A few months ago, we received a letter from a reader that included this paragraph:
"My name is Gus and I'm a lifetime natural bodybuilder. I've been lifting for 21 years and I've struggled for every pound of muscle. But believe it or not, I've never been ripped. I just want to see my abs for once!"
Like a lot of experienced lifters, 37-year-old Gus Pacho took supplements and trained his ass off in the gym. The problem was that he needed a radical new training program, an outside push to take him to the next level, and (most importantly) he needed to get control of his eating habits.
We accepted Gus into our Physique Clinic right before Christmas of last year. His results? About four months later, Gus had dropped close to 40 pounds of fat and lost 9 inches off his belly.
Gus kick-started his plan with Chris Shugart's Velocity Diet and a Chad Waterbury workout program, then he transitioned into a Christian Thibaudeau program, and finally, the Shredded in 6 Days plan.
Gus truly represents what Testosterone is all about: hard training, good nutrition, proper supplementation, and hardcore dedication. We recently checked in with Gus to get his thoughts on his experience and to see what's next for him.
T-Nation: Gus, before you were chosen for the Physique Clinic, where were you at with your physique goals?
Before the Physique Clinic, I kind of gave up on trying to drop to just 200 pounds. I was on a modified Anabolic Diet program that I didn't give 100% compliance to. I'd keep my carbs low Monday through Thursday and then have wild carb-ups on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!
I just couldn't help myself once I started eating. I'd literally start up my carb load at Krispy Kreme and finish off a half dozen doughnuts on the drive home.
So I just said "screw it" and decided that if I can't get lean, then I'll get as big and as wide as I could. I figured that as long as I could get my shoulders wide then my fat waist would look smaller. I know now that was just an excuse to overeat.
T-Nation: That's an important point. While the bulking bodybuilder needs a "full tank" of calories to build muscle optimally, too often he greatly overflows his tank. If he's visibly storing that much blubber, then those calories are clearly excessive. It's not necessary, it's difficult to lose, it instills bad eating habits, and it's just plain unhealthy.
Yes, my doctor informed me I was borderline high blood sugar. My family history of heart disease was always in the back of my mind too, getting closer to reality for me.
Mentally, the thought of being ripped and having clearly defined abs was something I didn't think was in the cards for me with my eating habits. Sure, I had 17.5 inch arms, broad shoulders, and was strong, but my waist was over 40 inches sometimes!
T-Nation: And a 40-plus inch waist is very often a sign of impending diabetes.
I was just a fat bodybuilder thinking I was "jacked!" But the mirror never lies, and every time I took off my shirt, my eyes would focus on my love handles, rolls of back fat, and my dreaded "pooch." I really can't stand looking at my old photos anymore. I can't believe how bad I let my physique go.
T-Nation: Sum up your overall Physique Clinic results for us.
I started the Physique Clinic weighing around 210 to 215 pounds depending on what I pigged out on that day. My belly measurement was 39.5 inches. About four months later, at the end of my Physique Clinic, that was down to 30.5 inches.
I weighed 167 on the morning of my last day of the "Shredded in 6 Days" program, but my normal hydrated weight is 173. So I lost 43 pounds total, or about 37 pounds of fat and then a few pounds of water before I took my final photos.
Most of my measurements dropped in inches for a good reason: I had a lot of fat covering up my muscles. It's not like I shrank down to nothing. Instead I discovered a muscular body with good definition that I thoroughly enjoy having.
T-Nation: You did a great job dealing with the numbers game, Gus. Sometimes it's difficult for a lifter to watch the numbers on the scale fall, even if he knows it's excess body fat coming off, not muscle.
Some bodybuilders would rather brag about being 215 pounds than admit that 20 pounds of that is flab. It's psychologically tough to drop under that coveted 200 pound mark, but – depending on your height and genetic structure – that's often where a natural bodybuilder looks best. Plus a 16-inch ripped arm looks more muscular than an 18-inch flabby arm. You lost over an inch from your upper arm measurements, yet your biceps now look "bigger."
