T Nation

Frustrated: Volume, Diet & Metabolic Change



Let me start by saying that I am an absolute beginner, and I realize that any change will take time (measured in months or years). I understand and acknowledge that. At the same time, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm doing something wrong, because I should have seen SOME change by now.

I've been lifting for 5 months. I'm 39, 6'1". When I started, I was 215 lbs, 20% BF, and had trouble with the empty bar for many lifts. I couldn't do a single BW pullup, nor a single BW dip. 3 pushups would wipe me out. 4 flights of stairs killed me.

Today, I'm 230 lbs, 18% BF, and on a 5x5 program 3x/week. My working lifts as of today:

Squats: 265 lbs
Bench: 170 lbs
Overhead press: 110 lbs
Barbell row: 165 lbs
Deadlift: 250 lbs
Weighted pullups (pronated grip): 10 lbs
Weighted dips: 35 lbs

I also run 4 flights of stairs (up and down) at least twice daily, and usually 3 times (they're to/from my office), and do 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity interval cardio on my off days.

I know the weights are puny compared to many (most?) people on T-Nation, but like I said, I'm a beginner. And though it's not much, I'm proud of my progress when I look back from where I started.

I'm not really worried about the weights. The weights will increase in time as I continue to lift.

My concern and frustration -- and the reason for this post -- is how my body responds to the exercise and my diet. In short, it doesn't seem to be responding at all. Sure, my weights are increasing, so my strength must be increasing, but my bodyfat is staying steady at about 18% (measured by calipers).

Here's a typical diet (it is, in fact, my food for today):

6 Flameout
4 Alpha Male
2 Carbolin 19
4 double espressos
4 liters water
1 cup cooked rolled oats
6 tsp cinnamon
3 scoops Grow! Whey
3 scoops Low-Carb Metabolic Drive
12 oz. porterhouse steak
3 6 oz. cans tuna
1 oz. cashew nuts
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 boiled egg
4 cups raw spinach

That's a typical day for me. It puts me just below 11x BW in kcals, 59% protein (just under 1.5x g/lb), 26% fat, and 15% carbs (just under 0.5x g/lb).

I try very hard to eat the carbs only post-workout, and am religious about my diet. On non-lift days, I only have 2 scoops of Metabolic Drive, no Grow! Whey, and in general fewer carbs and fats.

I'm sort of at a loss at this point. Again, I realize that I am not going to see overnight changes, but my diet seems right according to everything I've read, my routine doesn't seem horrible, I'm making strength gains, but my weight is increasing and my BF% isn't going down.

I'm eating the cinnamon as an anti-estrogen aid, to help the Alpha Male, which I love. I realize I'm getting a lot of stimulants between the coffee, Alpha Male, and Carbolin 19, but I'm used to it and I sleep well. Last night, for example, I had 9 very peaceful hours of sleep.

I'm not eating just before bed, either. I'm also cycling the Alpha Male as directed (I do 5 days on, 2 off. The 2 days off is usually the weekend).

I do have cheat meals every now and then, but "cheat meals" is usually dinner out on Friday nights with my girlfriend. And even then, it's healthy choices (lean meats, veggies).

I feel frustrated because my waist size is increasing, and many days I feel bloated. I'm just not sure what to change. If I take my calories down any further, I'll put on fat (I've tried).

I'm afraid to add more lift volume, or begin lifting on my off-days, or increasing my cardio because I don't want to harm my strength gains or hinder my recovery.

I'm sure I'll get suggestions that run the gamut of things to try, but since I've run out of ideas, I'm willing to listen.



You GAINED 15lbs, AND lost 2% BF.

Kind of envious.


Yeah, after I wrote that, I realized that I probably shouldn't be complaining.

But it still leaves me scratching my head as to why my BF% isn't going down, and I wake up many days feeling (and thinking I look) bloated.


That's what I was going to say but it doesn't explain how his waist size is now larger.


Might be time to indeed cut those calories. Tough decision to make, but what you are doing is NOT getting you to where you want to be. Change it.

5 months.... You should still have plenty of room left to maintain, even increase strength while cutting.

Espressos? Pre-workout, or just a fellow caffeine junky?

Maybe almonds instead of cashews?


