Warning: The pictures below are embarrassing and funny/humiliating and any and all comments are welcomed! On a more serious note, I am not a nutritionist , but the methodology and information I provide below is first-hand experience of what worked for me.
So you’ve been working out consistently for the past few months in preparation for that big beach vacation coming up. You’ve noticed slight improvements, but you don’t have that six pack that the article in Muscle & Fitness said you would have if you followed their 10 week workout routine.
I can definitely relate to this frustrating feeling as I’ve been there before. So what have I learned & what are our tips for getting in shape before a tip? We explain it in further detail below.
The picture on the left below was a picture of me two months out from my trip to Thailand. (Yes, this picture and the next few are awkward but I think they get the point across.) I was working out 5-6 days per week while incorporating cardio, and boxing and grappling 3 or 4 days per week. In addition to this I was also taking supplements. I considered myself well-versed in lifting weights as at this point in my life I’ve lifted weights for literally half my life, but I couldn’t get that body I dreamed of.
I said enough is enough and I hired a nutritionist. I will say this was one of the best and worst decisions of my life for many reasons. Ultimately it wasn’t a fit for me long-term and I can go into more details in a separate blog post on that. What I did gain though, was the knowledge that I feel will last me a lifetime and I’m confident what I’ll share with you throughout the rest of this blog can help you achieve the results you are looking for as well.
The pictures below are progress pictures from my two and a half month transformation. The picture in the middle is a month out from my trip after making some simple, yet impactful changes and the picture on the right was taken the day I left for Thailand. As you can see, a lot can happen over a two month period with the right plan in place. I can honestly say I spent much less time in the gym during this two and a half month period than I did the months leading up to the changes I made.
I’m sure you’ve seen the meme that show a gym in the top half of the picture with the saying ‘most people think this is the hard part’ and food in the bottom half of the picture with the saying ‘but this is the hard part.’ In my opinion, this could not be more true. If you want a six pack and a toned body, food and nutrition, I believe, is at least 75% of the battle both physically and mentally. The gym is also very important, but as you can see from the first picture above, it will not help you achieve the results you are looking for.
Setting Realistic Expectations and Goals
Before going into details about my nutrition and workout recommendations, I think it’s important to note this will not be easy, but it will be worth it. You have to be disciplined, consistent,, self-motivated, and most importantly patient.
Another important aspect to point out is that your goals should be realistic. At the start of my transformation I weighed 180 pounds and by the end I weighed 160 pounds. I lost, on average, 10 pounds per month or a little less than 2 pounds per week. You should not plan to lose more than 2 pounds per week, so if your goal is to be at a specific weight by your trip, you will need to plan your timeline accordingly.
The final point I want to make is no matter how strong your abs are or any other muscle for that matter, if you have fat covering it, you will not have a six pack. While this may seem obviously, let me further clarify. You can do 1,000 sit-ups everyday but if you also eat an entire pizza everyday, you will not see the results you are looking for. This being said, everything in moderation is alright and pizza is amazing so you don’t need to cut out all foods you love!
We will need to get a little technical to start, but after this initial part, it will get much more general! There are three major macronutrients that the human body needs in order to function properly: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Both protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 calories per gram. This will be important later when you are creating your own meal plan.
In order to not overcomplicate things, to find your appropriate caloric intake to reach your goal, you need to first find your caloric intake to maintain the weight you are currently at. To do this, take your bodyweight and multiply it by 16. For example, if I weighed 180 pounds, I would need to consume 2,880 calories to maintain a weight of 180 pounds.
One pounds equals 3,500 calories, so for me to lose 1.8 pounds per week (which is roughly what I lost in my 11 week transformation) I would need to reduce my weekly caloric intake by 6,300 calories or 900 calories per day for a daily caloric intake of 1,980 calories. One point that may be obvious is each week your daily caloric intake will change as you begin to lose weight.
There are two methods you can use to lose fat that I prefer and I used a combination of the two methods. The first is to have a high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and the second is to have a high-protein, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. The first will allow you to lean out more, but will result in more muscle mass lost, while the second may take longer for you to lean out, but will result in retaining more muscle mass. I will not go into detail on the science behind each, but if there is interest I am happy to do so in a separate blog post.
Remember the technical information from the first two paragraphs of this section, this is where we will revisit that. For the first diet method, keep your protein-fat-carbohydrate percentages around 50%-30%-20% of your caloric intake.
