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My Six Pack Journey

How to Lose Weight & Even Get a 6-Pack When You Are Over 40

How I Went From 22% to 8% Body Fat in 5 Months

before and after six-pack picture

How My 6 Pack Goal Started

Picture of Pete flexing his arm
4 Months Into Program

At the time of this writing I'm in my mid-50s but it all started on the new year's eve prior to my 40th birthday and the pictures on this page are from that time. I was having some drinks with good friends and enjoying the evening. With my 40th birthday just 5 months away, I was on the brink of "middle age" but I didn't mind, I was happy with my life. Still, at the point in my life, and with a new year on the horizon, this seemed as good a time as any to be reflective and perhaps even do something new in the upcoming year. Perhaps a new year's goal would be something. Then it hit me, what better way to actually ENJOY turning 40 years old than to be in the best shape of my life at the time? Wait, why not go for a "6-pack"? In addition to looking and feeling better, having an objective goal like this would ensure that I truely was in my best shape ever when I got to 40.

However, I knew that in order to achieve this I would have to reduce my body fat to the single digit range - a challenging goal for that relatively short period of time considering that my body fat was 22% at the time - something I soon learned when I actually measured it! It may have been the alcohol but I suddenly thought "yeah, why not, I should really do this". To hold myself accountable, I told all my friends and family I would do this. As I would be seeing them on my birthday, I could either achieve this goal or look foolish. As that was to be my last night of nutritional freedom until I met my goal, I made sure to enjoy it and started my plan the next day.

How Did I Know What To Do?

Picture of Pete with six-pack abs
Goal Achieved

As a chiropractic physician by profession, I already had a good understanding of nutrition and physiology so this was certainly a good starting point but was it enough? I had also weight trained on and off for many years and was quite familiar with bodybuilding principles but it had been a while since I had done any serious training and, after all, I was almost 40. I was certain I could lose some weight at this point but was a six pack reasonable? It was not a matter of simply losing weight, I had to be able to retain enough muscle to prevent becoming just a smaller version of myself without a six pack. I knew it was a matter of changing my body composition by retaining muscle while losing fat but to do this in a relatively short period of time without the use of anabolic steriods (which I have never used) would require me to be more methodical than if I had simply given myself a weight loss goal.

As much knowledge as I may have had on the topic, I felt it couldn't hurt to learn more so I did just that. I looked for the most efficient ways to burn body fat while retaining muscle without the use of anabolic steriods, HRT or other "artifical" means. I looked into the diets and workout scheduling of the people most successful at acheiving the very thing I was attempting - natural bodybuilders. Their "pre-contest diet" is designed specifically for this purpose and virtually all of them have a six-pack when they hit the stage. Still, bodybuilders tend so stay in relatively good shape year round and don't typically begin a pre-contest diet with a body fat percentage of 22%. Also, there was still the age thing, could this still work? It had to, otherwise I'd end up looking foolish for telling everyone that I would "definitely" have a six-pack by my 40th birthday!

Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try
                              - Master Yoda

I have outlined the method I used to get a six pack in quite a bit of detail below. This is not a rehashed version of someone else's program but my own method for achieving a goal that many people have and one that I hope you may find useful whether you are trying to get a six pack or just interested in losing weight. Although the combination of factors considered in my approach may make this method somewhat unique, none of the principles it is based on are original or esoteric. It is a program based on sound physiological principals and it works very well. However, just because it is effective doesn't mean it is right for everyone. I recommend that anyone wishing to begin a new exercise program, or significantly alter their diet, first review this with their qualified health care provider to ensure it is not contraindicated for them. People with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, an underlying heart condition, abnormally low BMI or those taking certain medications, for example, may need specific guidance with regard to exercise and diet. Please keep in mind that I am only sharing what worked for me in the hope that someone will find it useful for themselves. However, even if you have been cleared by your qualified health care provider to try my approach, you should at least be aware of the following before you decide you really want to do it.

