Trials and Tribulations of an FFB
Congratulations. You've succeeded where most people have failed. You've bucked the obesity trend and have lost a small mountain of fat. You feel better, you look better, and your health has greatly improved. Good for you.
But don't get too comfortable. You may have won the battle, but the war has just begun. You're an FFB, a Former Fat Boy, and you will be for the rest of your life.
I've been fighting the war on fat since the fifth grade. About fifteen years ago, I won a major battle. After going from chubby to downright corpulent in college, I lost over 60 pounds just before my senior year. I didn't do it right and I didn't look good when I was finished, but dammit, at least I wasn't fat anymore.
I've spent the last fifteen years figuring out how to stay lean while building muscle. I've had ups and downs, but I've kept the fat off for the long haul. Recently, I won another battle: I went from "mostly lean" to ripped. From fatty to shredded in "only" fifteen years! Oh, if I only knew then what I know now!
The most important thing I learned along the way was this: The FFB falls into his own category. He can't play by the same rules as everyone else.
He may be lean now, but he can't eat or train the same as a naturally lean guy. He usually can't use mass diets written by and for people who have never been overweight. Even the rules of additional fat loss and maintenance have to be largely tossed out the window. He's an FFB and that means he has his own special set of rules.
Are You an FFB?
You could be an FFB if:
• You've lost over 30 pounds of fat (roughly) in the past.
• You can gain fat at a frighteningly rapid rate.
• You've learned that the typical advice concerning bulking, cutting, and even training doesn't seem to work for you.
• You have the urge to smack self-confessed "hardgainers" in the head when they complain about not being able to gain weight or not liking to eat. Poor babies! Smack!
Until now, there's been very little info out there for FFBs. What follows is a summary of everything I've learned as an FFB and from working with other FFBs over the years. Some of this is based on studies and some of it is based on my own empirical data. Everyone is different when it comes to the details; there are a lot of variables involved, but this "handbook" should be a decent (albeit general) guide for the typical former fatty just trying to stay lean and build muscle.
The FFB Handbook
The idea of going on a mass or "bulking" diet is a scary proposition for the FFB. After he loses all that fat, the very thought of trying to gain weight makes him nervous. Then the poor guy gets on a bodybuilding forum and reads about how you have to eat big to "get f'ing huge!" Or worse, some naturally lean guy who's never had a weight problem in his life tells him he needs to "just eat a lot."
Gee, thanks for the advice, Caption Oblivious, but "just eating a lot" is what got these guys fat in the first place. Sure, the FFB wants to gain muscle, but can he do it without gaining back a load of fat? Yes, but the game is different for him.
The FFB's main problem is his localized accumulations of fat cells. Although he's lost the fat, those cells are still there (just shrunken and "empty") and there's no way to get rid of them without cosmetic surgery. These hungry cells are just waiting to expand again, and in just a few short weeks of poor eating habits or lowered activity level, they can cause the FFB to blow out those new size 32 jeans faster than you can say, "pass the pie."
Because of this, the FFB is a walking time bomb, or more accurately, a walking fat bomb, able to blow up with just a few little slips. The typical mass diet you read in bodybuilding magazines (yes, even some on this site) will cause the former fatty to get big alright – big and fat!
So here are some general rules for the FFB who wants to add mass without having to break out the "husky" pants:
1) First and foremost, the FFB shouldn't bulk until after he's ripped. That may seem like paradoxical advice, but it's just the rules of the game for the FFB.
You see, when a guy who's already chubby goes on a mass diet, he'll usually gain about four pounds of fat for every pound of muscle he puts on. A really lean guy doesn't have that problem. He can usually "get his bulk on" without excessive fat gain.
My theory is that this 4:1 rule of thumb applies to FFBs, even those that are already pretty lean. I don't know many people who want to gain two to three inches on their waist just to put on five pounds of muscle – muscle that will never be noticed because it'll be covered with adipose tissue!
To reduce the fat gain that comes with a mass diet, the FFB should make sure he's truly shredded before beginning such a plan. If he doesn't, then his rate of fat gain will most likely freak him out and he'll be perpetually stuck between his desire to stay lean and his desire for bigger muscles. FFBs can easily fall into the yo-yo diet trap.
