I have shared bits and pieces of what I have been doing for the past 9 months or so, but I haven’t laid out a complete plan.
I will give you a quick summary if you haven’t followed my progress lately. I went from a soft 214lbs (probably around 20% body fat) in October 2018 to a thin 184lbs in April 2019, doing a 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule combined with a low carb diet (goal of 2000 calories daily with 20% carbs, 50% fat, 30% protein) and lots of cardio (biking, walking, jogging, and physical therapy). I then started lifting weights, altered my diet (goal of 2500 calories with 25% carbs, 35% fat, 40% protein) and reduced the amount of cardio a little, and as of now I’m at 195lbs and about 15% body fat.
The whole time I have done this routine, it was easy. I didn’t have a hard time sticking with it, especially compared to other diets I have done in the past. It is easy to maintain and at this point I will probably do this for the foreseeable future. Transitioning from a 6 day a week cardio routine to a 6 day a week weight training routine was rough for the first 2 weeks, but then afterwards it was no big deal.
I’m aesthetically in the best shape of my life now at 38 years old. Keep in mind I have been doing this while rehabbing my right knee from an ACL reconstruction, but I have found ways to get a workout in despite of that. At the moment, I can comfortably run a 7:30 minute mile (I can go under 7 but it does put more stress on my knee). Energy levels are great, sleeping well, and just feel good overall.
If all that sounds good to you and you want to try what I’m doing, read on. Just keep in mind, I can’t guarantee that anything I do will help you. Everyone is different and responds differently to diet and conditioning programs. A lot of this process will be trial and error to find what works with you. But if you are willing to try, I can at least give you a good starting point to work from.
I also didn’t come up with all this from scratch. I researched online, consulted with a doctor, and followed expert advice. So I believe that the outline I will give you should work for most people right out of the box.
Diet vs Lifestyle
“Abs are made in the kitchen,” is a common saying in the fitness world for a reason. A very intense hour long workout will max out around 1000 calories for a 195lb man. Whereas a big mac double cheeseburger is over 1000 calories and takes about 2 minutes to eat.
As you can see, it is much easier to consume calories than to expend them.
So the cornerstone of any fitness program is going to be the diet. A lot of people hear the word diet and get turned off, because they often have tried diets and had early success, but then crashed hard and returned back to where they started.
So I believe it is important to have some realistic expectations and long term vision about what your fitness journey will look like.
For as long as it took you to get out of shape, expect it to take just as long to get into shape.
If a person is overweight, say 50lbs over what they should be, chances are it took at least 6 months, probably over a year to do that. Yet, most people expect to lose all the weight within a couple months magically.
While there is no shortage of claims from the fitness industry saying you can do this, it is not realistic or healthy to do so. You have to understand that you are the way you are because your lifestyle and habits. These hard wired traits don’t just change overnight.
That is why people like to refer to it as a lifestyle change versus a diet. It is a better depiction of what has to happen for a long lasting change to take place.
Many people subscribe to doing a crash diet where they do drastic changes that no one can sustain long term, but expect that they will lose enough weight in the short time they can keep up with the diet to reach their goals.
The problem is that you will then return to your previous diet and lifestyle, which was the problem to begin with. So a return to your old body is inevitable.
That is why I suggest you look at a long term plan. Instead of trying to lose 20lbs in a month, shoot for 4lbs a month. This is much easier to achieve, doesn’t require drastic changes, and it won’t require massive amounts of discipline to maintain.
I’m not going to lie – any change of lifestyle is difficult at first. It will require discipline to stick to your new plan, especially after the first couple of weeks when your initial enthusiasm begins to fade. Another reason why we keep the goals realistic and not ramp up the difficulty to maximum.
Slow and steady wins the race.
The goal of any diet and fitness plan is for improved health. To me, that means having vitality or lots of energy, being able to do whatever I want to do with no physical limitations, and be a happy and balanced human being.
So there isn’t a shortcut for that. I can’t just get there quickly and be done. It has to be maintained indefinitely. So there is no point in taking shortcuts – just be patient and go for slow and steady results. If you cannot dedicate a solid 6 months into building a better you, how do you expect to be able to maintain that body for the rest of your life?
If you adopt the mindset I mentioned above, then you are ready get into the metrics.
What isn’t measured, isn’t improved.