When your body fat percentage drops to near single digits you may look great on a beach but will likely look on the skinny side in clothes. Your face will also look different. Most people love their new look but some - especially older folks and those with smaller frames - may feel that they are developing a "drawn" look in their face at very low body fat percentages. If this starts happening to you, you don't have to continue to lose fat. If you are happier keeping a little extra body fat on your face than getting a 6-pack, great! In my case, people thought I looked a lot younger after my plan and it is likely this will be the same for you but everyone is different. Finally, if you really want that six pack, plan on things being difficult at the beginning. It's easy to be motivated for one day but much harder to sustain this day after day. No, it's not ok to have just that one donut. No, you can't make up for it tomorrow. Yes, you will likely be hungry sometimes. Yes, it will kinda suck for a while. But then it gets easier, your body starts getting used to your new calorie intake and becomes more efficent at using stored fat for energy so you will not be as hungry and it's not that bad. Ultimately, if you want it and it is really a GOAL instead of a "wouldn't mind" type of desire, it will be worth it. Either do it or don't even waste your time and effort starting. Or, as the great Jedi master Yoda said: "do or do not, there is no try".


Calories & Fat Loss - The Basics

Each pound of fat contains 3500 calories. When you provide your body with less calories than it needs each day to maintain its weight, it must make up the difference by using stored body fat (and sometimes even muscle; we try to minimize this) and you lose weight. If you consume 500 calories less per day than it takes to maintain your weight, you will lose about 1 pound per week (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories). This is much different than losing 1 pound of water weight, which can easily happen throughout each day. Fat loss occurs more slowly but the weight won't return as soon as you re~hydrate.

Why You Need To Lose Weight

You will have to lose some weight if you are trying to get a six-pack. If you are now thinking, "I don't want to lose weight, I just want a six pack", I'm going to have to give you some bad news. With very few exceptions (such as those that are already very close to having a six pack and just started resistance training, those on anabolic steriods, etc), you are going to have to lose some weight to achieve your goal. Even the exceptions mentioned that could possibly gain enough muscle to replace the body fat they need to lose to get a six pack would most likely take much longer to acheive their goal by trying to do it that way. Trying to achieve competing metabolic goals at the same time is not the way to go. There are ways to slightly get around this by breaking up your week into fat loss and muscle gain days but that will still be less efficent than the method I outline here with regard to acheiving six pack abs as quickly as possible.

Why 1-2 lbs Per Week Is Usually The Best Weight Loss Target

It is important that you do not starve yourself. If you restrict your calories by more than 500 - 1000 calories per day below what is needed to maintain your current weight (range depending on a variety of individual factors), your body will go into survival mode and your metabolism will slow down considerably. This not only reduces the amount of calories your body will burn but it also causes your body to break down muscle and use it for energy. Being more metabolically active, muscle uses a lot more calories than fat. This means the more muscle you lose, the less calories you will burn, further limiting your ability to lose more weight. This then translates to a reasonable goal of 1-2 lbs per week of fat loss for most people. However, a fat loss rate that is a little higher or lower may apply to people that are extremely obese or very lean, respectively. Also, weight loss at the beginning of a diet may be a little quicker due to water loss (especially if someone is limiting their carbohydrate intake); later losses should be in the 1—2 lbs per week range.

The Difference Between "Eating Healthy" & Eating To Lose Fat

If you have ever thought "I Eat Healthy But Am Still Not Losing Any Weight" please consider that there can be a big difference between eating healthy foods and eating to lose weight. Many people people make an honest attempt to eat healthy foods and are surprised that they do not lose weight. As hard as it may be to believe, you can eat the most unhealthy foods and still lose weight or eat the healthiest foods and actually gain weight! Of course, eating unhealthy foods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc., so we would encourage you to eat healthier foods and maintain a healthy lifestyle but you must still consider HOW MUCH of these foods you eat and the calorie content of ALL foods and drinks you consume, whether they are "healthy" or not.

Can You Eat Carbs?

