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Regaining Muscular Bodyweight and Strength
By Gary F. Zeolla
My bodyweight was hovering around 123 pounds when I started cutting weight for my last powerlifting contest in June of 2009. After that, due to my worsening health, I still kept trying to work out, but I had to cut way back on the intensity and weights used. As a result, I lost my appetite and thus lost about eight pounds of muscular bodyweight and lots of strength over the next four years. Then last summer I had a particularly bad spell health-wise, and lost another seven pounds in a short span of time and further strength. So by October of 2014, my bodyweight reached a low of 106 pounds. (Note: I am 5'1".)
But starting in November of 2013, I began to make some gradual improvements, and was able to gradually increase the intensity and weights in my workouts. As a result, my appetite began to come back, and I began to gradually eat more and to regain muscular bodyweight and strength.
At this writing (April 2, 2014), I have finally gained back the weight I lost last summer. And I am now able to work out at a moderate intensity and with greater weights. I'm still far from where I was five years ago, but the improvement has been substantial, and I am confident it will continue. So in this article I will detail the steps I took to turn things around.
I had been taking creatine in one fashion or another ever since I first started powerlifting again back in 2003. And I continued to take it until the fall of 2011. With taking it the entire time I was in powerlifting training mode, I was never sure if it was doing any good or not. But as my health began fading and I ceased to be able to work out at any kind of intensity, I stopped taking the creatine. I figured there just wasn't any reason for it.
After I stopped taking it, my strength and bodyweight really began to drop. I just assumed that was due to the continuing fading of my health. But after the dramatic weight and strength loss last summer, and with continuing to lose even more weight and strength over the next few months, I figured it was worth a try to start taking creatine again.
As soon as I started to take the creatine, there was a noticeable difference in my strength levels. It was then that I was able to start to gradually increase the weights that I was using, rather than gradually dropping them as I had been having to do for the previous four years. This turnaround could easily lead me to proclaim that creatine does in fact work. And that is one possibility. But there is another, more complicated possibility.
The human body makes creatine, just as all mammals do. That is why it is found in red meat. But with taking creatine endogenously, it is possible that caused my body to stop making creatine, and with taking it for eight years, maybe my body lost the ability to make it. So when I stopped taking it, my body wasn't able to start to manufacture it again, and I was left with no creatine for the ATP-CP cycle, which is how the body produces short bursts of energy for exercises like weight training. And with no creatine for that cycle, that is possibly why my strength loss became even more dramatic, but then I made the turnaround when I started taking creatine again.
In other words, maybe I would have been better off never having taken it in the first place. But there is no way for me to know at this point. All I do know is that I will continue to take it for the foreseeable future.
As such, I'm not sure what I would recommend to the reader. If you're not currently using creatine, maybe it's best you don't start. That way, your will body will never lose the ability to manufacture it, and you won't have to bother with the expense and trouble of taking it.
Or maybe wait until you've made significant progress in strength training, and then try it. If it causes you to make even greater progress, great, keep taking it, but maybe "cycle" it, meaning, take it for a few weeks then stop it for a few weeks. That might keep your body from losing the ability to create it. If it initially doesn't help at all, then stop it altogether before your body loses the ability to create it.
Re-adding a Morning Snack
As I mention in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book, I had been consuming six meals a day for many years: breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and a bedtime snack. I believe such a pattern is best for health reasons, as discussed in the book, and it is even more important for strength athletes as it is important to consume protein at regular intervals.
However, due to my worsening health, I had to start taking medications that caused me to sleep more than normal. As a result, I was getting up too late to consume a morning snack. There just wasn't enough time between breakfast and lunch to warrant one.
But over time, it seemed like my body had adapted to the medications, and ceased to need so much sleep. So I started getting up earlier, and that enabled me to add in a morning snack. At first, I really wasn't hungry, but I knew that adding in a snack would be a good way to add some calories to my diet. So I forced myself to eat something.
At first, it wasn't much, just a piece of fruit. But then as I got used to that, I was hungry for a little more. I knew that some source of protein would be the best thing to add for gaining muscular bodyweight. But I had to think of something easy and quick and that didn't require refrigeration for at least a couple of hours.
