’re also probably holding some water underneath your skin. So to get rid of this water, we take the carbs back out of the diet. This allows the body to drop water (and sodium). Now you might ask why the glycogen/water in the muscles isn’t taken out too. The reason is that once carbs are stored in the msucles as glycogen, they are pretty much trapped in there until you burn them off with exercise. Since you don’t train between your carb-up and the show, you should maintain the glycogen in your muscles while dropping the water underneath your skin.
Now your other question had to do with my choice of timing. The reason I like to have people carb-up a little bit earlier (ending no later than Thursday for a Saturday show) is more conservatism than anyting else. Unless someone is using very hardcore diuretics (which are now being tested for in IFBB shows by the way), they may not be able to drop all their water in 12 hours if they stop their carb-up on Friday night (for a Saturday show). I’d rather have that extra day of leeway (i.e. Friday) to drop water based on the idea that it’s better to be in shape too early before your show than too later after. Or put differently, I’d rather stop the carb-up on Thursday and use Friday/Sat morning to drop water than finish the carb-up on Friday and end up having a competitor look their best on Sunday.
Of course if you have established that you can drop any subcutaneous water very quickly (or choose to use diuretics on Friday), you can carb-up later in the week.
I have been Bodybuilding for about 8 months. I started it because I was getting really fat just sitting and doing nothing all day. I have gained a lot of muscle. When i started I weighed 185 now I weigh 210. But I just cant seem to lose any fat. I’m currently at 20% bodyfat, same as when I started. Do you now anything that I can do to get rid of it as fast as possible. I currently train 4 days on, 3 off. Would The Bodyopus diet work for me?
The simplest answer to the question of “How do I lose fat?” is “Eat less and exercise more.” Losing fat is ultimately a function of burning more calories than you are eating. So you have two (well three) options:
1. Decrease food intake
2. Increase activity
3. Decrease food intake and increase activity
Now you’re already weight training which is good but you didn’t talk about your diet. Considering how much muscle you have put on, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re eating a sufficient amount of calories (since it’s nearly impossible to gain muscle while you are dieting). So you really have two options:
1. Start doing some cardio. This will increase your caloric expenditure and might cause some fat loss. Start with 20-30′ of cardio three times per week and build it up gradually to 40′ four times per week. Either do it right after your weight training (the blood glucose/glycogen depletion from weight training means you will use more fat for fuel) or first thing in the morning, both are time tested ways to maximize fat loss. Be careful that you don’t compensate for the increased cardio by eating more.
2. Decrease your caloric intake. Of course this assumes you know your current calorie intake. You can either keep track of it for 3 days and figure out you caloric intake or just estimate your maintenace calories.
The average person will have a maintenance calorie level of ~15-16 calories/lb of bodyweight. So to lose fat you have to eat less than this. A good rule of thumb is to decrease calories to about 12-13 cal/lb which for you at 210 lbs would be about 2400-2700 calories/day or so. Make sure and get 1 lb of protein per poud of body weight (which would be 210 grams or 840 calories), no less than 20% of total calories as fat (which would be 2400 * 0.2/9 = 52 grams minimum per day) and the rest of your calories as carbs.
I would suggest that you either increase cardio or decrease calories but not both in the same week. Creating too much of a caloric deficit can increase muscle loss and slow fat loss.
I hope you can kindly help me with my current diet. I will begin by telling you my goal, how I proceeded at it and then of course what happened.
On January 1st, 1998 at the age of 21. I was weighing 215 pounds. I wasn’t obese nor ripped. My goal was to become ripped as possible.
The way I went about it was by cutting back on my calories and increasing my protein level(150gram). I was eating about 1000 calories a day and weight training 3 times a week for about 45min.
Approximately 4 months later I was weighing 157 pounds. But was looking the exact same as before the diet but smaller. My muscle to fat ratio was almost exactly the same. So what I did was increase my calories to 3500 calories keeping it low fat. I gained 10 pounds with the muscle to fat proportion remaining almost the same. So being afraid of gaining more weight, since then I kept my calories to about 2500 and have not gained nor lost weight.