Quite simply, yes, with the above approach you can eat carbohydrates and still lose weight. In fact,you can eat whatever you want, as long as you stay within your total calorie limit for the day, you will lose weight. However, there are some very good reasons that you may want to consider limiting your carbohydrate intake, not only for general health but to reach your weight loss goals faster, especially if your goal is to get a six-pack. You will likely be able to eat more calories overall if you limit your carbohydrate intake and retain more muscle while losing weight than if you did this just by limiting calories without considering carbohydrates.

Control Carbohydrate Intake, Especially Sugars

Carbohydrates cause a rise in blood sugar levels and a release of insulin by the body to absorb this blood sugar. Insulin also promotes fat storage. It logically follows that limiting carbohydrate intake will result in a limitation of fat storage. Sugars are a specific type of carbohydrate that generally have an even larger impact on blood sugar levels, and insulin release, than other types of carbohydrates. As such, they tend to promote even more fat storage. When you look at a nutritional label, look at “total carbohydrates", as well as "sugars" and “other" carbohydrates. These ”other" carbohydrates will generally be slower absorbing carbohydrates that will not cause as dramatic an effect on blood sugar levels. These are a better choice than "sugars", which should generally be minimized. "Dietary Fiber” will also be listed under total carbohydrates; this is a different type of carbohydrate that will not cause the negative blood sugar effects associated with other types of carbohydrates. In fact, fiber has many beneficial effects and actually promotes weight management, heart health and digestive tract health. Fiber requirements vary by person and age, however, most people should try to consume at least 25 grams per day.

Should I Limit My Fat Intake?

Fat is a calorie dense food. If we consider that fat contains 9 calories in every gram, while carbohydrates and protein each contain only 4 calories per gram, we can see that we would have to eat much less fat to get the same amount of calories that we would be getting if we ate much more protein and carbohydrate. So, we could eat more food on a lower fat diet and still limit our total calorie consumption. However, we do need some fat in our diet for a variety of reasons, including hormone production, absorption of certain vitamins, etc.. One scientific study actually showed that a diet in which 30 percent of the total calories (not grams) came from fat resulted in more fat loss than a diet that was even lower in fat. It is noted that for those on very low carbohydrate diets, higher fat intakes are acceptable and still result in significant fat loss.

How Important Is Protein?

Protein is an important nutrient for your body for a variety of reasons, including building and maintaining lean muscle. Muscle requires energy and burns calories. If a lot of muscle is lost while dieting, a person's calorie requirements decrease - this slower metabolism results in decreased fat loss. To maintain a fast metabolism, we would like to minimize muscle loss while dieting. Adequate protein intake (as well as exercise) is important for this purpose. A general rule is to try to get about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day if you are trying to maintain muscle while losing fat.

Is Alcohol Off Limits?

An occasional drink may be ok, however, alcohol consumption does interfere with weight loss. Interestingly, the problem is not so much the alcohol itself being converted to fat but that when alcohol is in the bloodstream the body will preferentially use the alcohol for energy instead of burning off the calories from food or stored body fat thereby resulting in fat loss being suppressed. Also keep in mind that most drinks contain calories from sources other than alcohol (carbohydrates). These carbohydrate calories may be converted to fat while the body uses the alcohol for energy. Even in the case where other calories are avoided during alcohol consumption - for example, 1 fl. oz of 80 proof (40%) vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, etc. all have about 64 calories, with all the calories coming from alcohol (assuming they are not mixed with a calorie containing beverage). These alcohol calories will still stop the body from using fat for energy until they are used up but are usually a better choice, from a purely fat loss perspective, than a 150 calorie beer with 13 grams of carbs or a 350 calorie (or more) frozen margarita! Having said this, I myself am a beer fan and believe you can still incorporate a little alcohol in your diet if you include these extra calories in your daily count during your fat loss phase and are willing to accept less than optimal progress. I personally avoided alcohol during my 6 pack journey but do drink beer at the time of this writing.

