Q: I've been lifting for five years now, pretty seriously for three. I'm 5'9" and weigh 215 pounds, and I have a spare tire and zero definition. I'm 40 pounds heavier than I was when I started and a lot stronger. I want to get up to 225 with definition, but every time I gain weight, I just seem to get fatter. Could it be the weight-gain drinks I use? Some of them have 3,000 calories per serving. Every time I try to lean out, I get too small. What am l doing wrong? I wanted to look like Ronnie Coleman, and instead I look like the whale in "Free Willy."
A: I feel for you. Prom late 1996 through early '99, I, too, was the fat boy, 5'8" and
230 pounds. Weight-gain drinks were mostly responsible. I had virtually unlimited access to free weight-gain products at the time, so I went overboard. I upped my daily intake to more than 10,000 calories. I built some muscle, but I piled on lard too.
It's hard for me to even look at my photos from that time. My face was so round. When I sat down, there were dimples in the backs of my thighs. I had to buy baggy-fit jeans to accommodate my giant butt. I got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs. During those years I dieted down for three contests. As you can imagine, the diets were brutal. I would lose 50 pounds in 10 weeks, and wonder why I looked so thin and unhealthy. On top of that, I never understood why I lost so much muscle along with the fat.
In 2000,I decided to try staying in shape for a longer period. I began my diet on New Year's Day and competed in April, May and July. At each show I was sharper, and by the third one I had ripped glutes and crazy striations everywhere. Not only had I not lost muscle, but I felt full and powerful as well. Never again did I let myself get as fat as I had been.
I learned that hulking up is something you must do in moderation for the best results. True, your body needs a lot of nutrients to make new muscle, but anything it doesn't use for that purpose gets stored as fat. Weight-gain drinks help you gain weight all right, most of it fat. These days supplement drinks put the emphasis on creatine and whey protein, which won't contribute to bodyfat. On the other hand, if you're scarfing up pizza, doughnuts and cookies in the name of hulking up, you re deluding yourself. The more fat you acquire, the harder it will be to lose when you finally realize how repulsive you look.
Fat is insidious. It creeps up on you so slowly that you can fool yourself into believing you're still hard. It helps if you only look at yourself in certain mirrors and certain light, the most favorable, of course. It's important to train for health as well as appearance and obesity is not healthy.
Hulking up to the point where your abs are no longer visible is not a good idea. Some fat may help you move bigger weights, but a lot of fat will slow you down, hide your muscularity and endanger your heart and other organs. Follow these guideline and you'll have the best of both worlds, enough bodyfat to pack on mass plus a lean, muscular appearance year-round.
- If you're male, never let your bodyfat creep over 10 to 12 percent. For females the ideal is 12 to 15 percent.
- Watch your calories. Determine your basal metabolic rate and add enough extra calories to fuel training and recovery. If your BMR is about 3,000 calories, as it is for most adult men, eating more than 4,000 calories a day will send you on the way to Blubberville.
- Perform cardiovascular work for at least 30 minutes three times a week. This will help keep you lean as well as work the one muscle that fails more Americans than any other, your heart.
- Stop worrying about bodyweight. Many fat bodybuilders delude themselves into thinking that they need to weigh 220, 250, even 300 pounds. I think we all know deep down that a 180-pound hard physique looks better than a flabby 220 body does.
- Do not attempt to look like Ronnie Coleman. Unless you re his long-lost identical twin brother, forget about matching his appearance. Be the best you can be.