2) The FFB, once he's nice and lean, must use what I call a "clean bulk." Yes, he has to eat more calories (above his maintenance level), but these calories must be kept in control and come from clean food sources.
First, the FFB can't add thousands of calories per day like the naturally lean guy does. His mass diet must be conducted very slowly, with only a few hundred extra calories added at one time. Figure out your maintenance level and add around 300 calories to the daily total. Raise or lower this number based on your weekly results. Don't go from 2000 calories per day to 5000! That type of "massive eating" will leave the FFB massively porky.
Second, the password is clean. You know that friend of yours who eats pizza and fast food when he bulks, yet he never gains an undue amount of fat? Well, you're not him! The FFB must eat healthy foods when on a mass phase: lean meats, vegetables, fruit, oatmeal, etc. No fried food, no candy, no pizza, nothing from the drive-through. Yeah, that sucks, but that's life.
3) The FFB must monitor his body fat closely during a mass diet. Use calipers and photos. (The mirror is a great tool, but FFBs have a way of seeing what they want to see in mirrors, reality be damned, so photos are better and more brutal.)
Generally speaking, the FFB needs shorter mass phases. He may want to "bulk" for two to three weeks, maintain that for a few weeks, then bulk again. If the fat begins to accumulate too quickly and in excessive amounts, he needs to stop, drop calories, and reevaluate. A little fat gain is expected during a bulking diet, but too much can sneak up on the FFB very quickly.
4) The former fatty needs to do his cardio even when bulking. Cardio can increase glucose and amino acid uptake in muscle and liver cells, so it can be "anabolic" from a nutrient partitioning viewpoint. Cardio also leads to increased muscular uptake of nutrients for hours after exercise.
All that stuff aside, the FFB, especially one with a desk job, needs to burn some extra calories every day. He shouldn't stay on the treadmill for an hour per day, but long walks and bouts of sprinting or similar should be on the FFB's weekly menu. Yep, even on a mass phase.
5) Some FFBs lessen the fat gain during a mass phase by taking small amounts of quality fat burning supplements. If you want to try it, I recommend the minimum dose of Maximum Strength HOT-ROX.
Hardcore Fat Loss Diets
An FFB may not be technically overweight or obese anymore, but he's usually not a skinny bastard either. When he decides he wants to take it a step further and bring out all of his abs (not just those top two) he has to adopt a no-holds-barred approach.
Lean is not the FFB's natural state. His body will battle him the whole way. If he has to be careful with bad carbs and surplus calories when on a mass phase, what do you think he has to do to get really cut? That's right, he has to bust his formerly fat ass! Here are some broad-spectrum rules:
1) FFB's excel on low carb fat loss plans. Under 100 grams of carbs per day works best for most of them.
2) FFB's may have to drop calories lower than a normal person. This is tricky and the FFB just has to use trial and error to see what works best for him. Whatever diet he's using, he might need to drop another 100-200 calories from the suggested daily intake.
3) The FFB can't slack off in the gym. This is true even if he's not dieting, but it's especially true when his goal is to get ridiculously shredded. The FFB must expect to work harder than the average person to get the same results.
4) As the above three points illustrate, the FFB has to take the hardcore approach to get really, really lean. The best diet I've ever seen that combines all of these factors is the Velocity Diet.
When a person goes on a diet and drops fat, he or she will gain it back quickly if they return to their bad dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle. You knew that, right? Well, that's even more true for the FFB. In fact, he has to be "dieting" for the rest of his life.
Let me explain before you throw your hands up in frustration and head to the local Cold Stone Creamery. The FFB's body wants very badly to be fat again. Call it the "body fat set point" or "slow metabolism" or "bad genes" or whatever. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that the FFB can never again eat like a normal person. He's got to be careful, for life!
That doesn't mean he can't enjoy a big holiday meal or have a pizza during the Super Bowl, but those occasions have to be few and far between. The majority of the time, he has to choose healthy foods. This is his penance for getting fat earlier in his life. Sucks, huh? Doesn't make it any less true though.