Now, your transformation was jump-started by getting on the Velocity Diet. What were the results from those first 28 days on the V-Diet?
I dropped from 210 to 188.5 pounds on the 28-day strict phase of the Velocity Diet. That's a loss of 21.5 pounds and 5.5 inches of fat off my belly in just four weeks!
The amount of fat loss is just incredible on the program. Sure is a lot easier than a twelve-week program of regular dieting! I wasn't able to see my abs clearly yet, but I was definitely on my way with the V-Diet jumpstart.
T-Nation: Did you experience any of the taste / craving / behavioral changes that usually accompany the fat loss during the V-Diet?
You bet! My cravings for good food started around day seven and it really hit me hard around week three. I remember being able to taste the sweetness in vegetables and just loving the taste and texture of them, as well as chicken, steak, and salmon. I simultaneously lost all my cravings for sweets and breads.
For me, it seems that the longer I was on the V-Diet, the less I desired the usual garbage foods. Yeah, I know it sounds like a commercial, but this is what I experienced. I didn't know how intense my cravings for good food would be. The weekly HSMs (healthy solid meals) were really instrumental in the taste changes I developed.
Those taste changes were key to good, long-term eating habits, which lead me to developing a more defined physique. In the past, my eating habits held me back from ever leaning up. I was determined to make a drastic change in that area of my bodybuilding life.
T-Nation: Now, you started your V-Diet on Christmas Eve. No holiday dinners, no New Years partying, etc. Some would say you were nuts for starting when you did. How do you respond to that?
Everybody said I was crazy for starting on Christmas Eve! Especially starting a mostly-liquid diet! I just told everyone, "This is what I'm going to do to drop my fat. And I don't care what or when I have to do it since I already made up my mind to do this."
I gave myself no outs on this program and always remembered how fat my waist was when I measured it pre-Physique Clinic. Remember, I thought my waist was around 36 inches and not almost 40!
Finding out the truth after lying to myself for so long was a huge motivating factor for me since I was so pissed off about it. Thanks for making me do the measurements, Chris! That was more than enough to start the fire in me.
The holidays were challenging, but I just wanted the changes so badly. I mean, my buddies came over to my house for New Year's Eve to drink up and I had to refuse them, which isn't easy to do with your friends. This sacrifice lasted all through the holidays, my birthday, and ended up on Super Bowl Sunday!
No cheating, no let up, and no excuses... period. It always comes down to how bad you want your goal and what you'll do to accomplish it.
T-Nation: Very true. Now, what are some things you believed before the Physique Clinic that you no longer believe? In other words, what training, diet, or bodybuilding beliefs did you have that changed during the course of the Physique Clinic?
I used to think that I could never eat a clean diet consistently for a long period of time. I proved that belief to be bunk.
I ended up enjoying my clean foods and the results they bring. I look forward to my chicken breasts and veggies! I feel and look better when my diet is on spot. I just can't see myself eating crap again.
I don't need a carb-up/re-feed/junk-food day to satisfy my cravings. Eating good foods the right way with the right recipes fulfill that need and further my progress. I can have my desserts made out of Metabolic Drive and enjoy low-carb healthy pizzas without having to worry about packing the fat back on!
As far as training goes, I now believe that I can use both a whole body and a split routine without feeling that I'm losing out on any of their benefits. I admit I got caught up in that whole debate of which type of training is better, but both ways can have their place in your program depending on your goal. You don't have to be dedicated to one style. Heck, I like both whole body training AND split routines.
I also believe that isolation exercises are essential in training and don't need to be shunned due to the high impact of compound exercises. Yes, I can use both and grow.
I also don't believe that daily cardio leads to muscle loss. I used to limit my cardio in the past because I didn't want to catabolize any muscle tissue. Now, after the Physique Clinic, I can't feel right about my workouts if I don't get at least four cardio sessions a week. The effect it has on staying in shape is just so important, and I'm not letting that slip.
T-Nation: You'd been training for 21 years before joining the Physique Clinic. Looking back, what would you do differently given all you know now?
