Staying In Shape After 40

According to current 21st century wisdom, "40 is the new 20". Or is it 30? In the world we live in now, we apparently no longer have to worry about getting older because we are not really as old as our chronological age might reveal.

This is a great self-talk for our esteem and confidence but unfortunately our bodies have their own agenda. As the body ages, things do change and we need to make adjustments to our nutrition program to account for the advancing years.

Our metabolisms get slower when we reach our 40s and beyond. This means that we get fatter easier and it is more difficult to lose fat and stay lean. Even those of us who have been exercising all of our lives have to deal with this body change in our 5th decade of life.

I began bodybuilding at 14 years old and started competing two years later. Having been involved in competitive bodybuilding since I was a teenager, I was always very much aware of how my body looked. My life revolved around intense exercise and an advanced nutrition program that would allow me to add muscle or eliminate bodyfat whenever I wanted.

When I was 39 years old and my 40th birthday was fast approaching, I was warned by friends and relatives that it was "all downhill" after 40. I paid little attention to these warnings because I was sure they didn't apply to me. After all, these well-meaning cautionary words were coming from people who didn't live the same disciplined lifestyle that I had followed for the last 25 years. They didn't know who they were talking to, did they?

Well, to my disappointed surprise, I found that age does not exclude anyone. After being away from the competitive stage for several years, I made a comeback at the age of 38 years old and I found that the old familiar road to competitive glory had drastically changed. The diet and training program that I utilized to win the Natural Mr. Universe and the Mr. Natural Olympia was no longer applicable.

I competed four times between 2001-2002 and I was a shadow of the physique I displayed only 3-5 years earlier. I was frustrated as well as disappointed because I didn't understand why the diet program I used so successfully in the past was no longer working. How could my body change that much in such a short period of time?

When I was younger (20s and 30s), my body would respond well to a high carbohydrate diet. I would typically eat as many as 300-400 grams of carbs a day while I was dieting to lose fat. My overall calorie intake was limited to 3000 calories a day but I could still eat a relatively high carb diet and still get ripped.

What I discovered as I got older was that my body would no longer respond to a higher carbohydrate intake when it came to losing bodyfat. I found that if I ate a high carbohydrate diet, even with reduced calories, my fat loss was extremely slow. As a result, I would show up for competitions too smooth to have any chance of winning.

In 2004, I returned to the competitive stage determined to regain my winning form. I stayed lean in the off season (bulking up at this age resulted in more fat gain than muscle growth) and I started my diet a full 20 weeks out from the contest to insure that I would have enough time to get in shape. Not having learned my lesson yet, I was still eating 300 grams of carbs on my training days and 250 grams of carbs on a rest days.

After 15 weeks of extremely slow fat loss, I was seriously wondering if this was going to be yet another disappointing contest outing. After consulting with a friend of mine (another competitive bodybuilder), he made the suggestion to cut my carbs way back while simultaneously increasing my protein and fat intake slightly to keep my calories from dipping too low.

With my new diet program, I was now taking in only 200 grams of carbs on a training day and 150 grams on a rest day. To my relief, the results of this reduced carb intake were immediate. The fat loss increased and I was making significant gains each week. I even won first place overall in the contest I entered that year.

The lesson I learned regarding fat loss in my 40s was that my body could not handle the amount of carbohydrates that it could when I was younger. In order to achieve the same degree of definition, I had to eat fewer carbs while increasing my intake of protein and fats.

The body will change with age and it is up to us to determine what changes we need to make to our nutrition program to get the same results we achieved at a younger age. Because the metabolism decreases, it may be necessary to eat less calories and decrease the amount of carbohydrates.

Recently, I discovered that I had to adjust my diet again (at the age of 45) to reduce my bodyfat and get really ripped. In addition to eating a lower carbohydrate intake, I had to make some other changes so I could consistently get leaner.

The first change I had to make was switching my protein powder to all whey protein. Although I was able to consume protein powders made with a combination of whey, egg and casein proteins during the off season to increase lean muscle, I soon discovered that this combination was slowing down my fat loss when I started dieting. When I made the change over to strictly whey protein for my protein drinks, my body immediately became leaner and harder.

I also found that I needed to do a little more cardio to increase the fat loss. I have always been careful of doing too much cardio when following a lower calorie diet because of the possible loss of muscle tissue. However, when cardio is performed at the right time and intensity, it can significantly help in fat loss.

I used to do my cardio after my weight training workouts three days a week. Under my new program, I force myself to do the cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Doing the cardio after a weight training session was making the possibility of overtraining the muscles greater because I was delaying the intake of the all-important post training nutrition that is so critical for muscle growth and recuperation. By doing the cardio at a separate time of the day, I was using it for fat loss and eliminating the threat of overtraining the muscles.

The truth is that the body is constantly evolving as we get older. In order to accommodate a changing metabolism, we need to listen to our bodies and make the necessary adjustments in both our training and nutrition programs in order to look as fabulous as we did decades earlier. Remember, 40 years old is NOT old anymore. If you can adapt to the advancing years in your training and nutrition programs, you can keep up with society's new definition of middle age and eliminate 10 or 20 years from your life. "Forty is the New 20!"

John Hansen
Natural Mr. Olympia &
ON Athlete
Leave a Comment
Jun 20, 2008
Go John! You are so right. I am 47 and have been following the same regimen for the past seven years with great results -- cardio first thing in the a.m. on an empty stomach and then strength training later in the day, followed by whey protein of course. I have never felt or looked better -- I am in much better shape now than in my 20s. I attribute my improved muscle definition to the whey protein plus this workout strategy. Keep up the great work & thanks for sharing your tips.
John Mulgrew
Jun 22, 2008
Thanks for that. I am 48 and cannot get down to the bodyfat % that I want to.I will try to do what you have done. Thanks again.
Anna Maria
Jun 27, 2008
This is very comfrting to know as I am in my early forties. Do you have any info. for women in this age group. I have just started taking Gold Standard Natural 100% whey. There is not enough info for female who want to increace strength, lose weight and have excellent muscle definition.
Nov 02, 2008
Your story is something I totally understand. I am 45 and at this age it's taking forever to lose fat! I was fit at 42 before I had my 2nd child and I have been struggling to lose fat the past 3 yrs. I have been not gaining weight but the same! I have been training with my trainer, to get in shape for a month now and I don't see any fat loss but I do feel energetic and strong. I have decided to start taking 100% whey protein drink after training and on training days and also keep a low carb diet. I have a feeling it's the carbs that are not helping me lose fat! Hopefully in the next month I'll see some fat loss.

I usually do cardio after my training but only for 1/2 hr using my heart monitor which helps me with the target heart rate.