You might be wondering if there is another way to lose weight besides cutting calories because...cutting calories plain sucks.
It can be an unnecessary stress and a huge hassle to track every little morsel. You can also lose sight of food quality when you're focusing on quantity. Restrictive dietary rules can make people a little neurotic and it can even cause compulsive eating. And lastly, chronic calorie restriction can appear to be successful for weight loss, yet you can unknowingly lose precious muscle mass instead of fat (something you don't want!).
I am here to tell you that there is another (and better) way! You can avoid restriction all together and instead, build muscle. It’s the body’s fat-burning furnace and is a blood sugar sponge. Muscle tissue has been observed to burn roughly seven to 10 calories per pound per day, compared to two to three calories per pound per day for fat. And in a lot of situations, you actually need to eat more to build muscle! And no ladies, you will not end up looking like a massive body-builder. You will look strong, toned and in shape.
Truth be told, we have a muscle loss epidemic happening. The lack of muscle is linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Various factors are to blame here, ranging from lack of stimulation—that is, sedentary activity—to increased cortisol (cortisol eats muscle for lunch) and age-related changes in anabolic hormones (growth hormone and testosterone). The equation to healthy muscle is simple: increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and reduce muscle protein breakdown. Said another way, the goal is to increase anabolism and decrease catabolism. As we age, muscle protein synthesis declines a lot—studies show up to a 30 percent reduction in protein synthesis.
The cellular switch that can pivot your muscle out of breakdown mode and into growth mode is called mammalian target of rapamycin or mTOR. Physical activity in general, and resistance training in particular and eating protein, activate mTOR. How to increase muscle mass:
Do some heavy lifting.
Ditch the 5 pound weights. The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems. Squats and deadlifts are absolutely required as they engage the most muscles and produce the biggest hormonal response. Body weight, while valuable, simply isn’t going to get you the strength and mass increases you’re looking for. A popular routine is the 5×5 method. Popularized by programs like StrongLifts and Starting Strength, doing compound lifts for five sets of five reps allows you to strike a balance between strength building and superficial muscle hypertrophy.
If you’re lifting heavy and lifting hard, keep your workouts spaced at least a day apart and don’t lift more than 3x/week. Three exercises per session should be perfect. That may not sound like much, but it’ll be plenty if you do it right. Remember, you’re doing big compound movements that will really shock your system, with an emphasis on intensity and power. You don’t want to overwork yourself, release a bunch of cortisol, and set yourself back a few weeks.
An example for beginners, with sets coming first in the sequence:
Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
Overhead Press 5×5
Deadlift 1/2/3×5 (your choice; deadlifts can be incredibly taxing, and with exhaustion comes poor form, so be careful; sometimes it’s better to do a really heavy load for a single set)
Bench Press 5×5
Overhead Press 5×5
Do this sequence every week (maybe Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and steadily increase the weight each session. Once you’re making progress, feel free to add in other exercises like dips or more Olympic lifts. For more mass, more lactic “burn” (and more GH secretion), reduce your rest periods between sets or even superset them. If you feel like doing some cardio, stick to sprints once weekly, or even a Crossfit-style metcon (metabolic conditioning) workout, maybe some Tabata burpees. The key is conserving strength and giving your body time to rest and recover for the next round of squats, deadlifts, and presses.
Eat Lots of Whole Foods
You need to provide plenty of protein for all those hormones to synthesize. Never let your protein intake go lower than 1g/lb of body weight when you are aiming to add long-term muscle. It’s the building block of muscle, and your body is going to be starving for it. This means about 1-2 pieces of protein the size of a deck of cards with each meal.
Eat plenty of saturated and monounsaturated fat. Fat blunts insulin secretion while increasing testosterone production. Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?
Dietary fat, in conjunction with all the growth hormone you’ll be producing, also spares muscle wasting.
Eat often. If you’re going for pure size and strength, fasted workouts and skipped PWO meals may not be the ticket. You’ll burn more fat with the extra growth hormone secretion and existing muscle will be spared, but you may be missing the chance at prime protein synthesis when you fast. A PWO meal of protein and fat will still blunt the insulin secretion and provide fuel for your muscles.
Increase caloric intake. You’re going to be expending so much energy on the lifts (and you’ll continue to burn through it even on rest days) while eating clean, Primal foods (and keeping insulin low as ever) that fat accumulation shouldn’t be an issue at all. Eat!
On those days when you do expend a ton of energy – maybe on your metcon or sprint day – having a Primal-friendly starch, like squash or sweet potato, is a decent way to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
A hardgainer is often someone who doesn’t eat enough. Sure, genes play a role, but you can ultimately have a significant say in how those genes rebuild you. To a point. Eat more and lift harder to grab the reins.
It's never too late.
Check out Ernestine Shepherd, she is an 81 years old woman who didnt start lifting until she was 56. She is also the oldest competing female bodybuilder. This iron-pumping Guinness World Record holding granny is the picture of aging gracefully. The body achieves what at the mind believes.