Here are some general tips for keeping the fat off:
1) The FFB must select carbohydrates wisely. Carbs are tricky for the former fatty. Because of a list of physiological interactions too long to get into here, the FFB must be very selective with his carb intake. Yes, he needs carbs, but he needs the right kind of carbs at the right time.
I suggest two times during the day when carbs are A-okay: breakfast and around training time. Carbs consumed during these times aren't likely to be stored as fat, but rather "put to use." Breakfast should be the former fatty's biggest and most carb-rich meal of the day. I suggest old-fashioned oatmeal and fruit along with about 40 grams of protein.
The FFB can also pile on the smart carbs right after a workout, as this is the time when the body can best utilize them for replenishment, recovery, and muscle building. A properly formulated post-workout drink like Surge® is ideal here.
2) Those two times aside, the FFB must control his carb intake the rest of the day. Vegetables are fine, but the FFB should toss most bread and cold cereal products out of his house forever. Non-diet sodas? Never again. You're an FFB and your long term relationship with sugar and flour is over. Boo-Hoo. Get a hanky.
3) Food log: keep one. Everyone should spend some time logging their macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and overall calorie intake, but it's especially important for FFBs. For whatever reason, FFBs can eat large amounts, often without feeling very full. They have a hard time "guestimating" how much they're taking in. A food log will keep them on track.
They don't have to use one forever, but periodically logging everything will keep FFBs on the lean path. If an FFB catches himself getting too fat, he should break out the log. A legal pad and a calculator in the kitchen is all he really needs.
4) The former fat boy's biggest meal should be in the morning and his last meal of the day should be the smallest. He's an energy storing machine. Eating too much late in the day will lay on the fat. The FFB would be wise to not eat in the two to three hours prior to bedtime.
But what about going catabolic overnight? The ectomorphic teenager playing sports may need to worry about that; the FFB who sits at a desk all day does not. However, I do recommend that he get a nice chunk of slow digesting protein (30-40 grams or so) in his last meal of the day. A hunk of meat or a glass of low-carb Metabolic Drive would be perfect here. In the morning he should immediately get some protein in. If those two things are taken care of, then there's no reason to get paranoid about nighttime muscle loss.
More than a normal person, the FFB needs to train hard, perform both resistance training and cardio, and do it forever. He can't even slack off a little. Where most people can take it easy and at least maintain, the FFB will immediately begin gaining fat.
Here are some basic rules for FFB training:
1) Use mostly big, basic exercises. Not bad advice for anyone really, but the FFB must build muscle to boost that crappy metabolism, and the way to do that is to revolve most of his training time around these exercises:
There are plenty of other good exercises out there, but these exercises or variations thereof should make up the core of his training. They build the most muscle and burn the most calories. The FFB requires both.
2) As mentioned above, the FFB has to do his cardio. There are many different flavors of cardio or energy systems work, and they all taste good: steady state fast walks, uphill treadmill walks, short runs, sprints, etc. Yes, most of his training energy should be focused on the iron, but the FFB can't neglect his cardio. At the very least, he should shoot for several long walks a week.
3) The FFB needs to get the most out of his workouts. Each weight training session must count. Full body and half-body workouts are best. The FFB does not need an arms-only day. Arm and calf work can be tossed in after his "money" exercises.
Here are some sample splits:
The Full Body Split
Monday: Full Body – Upper Body Emphasis + Walk
Wednesday: Full Body – Lower Body Emphasis + Walk
Friday: Full Body – Upper Body Emphasis + Walk
Sunday: Off or Long Walk
Monday: Full Body – Lower Body Emphasis + Walk
Wednesday: Full Body – Upper Body Emphasis + Walk
Friday: Full Body – Lower Body Emphasis + Walk
Sunday: Off or Long Walk
Note: What do I mean by "emphasis?" On upper-body emphasis day, you start with upper body work and focus most of your sets there. You'll train lower body afterwards with fewer sets and perhaps less intensity. The next workout, you'll switch all that around: start with lower body and focus most of your energy there. The non-emphasized muscle groups still get trained, just not as hard.
