Karl Henry: I want to eat well and get a six-pack - is vegan the way?
I'VE decided that 2014 is going to be the year for me to change my life around. I'm in my early 40s and want to change my diet to a vegan/raw diet and I want to use free weights as an exercise programme.
The thing is, I'm not sure about the whole vegan/raw diet, is it okay to use in trying to lose weight around the abs and build muscle mass at the one time? I need to see my abs again, and 2014 is going to be that year.
KARL SAYS: FIRSTLY, well done on making the decision to turn your life around in 2014. It sounds like you have thought hard about it and have the determination to make the changes that are necessary. So let's look at your question in three parts.
The first is the switch to the vegan/raw diet. Many years ago, I was a vegan myself for a few months and while you do feel very healthy on it, it is really hard to sustain as it takes so much time and planning to do.
If you are going one step further and eating raw food only, then I presume that it is harder again. You really need to ask yourself why are you switching to this type of diet?
Yes it's healthy, but it is seriously hard to get the right amount of protein in through raw food, especially if you are looking to build muscle.
Switching to vegan/raw food won't necessarily give you a six-pack or give you muscle. If you have the time to plan and prepare your food so that you ensure you are getting at least 1.5g of protein per kg body weight then it will work, but I'm not sure how you would do it unless you begin eating raw fish/meat, which I wouldn't recommend.
The second part of your question is about building muscle. When you train, you are tearing your muscle fibres and then they grow back stronger and leaner. That is the whole process of training. This is where your dietary protein comes in as it is the nutrient required to create this change, shakes, etc will do it too but they aren't as healthy as real food itself.
Using free weights as your exercise programme is always the best option as free weights force your body to do all the work, with no help from the resistance machines etc, forcing your body to work harder. Ensure that your programme works all the body parts, not just the upper body, and that your reps are eight, 10 or 12 reps as the lower reps will help you to build muscle better.
The third part of your question is about getting the elusive six-pack. Firstly, we all have six-packs, it is simply the layer of fat that covers them that differs one person from the next.
Doing hundreds of reps of abs exercises won't give you the six-pack you desire, but your gym programme should certainly have at least two core exercises in it.
You also need to ensure that you have a cardiovascular element to your workout, too, ideally on separate days to your weights sessions.
Use intervals here, too, for the best fat-burning results. Doing short cardio intervals on an empty stomach in the morning time seems to be one of the best ways to get your body fat down, so if you are a morning person I would certainly recommend this.
The key part of any six-pack is your diet. The switch to vegan/raw food will help but you really need to ensure that you are getting enough protein in, too.
These three elements -- resistance training, cardio sessions and diet combined -- are what will work best for you in terms of getting the results that you want. Keep changing your sessions as often as possible and don't overdo your training either.
You're making big changes in your life just don't try to make them too quickly; we all know what happens to many New Year's resolutions, because people make unrealistic changes that don't last.
Ensure that your life can cope with the changes you're making and then go for it!