Too often, it seems to me that people have one of two goals. Either they are trying to gain muscle mass, or they are trying to lose bodyfat. What about those who want both to gain mass AND lose bodyfat? People seem to think that you cannot have it both ways. I disagree. You CAN have it all. As most of people know, the key to losing bodyfat is to burn more calories than you consume. The question is how to do this without negating your hard-earned gains.
The staple to any body restructuring comes from weight training. Cardio will help you burn calories and bodyfat, but will NOT change your metabolism. The only way to change your metabolism is to add lean muscle mass. Continue to lift as you would for building mass, and do not be afraid of lifting heavy weights.
What has worked for me:
I work each body part once per week, doing four exercises for each body part, with sets of 8-10 reps per exercise. I do the same lifts for a four-week cycle. Then I change up after a week off. During my off week, I spend three days doing drop sets in order to shock the muscles. My current training split is:
Monday - Biceps and Forearms
Tuesday - Chest and Triceps
Wednesday - Legs
Thursday - Back
Friday - Shoulders and Traps
As much as many of us hate doing it, cardio is vital to losing the bodyfat we have already accumulated. A common mistake is the tendency to overdue it. Just as in weight lifting, you can over-train on cardio. The key is to do no more than 45 minutes at a time. Any more, and your body stops burning fat, and starts to feed off your muscles. Also, forget about all those confusing "optimal fat burning heart-rate" formulas. To keep it simple, if you have gone for 45 minutes, but are not sweating or breathing hard, you have not worked hard enough. On the same token, you should not be done after 45 minutes and feel as if you are about to have a heart attack. The optimal time to perform cardio is first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. If this is not possible with your schedule, perform cardio three hours after eating.
What has worked for me:
I do cardio three to four times a week, for 45 minutes. My preference is the Elliptical Glider at the gym. It allows me to get the same cardio effects as running, without tearing up my knees. Since I work legs on Wednesdays, I use the rowing machine for cardio on those days. I focus on using mostly my upper body, and taking the strain off my legs. This adds a great change of pace that both conditions your upper body, and gives you a good cardio workout. Some other things you can do are bike riding, dance aerobics, swimming, and running.
This one seems to be the most difficult for many. When I speak of diet, I am referring to common sense eating strategies, NOT going on some crazy crash diet. Do the Adkins Diet if you want, but only if you do not mind taking 10 years off your life! In addition, forget about all the crap you see on infomercials. If you want some good sound advice, a good book to read is The Formula by Gene and Joyce Daoust. It covers what is called the 40-30-30 formula, which means getting 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. While most of us trying to gain muscle take in a much higher percentage of protein, this book will still give you good common sense advice in terms of diet. Using supplements such as protein shakes will also help with this.
Something that deserves it's own paragraph, but still falls under Diet, is alcohol. If you are serious about losing bodyfat, alcohol can stop you in your tracks. All of us have heard the arguments about switching from beer to liquor, and about how drinking is not "that bad" for you. The easiest way to end that argument is to put yourself to the test. Go without consuming any alcohol for a month and see what a difference it makes. That's it. Am I saying that you can never have a beer or shot of whiskey again? Of course not. Just use some common sense after having tried abstaining for a month. Moreover, if you absolutely cannot bear to go without a drink for a whole month, then you have bigger problems than those discussed here.
What has worked for me:
I neglected this area for a long time. I was doing everything else right, but without proper diet, I was doing little more than spinning my wheels. Now I try to keep my calories to around 1400-1700 per day during my cutting phase. Anything less and you risk making your body think it's starving. I use protein shakes to keep my protein levels high, without exceeding my allotted calorie intake. Timing is also crucial. I space my meals throughout the day so that I am never hungry. I also have my last meal no less than two hours before going to bed. Cutting out alcohol was by far the most difficult thing for me to do. Once I saw the results, I no longer missed it. Once your bodyfat is where you want it, experiment with increasing you calories to help gain muscle without gaining back bodyfat.
Supplements - Thermogenics
Let's face it, in spite of all the hype you may have heard on infomercials, there is no wonder drug that will make you thin. There are however, some high quality thermogenics that act as a catalyst in helping you reduce bodyfat. One thing you should do when searching for the right thermogenic is to take all the advertising hype with a grain of salt. This is particularly true when it comes to timelines. In almost every add you will see people who claim to have lost tremendous amounts of bodyfat in a short time, a lot of times in a month or less. Read the fine print at the bottom of most ads. It will usually say, "Results Not Typical." Nevertheless, thermogenics will help speed up your fat loss. A realistic way to look at it is to say that during a given period of diet and exercise, you were to lose 4% bodyfat. During the same timeframe, you would probably lose around 6% bodyfat if you were to diet, exercise and use thermogenics. This is not an exact formula, rather just an example of what realistic results you can expect. Some best sellers are Muscletech's Hydroxycut and Cytodyne's Xenadrine EFX. If you have high blood pressure and cannot take products with ephedra, you can take stimulant-free thermogenics. A great one is ProLab's Metabolic Thyrolean.
Supplements - Protein
When it comes to protein supplements, the differences between brand names are minimal at best. Some say you should vary your protein intake, between soy, egg, milk and whey. You can take care of this by consuming a good amount of your protein from regular foods. However, when you are trying to take in 300 grams of protein a day, who wants to eat 10 cans of tuna fish? When choosing a protein supplement, the best thing to look for is what gives you the most protein per serving at the lowest cost. For this reason, Human Development Technologies' 5-Plus-1 has been a top seller.
What has worked for me:
With supplements, I have used a lot of trial and error to determine what works for me. For a good pre-workout anabolic, I find that you cannot beat Universal's Animal Stak. It gives you all the prohormones you need and then some. I also use Universal's Animal Cuts before cardio. I take Hydroxycut once a day, usually around noon, and twice on non-cardio days. One thing to remember is that all these products contain ephedra. Ephedra has been proven safe, when used as directed. Regardless of what thermogenics you use, exercise caution and make sure you do not exceed the daily-recommended dose of ephedra. In terms of protein, I prefer HDT's 5-Plus-1. I have experimented with various brands, and I find 5-Plus-1 both effective and economical. I use two scoops (42 grams), three times a day.
As with anything else dealing with bodybuilding, there is no one right or wrong answer. Everything discussed here are techniques that have worked for me. They are to give you an idea of what might work for you; however, they are not set in stone. The important things to remember are 1) Weight train to increase muscle mass and metabolism. 2) Use cardio to help eliminate accumulated bodyfat. 3) Use common sense when developing an eating strategy, and DO NOT use crash diets. 4) Pick a good thermogenic and protein supplement that works for you. Above all, be patient when it comes to results. You may not get that elusive six-pack in 30 days as you hoped. However, if you continue to pursue your dreams with strict determination, they will become reality.