For the second method, keep your protein-fat-carbohydrate percentages around 50%-30%-20% of your caloric intake. You are probably thinking what the heck does this mean exactly. For someone that is 180 pounds using the first method, they should consume ~272 grams of protein per day (2,180 daily calories of which 50% should be from protein so 1,090 calories from protein. There are 4 calories per every gram of protein, thus 1,090 calories / 4 calories equals 272 grams of protein.)
The formulas below can be used for either method to figure out how many grams of each protein, fat, and carbohydrates you should be consuming.
Daily Caloric Intake*Percentage of Protein or Carbohydrate/4 calories per gram = Grams of Protein or Carbohydrate to consume on a daily basis
Daily Caloric Intake*Percentage of Fat/9 calories per gram = Grams of Fat to consume on a daily basis
PLEASE READ! This may all sound difficult, but Under Armor has developed an app called MyFitnessPal, which will let you enter in all the food you consumed for the day and it will do all this math for you allowing you to just eat (which we all like to do) and upon entering the food into the app, you can make sure you are at the percentages of either of the two methods on a daily basis.
I will first start off by saying resting your muscles is just as important if not more important than lifting weights and doing cardio. This being said, you should aim to work out 3-5 days per week, perform some kind of cardio at least 3-4 days per week, and rest completely at least 2 days per week.
So what kind of weight lifting and cardio should you be doing?
As it relates to cardio, I learned a lot of this from the supplement company ONNIT’s ONNIT Academy. You should mix your cardio up between High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), medium-intensity interval training (MIIT),, and steady-state cardio each week. You should do each one at a minimum once per week and incorporate multiple as your body allows. I’ve outlined what each type is below.
HIIT: Exercises: sprints, hill sprints, exercise bike sprints, Versaclimber sprints, battle rope slams
How to do it: warm up, then work as hard as possible for 4–6 seconds. Rest until you feel ready to repeat the effort.
Workout time: 12–15 minutes
MIIT: Exercises: fast treadmill jogs, rope jumping, body-weight circuits, sled pushes, battle rope waves
How to do it: make up your own intervals. Any hard but not maximal pace for the work interval will do. Alternate that with active recovery. For example, jump rope for 60 seconds and stretch your hip flexors for 30 seconds.
Workout time: 15–30 minutes
Steady-State Cardio: Exercises: jogs, cycling, swimming, hiking
How to do it: work at a pace that keeps your heart rate between 120 and 150 beats per minute. You can wear a heart rate monitor or estimate as follows. Subtract your age from 220 to find your approximate maximum heart rate. Now place your index and middle fingers on the pulse in your neck and count for six seconds. Multiply that number by 10 to get your heart beats in a minute.
Workout time: 30–60 minutes
As for weight training, I break down my workouts by the following muscle types:
Quads, Hamstrings, Posterior Chain (Core)
There’s endless exercises you can do for each muscle type and that blog can be 5 or 10 pages by itself, so I will not go into much detail about specific exercises but I will recommend different variations of how to perform these exercises. A simple Google search for exercises on each muscle type will provide 100’s of pages of results.
With every exercise, I incorporated one of the following methods:
Drop Set - An extended set of a move, that is performed with a lower weight than initially used for the set. It is usually performed as the last set of that exercise as a burnout. For example, an exercise is performed for 8-12 repetitions with 50 pounds and immediately afterwards, the same exercise is performed for 8-12 repetitions (or until failure) with 30 pounds.
Superset - A combination of two exercises that either work the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups. For example, a bicep exercise is done for 8-12 repetitions and immediately after with no rest, a bicep or tricep exercise is done for 8-12 repetitions.
Giant Set - A series of four or more exercises for the same muscle group performed one after another with little to no rest in between.
High Repetition Set- An exercise performed for 20-30 repetitions each set.
Limited Rest Sets - An exercise is performed for 5-8 sets for 10-20 repetitions with 15 second rests in-between sets.
All of these methods above help not only save time, but more importantly burn fat and spike your metabolism.
Tips For Success
Make meal planning and meal preparing fun by mixing up what you are eating. Sure, you shouldn’t use up all your carbohydrates on donuts, but give yourself a break every week or two and have a treat as part of your carbohydrate intake.
There are healthier snack brands such as Yasso, Halo Top, and Arctic Zero that can be used as alternatives to ice cream or other high sugar snacks.
Limit your weight lifting to 40-60 minutes. More is not always better. Listen to your body and if you need a rest day, take a rest day.
Patience is a virtue. I love the saying ‘it take you 4 weeks to notice a difference, 8 weeks for your friends and family to notice a difference, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world to notice a difference. It will take time, but the changes will come.
Good luck with your transformation!