Q: Hi Denis,
Great article on "bulking up"! You answered some things I always wanted to know.
Now I have a question: How much weight can you lose per week without losing muscle? I keep hearing that it’s two pounds per week. Is this true?
Keep up the great work!
. . . John Robinson
A: Hi John,
I’m glad you liked my last article. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure at first how the readers would react to it as it was a lot different (and longer) than the previous ones, but I really felt the need to go deep into the subject and to put it into perspective. But this one will be shorter, as I did discuss some of the main points in the last article.
To answer your question, it’s true that you always hear that you should aim for that "one to two pounds a week" goal. In a sense, it’s a fact that the process of using fat reserves to compensate for a shortage in other energy sources (ATP, glycogen) is a rather slow and complicated route and that it takes time. If you know how hard it is to gain one pound of lean tissue "naturally," remember that fat weights even less than muscle and thus takes even more time to translate itself into significant results (measurable loss). So far, it is a good reference point. If you do lose a lot of weight in a short period of time, you know that it can’t all be fat, so you probably did lose some lean tissue in the process. Remember, weight loss doesn’t necessarily mean "fat loss," as it can be either water, muscle, or fat. Most of the time people dehydrate themselves more than anything else, without even knowing it.
The one thing people often forget is that one’s ability to use fat for energy, like many other characteristics, is an individual thing. The situation is surely going to be different for a 150-pound man than for one who weighs 250 pounds. Remember that although the human body will always be composed of the same fundamentals, there’s a wide range of variability for each characteristic and that you always have to keep things in perspective – that’s genetics!
The main thing to keep in mind is to aim for a progressive but steady fat loss (and notice that I didn’t say "weight" loss). Like I already said, if you try to trick the body, it will react in the opposite direction in order to balance everything and maintain a stable state.
Don’t be afraid to take your time and plan things ahead. Most people who want to lose weight are impatient to do so and feel the need to rush everything. That’s a great recipe for disaster. Do you remember what I said about that "set point" your metabolism uses to maintain its equilibrium? The body will react to any important fluctuation or disturbance, so if you plan a slow and progressive fat loss and give your body enough time to accommodate to it’s new body composition, not only will it accept it, but it will also put it as it’s new standard (i.e., "set point"). That’s the recipe for a permanent lean and muscular physique! In fact, if you plan everything accordingly, your weight may not even vary that much because you will not just "lose" something, you will "change" your whole body composition. That’s what I was talking about in the last article when referring to the fact that every year I seem to get bigger and in better condition, without gaining much weight.
The more time you take to get ready for a competition, the better the results. People that are concerned about losing muscle while cutting just don’t know how to carefully plan their preparation. That’s one thing I learned with time – from contest to contest, I always strived to be in better condition, so I was constantly starting my cutting phase earlier. You know what, the sooner I would start it, the more "dry" I got at the same body weight! In fact, every time I extended my cutting phase before a show, I came in better condition, because it always gave me more time for little adjustments in the final weeks. This is how I won the overall title at the 2007 CBBF National World Qualifier as a bantamweight and then went to the IFBB World Championships and placed seventh out of 25 of the best bodybuilders in the world at my first showing on the international scene.
Personally, when I get ready for a show, I never really focus on my body weight. I just look in the mirror and at my training log -- something you should also have! The former tells me if the condition is getting better, and the latter tells me if my strength is still up (as it would go down if I was losing muscle tissue during dieting). I will weigh myself once a week, but only as a precautionary measure, to make sure that I can still make weight for my class or that I don’t lose too much weight at one time.
How to get started? Well, like I said in my last article, the best way is to plan careful variations in your diet plan. You can alternate between short phases of "lipolysis" that focus on burning fat for fuel (like ketosis), and "anabolism" that will quick-start your metabolism and get it back on the right track (like overfeeding). Alternating between days of high and low calories, or high and low carbohydrates and/or fat, are all great strategies.
One other thing: If you don’t want to lose muscle, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to do a lot of cardio. You would do better to focus on increasing your metabolism with short but frequent and intense weight-training sessions.
Also, if you’re natural bodybuilder (i.e., don’t use drugs), don’t forget to take the right supplements in order to prevent catabolism (loss of lean tissue). A good start-up plan would comprise the following: whey protein, BCAAs, a good multivitamin, omega-3, glutamine and creatine. Others supplements to consider could be: glycine, taurine and phosphatidylserine.
I hope this will help you and many others in the constant pursuit for a leaner, naturally built physique.
Have a nice workout!
. . . Denis Pedneault, Canadian Champion 2005, 2006