This article covers body recomposition and the benefits of strength training and the ketogenic way of eating.
Okay, guys. You’ve put your kids through school. Your mortgage is almost paid. Your job… well, we won’t dwell on that. It could always be better, right?
You’ve come to that place in life where you can finally start to think about living the dream.
But then you start to notice little things about yourself. You’re a little (I’m being kind here) larger around the waist.
And you’re not really comfortable in a bathing suit because of your moobs and all.
You can’t bound up a flight of steps like you once did. And you hope none of your friends asks you to help him move because you know your back won’t stand the strain.
Then the reality of mortality really sets in. You visit your doctor, and he says to you, “Your cholesterol and blood pressure are a little high.” And, then he drops the final hammer, “Your blood sugar is high as well.
He doesn’t give you any medicine this time, but he tells you that if you don’t lose weight and your numbers don’t come down, he’ll have to give you a prescription for __________ (you fill in the blank) at your next visit.
What do you do? If you gain weight or even keep the status quo, you’ll probably end up on a statin, BP meds, or a diabetes med for the rest of your life. And, remember, those meds don’t come without some adverse reactions.
And even if those meds reduce some symptoms, chronic disease will eventually take its toll.
Fortunately, you can pursue another course of action.
You can take control of your health and in the process transform that dreadful dad bod into a lean, metabolically healthy machine, similar to the one you had years ago or (if you’re like me) into one you never had.
Can It Be Done At Your Age?
Yes, it can. Because at 60-years-old, I did it.
As I’ve done this, my strength numbers have gone up. In this post, I’m going to tell you how I did it.
If you want advice on how to win your next bodybuilding competition, stop reading this post. It’s not for you. But if you’re a regular fellow like me who needs to get stronger, leaner, and healthier, then keep reading.
There’s no magic pill involved. What I’ve done does require some dedication and work. If you’re really out of shape or overweight, it may take you a little longer to get the results you want.
But after a year or less, you’ll end up being a better version of yourself and quite amazed at your new body.
My Dad Bod Problem
People who’ve known me always considered me to be fairly slim. However, lurking behind my clothes was a metabolically unhealthy man.
Besides having severe chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) for 28 years, I had what is known as a skinny-fat body type. That meant that I had an unhealthy proportion of fat compared to muscle.
To make matters worse, I was considered an apple type skinny-fat. That meant that I also had a large waist.
In fact, at 58 years-old, my waist was 38.5 inches and approaching obese territory even though I only weighed 185 pounds.
Health professionals consider this body type to be unhealthy as it significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and, cancer.
I did try to improve my body type during my younger years. Prior to 30-years-old, I did some running and weightlifting, but I never looked especially lean or muscular.
At 30-years old, I developed CFS and spent the next 28 years just trying to regain my energy levels. That meant I got skinnier (less muscle) and fatter. At one point, I hit 193 pounds with a 40” waist.
Fortunately, at 58 years old, I regained significant energy and began the process of trying to restore the muscle mass I’d lost from years of inactivity.
Two Years of Strength Training And Still Skinny-Fat
After two years of lifting, I did build muscle, and I gained significant strength. There’s no doubt about it, strength training is an excellent path to good health. See my post here.
However, if you have a metabolically deranged metabolism or if you’ve spent 25 years abusing your body because of poor lifestyle choices, strength training alone won’t make you healthy.
In my case, two years of lifting (also 30 min/day of walking), did nothing to reduce the amount of excess fat around my abdomen. Again, most of that fat was in the form of dangerous visceral fat.
So, lifting weights did nothing to significantly change my skinny fat body type.
These were my body stats from June 2015 – January 2017.
