BackgroundThis post is more personal than most of those that go up here. I wanted to give an account of my diet over the last 6 months or so and how I've made an attempt, with some help, to achieve what I'd always struggled to attain in the past - visible abs. I'll talk about the diet, the training and the coaching.
I've been training with weights since I was 15 initially obsessed with bodybuilding, reading voraciously and studying all aspects of diet and exercise with the aim of getting big and ripped. My body was never built for that though - tall and skinny no matter how hard I tried. I was a bit disillusioned with the whole thing as my own efforts and dedication got no where while I saw people with less effort grow like weeds due to superior genes or often steroids which in the gyms of the 1980s and 90s were pretty common.
I kept training, encouraged by Stuart McRobert's Hardgainer magazine just to focus on getting stronger on basic exercises and eating lots of food. It worked to an extent. I hit 17 stone at one point, but I was fat. Getting a 38" waist was not part of the plan! Also while my training was pretty sound I picked up some injuries, particularly a dodgy lower back.
Gradually my focus changed - when I was about 30 I started to slim down. I had started to do more hillwalking and was just not fit enough. So I tightened my diet - basically adopting Clarence Bass diet, lots of fibre, veggies and fruit, fairly low protein and lower fat. I was jogging too and did a few 10k races. Via Clarence Bass I also learned about interval training and started doing lots of sprints. It all worked too and I came down to about 13 stone. I think I lost a bit of muscle in the process too however I think. Then came paleo....
DietHardgainer magazine had featured a series on diet by Stephen Weadon - a diabetic who had controlled his condition through a low carb diet. He also pointed towards Nourishing Traditions - the Weston A Price cookbook. The internet was just coming into its own now around 2000 and so I started searching about this new information. Also through Clarence Bass I read of Art DeVany and so was exposed to evolutionary fitness and paleo. That was it then for the next 10 years or so. Fuelled by the internet I was off and running into this paleo stuff. If you have followed this blog for long you will have noticed that it for a long time had a low carb / high fat slant. The blog started back when there were fewer blogs and I was linked to by lots of low carb / paleo leading lights.
My diet was low carb. I came totally off wheat - and so I remain I can't cope with it any more. But dairy was different! Following Peter I gorged on double cream and lots of butter. I kept blogging - all this was ever meant to be was a record of things that I found interesting, a set of bookmarks if you like, but people started to like it and think I know what I was talking about. Even Jimmy Moore asked me to do an interview but I refused, having nothing to say.
So there I remained, relatively happy but also quite evangelistic about my low carb high fat "paleo" fasting template diet. But something was up. (This is just thinking about diet by the way. On the training front I also got exposed to and distracted by many crazes....kettlebells, functional training, Pavel etc). Something was up - I was still a bit fat....and getting fatter.
Work had become stressful too as I got promoted beyond what felt comfortable and lots of days started to end with glasses of wine to relax. Gradually I came round to the idea that carbs were not the demonic foods that I had thought. Carbsane, Stephan and others began to point out what I should have know for a long time from my earlier gurus (McDonald and Bass) that calories count more than carbs. one of the things that tipped me was something that I read from Don - the idea that we produce something called amylase an enzyme that is there to digest starch. I remembered that from school. We are built to eat starch.
Ok I understand that gluten is a problem, but I could no longer reject spuds. Or indeed rice as I started to read material from Paul Jaminet. Somehow the basic low carb high fat template was not making so much sense.
Then there was my gut. I was starting to get fat. On holiday in Spain in 2010 I saw my belly lying on the bed I decided that it was time to do something about it. I was over 13 stone and getting fatter, despite this perfect fatty low carb diet. Ok the wine had a role, but not a big one. So it all got tightened up. But still it didn't get me ripped....
The CatalystSo that took me to earlier this year. I was eating real food to satiety basically: breakfast of eggs, bacon and veggies. Lunch of baked potato and meat. Dinner of meat and rice.
Then I read a blog post from Jeff Erno. I'd followed Jeff for a few years. He'd been on a similar journey - HIT/Body by Science training and a paleo diet. He explained how he had started to seriously track his diet on Leangains principles. Now a bit of history here. I'd been following Martin Berkhan's writings since the beginning and had actually become a client back in 2008.....but I had not followed the diet because it was not paleo enough for me......I had not understood so much!
In a superb blog post Jeff explained how he had come to see how important calories were and how the indiscriminate eating of fat was throwing him off track. I was inspired to try this myself and began to record my diet. I worked out what I should be eating in terms of protein, carbs and fat - using Lyle's articles - and used MyfitnessPal to track my intake. There was no fasting at this point, just 3 meals a day tracked on my iPhone.
