I was a relative late-comer to the iron game – I didn’t start lifting until I was 33. Still, I’ve managed to learn a thing or two in the 5 years I’ve been weightlifting. Now I may be a bit of a slow study, but I can still save you some of the pain and trouble I’ve gone through by sharing a few of these hard lessons. Don’t worry . . . there’ll still be many more hard and painful lessons you can learn on your own.
1. Calorie Counting Does Not Work
It just doesn’t. Sorry to break it to ya. Sure, you can lose some weight for a short time by watching your calories. And you may even be able to stretch the weight loss out for a while if you’re severely overweight.
But the simple fact is that the human body is a bit more complex than the math might lead you to believe.
So here’s the truth: when you reduce your energy intake for too long – or by too much – your body will eventually reduce its energy expenditure to compensate. You think that reducing your weekly calorie intake by 3500 will cause you to shed a pound of fat.
But you’re wrong.
It may work like that for a few weeks, even a month or two, but sooner or later you just don’t seem to be losing that entire pound anymore. Half a pound, perhaps. Maybe less. Even more disturbing, you see the percentage calculator on your fancy bodyfat monitor scale showing an uptick of fat by half a percent.
That can’t be right, can it?
Oh, it can. I’ve seen it myself. This is when the dismay sets in. And the doubt. So what’s really going on here?
You see, your body’s not quite as dumb as you think it is. It senses the reduced intake and after a while decides that it better adjust expenditure to more closely match the intake. It doesn’t want you to starve, after all. Your body will lower your energy output (that’s why you’re so fatigued, sleepy, and cold all the time) and maybe eat up a bit of your lean body mass (i.e. muscle) to spare your emergency fat stores. And to piss you off.
Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!
Thankfully, there’s a better way. Since calorie counting won’t lead you to long term sustainable weight loss, you need to think about food a little differently. Food is not just energy . . . it’s also nutrients. Yes, food nurtures your body. So long as you eat the right food.
That being the case, your best bet is simply to eat real food for easy weight loss. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more hardcore, then you can try the steak and eggs diet for even faster weight loss. These foods work with your body to help you shed fat and get healthy.
So quit trying to force weight loss with an ever-shrinking calorie intake – it ain’t gonna work. You can’t outsmart your body. Simply eat healthy and you’ll become healthy . . . reduced weight and all.
2. You’re Not Bulking . . . You’re Just Getting Fat
I didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be true. I’d been busting my ass for so many months, eating a shit-ton of protein, and watching the digits on the scale climb higher and higher. I was lifting heavier weights than ever before. I even had to buy a new wardrobe since all my old clothes no longer fit.
I should’ve been jacked.
But pictures don’t lie. And there they were, all up in my face. Front, back and side.
I was fat.
Son of a bitch!
So what the hell happened? Simple, my food intake outpaced my strength gains. Sure I was getting stronger, but not strong enough to justify the excessive amounts of food I was eating.
Believe me; I can pack that shit away . . . even if I’m already full to the brim.
GOMAD was standard fare (a gallon of milk a day). Add in a dozen or so eggs. Three to five protein shakes. A big fat ribeye for dinner . . . with rice or potatoes (gotta get in those carbs, ya know).
It makes me sick just thinking back on it.
But that’s what all the top bodybuilders were doing, right?
Yup. And I was keeping up with the Joneses. Just one problem . . . the Joneses were using steroids. I wasn’t.
And that’s a problem?
It is if you’re eating like I was. A natural lifter doesn’t have the same capacity to turn food into muscle as that of an enhanced lifter.
So I became fat.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of muscle under all that flab. In my too-tight XL shirts I looked like a freakin’ beast. There was never any question that I lifted. But once the shirt came off, the love handles stole the show. And the back fat. And the moobs.
Those goddamn moobs!
Don’t let this happen to you.
You don’t need 3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. You don’t need to stuff your face every 2 hours to “keep those amino’s flowin’ bro.” You simply don’t need as much food as you think. Not in the beginning, at least. And certainly not if you’re natural.