You will need to track everything you are doing. Back in the day, I used journals and wrote down everything. It was a huge pain in the ass to calculate calories on a daily basis.
Fortunately, smart phones and apps make this super easy. The first app I recommend is MyFitnessPal. It is a free app you can download on iTunes, Google Play, or just use through your internet browser.
Simply put, this app will allow you to track everything you eat, drink, calculate calories burnt through exercise, and give you proper reporting on your macronutrients. This app will become your new best friend, and is pretty much open on my phone 24/7 lol.
The app has a setup process that will walk you through your current metrics (weight, age, height, etc) and then ask you for goals. Of interest is how much weight you want to lose a week and the breakdown of carbs, fat, and protein percentages you want to eat. We won’t do anything just yet with these, but we will shortly.
Observe and Report
Depending on your fitness goals, you might be looking to lose, maintain, or gain weight. So before you start making changes, you actually don’t want to change anything!
That’s right. Just keep doing exactly what you would normally do for one week. BUT, you are now going to log everything you do on MyFitnessPal.
Input all of your meals, workouts, water consumption, weight, and body measurements everyday for 1 week. Measure your weight and body first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, as this will be a more reliable metric as you haven’t consumed anything yet. I use this body measurement tape to measure my neck, chest, hips, waist, thighs, calfs, biceps, and forearms. For a scale, I use a Tanita BWB-800s, which is what the Boxing Commission used to use (and still does in Florida as far as I know). However, that has been discontinued, and replaced by this model.
This is probably more than you want to budget for a scale, so just find a scale that works for you. The main thing is to find a scale that is consistent. Even if it’s not accurate, if it is consistent, it will track weight changes fine.
You might be bashful of writing down what you are currently doing. But, I don’t care if you are eating cookies and pizza 24/7, it is important to put it down. What we are doing is establishing what your baseline is. All of these metrics will vary day by day, but after 1 week we will be able to see a trend or average across the board. This will then give us valuable intel to make a good plan.
Now that you know what you are dealing with, we can make plans. The first number we want to get is your average daily calorie consumption. In MyFitnessPal, go to the menu, Nutrition > Calories > and change to weekly view. The number at the bottom, Daily Average, is the number we are looking for.
The next number of interest is your weight. Is your weight trending up, down, or staying about the same? Go to the menu, then select Progress.
It’s difficult to detect a weight trend in only one week, but barring any large jumps (in excess of 2 lbs), more than likely you will be about the same.
Assuming you are about the same, then we can focus on what you fitness goal is. If you are trying to lose weight, we will create a calorie deficit based on your current average calorie consumption. If you are trying to gain weight, then create a surplus. And if you are trying to maintain, then don’t change.
I expect that if you are reading this, you are trying to lose weight. So we will create a 500 calorie daily deficit, which in a week comes out to 3500 calories – the equivalent of 1lb of fat. In theory, that would mean you would burn 1lb of body fat.
So if you found that you were eating an average of 2500 calories daily, then you would make your set point 2000 calories daily. You can do this in MyFitnessPal by going to Menu > Goals > Calorie, Carbs, Protein, and Fat Goals.
Next up is your macro percentages. With MyFitnessPal, you can look up what your current percentages of macros are. Just go to the menu, then Nutrition > Macros > and change to weekly view.
Whatever your percentages are, we will only make slight tweaks to them. This is for a couple reasons.
First, we don’t want to make a huge shock to your system by completely changing things up. Chances are you won’t be able to hang with it or it will be very difficult.
Second, if you have been in the dieting game for some time, you have probably encountered a plateau. If not, read my blog post about plateaus. Basically, your body will adjust to changes you have made and you will find it much harder to make progress. So if you make one drastic change, after a while, you won’t have any room to make more changes and be stuck. But if you make small changes, you make your body continually adjust so it can never get comfortable, allowing you to make steady progress.
So say you are eating 50% carbs, 20% fat, 30% protein. We will start by changing the profile to 40% carbs, 25% fat, 35% protein. You can do this in MyFitnessPal by going to Menu > Goals > Calorie, Carbs, Protein, and Fat Goals.
The number we look to tweak more than anything is the carbs. For men, we are generally looking to hit about .5g of fat per pound body weight (works out usually to about 30%) and between 1g to 1.5g of protein per pound body weight (between 30-45%).