So my question finally is: “How can I lose my body fat without losing muscle”? I would greatly appreciate if you could give me an exact diet to follow.
Ok, first off you’ve found (the hard way) how NOT to diet for fat loss. So let’s look at the two major mistakes you made in your diet.
1. Too little protein. The only way to prevent muscle loss on ANY diet is to consume adequate protein. A general rule of thumb is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight which would have been 215 grams/day when you started. yes that’s a lot of protein but that’s life if you want to avoid muscle loss.
2. Too few calories. This was your biggest mistake. IF you cut calories too much below maintenance, your body will break down muscle tissue (even if you’re getting enough protein). As a general rule of thumb, you should never cut your daily calories more than 1000 calories below maintenance. At 215 lbs, your maintenance calorie levels are approximately 3000 calories per day (approx. 15 cal/lb). Consuming 1000 calories per day on your diet, you had a deficit of 2000 calories per day. About half of which came from
muscle EVERY day of your diet.
Ok, that’s the mistakes, so how do you lose fat without losing so much muscle? here’s a basic step by step way to set up your diet.
1. Determine calorie levels. To determine maintenance calorie levels, multiply bodyweight by 15 cal/lb (this is a rough estimate and is only a starting point). So 215 * 15 = 3225 calories/day. From this level, you
may debit a maximum of 1000 calories per day. so the least amout of calories you would consume would be 2225 cal/day. When you’re starting your diet, I recommend debiting about 500 cal/day (or less) and seeing what happens. This should yield a weight loss of 1 pound per week and all of it should be from bodyfat. If you’re losing less than 1 lb/week, you can reduce calories more. If you’re losing more than 2 lbs/week, you need to increase calories because you are losing muscle.
2. Set protein levels. 1 gram/pound of bodyweight. At 215 lbs this is 215 grams. Protien has 4 calories/gram so this is 860 calories. The remainder of your calories will come from carbs and fat.
3. Set fat levels. I personally don’t think fat intake should be reduced to less than 15% of total calories. This helps to limit hunger and prevents the body from losing the ability to burn fat. In some cases, a
higher fat intake may work better but this is just a starting point. So 2225 calories * .15 = 333 calories from fat. Fat has 9 cal/gram so this is 37 grams of fat. Some people (perhaps most) do better with more fat in
their diet, up to 25-30% of calories. So your maximum fat intake would be 2225 * .30 = 667 cal / 9 = 74 grams of fat.
4. Set carb levels. The rest of your calories is carbs. From 2225 calorie we subtract 860 calories (for protein) and 333 calories (for fat) to get: 1032 calories from carbs. Carbs have 4 cal/gram which is 258 grams of carbs. This is the high end. If you went with the maximum dietary fat at 74 grams, you’re looking at: 2225 – 860 – 667 = 698 / 4 = 174 grms of carbs
Protein: 215 grams
Carbs: 174-258 grams
Fat: 33-74 grams
Ideally, you should try to spread your nutrients out across 4-6 meals per day. So divide the above numbers by 4-6 to determine each meal. On top of this, you should continue weight training intensely as that helps ‘signal’ the body to avoid losing muscle. After 2-3 weeks of just caloric restriction, you can bring in small amounts of aerobic exercise. Star with 20-30′ three times week but more will not be better. Too much cardio can cause as much muscle loss as too few calories.
First of all, let me say that your Bodyopus diaries were very informative and I have referred to it many times as far as carb-ups, dosages, etc. Anyway, I was wondering, once in ketosis, is it really necessary to do cardio before breakfast?
I think for all practical purposes no. The idea behind pre-breakfast cardio is that you will use more fat for fuel because blood glucose and insulin will be lowered after an overnight fast. This is true (although no-one is really sure what impact it really has on fat loss). Thing is the lower blood glucose and insulin seen after an overnight fast on a *normal* diet is pretty much the status quo all the time on a ketogenic diet. That is, ketogenic dieters are always running low normal blood glucose and insulin level. Meaning that they are burning lots of fat whenever they do cardio, not just in the morning. So I don’t think it will matter really.