- Age: 58 – 60
- Weight: 185#, height: 5’11”
- Waist: 38.5”
- BMI: 25.94 (overweight) (BMI readings can be deceptive. If you’re a muscular person a high BMI may not be a good indicator of health risk. Strong legs and hips may compensate for a little extra weight around the waist. Unfortunately, this was not my case. See #4)
- WHR: 1 (moderate risk)
- Body fat %: approximately 25%
- BP fluctuated (normal to moderately high)
- Lipid profile and HbA1c (within normal limits)
Maybe you’re saying, “I wish I were only 20 pounds overweight. I’m a hundred pounds overweight and a type 2 diabetic.”
Okay, but I’m still recovering from CFS, and I’m a hard gainer. For me, putting on muscle and losing fat is like putting on wet socks.
It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start From
The method I’m going to give you works no matter where you’re coming from. It may simply just take longer for you to get where you want to be. But you’ll definitely be on the right road.
Nevertheless, my numbers represented the classic skinny-fat. Though my HbA1c was within normal limits, I didn’t have a fasting insulin done so it’s quite possible I was becoming insulin resistant. Oddly enough, normal weight people can be obese and have insulin resistance. See here.
So, you see my problem. I was getting stronger, but I wasn’t getting metabolically healthier. My body type attested to that.
This meant that I had to incorporate another strategy. I had to lose body fat and still build muscle.
In the weightlifting community, this is known as body recomposition. Experienced strength training professionals will tell you that this is one of the most difficult things to do.
But it’s something I had to do if I was going to be a better version of myself.
Internal And External Body Recomposition For The Mature Man
If you want to look like Arnold in his prime or the Rock, yes, it’s extremely difficult to gain huge muscles and cut body fat at the same time. To be highly muscled at 5% body fat requires a lot of serious work.
But if you’re in your 40s – 60s, and if you set a reasonable goal and put some effort into it, you can recompose your body.
These results are going to manifest in two different ways. First, as popular nutrition innovator Mark Sisson says, “You’ll LGN (look good naked).”
Secondly, it’s going to transform your metabolism.
Those weak muscles, moobs, and big belly which are signs of a metabolic derangement taking place within your body are going to disappear.
If you’re in my age range and you’re thinking I’m too old to lose weight and build muscle, you’re wrong. As I said, if you don’t have a debilitating illness you can do it. And you might eventually be able to get off some of those meds.
Setting Definable Goals
In order to get my body to a strong healthy state, I had to set clearly defined goals.
My first goal was obvious. I wanted to continue to build muscle and get stronger. I’ll talk more on that later.
Second, these are the criteria I set that would indicate that my body was on the right path to good metabolic health.
- Reduce my waist to 34”
- Optimize my BMI and WHR
- Maintain a good blood lipid profile
- Maintain a low Hb1Ac
- Achieve a constant normal blood pressure
- Achieve a body fat percentage under 20%
- Body weight unknown
- Maintain current physical strength or increase
- Feel great
At the time, I didn’t know if I could achieve all these goals, especially #8. I suspected that a smaller waistline would translate into a lower body weight. This meant that I might get weaker.
My Progress To Date
- Age: 61
- Waist: 35”
- BMI: 23.1
- Lipid profile: good (see here)
- Hb1Ac: good (5.1)
- Normal blood pressure
- Body fat percentage: 20% or less
- WHR: 0.85
- Body weight: 165.5#
- Deadlift: 292.5#, Bench Press: 170# 1 x 5, Squat: 195.0# (Yes, I know. My squat compared to my bench is ridiculous), Overhead press: 105.0#
- I feel great
As you can see, my body recomposition quest has been successful. I was able to reduce body fat without losing strength. The process took about 10 months.
Okay, here we go. This is how I did it.
Body Recomposition Requires a Two Prong Strategy
As I said previously, I wanted to build a leaner body. This meant I had to not only build muscle, but I also had to lose fat. In order to do so, two necessary factors had to interplay.
First, I had to have in place a good strength training routine.
Secondly, I had to find a way of eating that allowed me to spare muscle and reduce body fat.
Let’s look at each strategy individually.
Strategy I: Strength Training
When I talk about strength training, I’m not talking about simply exercising. You won’t lose weight by exercising, and you won’t build muscle.
