I went through a rough period where I had cancer. I trained 6 days a week, then when I got cancer I stopped training for 10 years. So, now I recently went back to the gym. I’m in good shape right now but I can’t get my abs back I still have excess fat around my waist preventing my abs from showing. I recently sent you a question last week about carbs and that I want to gain 5 lean pounds. I also want to know what I can do to get my abs back. What diet, what to eat, or exercise I should do? I’ve tried everything and nothing is working. It’s been almost 3 years now and I need your help. Thanks and congrats on your recovery.
Hi, Stefano. Cancer is one of the most devastating and terrifying detriments that someone could experience. I’m very sorry to hear you had to go through that. On the other hand, I’m happy to know you made a full recovery and are in good health now!
Chances are during the 10-year break you took from training, your metabolism likely changed in a way where attempting to eat and train exactly the same as you did a decade ago won’t be as efficient or productive as it was back then. This is mostly the result of the ever-changing hormones in your body.
For example, you can pretty much guarantee your testosterone and growth hormone levels have declined over the course of 10 years. If you’ve been dealing with more stress in recent years, it’s also possible your adrenal hormones could be on the higher end, which can reduce thyroid hormone levels.
Please understand I can’t recommend a specific diet or training program because I don’t know enough about you to say what the most efficient approach would be for you personally. In fact, it would be irresponsible of me to do so.
However, I will share a few concepts I feel will generally put most people on a more productive path to get more out of their training and nutritional plans.
First, I believe most people who train naturally will obtain greater muscle gains by following a training split where they train all of their muscles over the course of 3 non-consecutive days. This reduces the chances of overtraining syndrome, where the subsystems in the body become overtaxed resulting in incomplete protein turnover.
Muscle growth simply will not occur if you’re overtraining. For the sake of optimizing muscle building and fat burning hormones, I also suggest limiting your weight training sessions to no more than 45 minutes.
I recommend you incorporate primarily compound exercises into your training routine. Exercises like: deadlifts, squats, bench presses, weighted dips, shoulder presses, chin-ups and barbell rows should encompass the foundation of a solid muscle building routine.
Some isolation exercises may be included, depending on the individual. Those who have a tendency to overtrain easily may want to avoid isolation exercises completely. You’ll know you’re overtraining if weeks pass by without noticing and strength increases on your exercises.
Additionally, I would advise you to perform your cardio on opposite days from weightlifting. I know many people like to do their lifting and cardio back-to-back within the same session.
However, I don’t feel this is advantageous because of how extended exercise sessions can drive cortisol levels up and simultaneously cause testosterone and growth hormone levels to plummet.
Instead, I think doing 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio 3 times per week will work best for most people.
Now in terms of diet, fat loss is strictly a numbers game you play with calories. Anytime you consume calories beyond your body’s energy and metabolic requirements, those extra calories will be stored as fat.
In contrast, when you consume fewer calories than your body requires, you are going to lose fat. Although I can’t say exactly how many calories you will personally require each day, I can say that if you want to trim fat and show your abs, you MUST consume fewer calories than what you’re eating now.
I suggest consuming primarily whole, unprocessed foods. Your best choices will be in the form of fresh meats, eggs, yams, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. If you have any whole grains, try to make sure they are minimally processed. For example, steel cut oats would be a better choice than instant oatmeal.
The rule of thumb is the more processed a food is, the less nutrition it will contain and the less efficient it will be for optimizing your hormones in favor of losing fat and building muscle.
Contrary to popular belief, greater meal frequency will NOT help you lose fat any faster or better. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 large meals… or 6 small meals per day.
In fact, there’s a lot of solid research supporting the notion that intermittent fasting is superior for fat loss and boosting testosterone and growth hormone levels. Especially when compared to eating frequent, small meals throughout the day.
While there are different methods of intermittent fasting, I prefer an approach where you consume all your daily calories within an 8-hour window, then fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.
I personally prefer to eat all my calories between 11 AM and 7 PM. Of course, the 8-hour window you choose will depend on your schedule and lifestyle.
Please don’t focus too much on the scale to determine your progress. You could gain 5 pounds of muscle and lose 5 pounds of fat, but the scale will indicate you haven’t made any progress.
Instead, pay attention to the detail you see in the mirror and take notice of how your clothes fit. If you really want a more concrete way of determining your progress, you could take body measurements using a tape measure.
These are some general guidelines I feel will work very well for most people. I wish you all the best of success with obtaining your goals!
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