For the life of me, I just can’t get up and run on that damn treadmill before breakfast. I start work at 5:00 am and I’d rather do it later in the day. What if I do it about 3-5 hours after a delicious lunch of tuna smothered in mayo?
When you get right down to brass tacks, fat loss is going to be the difference between fat burned (a function of metabolic rate and activity) and fat consumed (a function of diet). During low intensity cardio you’re going to be burning essentially 100% fat in ketosis (for any techie types reading this: studies show a resting and exercise RQ of 0.7 once ketosis has been established). So the overall impact of cardio should be the same whether you do it on an empty stomach or a few hours after a meal: in that you have burned fat that wouldn’t have otherwise been burned.
Your insight into this would be greatly appreciated. Am I just wasting my time by doing it in the afternoon. If it really makes a difference, I’ll just force myself to get my ass out of bed and make like a hamster. Also, I tried the 12 days in ketosis to hasten fat loss, and I read your suggestion about having a concentrated carb meal one hour in length sometime during the first weekend of ketosis. Anyway, what sort of carbs should I consume? High glycemic or starches?
With one meal, it probably doesn’t matter to much, either way it’s gonna end up as muscle glycogen. Starches will take longer to digest meaning more fullness, which might mean keeping you out of ketosis (if you go out at all) a little bit longer. High GI carbs digest faster but you get a larger insulin spike which may be a bit anabolic. so I think it’s more preference than anything else. Ultimately I’d say try both and see which works better for you.
The one time I tried it I just got one of those mammoth bags of popcorn while watching a movie, but then I wasn’t able to get back into ketosis until Tuesday afternoon, according to the Ketostix.
I find that very odd, very odd indeed. With depleted muscle and liver glycogen, any carbs you eat *should* go into the muscles, without affecting ketosis. Hmm..
Also, I was reading the new EAS supplement cat-, uh, I mean the new Muscle Media, and I was wondering, what do you think about doing high intensity interval training while in ketosis? Would it lead to too much muscle loss?
Maybe, maybe not. if muscle glyocgen is depleted too far (and unfortunately there’s no way of knowing if you’re there or not), your body can use protein for fuel. But then again I know of people who have used intervals sucessfully on a ketogenic diet. I’d probably suggest doing them in the 2 days right after the carb-up, when muscle glycogen is at it’s highest. You may need to cut back your volume on leg day if you do intervals.
I’d probably throw up, but I would much rather do 8-12 minutes of HIIT instead of 30 minutes on the damn treadmill. Also, how’s the book on the ckd coming along. I know you’re probably sick of people asking, but how about a progress report. By the way, Mesomorphosis.com is the bomb! Keep up the great work. Thanks in advance for any help or suggestions you could offer.
The first draft of the book is *finally* done. I am editing it this week, then it has to go to a few test readers, then finally to the printer. So soon, very soon.
Dear Mr. McDonald,
I have been training for ab out 4 years. I just turned 20. I am 5’9 196 lbs at 12%. I follow Charles Poliquin’s principles. I was wondering what you though about using HMB as an anti-catabolic during my next dieting phase. I have used it before for one month at 5 grams a day and gained 10 lbs. I have a kilo on the way. Thank you for your time and effort. I enjoy reading your articles.
You know I think you’re one of the first people I’ve heard from who got anything out of HMB. It may have been the dose since I know Poliquin has said that 3 grams didn’t do much for the athletes that he trained.
Personally I’ve been unconvinced about HMB’s effects in the real world but only because nobody seemed to get much out of it. Obviously, for whatever reason (whether dose or something else), it is working for you.
I think anything that truly has an anti-catabolic effect (and they are few and far between) during a diet is a good thing. I am of the mind that any muscle loss on a diet is too much so if you can find a way to prevent or even slow muscle loss, go for it. So yes I think, for you, that HMB is a useful dieting supplelment.
What do you think of the use of Lipoic Acid on Bodyopus?
Although I haven’t used it myself (haven’t been on BO for a while now), I have heard from many individuals who think it is THE best glucose disposal agent to use during BO carb-ups. Much more potent than chromium or vanadyl. So I do think it’s worth trying. It can get expensive though.