I have tried cutting my calories for 3 weeks (from 2500 to about 1800-2000/day), and I actually put on fat. I thought 500 kcal/day was the appropriate amount to cut, but it seems not. At least, not with my body. That's one of the things that's irritating me...it seems that 2500 kcal/day, while only 11x BW, is maintenance for me (or perhaps even a slight surplus, since my waist keeps increasing), but 2000/day is too little, because my body starts socking away the fat (I should note that I kept the macronutrient balance the same at 2000/day as I do at 2500/day).

I suppose I could try 2250/day, but at that rate, the fat loss will be so slow, it would take me 3 weeks to lose 1 lb of fat (assuming the loss is all fat, which from what I understand, is never the case).

I've toyed with the idea of the Velocity diet, but I'm on a very tight budget at the moment, and the cost for everything for me works out to almost $600, which is double my monthly grocery budget. Plus, they seem to be perpetually out of Raspberry Surge, which is what I'd prefer to use (I already have some on backorder).

I tried the Anabolic Diet, but after almost 2 months, I got frustrated because my body seems to react very, very badly to 35g/day of carbs. That extreme weak feeling you get in the first week just never left me, and it also caused me to get rather severe headaches. I find that my body is much, much happier with around 100g/day of carbs. I have the strength and energy I need, I can still get them all post-workout, and I'm still eating relatively few carbs.

I've been trying to work on my insulin resistance via my diet, as I've been big (read: a lard-ass) all my life. In fact, a year before I started lifting, I hit 309 lbs. I'll post some photos tonight of that, plus where I was when I started 5 months ago, and where I am now. I think the comparison from 5 months ago to today will show clearly what I mean about my body composition...the photos don't lie, and other than some pretty impressive quad growth and a tiny bit of he-hooter loss, there's really not any difference as far as I can tell.

So, I've been scarfing the cinnamon like there's no tomorrow, and taking the Alpha Male as directed, along with the Flameout. I tried REZ-V for a month, but I didn't notice enough of an impact to justify the cost, when I can get a month's worth of cinnamon for $16.

But, were it not for the fact that my BF% is staying steady and not increasing, I'd almost swear my insulin resistance is increasing, because from what I understand, the bloating, weight gain, etc. would all point to that.

As for the cashews, I eat them primarily because they're free at work. :slight_smile: I could try switching to almonds, but to be honest, I really, really hate almonds. While I can toss back a handful of cashews with no problem, I'd have to choke down a handful of almonds. But, if that's what it takes to change things, I'm willing to give it a shot!

As for the caffeine, I'm just a caffeine junkie. Although I do have 4 of the 6 shots pre-workout: 2 in the morning when I get to the office, and two about an hour before my workout. Then the last two 1-2 hours after my workout and post workout meal, just to wake up (since I'm always defocused and mentally wiped out after my workouts).

As for actual, formal "cutting", I wouldn't even know how to do it. There are plenty of resources I can find for strength gains, bulking, etc., but it's difficult to find any solid, well-explained info for beginners who want to maintain strength and lean mass while reducing fat. Once I finish this program (I just started the 3rd-to-final week of it), I'd be happy to just maintain my lean mass and start losing the fat, but I'm having trouble finding places that explain in simple terms a good diet and lifting routine for that. Everything I see focuses on HIIT or intense circuit training, and I just have no idea whether I could go back to squats and deadlifts after several months of that.

I enjoy full-body pushing and pulling of heavy weights.
I do not enjoy doing so while looking like someone who spent their life watching Judge Judy while sucking back Cheesy Poofs.

Yeah, I know. I'm a noob, and I want everything overnight. I really don't, even though it may sound like it. I'd just like to see some progress, however small, in the direction I'd prefer:keeping the strength and lean mass I've built, while getting rid of some of this ugly fat.


I figured I'd go ahead and post some old photos, for reference:

First, me in January, 2007 (309).


Now, me in July 2008, after just over 1 month lifting (220).


From what you have said, it appears that you have been making quite steady and appreciable progress. Adding 15 lbs while reducing your body fat is solid progress in the right direction.

I am a little perplexed as to how you gained fat on 2000kcals a day. Was this calipered? Or, was is a subjective measurement. What happened to your weight during this time?

I will give a simple explanation on how to lose body fat while maintaining strength.

A moderate reduction in calories, or an increase in activity, or both to a lesser degree while maintaining a high protein intake(1g/lb). Combine this nutritional strategy with continued Heavy lifting.