Nutritional Supplements and Weight Loss Products

Many dietary supplements and weight loss products are available today. With regard to the "miracle products" that promise dramatic weight loss using a "new breakthrough" or "secret" method to achieve results, most are not worth spending your money on. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of many of these products is greatly exaggerated, with some even being potentially harmful. So, are there any products worth considering? Yes! The following are recommended:

Protein Powder

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Whey protein powder is generally recommended, a common "scoop" size (contained in each package) usually contains 100-120 calories with 18-23 grams of protein with a very low fat and carbohydrate content (usually 2-3 grams each). These are the numbers you should look for - check the label of your particular brand. I have included a link to a protein powder that is one of the best for our purposes and meets the listed requirements. It contains 24 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fat at 120 calories per scoop - this is about the best you can do at this calorie range. It is also 100% whey thereby avoiding the possible concern of testosterone drops they may come from overconsumption of soy-based protein powders. This protein powder also has some additional components in its formulation (including 5.5 g of BCAAs) to help support lean muscle mass during fat loss. Just click on the link for more information or to purchase directly from Amazon.

Multivitamin/mineral Supplement

Although this may not significantly contribute to your weight loss, a multivitamin/mineral supplement will help to make sure you are getting adequate vitamins and minerals important for your general health, especially while on any restricted diet. Please click on the supplements tab to see the one I recommend.

Fish Oil/Omega-3s

Recent studies reveal that, in addition to cardiovascular benefits, fish oil - high in Omega-3 fatty acids - seems to help with fat loss. Look for a supplement with a fish oil content at about 1000 mg per caplet. To assist with fat loss one may try taking 2 caplets, 3 times per day (6 total). Remember to count the calories of the caplets in your diet plan (only about 60 calories or so, but you should count everything when beginning your diet plan to get a true idea of your consumption for the day - this includes things like ketchup, cream in your coffee, or anything you might not consider significant - these little things add up!) It is noted that there is some evidence that fish oil supplements may slightly lower blood pressure. As with all aspects of this program, consult with your primary care physician if you already have low blood pressure or have any particular condition that you have questions about.


I did not take Ashwagandha during my "6-pack journey" only because I did not know about it - I take it now though. This is one that has recently become very popular due to a multitude of potential benefits, not the least of which is possibly acting as a testosterone booster as well as controlling cortisol and relieving stress. Since we know that stress and cortisol are involved in weight gain and fat storage, an Ashwagandha supplement is worth considering if our goal is to lose weight or get a six-pack. I have included more information about this under the supplements tab and provided a link to the Ashwagandha product that I believe is a great choice for those that want to use this supplement.

Black Coffee

Although not really a "supplement“, if you already drink coffee, make it black. Caffeine consumption, while avoiding the calories associated with sugar and cream, can help maintain a higher metabolism and burn more fat while on a calorie restricted diet. However, if you do not already consume caffeinated products, it is NOT recommended that you start consuming caffeine (or increasing your caffeine consumption) for this purpose.


Again, not a supplement, but it can act like one! Studies have shown that drinking cool water on an empty stomach can temporarily increase your metabolism. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that women get a total of 2.7 liters (11 cups) of fluid and men get 3.7 liters (16 cups) each day. As not all of that fluid has to be water, the old advice to "drink 8 glasses of water a day" may not be a bad target when we consider that coffee, other beverages, fruits and other water-rich foods also contribute to total water intake. In addition to burning a few more calories, ensuring an adequate water intake is a good health practice even for non-dieters. However, be careful, drinking a LOT more water than this can be dangerous. It can throw off your electrolyte balance, even to the point of being fatal in extreme cases - an example of how too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

Meal Frequency

When trying to lose body fat, many people make the mistake of starving themselves. While this can certainly result in weight loss, muscle is also lost and a dieter ends up looking like a smaller version of their previous self but still "fat looking". This is because, muscle is what gives the body shape. We have also described why it is important to maintain muscle in order to maintain the metabolism - otherwise, a diet becomes less and less effective. To help minimize muscle loss, we want to keep nutrients - esp. protein - available for the muscles. To help achieve this, you should eat every 3 hours. This does not have to be a regular meal but may be as simple as a protein drink between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most have heard the advice to avoid eating close to bedtime. However, many people get hungry at this time. This is an especially good time for a protein drink; it is low calorie, will help get rid of your hunger and provides building blocks for your muscles as you sleep. Additionally, it is virtually carbohydrate free, thereby minimizing any fat storage potential. Another reason to break up your daily calorie consumption into more meals is that it takes energy for your body to digest food, this will help keep your metabolism higher as well as prevent you from getting too hungry between your regular meals.