So the carbs are what we look to tweak the most. On the high end, it can be 2g of carbs per pound bodyweight, all the way down to .25g of carbs per pound body weight (which might put you into ketosis depending on your body).
Once you have those metrics in place, we can start dieting!
But wait! What do I eat?
Hard to say.
You see, it is all going to depend on what your daily calorie consumption and macros are set to. So your goal is to eat to your calorie set point with the right ratio of macros. In MyFitnessPal, you can check how you are doing by clicking on the pie chart on the top right, or just go to the menu > Nutrition > Macros > and set to daily.
So as the day is progressing, you can see what you are deficient on and need to eat. So if your your macro ratio is supposed to be 25% carbs, 40% fat, 35% protein, but you are actually at 40% carbs, 40% fat, 20% protein, that tells you need to eat more protein and less carbs to balance the macros.
I strive to eat as close to natural as possible. I don’t eat any artificial sweeteners, or anything that is too processed. When possible, I will make things from scratch (like cashew milk).
Here is a list of what I eat regularly, and I mean this is about 90% of what I eat on a daily basis:
Meats: Chicken Breast, Skirt Steak, NY Strip, Uncured Ham, Uncured Bacon, Pork Loin, Round Roast, Pork Shoulder, Flat Iron Steak, Biltong Beef Jerky
Diary: Full Fat Plain Greek Yogurt, Cheddar Cheese, Eggs
Nuts: Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cashews
Sweets: Raw Honey, 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Vegetables: Garlic, Onions, Potatoes, Peppers
Fruits: Raspberries, Blueberries, Oranges, Apples
Carbs: Granola Bars, Banana Chips, Rice
Drinks: Water, Kombucha, Homemade Almond Milk
As you can see, it isn’t too diverse. Reason being, I cook 99% of my meals. I go out to dinner with my girlfriend about once every couple months (unless we are on vacation).
Because of that, I try to keep my menu simple. I look to cook recipes that are low effort, high yield, and with the right macro profile.
Knowing what to eat is one part of the equation. Knowing HOW MUCH is arguably just as if not more important.
In general, I plan my meals based on proteins. Carbs and fat are very easy to add in a pinch, but protein isn’t. If you watch any survival show, everything is about the protein – for good reason.
Depending on your goals, current age and body metrics, the amount of protein you can handle in one sitting will vary. For example, I can eat 100g of whey protein (a fast digesting protein) in one sitting by downing a huge protein shake, but your body wont be able to absorb that. Chances are about 35g will actually be used, and the rest won’t.
This will vary depending on your body, the type of protein, and what else you are eating. But, as a rule of thumb, I try to eat around 40g of protein per meal. I eat 6 meals a day, so that bring me to about 220g of protein, which gets me to the right macro profile for me.
This of course will be different depending on your goals, but the point is don’t try to have all your protein in one sitting. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to eat all your carbs or fats in one sitting either.
For that reason, it is better to eat more portions of smaller meals, rather than one giant meal. So spread them out through the day. Here is an example of my daily meal plan:
Breakfast: 3 scrambled eggs, 1oz of cheddar cheese, 3oz of uncured ham
Pre Workout: 2 scoops of unflavored protein powder blend, .5 tbsp honey, 1 fuji apple
Post Workout: 2 scoops of unflavored protein powder blend, 7g of cacao powder, 1.5 cups almond milk, 24g dextrose (high glycemic form of sugar)
Lunch: 8oz skirt steak with 1/4 onion cooked in a .5 tbsp olive oil, 1oz of banana chips, 1oz 72% dark chocolate
Mid-day Snack: 1 cup of plain full fat greek yogurt, 1oz of biltong beef jerky
Dinner: 1 cup of white rice, 8oz of chicken breast, .5oz of mustard curry sauce (homemade), 8oz kombucha tea
Water consumption throughout the day: 16 cups
One thing to keep in mind when eating is go slow. There are a few reasons for that.
One, if you are eating in a rush, you are in a bad mental state to process food. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but ideally, you want to take a minute to unwind, relax, and enjoy your meal. Being in a good place mentally does wonders for digesting your food. That’s why some people can’t even eat when they are upset. They literally lose their appetite. So being in a good mental state usually means eating slow and relaxed.