I work out of my home, but in my basement, and the fridge is upstairs. I could go upstairs to get a snack, but I'd prefer not to waste the time and to just eat in my home office. So what I came up with was a hard-boiled egg, as eggs provide the highest biologically available protein of any natural food. I know some think eggs are unhealthy due to their cholesterol content. But I've been eating four eggs a week for a long time now, two twice a week for my bedtime snack, and my cholesterol levels are just fine. So I doubt increasing from four to seven will make that much of a difference. I just had to come up with something else to replace those two bedtime snacks.
In any case, since it had been a while since I made hard-boiled eggs, I did a quick search on the Web as to how long to boil them. But what I came across was a little different. A Web site recommended putting the eggs in a pot in a single layer, then filling it with cold water until the water is an inch above the eggs. Then cover and heat the water until it comes to boiling. Then turn off the heat, leaving the pot covered, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for about fifteen minutes.
Some comments after the article said that it worked, but others said they ended up with soft-boiled eggs. But someone suggested that when the water comes to boil, to turn down the heat some and let it boil for just one minute, then turn off the heat and let the eggs sit. I tried that, and it worked. And as a plus, with this method, you cannot overcook the eggs. I make seven at a time, and they keep in the fridge just fine for a week, and the egg doesn't spoil in the couple of hours it's unrefrigerated on the day I eat it.
But then after a while, an egg and a piece of fruit wasn't enough, so I wanted to add something else. With already having my protein source, which also provides a small amount of fat, and a healthy piece of fruit, the next thing to add would be a source of carbs for muscle glycogen-replenishment. And for that I remembered some oat crackers and cookies I used to eat, but had stopped due to my reduced food intake.
The brand name is Nairn's. It's a Scottish company. They're a little expensive, but not too bad, and they're very healthy, being mostly whole grain oats and all natural. Even the cookies are healthy as they only have two grams of sugar each, but still taste very good. So now I'm eating one or two of these cookies with my morning snack.
I used a similar pattern for the rest of my meals. I gradually increased my food intake. My normal breakfast is oatmeal, with nuts and fruit mixed in it, and a cup of reconstituted protein powder. I was using just 1/2 a cup of dry oatmeal, and small amount of nuts. But I gradually increased that to about a cup of dry oatmeal and a larger handful of nuts.
The best way I've found for making oatmeal is to use quick oats. I put the oats and water in a glass bowl, cover it, and microwave it for two minutes. Then I add the fruit, stir, and then microwave it for another minute. I use a small banana or half a large one or a cup of thawed out frozen berries. With using these soft fruits and microwaving them, they basically "melt." I then add the nuts and stir again. In this way, the fruit is blended throughout the oatmeal, and it is thus "flavored" by the fruit, so no sweetener is needed. And don't worry; just one minute of microwaving will not significantly reduce the nutrient content of the fruit.
Don't use instant oats, as the glycemic index is too high. But there is no significant difference between quick and rolled oats, and with the greater ease of cooking, quick oats is the way to go.
My normal lunch is a sandwich, using sprouted grain bread and some kind of meat, poultry, or tuna fish, and maybe some grated cheese, and about a cup of stir-fried veggies. I increased the amount of the meat to add calories and protein. And to add even more healthy calories and protein, I began adding half a cup of legumes to the stir-fried veggies.
With being stir-fried and mixed in with the other veggies, the legumes taste okay. And to reduce the "gas" producing effect of legumes, I put them in a colander and rinse them off. That removes whatever causes the problem, along with some of the added salt as I use canned beans for the convenience. Dried beans would be less expensive and slightly healthier and have no salt, but they are much more difficult to prepare. But if you use them, again, be sure to rinse them off well to reduce the gas-producing effect.
For my afternoon snack, on workout days, I had been consuming a pre-workout drink for many years. I discuss the ingredients in my Eating Plan book and in my powerlifting book. But I had decreased the amounts of each ingredient from the time those books were written due to my decreased appetite. So I was going to just re-increase the amount of each ingredient.
But frankly, I had gotten tired of just drinking calories. It takes just a few seconds to down it, and that produced little culinary satisfaction. So I wanted to consume some kind of solid food, but one that would still provide the needed protein, carbs, and fat for a pre-workout food, along with liquid to be hydrated for the workout. It took a while, but I thought of the perfect thing: cold cereal.