The only way to efficiently build muscle is by engaging in a strength training method that employs progressive overload. That means progressively increasing the stress placed on your musculature.
This method must be structured, uncomplicated, and produce measurable results.
The method I decided upon was the Starting Strength Method. It consists of four major lifts: the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press. These compound lifts work major muscle groups of your body.
Since I’ve detailed my experience with Starting Strength in other posts, I won’t go into details.
I did have a headstart in this process because I was engaged in barbell training for 2.5 years before I started to pay attention to fat loss. However, if you begin Starting Strength today, you’ll be amazed at you strength results in just two months.
Lifting weights for me was the easy part of the process. I enjoy training. The difficult part was cutting Fat!
Strategy II: Cutting Fat
Decreasing waist size and cutting fat is a more complicated endeavor than getting stronger, especially when you’re older. In order to get stronger, you simply add weight to the bar and lift it. Assuming you recover properly, your body adapts to the stress and you get stronger.
However, when trying to shed excess fat, we’re faced with a dilemma.
Suppose you employ the most common method of dieting. You consume fewer calories. It would seem to be intuitive that if you eat less you’ll lose weight. Maybe, but not always. See here.
But here’s a major problem with dieting and body recomposition. How do you know if by restricting calories, you’re not going to lose muscle instead of fat? If you lose muscle, your body composition will be worse than it was before.
Okay, you’re lifting weights so you assume you won’t lose muscle mass. But how do you know if you’re consuming enough calories for muscle gain? And how do you know if those calories contain the wrong proportion of macronutrients that might actually cause you to gain more unwanted fat?
These are difficult questions to answer. One of the biggest questions bodybuilders face is how to eat in order to optimize their lean muscle and lose excess fat. Strength trainers get paid a lot of money to help their clients do that!
Okay, here’s how I did it.
Cutting Fat Step: Reducing Carbs
About 13 years ago, I went gluten-free (GF). So, instead of eating gluten-containing products, I simply switched to GF products. Big mistake! GF bread and pasta contain huge amounts of sugar.
Subsequently, I ballooned up to 193 pounds. I immediately recognized the problem and started to cut down on bread and pasta.
Then around 6 years ago I started a paleo-type diet. I eliminated all grains and ate mostly meat, chicken, fish, and fruit and vegetables.
I also ditched all refined sugar, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and most processed foods. However, I still ate potatoes and rice. By June 2015, the month I started lifting weights, I was down to 185 pounds.
I Begin To Actively Reduce Carbs
In January of 2017, I started reading about the role carbohydrates play in excess fat accumulation and obesity. See here.
I was so convinced by the science backing up the theory that I decided to drastically cut back on my carb intake to see if it would help me lose the fat around my waist.
Initially, I cut my carbohydrate intake to about 50 grams per day. That meant limiting rice to once a week and perhaps ½ sweet potato per day. I also increased my consumption of extra virgin olive oil, and I ate more salmon and sardines in order to optimize my Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio.
In about a month’s time, I lost 10 pounds which brought me down to 175 pounds. I knew I had lost some fat because my waist had reduced to about 37”.
But I still had way too much abdominal fat. My love handles were still huge, and I still couldn’t see any abs. As long as I can remember, I never had abs.
That meant I had a lot more work to do.
Becoming A Fat Burner
By reducing carbs to about 50 grams/day, I had begun an important process in my body. I had started to shift from burning glucose as a primary fuel to burning fat.
How do I know that? The reduction of body fat was a sign that my body was using its own fat for fuel! However, after about 7 months on this diet, I still weighed 175 pounds. It appeared that I had hit a plateau.
However, even though I had stopped losing fat, I was still continuing to get stronger.
Cutting Fat Step 1B: I Discover A Ketogenic Diet
Over the summer, I started to read about the amazing health benefits of a ketogenic diet.
