I’ve talked a little about my weight in the post My Story, but I wanted to talk a little more in-depth here about what I’ve found to work and not work.
This is not meant to be a weight loss blog, but being overweight is one of the hallmarks of PCOS. Many of us need to eat far fewer calories than a BMR calculator will tell us, and sometimes that can drop into the unhealthy range. It’s difficult to get the nutrients your body needs if you’re eating less than 1,200 calories a day. If you’re a smaller person looking to lose a bit of weight with PCOS, the real number of calories you need to lose weight by dietary intake along might dip below 1,200 calories a day.
Powerlifting and PCOS
That lower BMR means it’s harder to gain muscle without gaining fat very quickly. I gain fat quickly eating around 1,500 calories a day, which is enough for me to gain muscle at a pace I’m happy with, but also enough to make me gain 15lbs of fat in a month. I was not able to lose that fat while maintaining my newfound strength.
The difficult issue here is finding that balance of enough calories to gain muscle, but not gain massive amounts of fat. I have been unable to do this on my own. I tried everything I could find, and I gave it a solid try for 5 years. I’ve been unhappy with my progress, and didn’t realize why until a friend of mine referred to women with PCOS as hardgainers. Yes, yes we are. That’s exactly the problem, here.
Hardgainer is a term used to refer to a person who has difficulty building muscle. People called hardgainers are usually slim men that don’t eat enough calories to build muscle at the rate they’d like, or at all. Before that conversation, I’d never heard the term applied to a female, much less myself. I’m a hardgainer because if I eat enough calories to be as strong as some of my female lifter friends, I’d end up morbidly obese. While it is a stereotype that powerlifters can be very obese, not all of the strong powerlifters are. It’s not my goal to be strong at all costs, I’d also like to be reasonably healthy. Note here the difficulty, all the articles and blog posts by women who have slimmed down and improved their bodies through heavy lifting talk about eating over 1,800 calories a day, often over 2,000 calories a day. That spells disaster when my maintenance BMR hovers around 1,200. Again, I COULD do that. I just wouldn’t be happy with myself or very healthy if I did so.
Losing the Weight
I’ve done a LOT of research on weight loss. Intermittent fasting, carb cycling, carb backloading, low-carb, keto, gluten free, I’ve even tried two of Lyle McDonald’s diets. I get tiny, tiny amounts of fat loss for vast amounts of work and depriving myself.
I don’t have it all figured out yet. What I finally did recognize is that I needed help, which is why I’ve gone on Metformin. It’s been two months now, and I’ve finally dropped below 200lbs again. Unfortunately I’ve become weak and I haven’t been able to eat enough. I get dizzy when I squat, to the point that I can only do 2 or 3 heavy squats at 135lbs and then I have to sit down and pop a glucose tab. I don’t know the cause of this, but will be talking to my doctor about it when I go in next month. I can’t compete like this, I can barely work out like this. Anyway, enough about current frustrations.
The best results I’ve had so far while unmedicated were with workout based carb cycling. I’d keep my carbs in the 30-100g/day range on off days. On workout days, I’d eat some carbs about an hour before my workout, usually some fruit or hot cereal (I hate cold cereal) in addition to a protein shake with creatine and beta alanine in it. If it wasn’t after 3pm, I’d have some caffeine and possibly a Bronkaid. About halfway through the workout, I’d start sipping my post workout shake – alternating every other sip with water, usually finishing it off after the workout. I felt healthy and strong during the workout, and then would have a nice filling meal shortly after, but very few carbs after that meal. I gained strength slowly and steadily on this plan, without gaining fat. Most of this was newb gains, but it worked reasonably well for a couple of years.
Plain keto used to work for fat loss, but it was very slow and I couldn’t lift without getting sick. My body simply couldn’t handle it, though it’s possible yours could. Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss worked, but my lifts again went down. 16 hour intermittent fasting is a lifestyle for me. I tend to be nauseated in the mornings, so I only eat breakfast when I need to work out in the morning. I tried alternate day fasting last winter with mixed results. I didn’t lose any weight on it, but found it to have positive effects on my appetite, self control, and cravings. I’d suggest a 16-24 hour fast to anyone that can’t seem to get their hunger and cravings under control, just be sure to drink lots of water. (Not a juice fast, an actual fast.) Do NOT try to lift while fasted for more than 16 hours. For goodness sake, do it on a rest day.
Ultimate Diet 2.0 was a huge amount of effort for very little fat loss. I believe this is related to the way my body handles sugar. Cheat mode doesn’t make me gain weight, but I also don’t lose any on it.
I hate most forms of cardio. I love swimming, but don’t have the ability to do it on a regular basis right now. Cardio can help you burn fat, no question. Doing SOMETHING every day or almost every day will help get your calories down while still allowing you to eat within a healthy range.
The easiest answer is walking. The hardest answer is HIIT. I’ve done both, and both work, so does the in-between stuff like jogging and biking.
How about you?
Are there any other PCOS lifters out there? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Any kind of heavy lifting experience will do, weightlifting is just as valid to this discussion as powerlifting is.