And it started to work. I was leaning out. But I wanted more
A CoachI started thinking about the idea of a diet coach. I'd read a lot about the importance of a coach - it may be placebo, but if you believe in what a coach tells you then you are more likely to succeed. Jeff had pointed to the site Ripped Body and as I read through that site I was more and more impressed with the approach of Andy Morgan, the young guy working through the site. He offered consultancy and so I decided to take the plunge and take him on as a coach.
Here is what I commented on his site after the consultancy was over - 3 months of dieting.
“I chose to work with Andy because I decided that I wanted a coach. At 44 I had started training at 15 and had kept studying the subjects of exercise and diet ever since. With my frame and genetics I was never going to be Mr Olympia and my focus had been on keeping fit for my hobby of hillwalking in the Scottish mountains. I’d also picked up a few injuries over the years via squats and deadlifts so had been limiting myself to bodyweight moves in recent years.I still had a desire to be leaner though, just to get my abs. No matter what I’d done in the past I’d never quite got there. Working with Andy gave me a very simple and straightforward template for my diet. Becoming a client also gave me the motivation to stick to the plan and simply to put my trust in what he told me. To be honest I knew all this stuff already, but putting into place this athlete / coach relationship meant that I did not have to worry about what I was doing, whether it was right or wrong. It was his responsibility so I just stuck to it and didn’t mess about swapping from one approach to another. Having a coach took the stress away – I just had to apply the guidelines. Andy’s take on this way of dieting is so flexible that it becomes easy to apply. Of course you still need to do the work, apply the discipline, but this is not too tough. During the 3 months of the consultancy I lost my Dad and that knocked me off course in some ways, but it was easy to get back on track with the flexible approach that Andy recommends.
Looking back I now have what I have never before possessed - some abs. But I also gained something more important: an understanding of the process and the tools that have got me here. I know where to go next, what to do to get leaner or to add some bulk. All this information is out there – on the interwebs or in Lyle McDonald’s or Alan Aragon’s writing – but believe me it becomes real and simple when you commit to it and become a client. If you are considering taking that step I would certainly encourage you to do so.”
That was the key idea - accountability. I could have worked out the diet for myself, but paying money for his advice made me stick to it.
The diet was pretty straightforward. Intermittent Fasting - there is a lot about that on my blog if you look for it! - each day, so I basically skipped breakfast. Then calorie and carb cycling. Rest days were lower calorie, low carb, high protein and moderate fat. Training days were high carb, high protein and low fat.
I ended up training once a week with weights on a Wednesday and then treating both weekend days as training days when I was out in the hills for walks.
ProgressSo how did it go? Everything was tracked in terms of weight and measurements each week and I also got into the habit of taking photos after my gym sessions - hoping no one walked into the changing rooms as I was taking photos in the mirror!
I was on a recomposition diet and it worked. My weight stayed the same, maybe lowing a couple of pounds, but I leaned out my waist coming down a few inches.
OK, I am not ripped but I am leaner than I have ever been in my life and I finally think I understand something about diet and losing fat using s simple approach. Food quality matters - I know that from my paleo years - but quantity of food matters too. Calories count and it is far too easy to squander calories on fat rather than carbs or protein.
Also, somewhere in here my Dad died and for a few weeks nothing mattered, least of all diet.
Anyway, here are the photos.
This was in February. I was smooth! You might not have even known that I trained much.
This is from April just when I started to work with Andy. I'd tightened up a bit but still had a way to go.
So these are the after shots. Still some way to go, but I am getting somewhere now and will continue to progress:
|There is a vein in my oblique....|
|Starting to add some muscle?|
|Abs and obliques coming in|
|Abs ....and some loose skin too|
|Abs...and legs but I was never Tom Platz|
There is still a way to go to get to where Clarence Bass was at my age:
But it is something to aim for and I know how to get there now!
LessonsHaving a coach helps - there is much value in the coach / athlete relationship. It removes stress if you simply put trust in a coach and make yourself accountable. It forces you to stick to the plan which in itself is most of the battle. Andy at Ripped Body was a good choice with a good simple approach.
Calories matter - ultimately you lose fat when you are in a calorie deficit. That has to happen over the piece to make a difference.
Macronutrients matter - protein is satiating. Carbs and fat give you energy. Get lots of protein - maybe 1g per lb of bodyweight and then enough carbs and fat. Carbs are not poison but are essential for function. They are natural. Wheat is a problem for me and for many but do not let that scare you away from tubers or rice.
Patience - at 44 I can still improve. It just takes time and persistence.