A ketogenic diet is an extremely low carbohydrate, healthy fat, moderate protein diet. It generally limits net carbohydrate intake to 30 grams or less.
A ketogenic diet is known to cause rapid weight loss. This is exactly what I wanted. As I read more about the diet, I found that this was a perfect diet for my situation. This is why.
A Ketogenic Diet
A Ketogenic diet forces your body to use fat as its main source of fuel. Remember, I mentioned before that I was becoming a fat burner.
Since your intake of carbs is very low and consists of mainly non-starchy vegetables, there is very little glucose available for energy. Therefore, your body turns to fat for fuel.
This energy will now come in the form of fats you eat or from your own body’s stores of fat. So if you consume less fat than your body needs for energy, your body will consume its own excess fat and you’ll get leaner.
But there’s more. A well directed ketogenic diet also has the following important health benefits.
- Reduces inflammation
- Controls hunger
- Improves cognitive function in people who are cognitively impaired
- Reduces cancer risk
- Increases longevity and mental clarity
Researchers believe that these benefits arise from the ketones (hence, ketogenic diet) that are produced in the liver as a byproduct of fat metabolism.
Now, who wouldn’t want all those benefits? As someone healing from CFS (a chronic inflammatory condition) it seemed the diet would be perfect for me.
In a future post, I’ll examine the ketogenic diet in more detail.
Caution: Here’s something very important about low-carb diets. If you have a chronic illness or diabetes, you must do this diet in conjunction with your doctor. Low-Carb high-fat diets tend to reduce blood glucose drastically which could be a severe problem for you if you’re on medication, especially a diabetes medication.
Two Caveats To Remember
I said a ketogenic diet will make you leaner. But here are two caveats. First, you still have to strength train to build muscle. Second, you have to carefully track your macronutrient intake.
Think about it. If you eat more fat than your body needs for energy, where is the fat going to go? That’s right: into fat reserves in your body. You won’t lose weight, and you might even gain weight in the form of fat.
Let me briefly show you how I practically employed a ketogenic diet.
Tracking Ketogenic Macros
Keto diet experts generally recommend a diet with the following macronutrient breakdown.
Fat: 70-75% of calories
Protein: 20-25% of calories
Carbs: 5% of calories
What does that mean in terms of food allowances?
It is usually recommended that you keep your carb intake to below 30 net grams per day. Net carbs are the carbs you consume minus the fiber. Keto diet expert Dr. Steve Phinney recommends approximately 0.8 grams per pound of lean body mass.
Some ketogenic diet experts like Dr. Rosedale recommend a lower protein intake.
I chose to go with Dr. Phinney’s recommendation because I lift weights and I’m over 60 years old.
I weigh 166 pounds and have about 80% lean body mass. So that’s 0.8 x 132.8 which equals about 106 grams of protein per day to maintain muscle mass.
By using online macro calculators, I know I need about 1800 calories/day to maintain about 165 pounds of body weight.
This means that I need 146 grams of fat to maintain my body weight. How do I know that? I could show you the math, but here is a handy online calculator that will do it for you.
So here are my macros in grams:
As you can see, you must carefully track what you eat daily. I use myfitnesspal.com to do this.
Now, I still have to lose some body fat. To do this, I can reduce my fat intake. If I do that, my calorie intake would go down. Would that mean that I might suffer some energy loss?
Not necessarily. Since my body is a fat burning machine, it will burn fat from my excess stores.
Wow! That’s awesome.
What made the diet easier for me was the fact that I had already been low-carb for a while. Just jumping into it without some adaptation to fat burning is not recommended. Mark Sisson’s new book presents an excellent how-to concerning the diet.
So, friends, that’s how I’m recomposing my body. As you’ve seen from my numbers, my strategy is working. By the way, this week I equaled a new Personal Best on the bench press (170# x 5). So I haven’t lost any strength.
And by the way, I feel great.
That’s it for today. Have a blessed week. Remember, I would love to hear from you.
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