The Half-Body Split
Monday: Upper Body + Walk
Tuesday: Lower Body + Walk
Wednesday: Off or Walk
Thursday: Upper Body + Walk
Friday: Lower Body – With Sprints + Walk
Saturday: Long Walk
Sunday: Long Walk
Note: I prefer the cardio to be performed separately from your weight training, but do whatever your schedule allows. A long walk or short run sometime after your last meal of the day is one option. Pre-breakfast cardio is another.
"But isn't cardio on an empty stomach bad? Won't you burn up muscle?" you ask. Are you a 120 pound college-aged hardgainer? No? Then don't sweat it.
Supplements for FFBs
FFB's can benefit a great deal from supplements, if they choose wisely. Here's the scoop:
1) When choosing a protein powder or meal replacement, the FFB needs to choose the low-carb option. No need for the extra sugars in high carb products. And never under any circumstances does he need a "weight gainer." Also, the FFB, like most people, should avoid ingesting too much soy or sugar alcohols.
The highest quality protein product out there right now is low-carb Metabolic Drive Since Metabolic Drive also tastes like dessert and is very filling, this will take care of any sweet craving an FFB may have.
2) Creatine is fine for the FFB but he must avoid those sugar-containing, Kool-Aid like concoctions. Plain, unflavored creatine powder (micronized) is all he needs. And really, that's true for everyone. Save the Kool-Aid for the kiddies.
3) For a whole host of reasons, everyone should be taking a fish oil supplement, especially FFBs. There are plenty of articles on this site listing the health benefits of fish oil, so I won't repeat the info here. Just take a handful of fish oil capsules every day and you'll be doing fine.
4) Fiber is your friend. Since the FFB is always keeping his carb intake in check, he might want to use a fiber supplement or add some milled flax seeds to his diet. If you eat your oatmeal and your veggies like a good boy, this might not be needed.
5) Carbolin 19 might be the best "next level" supplement out there for the hard training former fatty. It should help him build muscle and keep his body fat in check at the same time. Cool beans. More info HERE.
Special Considerations for Some Former Fatties
There are a couple of issues that most naturally lean trainers are clueless about: damaged skin and "leftover" fat.
1) Damaged Skin: After a person loses a large amount of weight, the skin sometimes loses its elasticity. Doesn't happen to everyone and age and genetics may play a role, but if it does occur the condition is permanent. This "loose skin" can't be dieted off, trained off, supplemented off, or drugged off.
A severe example of "loose skin."
The severity of this condition depends on how much weight was lost. Twenty or thirty pounds probably won't cause this condition, but over 50 or 60 might. Lose over 100 pounds and plastic surgery (a procedure called abdominoplasty) is almost a necessity. Right now the only "cure" is surgical. This procedure is improving rapidly these days because of the large number of people getting gastric bypass surgeries.
2) "Leftover" Fat: After a person loses his excess fat, he may still have a few problem areas. Sometimes these simply require more work: a dialed-in diet, a better training program, etc. However, there comes a point when the remaining "fat pockets" just won't budge. Sure, maybe that fat would mobilize if the FFB dieted down until he looked like a resident of a concentration camp, but he'd lose a great deal of muscle in the process. He'll finally be free of that last bit of love handle fat, but he'd be a weak, walking skeleton too.
I mention these two things because I've seen some FFBs continue to diet strictly trying to "tighten up" damaged skin or lose those last, hardly noticeable pockets of hard-to-reach fat. Don't do that. The former can't be fixed with diet or training; the latter might be possible but the FFB would have to become anorexic to do it.
The FFB has two choices: One, recognize that he's lost a ton of fat and that he looks a thousand times better, then refocus his efforts on lean mass gains. Two, pony up and pay a visit to a plastic surgeon.
From FFB to PBB
Studies show that the majority of people who lose a lot of fat will eventually gain it back.
It doesn't have to be that way!
With the right training, nutrition and supplements, the FFB can become a PBB – a Permanently Buff Boy. It's not easy and he'll have to work even harder than regular people to stay lean and mean, but as an FFB myself I can tell you, it's worth it!