By continuing to lift heavy and maintaining a relatively high protein intake you will be able to maintain your strength levels and your lbw.

I would suggest you keep doing what you are doing, but add a slight (2-300kcal) reduction in your calories. You are making progress, and this may help you lose a little more fat, though it will compromise some of your muscle building potential.

I really want to stress that you are making progress and that time will be the deciding factor here. Keep at it.


This might be where my limited experience shows, but I've lost weight almost in direct proportion to how low my calorie intake went.

I went to 1750 calories for 3 months while on a 6 day a week lift crusade. I lost a tremendous amount of fat.

Hopefully someone else can comment on how calorie reduction can actually cause weight gain while regularly exercising/lifting.

Btw, great job losing that weight man. The difference visually is amazing, and I am sure you feel 1000x better.

It is obvious you are damn hardcore about getting this done, and I think by expressing your frustrations here, you'll get some ideas.

I absolutely have no doubts you'll get past this plateau.

Again, great job so far.


For the fat gain at 2000kcal/day, it was indeed calipered, and my weight increased slightly (about 2 pounds in 3 weeks). Maybe it was a fluke; maybe it was water retention or something. Maybe it was hormonal. It's hard to tell, since the period of time I tried it was so short. But since I'm very protective of my strength gains, it scared me off of continuing at that level.

Of course, I have very little experience with this, and I readily admit I don't know what I'm doing, so perhaps I should've stuck with it.

I keep telling myself (daily, and many times hourly) that I'm doing everything right, and that changes will come with time. But there are days (today's one of them) when I just don't believe it. I lost 90 lbs just by eating clean over the course of a year, without exercise. So it perplexes me that, now that I'm eating cleaner than ever and doing the right thing in the gym, I'm not seeing more downward motion in the fat department.

Sometimes I think that maybe what I need is to increase my volume and increase my caloric intake as well...perhaps 2500 kcal/day is enough for me to maintain my LBM, but the only reason I'm seeing strength gains is because I'm still such a noob. Perhaps what I should really be doing is eating 3000-3500 kcal/day and increasing my volume and intensity throughout the week, possibly throwing in some activation exercises on my off days (e.g., for my back).

But then, the sane part of my brain tells me that I have no experience and I shouldn't screw with a pre-planned program. I should just stick to what I'm doing and come back in a year and laugh at this thread. And then do the same thing two years from now. And so on.

I guess I just get very down on my progress on the days that I wake up feeling bloated and that all my clothes, which fit fine (and even loose) before I started lifting, are now tight...even around the waist, the one area where I'd expect to see some real improvement.


Hey I reckon your progress is reptty much terrific! My input would be that there seems to be no mention of any cardio/energy systems work. I really wouldn't be reducing calories too much further at all! And by the way you've obviously paid a lot of attention to detail because your food choices seem excellent.

I got some bad news for ya: the energy systems stuff is gonna suck but it'll make a huge difference. The bittersweet thing is that you obviously want progress bad so that motivation will drive you to train till your heart and lungs want to pop of your chest. I think you should look at maybe Tabata sprints once a week (and be honest with your intensity levels - 110% for just 4 minutes!; if you're not sure what these are let me know), some 400m sprint sessions - work:rest ratio of 1:1 is tough but effective (go for say 4-5 sets or maybe 2 lots of 3 sets with 5 min break), and maybe a couple of easy half hour jogs or walks. I guarantee these sessions will be worth their weight in gold when added to your weights sessions. Remember to be honest with yourself about your effort levels! Best of luck - you're on the right track!


The one thing I noticed is you are doing a fairly restricted amount of carbs, with a lot of protein and relatively little fat.

I would trade out some of those scoops of protein powder for a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle it on your spinach. Another option is to get the tuna packed in olive oil, its delicious, sits in my belly for a couple hours and I am not hungry after I eat it.

Other options are eggs cooked in coconut oil, a little flax w/ gives you some fiber too, and some full fat cheeses. Greek yogurt is good too w/ blueberries.

I would try upping your fat intake and see if that makes a difference, even if it means upping your calories by a bit too. Going under 2500 kcal at 230, sounds a little harsh and unneccesary if you are lifting, running the stairs daily, and doing cardio on off days.