Second, and equally important, is to avoid overeating. When you eat fast, you can stuff down more food than you are supposed to. You will know this happened if after your meal you feel full and bloated, usually followed be fatigue and lethargy. That is NOT a normal sensation after eating, yet I see so many people who do this daily.
Why does this happen? Well, your stomach has a sensor that tells your brain when it is full. The problem is that is operates on a 15 minute delay. So it takes at least 15 minutes after you’re full to tell your brain you are full. So if you are eating fast, your brain doesn’t get the signal until it’s too late. But if you eat slowly, you will be able to get this signal in time and stop eating so your are functional after a meal.
If you are following the macro profile and splitting up your meals as I suggested, then chances are you won’t have to worry about over eating. But it is a good thing to know nonetheless.
The next part of the puzzle is timing – when do you eat.
Like I mentioned above, I eat 6 meals a day. I usually space these out around 2 hours apart from each other (around 1 hour if I’m doing a 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule).
That might sound tight, but if you are practicing good portion control, you won’t eat to be full – just satiated. So after 2 hours, you are definitely ready to eat. I find that I’m usually not hungry, but if I’m doing intermittent fasting then definitely in the morning and late evening I will be hungry.
Speaking of which, I had been doing intermittent fasting for 9 months, but recently stopped. Why?
While some people believe it makes you burn more fat, or makes your body more inefficient (burning more calories) I didn’t find that to be the case. I believe the main benefit of intermittent fasting is that it reduces the window you have to eat, thereby making it harder to over eat. It is just another mechanism to control your calorie intake.
For me, the drawback of it was I couldn’t do intense exercise in a fasted state, which limited my workout window. It was also a challenge fitting that many meals in a small window.
I managed it, but I prefer not being so restricted. I’m currently doing between a 12 to 14 hour fasting window now, which is just a little more than what a normal person would do. And over the past month I have gotten leaner – so I don’t believe the fasting is a magic pill. That is just my opinion based on my experience.
One common question is what to eat before, during, and after a workout. This is an important period of eating that affects how you recover. If you looked at my meal plan above, you already have an idea.
Pre workout, I have some protein, and also some slow digesting sugars, like an apple. The apple in particular, has a lot of fiber, which helps slow down the rate sugar is absorbed by your body. This helps give you a steady fuel source throughout your workout.
During the workout, I drink water. About half way in, I will start sipping my protein shake. If you noticed, my protein shake has a good amount of dextrose. What is that? That is a high glycemic sugar, which means it is rapidly absorbed by your body, producing an insulin spike.
Isn’t that bad?
Not post workout. When you are working out, you are damaging your muscles. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, and is considered to help repair muscles. So post workout is a good time to get a spike of insulin to help your muscles recover. Plus, you also want to refill your glycogen stores in your muscles, which the sugar you consume will help provide.
Now all sugars are not created equally. Fructose for example, has to be digested first before it can be used by the body for muscle repair. But dextrose can be used instantly without digestion. This is why some people will eat pixie sticks, gummy bears, or other sweets made out of dextrose post workout. Its the one good time to have an insulin spike.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
One of the easiest ways to clean your diet is to only drink water. Sodas, fruit juices, milk, and other beverages have a lot of calories in them, and usually it’s mostly carbs.
I pretty much only drink one of few things.
Water. This is mostly what I drink, which is about 16 cups a day. I try to have a water bottle on me at all times so I can drink.
Protein shakes. I have two a day. They are mixed with water or home made cashew or almond milk (which is mostly water).
Almond milk: Besides the shake, I might have 1 cup of almond milk. I make this myself. It’s quite simple. Get 16oz of raw almonds and soak them in 24oz of water overnight. Drain the water. Then blend them in 8 cups of water (I do this in two batches as my blender can’t handle it all at once), and strain the blended almonds in a nut bag. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now you have about 10 cups of rich creamy almond milk that has 60 calories per cup (2g carbs, 5g fat, 2g protein). Refrigerate and it should last about 4 days.
