I have been browsing the photos of several BFL women who have gone on to compete in figure soon after very successfully completing their first or second 12-week challenges, and what I’m noticing is that while they are certainly lean, they don’t have the upper body development (back, arms, abs, shoulders) needed to contend for first place. In some cases, even the lower body could use more lean mass.
They look, in fact, a lot like I did after my first two challenges when I was eating only 1200-1300 calories/day and doing 45-60 minutes of cardio almost daily. I just had more leg muscle thanks to some serious rice paddy peasant genetics and an average of 50 hours a week of constant isometric leg muscle engagement by dint of using a stability ball as my office chair at work.
It was as if someone had stuck an ectomorphic skinny girl’s upper body on top of a mesomorphic figure competitor’s legs, hehe. I used to joke with the upper-body lean-mass-blessed Pam/Rockenmama back in the days when she didn’t train her legs as heavily that if we swapped halves, we’d be able to form one really buff woman and one really skinny one.
I believe my biggest mistake (and that of most women doing straight BFL and hoping for noticeable muscle increase to get closer to a fitness model physique, not just skinny and toned) was not eating enough to support lean mass growth during the initial 8 weeks of my first challenge, and then compounding the mistake by continuing to stay too low for an additional 12 weeks. If you don’t have much lean mass when you start BFL or any other bodybuilding nutrition-based regimen (5-6 small meals/day, lean protein sources, higher than average protein intake, whole grains, reduced quantities of refined and processed foods, yada yada yada), you aren’t going to have much more when you finish if your calories hang out 500-1000 calories/day below your maintenance level on average the whole time.
Body-for-Life, as written in the original book by Bill Phillips, is an easy-to-follow cutting/fat loss plan with a built-in caloric deficit but no actual calorie counting and a moderate (and therefore sustainable by most people) amount of exercise. As I’ve pointed out before, BFL standard will only get you so far in terms of body fat percentage, but that is enough for many people. The ones who want to go a bit further and really shoot for Oxygen model physiques need to go a little further with diet changes, cardio, and, ultimately lean mass growth.
If you are already pretty lean, the latter entails eating at least at maintenance level (preferably higher), and shifting the focus from cardio back to weight training since you won’t be able to pull energy for muscle growth from excess fat stores. What I’ve finally come to accept is that sticking to the classic BFL palm-fist portion sizes is NOT the way to go if you want to gain mass or even maintain. You are always going to be at a deficit on BFL, and that is not going to give you the lovely, full muscles you want if your goals are like mine.
The book does suggest on page 120 that those wishing to gain lean mass (or “bulk”) should double their carb portions in the first three meals of the day. I haven’t given this a shot yet, but it seems like it would work from a mathematical standpoint. Assuming that a typical standard BFL day for a woman of my size comes out to around 1500 calories, adding three extra carb portions at around 120 calories each would bump up my intake to 1860 calories, which is just 100-200 calories shy of maintenance.
I wished I’d known enough back then about muscle growth to take advantage of this information. I would have done a combination of 6 weeks of BFL “bulking” followed by 6 weeks of BFL “standard/cutting” instead of cutting for 24 straight weeks.
And I bet I would have had some decent arms at the end, too.
1. 1/3 c. oatmeal, 3 T. raisins, 1 whole egg, 3 egg whites
2. 1 banana, 1 scoop whey
3. 4 oz. chicken breast, 1/3 c. (dry) oatmeal, 1 c. mixed Mandarin veggies
4. 1/2 c. light soy milk, 1.25 scoops whey
5. 4 oz. chicken breast, 3 c. Romaine salad, 2 T. Kraft Free Zesty Italian dressing
6. 1 c. light soy milk, 1 scoop whey
Water: 16 cups
Supplements: multivitamin, calcium 600+D, EAS l-glutamine
Calories: 1366 calories (41.8% carb/46.8% pro/12.9% fat)
* Elliptical (Lvl 10/ 30 min)
* YF Cardio (30 min)
Calories burned: 490 calories
DEFICIT: -789 cal (Target: -632 cal/day)
BUDGET NOTES: None