Target Calories Per Day

Each persons daily calorie requirements will be different. Athletes and people who are very active will require more calories than sedentary people. However, many people underestimate how many calories they consume and overestimate how many calories exercise will burn. For example, consider that an order of large fries from McDonalds contains approximately 490 calories. To burn this off with exercise, a 145 pound person would have to jog about 45 minutes or walk more than 2 hours! Wouldn't it be easier to just to skip the fries? We can see that addressing our caloric intake is important but just how many calories should we consume each day?

The answer to this will be based on how many calories it takes to maintain our current body weight. Understanding that there will be variation, a good starting point for most people can be derived from a general estimate that about 15 calories per pound of body weight is required to maintain your current weight (less if sedentary, more if very active). So someone weighing 150 lbs would need 2250 calories per day to maintain their current weight (150 x 15 = 2250). Since we know that there are 3500 calories in 1 pound of fat, for this person to lose 1 pound of fat per week, they would have to reduce their caloric intake below their maintenance level by 3500 calories each week, or by 500 each day (500 x 7 = 3500). Since we estimated that they would need 2250 calories per day to maintain their weight, they should reduce their calories to 1750 each day to achieve this goal. However, as we discussed, this is only a guideline since someone who is more sedentary may only require 14 calories per pound to maintain their weight, etc.. After trying this for 2 weeks, calories may be adjusted slightly (increased or decreased by 200 calories per day for example) to achieve the desired rate of weight loss.

As tempting as it may be to lose weight as quickly as possible, it is worth considering that slower weight loss tends to preserve more muscle, meaning that a higher percentage of the weight lost will be from fat. Also, to avoid a strong starvation response where the body drastically slows its metabolism as well as breaking down even more muscle (both to use as energy as well as to lower the body's need for energy to allow it to survive longer during a starvation period), daily calories should never be reduced by more than 1000 calories per day below maintenance levels. For some people - especially those that are smaller/lighter with already lower daily calorie maintenance levels - even a 500 calorie, or less, per day reduction may be the most they should go below maintenance levels. Your health/fitness coach and/or doctor can help you determine your particular requirements.

Finally, to maximize your results, you can try fluctuating your caloric intake so you eat a few more calories every other day - on workout days would be ideal for this - with a few less calories on the days in-between. For example, someone on a 750 calorie deficit per day could try a 1000 calorie deficit every other day with only a 500 calorie deficit on the days in-between. By allowing a little more food every other day, you help prevent your metabolism from adapting to a constant very low calorie level (slowing down to that level) as well as providing more nutrients for workout energy and recovery which helps limit muscle loss. I myself did this when I was trying to reach my 6 pack goal and found it to work very well. The sample diet outlined further down this page is based on one I used during some of my weight loss period.

Putting Your Diet Together

Example A: 150 lb Person Losing 1 lb Fat per Week

2250 calories per day to maintain weight (150 x 15)

1750 calories per day to lose 1 pound of fat per week (500 calorie/day deficit)

Breakdown of Macronutrients From Above Information:

1750 calories:

1 g protein per lb of bodyweight = 150 g protein; at 4 cal/gram = 600 cals from protein (34 % of tot cal)
30 percent of calories from fat = 1750 x 0.30 = 525 cal; at 9 cal/gram = 58 g of fat (30% of tot cal)
This leaves 625 cal. from carbs (1750 - 600 - 525 = 625); at 4 cal/gram = 156 g of carbs (36% of tot cal)

Example B: 150 lb Person Losing 1.5 lbs Fat per Week

Sample Diet
For 150 lb Person Trying To Lose 1.5 lb/week
(750 Calorie Deficit Each Day)