Alternative Easy Almond/Cashew Milk Recipe: If that sounds like too much work, I get it. It started getting annoying for me too. Especially when my girlfriend started drinking it too, lol! So I found this company called Joi that makes raw almond or cashew butter that makes creating nut milk a breeze! You simply put a few tablespoons of the nut butter in water, add flavorings, and blend. That’s it! The taste is excellent and consistent, without all the waiting and hassle of the old school method. My formula is simple – 14 cups of water, 6 tbsps of Joi cashew butter, 2 tsps of sea salt, 2 tsps vanilla extract. That creates a very low calories serving of nut milk, with just enough creaminess to imitate milk.
Kombucha: I have on average about 8oz a day. Kombucha is a pro-biotic tea that is naturally fermented with sugar, and has a slight sweetness to it. I love the taste of it, and one serving is only about 30 calories with 6g of sugar.
By eliminating all the other beverages and drinking mostly water, you will do your body a favor by staying hydrated and eliminating bad sources of calories.
I’m not big into supplements. I have been a clean athlete my whole life. I don’t drink, nor have I ever done any recreational or illegal drugs, smoked, or used PEDs.
But, I do take a few supplements to round out my diet: Fish Oil, a Multi-vitamin, and Zinc-Magnesium. You will notice I’m using the Jym Supplement line here, which just won brand of the year on BodyBuilding.com. I find these are easy to take, and even the fish oil has minimum “burps” with no rancid after taste.
I take the Fish Oil and the multi-vitamin in the morning after breakfast, and then take the Zinc-Magnesium just an hour before bed.
Other than those, I also take protein powder for my pre and post workout shakes. I use an unflavored protein powder blend that has a mix of whey, hydrolized whey, and casein proteins. The idea is that the mix of proteins all digest at different rates, giving your body more protein absorption over an extended period of time.
Here is the dextrose I used for the post workout shake.
To make the shakes, I found this mixer to be great for me. It works well, and also comes with little compartments to store snacks or vitamins.
I also recently added using collagen protein into the mix. Back in the day, we used to eat more collagen naturally (eating cartilage), but these days that is not as common. So while you can grab a rotisserie chicken and go after all the joints (which I do now as well lol), it is easy to throw a couple of scoops of collagen powder into water and drink it quickly. I use a brand called Vital Proteins, which can be ordered through there website and is available in some grocery stores. The link there gives you $10 off, so it’s a good place to start.
You may have also noticed I had Biltong Beef Jerky in my diet. This was a great discovery for me, as it is a delicious beef jerky with no sugar or carbs. It has a nice savory taste, and is essentially all protein. It’s a bit pricey, but if you buy them in 8oz bags they are a bit more affordable. That is my protein on the go snack. When I travel, I bring 3 bags with me so I know I have protein on me at all times lol.
So that was a lot of information. You will probably have to revisit this a few times to get it all down. But once you do, put the plan to action and see what happens.
Like I said at the beginning, everyone is different and responds differently. But I’m fairly confident this will work for the vast majority, as the principles are sound.
Regardless, at some point you will hit a wall. That is when you have to make adjustments. If your weight loss comes to a halt, then adjust your macros by reducing your carbs. Or perhaps you lost enough weight and want to maintain. Then you would remove the calorie deficit. Perhaps a certain food doesn’t sit well with you. Then don’t eat it.
In order to know when to make adjustments, you have to pay attention to the tracking.
For tracking weight, I weigh myself everyday. But it’s important not to freak out if the numbers are not going your way. First, keep in mind that if you are doing a strength program, you might put on muscle which will add pounds on the scale. Second, weight will float up an down over the course of the week naturally. What we are looking for are trends that occur over the course of weeks and months.
Above is my weight plotted over one year. As you can see, I started around October, and my weight went up and down a lot by April. But the trend was clearly down. Then when I started weight training, you can see I started to put on weight quite rapidly. But once I got over the first 6 weeks of quick gains, my weight stabilized and slowly started to go down again.
For body measurements, I measure once a every couple weeks. If I see my weight has gone up, my chest and arms up, but my waist has gone down, that is a good indication I have put on muscle and lost fat.
It is a process of trial and error. You cannot be afraid of making mistakes. It is part of the learning process. Too often people get thrown a curve ball and just quit rather than staying at bat and going for another swing.
Like I said, be patient, and adopt a long term vision for health. That will make the inevitable bumps in the road easier to manage, and allow you to learn from them rather than shy away from them.
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To become the best, we must continuously test ourselves. We measure our performance, evaluate our faults, accept criticism and then work on improving ourselves before starting all over again.
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