I used to eat cold cereal for breakfast all of the time, and really liked it. But I switched to oatmeal years ago as it is healthier, but I had been missing eating cold cereal ever since. Moreover, the maltodextrin in my pre-workout drink was good for the carb source in terms of providing energy for the workout, but it is just that, pure carbs, with no nutrient value otherwise, so I figured a whole grain, low sugar cereal would be an improvement over that.
So my pre-workout snack is now a bowl of such cereal, with again, fruit and nuts added to it. The fruit is usually raisins, as they are easy to digest, and I limit the nuts to a very small handful. I've found a small amount of fat wards off hunger during the workout, but too much sits in my stomach. I also add creatine.
Instead of milk, I use protein powder. That way, I can put a scoop of dry protein powder in the bowl after the rest of the ingredients, and then cover the bowl. I use a glass bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, as I'm just taking it downstairs. But if you're taking it out of your home, I'd recommend getting some Tupperware cereal bowls, with lids. Either way, it keeps without refrigeration. When it's time to eat it, I just pour in some water from the water bottle I always have at my workstation, and stir with a spoon. It reconstitutes just fine. Just be careful not to stir too hard and spill it!
This snack is much tastier than just guzzling a drink, but it still provides the carbs, protein, fat, and liquid for a workout. I consume the cereal about an hour before my workout. It digests sufficiently in that time so as not to disturb my workout and keeps me fueled throughout my workout. If you're eating it after a workout, then omit the fruit as it is not good for muscle glycogen replenishment. I address that complex issue in my books.
My favorite cereal brand is Barbara's, a natural brand, especially their Morning Oat Crunch (formerly Shredded Oats) and Multigrain Spoonfuls (formerly Shredded Spoonfuls). They are what I want, whole grain and low in sugar.
I alternate between peanuts and cashews in my morning oatmeal, and eat almonds at bedtime (more on that in a minute), so for something different, I use pecans and Brazil nuts in the cereal. As I mention in my Eating Plan book, just one or two Brazil nuts a day will provide a full day's supply of selenium, an important nutrient for men as it helps ward off prostate cancer. So that is what I use in the cereal, along with several pecans.
On non-workout days, I was eating just a piece of fruit. But I added in a can of sardines. Don't squint. If you get the right brand, they can be tasty. I get Brunswick, available at just about any grocery store. I get then canned in water with no salt added. Sardines are incredibly healthy, being a great source of protein, omega 3s, calcium, and other nutrients.
But they do need to be eaten chilled to taste good. So if I'm not able to eat them right out of the fridge, I will put them in the freezer for about an hour. In that way, they're still chilled a couple of hours later when I do eat them. You probably could freeze them solid, if it will be several hours until you eat them. For even more calories and protein, I might add a Nairn's cracker or two, with some peanut butter or almond butter and brown rice syrup on them.
My normal dinner is some kind of meat, poultry or fish, a baked potato, sweet potato, brown rice, or quinoa, a couple of servings of some kind of steamed veggie, and a salad. I put either olive oil or flax seed oil on the salad. To increase calories and protein, I have increased the serving size of the meat. And before, I wouldn't always eat the starchy food, but now I always do.
My bedtime snack is a normally plain yogurt with almonds mixed in. I used to only eat about half a cup of yogurt, but have increased that to a full cup, and I increased the amount of almonds. Even my doctor told me that is a great bedtime snack as both the yogurt and the almonds aid sleep. Again, don't squint about the plain yogurt. It does take a little getting used to, but with the added "crunch" from the almonds, I've learned to actually like it.
A couple of times a week I used to eat eggs at bedtime. But with eating seven eggs a week for my morning snack, I was afraid that continuing to eat four for my bedtime snack would be too much. Plus, I didn't seem to sleep as well when I ate the eggs.
So Instead, I now get a boneless turkey breast, cook it, and portion it off in snack zip bags, and put them in a freezer bag and freeze them. I then thaw out one when I need it, and heat it up with a little healthy oil in a covered pan. The turkey also seems to aid sleep. And the yogurt plus almonds or turkey provides protein, which I think is crucial to eat at bedtime when trying to gain muscular bodyweight.
As can be seen, my normal diet is all very healthy foods, the type of foods I recommend in my Eating Plan book. Most of the foods are organic or at least all natural, as I recommend in my book. If I was just trying to gain bodyweight of any kind, then any type of calories would do. But I want to gain muscular bodyweight. And I want to do so in a fashion that improves my health. So my attitude towards increasing my caloric intake has been that it gives me an opportunity to consume even more healthy foods.