Varying my training programs every eight weeks could've helped some of the joint problems I have now since I always pushed for more and more weight all the time. The lack of change and de-loading weeks really hurt my progress and helped aggravate some sore joints that I deal with today.
A consistent clean diet would've had me walking around with abs many damn years ago instead of now, but hey, you live and learn. And I definitely learned my lesson.
Eating clean before would last only a week or so before the doughnuts started calling my name! I believe a sound nutrition program is 90% of the game in terms of making progress in your body. Without it, you're stuck in a rut, and my rut lasted way too long.
T-Nation: You used several Biotest supplements during your transformation. If you could only choose two that you'd consider essential to your success, what would they be?
Those two supplements were the foundation supplements that complemented my nutrition program. You just can't go wrong with a high quality protein powder and a potent fish oil!
Surge Workout Fuel comes in at a close third because that supplement was just so damn effective in ramping up my work capacity in Coach Thibaudeau's training programs!
T-Nation: What has the reaction been like from those around you, and particularly those that haven't see you for a while?
It's always the changes in my face that gets them. I used to have a big puffy face, but once I lost the flub I looked like a different person! After that they notice my shrunken waist and veins if I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
Everyone can't believe I lost so much fat in such a short time. They freak out, especially when I tell them that I started on Christmas Eve! It's still a nice feeling to get those compliments and it's always a great motivating factor in my training.
T-Nation: Okay, in each of these areas, tell us something you learned that really surprised you. First, training.
I learned that I can still grow with a relatively high volume of training with the increased work capacity I built up through the training sessions from Coaches Thibaudeau and Waterbury. Those routines were tough to go through, but they built up my work capacity immensely.
I still follow a routine similar to the ones Coach Thibaudeau provided me with, which is relatively high in volume. I actually thrive on it. I like the work and short rest periods; I'm just used to it now.
T-Nation: How about nutrition?
I really enjoy how much control I have now with my nutrition program. I'm no longer a slave to food; now I make food work for me. The taste changes from the V-Diet are really key. If you're a wuss in the kitchen then don't expect any great progress. Believe me, I know.
T-Nation: Psychology or mental?
The make-or-break time in training to get lean will always be what you call "The Grind" period.
I had to keep making small deals with myself all the time in terms of wanting to slack off or eat more than my caloric limit. I usually told myself to just take everything one set at a time or even one meal at a time, and then I'll see those abs pop out. It wasn't easy, but it was damn worth it to stay strict the whole way through.
Another big thing that I experienced from the Physique Clinic was how much mental tenacity I had in me. Working through Christmas, New Year's, my birthday, the Super Bowl, school, family challenges, and temptations showed me that I was never weak. I just had a weak mindset that I replaced with a tenacious one. I wanted to reach my goals badly and wouldn't give them up for anything.
T-Nation: What advice do you have for those who'd like to make a similar transformation?
If you really want to make a straight-up great transformation, then be willing to make each day a success with your training, diet, and cardio. Stay 100% consistent with everything no matter what comes up.
Realize that it won't be easy, you will be sacrificing things in your life to get your results, and you will be tempted to stray... but don't!
I wanted to eat more than what was allotted in my diet, but I always talked myself out of it. I looked at my old photos and realized that I wasn't that guy anymore. I'm now a dedicated bodybuilder who's gunning for his goals.
Fuck mediocrity. I did that long enough. I wanted exceptional results and was willing to put out exceptional effort.
It was a tough journey, but I just couldn't give up on myself anymore.
T-Nation: So what's next for you, Gus?
I'm planning to lean up a bit more for an upcoming anniversary vacation with my wife, then I'm going to slowly mass up and bring up some weak body parts. I'm going to need the improvements if I want to compete in 2009.
I've always wanted to compete in a natural bodybuilding show and now know that I have the mental toughness and heart to give it a go. It's my time to realize the rest of the goals in my bodybuilding life that I thought were never possible before my Physique Clinic.
T-Nation: You've inspired a lot of people, Gus, that's for sure. Thanks for the interview!