Agreed, theuofh


oh crap sorry, I just saw the stuff about your cardio. But I still reckon kick the intensity up a notch or seven


When do you go to sleep?
When do you wake up?
On a scale of 1 to 10 how stressed out are you?
What do you do for work?
Got anything weighing heavily on your mind?
What do you do to unwind?
All roads seem to be pointing to stress and cortisol....


I am in bed by 10:30 almost every night, and asleep by 11pm (11:30pm at the latest). I wake up naturally (no alarm clock) around 7:30am or 8am.

Stress level on a 1..10 scale: 3.

I've got a desk job (I'm a programmer).

The only thing I used to stress about was my debt, but I've had that under control for about 14 months now.

I relax with reading, video games, going out with my girlfriend, knitting/crocheting (hey, don't knock it!), and sometimes long, hot baths.

I like long walks on the beach, holding hands... wait. Wrong forum. :slightly_smiling:

I go into work around 10am, and am out of the office by 6pm. Really, I intentionally live a low-stress life. I made a decision back in 2001 to pursue things that make me happy, rather than wealthy, and my stress levels dropped tremendously.

I wish I could point my finger at stress, but I really am very low-stress. And with the exercise, my mood is great! Well, except when I get down on myself for not doing better.


The Metabolic Drive was a recent addition, because it's part of my breakfast (and sometimes includes 2-3 tbsp ground flax seeds). I'm trying it as a replacement for my old breakfast: 4 scrambled eggs w/ 2 tbsp whole milk, 1/2 cup mexican cheese mix, 2-3 tbsp whole flax seeds, 4 slices of thick-cut bacon. The eggs are cooked in extra-virgin olive oil. I'm also throwing in a scoop of Metabolic Drive with my Grow! Whey, for flavor. I'll probably go back to my old egg breakfast, but keep the Metabolic Drive for my Grow! Whey.

I used to add a few tbsp. of EVOO to my Grow! Whey, but haven't been doing that lately.

The swap of fat for protein was an experiment with my macronutrients to see if it'd have any impact. So far, I haven't really seen it, except my breakfasts are faster. :slight_smile:

Keep in mind that the menu I listed in the OP was just for today. Other days, I do get some flax, sometimes I'll rotate in some large-curd cottage cheese w/cinnamon and splenda, and so on.


Me, tonight (230).

Sorry for the small size. If they were larger, you'd be able to see that my manboobs are actually bigger (fat-wise, not muscle-wise, as it's clear that the upper part of my pecs have developed a bit, but you can more easily see the fat hanging off).

My lats and back have developed a bit, and I think the lats are probably the most pronounced difference, along with my quads (and, according to my girlfriend, my glutes. :wink: ).

But my belly, compared with July, is worse. I have not been doing any "ab work", and as best as I can tell, it's all subcutaneous, not ...crap. I forgot the term for it, but it's not fat under the muscle. It's just under the skin.

Could this all be in my head? I mean, the calipers (within reason) don't lie. The only explanation I can come up with, other than me having a really negative body-image coupled with being paranoid about weight gain, is that the muscle gain is highlighting all the fat that's still hanging off my frame, making it look worse than it did 10-15 pounds ago.


here's a bigger version of the front, since the last set were rather small.

EDIT: I sat down and started looking at the photo sets from July and August compared with tonight. And i think I really can see progress...both in terms of muscle gain and fat loss, particularly around my lats. In July, there were rolls of fat under my arms. Now, they're mostly gone. And my waist, though it was physically smaller a few months ago, was flabbier. Now, even though it's bigger for whatever reason, it's less flabby visually.

So maybe this is all in my head.

So, I guess the one real mystery here (besides my gaining fat on a lower caloric intake, which I'm going to ignore because I think 3 weeks probably is far too short a time to assess something like that), is why my waist size is increasing.

Is working on my posterior chain really building so much muscle that my waist size is going up? Doesn't seem to make sense to my brain, but:

a) what the hell do I know? and
b) it's the only explanation I can think of.

I do have some tape measurements from June 21 I can compare against:

Jun 21, 2008 (just a couple of weeks after I started lifting):

Chest 119cm
Bicep 37cm
Waist 99cm
Butt 105cm
Thigh 64cm
Neck 44cm

Tonight (Oct 27, 2008, 5 months lifting):

Chest 120 cm
Bicep 38.5 cm
Waist 101 cm
Butt 108.5 cm
Thigh 65 cm
Neck 45.5 cm

...so it's not just visual, or by feel. My waist size has gone up. By 3/4".