The key in increasing the intensity and weights in my workouts has been to do it gradually. Attempting to dramatically increase things could lead to overtraining or even injury. I use an "Alternate Weeks" routine as outlined in in my powerlifting book. So I only do the exact same workout every other week. And I've been adding 2-1/2 to 10 pounds to each exercise each workout, depending on the exercise. That's not much, but I've been able to do so for each workout for months now. And over time, those small increases have made a significant difference in the poundage I am now handling as compared to before. As stated, I'm still far from where I once was, but the increase is very satisfying.
This is very important. For a long time, as my health was worsening and I was thus losing strength and bodyweight, I was getting very discouraged, dreading my workouts, and was just about ready to give up even trying to work out. But I just made up my mind to make a turnaround. The creatine helped get me started, but once I started improving, my attitude towards working out has gradually improved, so that now once again I am looking forward to working out.
Hard to Find Foods
Most of the foods mentioned in this article can be found in most any major grocery stores. But for some others, you might need to go to a health food store or online. I get the following items from iHerb. If you order from this Web site, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.
NOW almonds, pecans, and Brazil nuts (also, organic dried apricots, which are really good!)
Jarrow Formula's Organic Flax Seed Oil.
Lundberg Organic Sweet Dreams Brown Rice Syrup.
For the protein powder, I use a 50/ 50 mixture of Optimum's Nutrition's Natural Whey and Natural Casein. As the names imply, there are no artificial ingredients. And as a plus, the milk for the protein powders is derived from hormone-free cattle. ON's products can be purchased at a variety of Web sites.
Results and Conclusion
After months of these gradual changes, I'm now averaging about a half pound of weight gain a week. That might not sound like much, but again, over time, it adds up. And by gradually adding weight, it is mostly muscle, not fat. My health is improving somewhat. My attitude not just towards working out but about life in general is getting better. And I don't seem to need as much medication as before, which is leading to further improvement.
I'm still struggling health-wise, but I'm dealing with it better. My faith in the LORD helps much in this regard as well, which has been improved by some lifestyle changes I've made related to my Christian faith. See the following article on my Darkness to Light Web site: Steps to Being Emotionally and Spiritually Uplifted.
I will close this article by saying, if you're in a bad state health-wise, things can turn around. Or if you want to gain muscular bodyweight for whatever reason, you can do so. Just make up your mind to make gradual changes, and over time you'll see significant improvements.
For further details on healthy eating and proper strength training strategies, see my God-given Foods Eating Plan and Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting books. For the latter, if you're not interested in powerlifting, see the article Powerlifting Book: Beneficial for Non-powerlifters. In fact, since I'm no longer powerlifting, I'm following the tips in that article myself. For specifics, see Full Workout Logs - 2014 - Present.
June 8, 2014 Update
This morning I weighed 120.4 pounds. I was down to 106.2 pounds back in November. So I have regained over 14 pounds (mostly muscle) in seven months. That might not sound like a lot to you big guys, but for someone my size (5’1”), gaining two pounds a month is a lot. And I thank the LORD I was able to regain the muscular bodyweight I wanted to that quickly.
I was also able to stop all of the medications I was taking, so I am thankful for that as well. But I am still taking a few supplements, like the creatine mentioned in this article.
What a difference a year makes!
A year ago, my health, bodyweight, and strength levels had deteriorated greatly, and I was in the doldrums emotionally and spiritually. But then I began to make gradually changes. Today, my health problems are still there, but the LORD is enabling me to deal with them much better, as shown by the following.
Below are my bodyweight and work sets for the powerlifts (pounds/ reps). The first line for each item is from my workout log for the last week of November 2013. The second line is from my workout log for the last week of November 2014. I am 5’1” and 53 years old.
Bodyweight: 120.8 pounds
Squats: 260/6, 275/4, 285/2
Benches: 145/6, 152/4, 160/2
Deadlifts: 305/6, 320/4, 335/2
I lift weights in the late afternoons, but I also do cardio in the mornings, either walking outside or hitting a heavy bag in my home gym. I started doing so again in May, with just a few minutes at a slow pace. But I am now up to walking about 1.7 miles in 30 minutes and hitting the heavy bag for over 20 minutes at a brisk pace.