Of course, every person is different. You need to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. I can’t offer any one-size fits all recommendations here.
Now what I can offer are a few things for the would-be bulker to consider. But since I’ve already written this stuff before, I think I’ll just direct you to my past articles . . .
Read this for an overview of bulking methods.
Or this if you’re a skinny hardgainer looking to gain weight.
Or this one if you wanna gain muscle, but you’re already skinny-fat.
And I’ll throw in this one to help you consider how much fat gain is acceptable during a bulk.
That should get you started at least. Hopefully you can avoid the “jacked with shirt on, fat with shirt off” syndrome I see in so many lifters.
3. Consistency is King (or, Motivation is a Little Bitch)
So you’ve decided to start lifting, or running, or jazzercising, or whatever. You’re pumped and ready to go. You start off strong . . . just like you always have in the past.
And, just like in the past, the further into your training you get, the harder it is to keep yourself going. It’s becoming less of a boost and more of a chore.
If only I could get a little more motivated . . . like I was in the beginning.
Well, now you’re just fucked. Because you’re looking for motivation to keep you going. It won’t. It can’t. It never will. Not in the long term.
Let me make this crystal clear: motivation is fleeting. Hmmm. . . maybe that wasn’t clear enough. Let’s try again . . .
Motivation. Is. FLEETING!
And the more you rely on it to get your ass up and to the gym, the more and more workouts you’re gonna skip. It’s the truth.
Motivation is good for just one thing . . . getting you started. It always does that beautifully.
The problem isn’t so much with Motivation; she comes and goes as she pleases. It’s her nature. The problem is you . . . thinking that this time, maybe just this time, she’ll stick around for the long haul.
But she never does.
You think you need motivation. But what you really need is persistence. Cold, hard, brutal persistence. Until you can train yourself to keep at it, even on those days when you really just wanna sit on your ass, you will never see anything more than meager gains at best. I speak from experience here.
All is not lost though. Persistence is trainable. It takes time and effort, but you can train yourself from quitter to winner. If you’re willing to put in the work . . .
4. No Pain, No Gain . . . It’s True, Dammit
When I see a well muscled individual, I see someone with a high tolerance for pain. And the bigger the muscles, the higher that pain tolerance.
You cannot grow significant muscle without accepting some pain. Because the only reps that matter are those last few. The ones that hurt. The ones that made you nervous before you even began your set.
So if you’re looking to gain some serious muscle, then you’d best be willing to face the pain. It’s unavoidable.
But there’s a bright side here: along with that pain comes growth. Pain is growth. It teaches you to be strong. First in mind . . . then in body.
5.You Really Don’t Know Shit
I know, I know. You’ve read all the books. You’ve memorized “The New Rules of Lifting.” You’ve gone to the forums and soaked up all the advice, conflicting though it may be. You’ve got a few months training under your belt, a budding young vein on your bicep, and you can name the major muscle groups off the top of your head. Even your skinny-fat friends all say “you’re a muthafuckin’ weightliftin’ genius bro!”
You’re feeling pretty good, aren’t you? I know I was when I hit that stage. But the truth is your head has outgrown your muscles by a factor of ten.
It’s cool. There’s no shame . . . it happens to all of us.
Sadly, many lifters never move past this point. What happens when you know it all? You stop learning. Plain and simple.
Those who’ve gone on to make a real change in their physique — to flip their genetics the bird, so to speak – have done so because they realized they still had more to learn. Much more. They opened their minds, and moved forward as a result.
And those who thought they were the shit and could never see otherwise?
Well, they’re still around. You might even have seen ‘em. Like that scrawny personal trainer who’s always smirking behind the bodybuilder’s back . . .
“Look at that dumb meathead and his isolation exercises. Everyone knows full-body training is the only way to build muscle.”
I could’ve been that guy. I almost was. Fortunately, I opened my mind and moved on. You’d best do the same.
(photo courtesy of velvettangerine @ flickr.)