Pre—Breakfast Cal. Prot. Carbs Fat
Black coffee followed by 20 min. walk
(then breakfast after the walk)
0 0 0 0
Kashi Hot Oatmeal (microwave/water) 150 8 25 2
Protein Drink (1 scoop whey) 120 23 3 2
1 Banana 120 l 30 0
Morning Snack
1 Orange 70 1 l6 0
2 Reg. Eggs & 2 Egg Beaters
200 24 3 10
1 slice fat-free cheese (Kraft) 30 5 2 0
Afternoon Snack
4 Pieces Light String Cheese 240 36 2 10
1 Can of Chicken (small/Tyson) 120 26 0 1
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil (careful measure) 120 0 0 14
1 Can Green Beans 70 3 14 0
Evening Snack
1 Tbsp Peanut Butter on Rice Cake
(plain rice cake)
130 5 9 8
Protein Drink (1 scoop whey) 120 23 3 2

What About Exercise?

Is it possible to lose weight without exercise? Yes! Diet alone can achieve this. However, achieving a six-pack without exercise becomes much harder as you will end up losing a lot more muscle making it difficult to get the body composition - the low fat/muscle ratio - that this requires. In addition to the health benefits that exercise can provide, from a weight loss perspective, exercise can help burn more calories. This will help you reach your weight loss goals faster and, more importantly, can help maintain muscle mass while dieting. We have already seen why this is so important when we considered meal frequency. To get the most benefit with the least amount of exercise, the following is recommended.

1). Low intensity "cardio" on an empty stomach, before breakfast (drinking a black coffee or diet drink is acceptable if desired). This is because blood sugar and the usual energy sources will be lower after going without food the whole night while you sleep. The body's energy needs for the low intensity cardio at this time must therefore come from other sources and more body fat must be burned to get this energy. This is a great time for fat loss. Unfortunately, it can also be a great time for muscle loss so we don't want to overdo it. "Low intensity" means just that - a 20-30 minute walk is perfect. If you can't tolerate even this exercise on an empty stomach, you can have a protein drink before your walk.

2). Weight/Resistance Training. This is the best way to maintain muscle. This can be performed every other day. Consult with your chiropractor and/or a fitness expert for specific advice on a program for you.

3). Regular Cardio (optional but recommended). 20-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 times per week is recommended for cardiovascular health. This will also help you burn a few more calories. With clearance from your family doctor, beginners should aim for a target heart rate of 50-70% of their maximum heart rate (MHR) and start with only a 10-20 minute duration. Over a period of a few weeks (or as comfortably tolerated), this can be slowly increased to 70-80% of MHR for the full 20-60 minutes (athletes may have separate requirements). These exercise sessions should be preceded with a 5 minute warm up and followed by a 5 minute cool down at about 50-60% of MHR. To determine your MHR, use the following formula:

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): 220 - your age (Caution: This can vary significantly*) For example, a 40 year olds MHR would be: 220 - 40 = 180 If the 40 year old wanted to exercise at 70% of MRH: 180 x 0.70 = 126 (126 would be their target)

Just Do It!

You now have all the information you need to achieve the body weight you have always wanted. Your motivation may sometimes falter but don't give up, you can really do it! Food cravings may come and you may even feel a little hungry sometimes but these feeling pass quickly. Just visualize your goal at these times and remember that each time you successfully resist a craving, you strengthen your willpower and this gets you one step closer to your goal! Some people chew gum or drink some water or a diet drink. "Diet Rite, Pure Zero" Cola has no calories or caffeine and the tangerine flavor tastes great, this can help control your appetite between meals. Remember, you are eating every 3 hours, just hold out a little longer when you are hungry and you get to eat something anyway. Stick to your plan and only eat at your scheduled times. For added motivation, you can have a cheat meal once per week where you can eat anything you want. Remember, this is a cheat meal, not a cheat day. (You can have cheat days when you reach your weight loss target.) No matter what you crave during the week, you can have it at your cheat meal, just hold out and you can eat it without guilt. Don't let any excuse stand in your way, BECOME the person you want to be - JUST DO IT!!