I was over 120 pounds back in June, so I regained 14 pounds in seven months. For someone my size, gaining two pounds a month is a lot. Since then I’ve been trying to maintain bodyweight but to reduce my body fat and to gain muscle. I didn’t measure my body fat last November or in June, but it is now 11.9% with a lean body mass of 106.4 pounds, so my LBM is now greater than my total bodyweight a year ago.
The powerlift weights are not a completely equal comparison as last November I was doing higher reps without any supportive gear, while now I am doing lower reps with a belt and wraps. But a year ago if I had tried doing lower reps I probably would have hurt myself, and I was only able to lift at a low intensity, so support gear was not needed. But now I am able to lift at a high intensity and to do lower reps without injury, as long as I wear the support gear, so that is an improvement in itself. I’m also able to do three work sets rather than just two, which is another improvement.
However, the recent
lifts were actually a mistake, as it was the first week of a new routine, so I
should have been deloading, but my training at the end of my previous routine
was going so well I didn’t want to back off. But by not doing so, it left me
feeling overtrained, so I am taking this week off to recover. When I start up
again next week, I will have to drop the weights. But I am confident that within
the next few weeks I will get back to the above weights and beyond. More on this
and my training philosophy in general are in
my workout logs.
Evaluation - June 16 to July 15, 2014 for more details on my eating plan.
First Contest in Six Years
Starting shortly before my last powerlifting contest back in June of 2009, my health began deteriorating. By the summer of 2013, I was in a terrible state. As a result, I was only able to work out at a low intensity and with very light weights. But in October 2013, things began to turn around. My health did not improve, but with much reliance on the LORD, my attitude toward it did, and I began to deal with my problems much better. As a result, I began to gradually increase the intensity of my workouts and the weights used.
By the summer of 2014, my lifting had improved so much that I began thinking about competing again. There was a contest on February 28, 2015 that I had been looking at, so I set some goals and began my “Two by Two Training Plan” on August 20, 2014 to prepare for it.
Now at the end of that plan (2/20/15), my lifts have gone up significantly, so that I am once again handling respectable weights. In my last heavy workouts, I equaled or bettered my original goals; and I feel like I am peaking at just the right time. I’ve had to make a few adjustments along the way, and have a few more to make for next time, but overall, the basic design of the training plan has worked very well.
I have sustained a few minor injuries, had several flare-ups of my health problems, and many sleepless nights, but none of this has been serious enough to adversely affect my training, and I have not missed a workout this entire training plan.
In addition, I’ve been reading over my old workout logs from the ‘00s. In them, I often mention about being overly tired after a workout and thus struggling with what to do. This eventually led to me giving up on competing. But now in my 50s I am doing more volume than I was back then in my 40s, but I am not getting overly tired. This is probably because of having a better training plan based on all of those years of experience, along with doing more cardio, being more meticulous about my eating plan, having my supplements for the most part figured out, not taking any medications, and most of all, having a better attitude towards my lifting and life in general.
Given all of this, whatever happens at the contest, I want
to take this opportunity to thank and praise my LORD and Savior Jesus Christ for
bringing me this far. It is truly miraculous how much things have turned around
in the past 1-1/2 years. May the LORD be glorified by my participation in my
first powerlifting contest in six years.
Final Update: Contest Report
27 white lights
Seven IPA Records
Three All-time American Records
One All-time World Record
I competed in IPA PA States in York, PA on 2/28/15 @ 114s, raw with wraps, open and masters (50-54), drug-tested. This was my first powerlifting contest in six years. My official weigh-in weight was 113.6 pounds. I was then back up to 117.6 the morning of the contest.
lifts were (in pounds):
Squats: 280, 300, 310
Benches: 145, 155, 165
Deadlifts: 345, 365, 375
Here is a video of my all-time world record squat.
all of my goals for this contest and broke all of the records I had hoped to. I
thank and praise the LORD for not only enabling me to compete again but to do so
very successfully. For a very detailed contest report, see the following page of
my fitness website: IPA
Pennsylvania State Powerlifting Championships - 2015.
Regaining Muscular Bodyweight and Strength. Copyright © 2014, 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this Web site April 2, 2014.
The updates were added as dated.
Dealing with Health Difficulties
Miscellaneous Health Concerns: Dealing with Health Difficulties
Nutrition: General Nutrition
Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: My Diet and Supplements
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