IFBB Pro and famed bodybuilding coach Shelby Starnes is known for his ability to drastically change the bodies of his clients. An elitefts alumni, Starnes has authored six ebooks and helped hundreds of competitors reach their physique goals. In addition to both the services he provides and his own bodybuilding success (earning his pro status in 2012), Starnes is an expert at concisely answering questions about training and nutrition.

In this collection of Q&As, Shelby answers questions about insulin resistance, content preparation, ketogenic dieting, and what to do when you blow your diet five weeks out from a show.


All this talk about insulin sensitivity is confusing. I'm pretty sure I'm carb intolerant. I get sleepy after high carb meals and usually need to get under 100 grams of carbs a day to see any fat loss. Once and for all, what's a practical way to gauge my insulin sensitivity?


The proper question is, “am I insulin resistant?” which is the opposite of being sensitive to insulin. You want the answer to be no; insulin resistance means your body doesn’t respond to insulin properly (it doesn’t use insulin to shuttle glucose to the liver, muscles, and other tissues of the body) and therefore creates more of it than normal (a situation known as “hyperinsulinemia”). This increased insulin production makes it very hard for the body to burn fat.

MORE: Shelby Starnes' 3-Way Hypertrophy Split

The quickest and easiest measure of insulin resistance is the mirror; if you look into it and see a fat person (especially a person with an appreciable amount of abdominal fat) it’s pretty safe to say you’re looking at someone with at least a slight degree of insulin resistance.
Sometimes insulin resistance is the cause of being overweight though, and sometimes it’s the other way around (being overweight can be the cause of insulin resistance). Genetics can play a large role as well; even though insulin sensitivity is improved when you’re leaner, your genetics haven’t changed and if your hormonal blueprint leans more towards “carb sensitive”, you’ll still have to pay close attention to diet and exercise to stay insulin sensitive and subsequently lean.

Bottom line: If you’ve been on a moderate to high carb diet for longer than a couple months though, and are starting to pack on weight in a not-so-fashionable manner, it’s very likely that your insulin sensitivity is suffering and you would benefit from at least a temporary reduction in carbs to drop some weight and improve your sensitivity.

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Client Gordon Falcetti


The pics you posted of Kait Zagami look great! For 10 weeks out she's in excellent shape. Any chance you can give us an inside look at what she's eating and doing for cardio?


Thanks! Yes, Kait is shaping up beautifully. She has a good metabolism and we've been able to keep her food pretty high, a balanced combination of carbs, fats, and protein. She's having solid workouts and improving weekly. She's doing cardio five days a week at 20 minutes per session (moderate intensity). This is her daily menu now at 10 weeks out through seven meals per day (and one weekly cheat meal):

Note that she weighs roughly 130 pounds.

Meal One: 1 whole egg and 4 egg whites with 1 cup spinach, 1/2 cup strawberries or blueberries, 1/2 cup oats

Meal Two: 25g whey protein isolate and 12 almonds and 1/2 cup oats (dry measure)

Meal Three: 3 ounces chicken breast (cooked measure) and 1 ounce avocado, 1 cup spinach, 1/2 cup cooked rice, 1 tablespoon fat free dressing

Meal Four: 3 ounces chicken breast (cooked measure) and 1 ounce avocado, 1 cup green beans, 1/2 cup cooked rice

Meal Five: 25g whey protein isolate and 12 almonds and 1/2 cup oats (dry measure)

Meal Six: 25g whey protein isolate and 12 almonds and 1/2 cup oats (dry measure)

Meal 7: 3 ounces lean red meat (top round or flank steak are good) with small green salad and 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for dressing (and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar). Once a week (Wednesday's), change the red meat to swordfish (3 ounces cooked) for this meal.


Client Paulinka Mora


I’m a few weeks away from starting my first precontest diet and I want to do a keto diet. I’m planning on starting at 16 weeks out so I have ample time to get shredded. Right now my diet is moderate carb, moderate fat, and high protein. I should jump right into the zero carb diet right away at 16 weeks out and get into ketosis as fast as possible, right?


A keto approach is very effective for fat loss, but I would recommend waiting until you “really” need it. You’ll make great progress just by manipulating other variables first (lowering calories from carbs and fats, adding in a moderate amount of cardio, etc.) so milk as much out of those things first before diving into a full-blown keto approach. You always want to have something up your sleeve when dieting to implement when your progress plateaus. If you jump right into a zero carb approach you will surely make great progress and very quickly, but where will you go when you plateau? You’ll have to lower calories further, and/or increase cardio. You may have to do that stuff anyways, eventually, but start off with simple changes first.

With 16 weeks to diet, you have a long time to play around with things. You may not need to go zero carb until six to eight weeks out, if even then. The only time I might recommend going keto right from the start would be if you have a lot of fat to lose, and not much time to do it in — like if you were 15% body fat and nine weeks out. When your timeline is short and progress needs to be rapid and considerable, you don’t have time to dilly-dally with small reductions in calories and things of that nature. Just jump in, whole hog, and hope that you can get your ass in shape in time. This isn’t the best way to maximize muscle retention while dieting, but with short timelines it’s usually the only option to get into shape fast.


Client Tim Berry


I totally blew it last night. I’m coming up on five weeks out of my first bodybuilding competition and last night I had a complete blowout — lost complete control and ate pretty much everything in sight. I had a very stressful day at work and then got into a big argument with my girlfriend. It was all too much and I caved and went nuts. Therapy included cookies, candy bars, almost a gallon of whole milk, 2/3 of a pumpkin pie, a box of Rice Krispie treats, and half a jar of peanut butter. Am I screwed? Can I get this back on track and still have a decent showing? I was doing so well up til yesterday, already showing striations in my quads, good separation in my hamstrings, slight striations in glutes. Please help!


With five weeks to go, you probably didn’t “blow it” at all. In fact, you may have done the right thing in terms of giving your body a metabolic boost, refilling glycogen stores, giving leptin a temporary bump, and obviously serving an important psychological need (and you’ll probably feel guilty enough about it that you’ll be 100% strict from now through the show).

It’s not uncommon at all for dieters to “break down” like this after a prolonged diet. There’s obviously not just a lot of physiology behind it, but psychology too (and often the two are interlinked). Don’t fret, though — just get back on track 100% with everything and you’ll be back in shape in no time. Your weight will probably be up for close to a week, but it’s just temporary glycogen and water storage. If you were starting to see striations in your glutes, it sounds like you’re doing just fine for five weeks out and the binge will be no more than a speed bump, at worst. If you were a bit behind and you did something like this, that would be another story. In that case you’d have to do things to mitigate the situation and hopefully get not just back on track but ahead of where you were, to be in shape on time. It also wouldn’t be too prudent to have a breakdown like this at one week out. But at five weeks out, given that your prep is going great, you will probably be just fine.

Header image via Jeffrey Sygo at www.symiphotography.com

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