Question: I am 56 years old and 215 lbs. I have been lifting every other day and running 3 miles every day for 2 months. My goal is to lose fat and get down to 190 lbs, and also build a respectable upper body. My diet has consisted of no alcohol, plenty of protein and I’ve gone light on the carbs.
After two months I have only lost 10 lbs and haven’t seen much in the way of body transformation. Should I be doing something special because of my age?
– Bruce (New Jersey)
Answer: Thanks for the question, Bruce. First off, no, your age is essentially irrelevant in the big picture. It’s funny, one of the last questions I got was also from another guy your age who asked if 56 years old was “too old to build muscle.” You might enjoy taking a look at that post, too.
But back to your problem, which I don’t see as a real problem. It’s important to realize that you’re just starting out. I wouldn’t consider losing 10 lbs in 2 months to be bad progress…
…From your account, though, it sounds like you didn’t actually lose as much fat as you would have liked. So, let’s do a little troubleshooting and see if we can’t accelerate your fat loss progress in the coming months. To do this, we’ll look at a few key categories:
- Sleep & Recovery
This is by far the most important aspect of your fat loss strategy, as evidenced by the classic saying “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.” The information you gave me on your diet is pretty vague, so it’s hard to tell you exactly what to change. But if you don’t already have solid diet plan in place, you must do so before you can expect faster fat loss.
Read my nutrition guide to learn how to set up your most effective bodybuilding diet plan. As you’ll learn in more detail in that guide, the most important nutrition guidelines for cutting fat are:
- Eating slightly fewer calories than you burn (250-500 calories below maintenance per day)
- Eating enough protein to maintain muscle (1.0-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day)
- Don’t needlessly deprive yourself of good/tasty food. As long as your daily calories and protein intake are in check, then it’s fine to indulge in so-called junk food. It won’t make you fat (…contrary to popular belief), but it will keep you on your diet.
- Drink lots of water! Fill up a gallon container of water when you wake up and make it a goal to drink the whole thing by the end of the day. Drinking water burns fat by keeping your cells hydrated and curbing your appetite (at least in the short-term).
What does your weight lifting routine look like? I’m guessing that you are a beginner, more or less. So assuming that you are, it’s imperative that you train like a beginner. Instead of working out every other day, I recommend limiting your weight training to 3 workouts per week on non-consecutive days (e.g. M/W/F, T/Th/Sa, etc.). More than 3 days per week at this point is unnecessary, and likely overkill.
As far as specific training programs, I recommend doing MYx8 or Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Program. They are both focused on training the major lifts frequently; thus accomplishing the most important training goals for any beginner: Learning proper technique as quickly as possible and gaining strength as quickly as possible.
Even though you’ll be in caloric deficit (i.e. eating fewer calories than you burn), you should be still be increasing your lifts from workout to workout. Why? Because you are a beginner, and beginners can make strength progress like no other… Even 56 year old beginners!
You also said that you’re running 3 miles every day. While 3 miles is certainly no marathon, it is still enough to interfere with proper muscle recovery. You should have at least 2 full days where you do no lifting or running whatsoever (usually Saturday and Sunday on a M/W/F routine)…
…So that means you can run for a maximum of 5 or fewer days per week. If you run on a weight training day, be sure to do it either a few to several hours before hitting the weights, or any time after pumping the iron. The idea is to prevent your running from interfering with your lifts.
3. Sleep & Recovery
Your body needs a sufficient amount of sleep in order to recover from both your cardiovascular and your weight training workouts. This way, you maintain your muscle mass, keep your energy high and ensure that your metabolism is running efficiently. In other words, sleep transforms you into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine.
So, ask yourself, how many hours of shut-eye do you get each night? You should be aiming for about 7-9 hours of sleep per night, whenever possible. Make an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. This habit, although difficult to form, makes it possible to fall asleep faster and deeper than you could otherwise.
If for some reason you have troubles falling and staying asleep, you might want to read up on melatonin. Same thing goes for if you have a job that requires traveling through time zones periodically.
So to conclude, age truly ain’t nothing but a number…
…It has no real bearing on the type of approach you should be taking. And since you’re only 56 now, if you follow the advice given, then you’ll be looking like you’re 50 by the you’re 60!
Keep up the hard work and don’t hesitate to ask more questions.
All the best,