It's true that everyone is different, and therefore different things work for different people. With endless diets and workout programs on offer around the globe, I thought I would share with you some of my experiences over the past years and what has or hasn't worked for me.
The biggest question I'm always asked is "how do I get started?" the simple answer is to JUST MAKE A START! With even a limited understanding of food and exercise you'd be surprised at how easy it is to create a basic program to follow.
I began my journey wanting to become more muscular and leaner. Always being the "skinny" kid in school was something I wanted to change. So, I began going to the gym and training hard on weights without much concern for technique or even a single thought about what I was eating. As I began to mature more coming into my late teens/early 20's I was influenced by other friends and gym goers that took weight lifting to the next level. This then allowed me to begin forming a solid lifting technique and the introduction of protein as a supplement. Not too much later down the track I began to take a monohydrate creatine which in turn allowed me to recover quicker yet also bloat me due to large amounts of water retention within my muscles. Seeing this occur over the course of a couple of months, I was unhappy with the appearance and therefore I began to seek further advice and ended up swapping over to a hydrochloride creatine. This particular supplement was more refined and required smaller doses which dramatically reduced the bloating. However upon further research into creatine I found that without drinking at least 3-4L of water if not more per day, I could cause irreparable damage to my kidneys. Understanding that I didn't have the discipline to meet these requirements, I immediately ceased using creatine and haven't gone back to it since.
As the months rolled by going to the gym regularly but still not paying attention to my diet, I noticed gradual changes in my body. My arms became slightly bigger, my legs more muscular and my chest began to grow slightly. The biggest goal for me then was always to try and achieve a well-defined core. Aimlessly trying to achieve this goal I continued to work out rigorously week after week but still never getting exactly where I wanted to be.
When I decided to make the decision of going from the study of accounting and marketing at Macquarie University to the study of fitness and sports science at the Australian Institute of Fitness, was when I truly embarked on my journey to reaching my fitness goals. By undertaking this study, it pushed me to learn aspects of fitness I had never considered or had even known about. It didn't dawn on me how important having a diet was until now. After all, we at Vision do say that it's a 70/30 split between diet and exercise!
Not long after having gained the knowledge of nutrition, did I start experimenting with different diets. I began with the latest craze going around today known as the Keto diet. For those of you who don't know what Keto is, it is essentially a no carb or extremely low carb diet with high amounts of fat. The aim of it is to teach the body to adapt and run on fat as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates. There are numerous amounts of trainers out there who swear by this diet and that it is the key to weight loss and shredding. But I again will reiterate the point that EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT. The first week of keto caused me to feel quite ill. Running on little to no carbs is a huge shock for the body to adjust to. My sleeping patterns became irregular, I was feeling extremely lethargic and was experiencing lapses in concentration. I also noticed that my skin became worse which I think I can safely say was the diet. However, after the weeks went by, I started to notice a drop in body fat and I became accustomed to the side effects which made it easier to cope with. However, after close to 2 months of being on keto I decided to end it as it came back to the water consumption problem again. Similar to when I was taking creatine, I had to up my water dramatically in order for the diet to be safe in my eyes. I was unable to do this so I made the decision to cease keto.
With a new goal of just wanting to "get big quick", I tried the notorious dirty bulk. I won't spend too much time talking about this one because it wasn't my proudest moment. But essentially, I ate copious amounts of whatever I could get my hands on, including pizza. A lot of pizza. Starting at 70kg and rising quickly to 80kg within 8-10 weeks I found myself much bigger but also carrying an unsatisfying amount of fat. To help this process along I also supplemented pure carbohydrates in the form of a shake. The biggest wakeup call that this diet wasn't for me was realising that my suit no longer fit me. And not in a good way.
Moving on, my partner had been doing some research into intermittent fasting. This was not the first I had heard of this, having had coaches at the institute recommend it after doing it themselves. There are many different ways you can undertake this diet (how many hours you spend on and off eating). I decided to experiment with the 16:8. To break it down, it basically means that I was allowed to eat for an 8 hour window and fast for the other 16. Now when you think about it, it doesn't sound too bad right? I mean, if was to stop eating at say 7pm each night, I could begin eating again at around 11am of the next morning. Wrong. It was one of the hardest eating habits I ever had to form and to be honest I never got used to it. All of the research indicates that your body will adjust and that you won't feel hungry during the 16 hour window. I found myself constantly craving food by around 8am-9am each day and then began to feel sick and couldn't concentrate at work. By the time I was finally able to eat, I was at the point of not wanting to due to feeling sick. My partner on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed the diet, didn't feel sick during the off hours and lost a few kg's over the 2 month stretch that she experimented with the diet in conjunction with exercise
After finishing a 2 month stretch of intermittent fasting, I decided to step back for a second and set smart goals for exactly what I wanted to achieve. I decided that I needed to construct a strict diet and exercise plan in order for me to achieve my goal. I started thinking that even the professionals need help too. GP's typically have their own GP; basketball players have a coach so why not have a personal trainer for a personal trainer?
Having always been intrinsically motivated at the gym, I decided that I didn't need a personal trainer for motivation whilst working out. I needed structure and something to stick to, which was designed by someone else who can give me an unbiased opinion and help me achieve my goals. I ended up deciding to pay for a program by someone who I had followed for years on social media called Josef Rakich. For those of you who don't know him, he's a New Zealand body builder who made his fortune by creating meal and workout plans online for people. Sceptical at first of trying an online trainer I decided to give it a go. After paying and waiting for 4 days, I finally got a notification on my phone telling me that "YOUR 12 WEEK WORKOUT AND MEAL PLAN ARE READY". Ecstatic at the news I instantly opened the app and it prompted me with a grocery list and to go out and buy. Heading to the supermarket for my first weekly shop, I saw that the foods were typically very bland and in large quantities. The list contained items such as: tuna steak, white fish, turkey breast, chicken breast (skin off), eggs, quinoa, pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread, green vegetables, swiss cheese, sweet potato, an assortment of nuts including almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, large amounts of avocado and the list goes on.
To give you an idea of how much the program expected to me to eat with the goal of muscle gain, was between 3200-3500 calories/day. My macros would typically sit around: Carbs 230g-250g, protein 190g-210g and fat 100g-120g. Some mornings I would eat 7 pieces of wholemeal toast (dry) with 220ml of eggs whites and 250ml of soy milk. It was at this point that it dawned on me that trying to put on lean weight was just as hard as trying to lose weight. Stuffing your face full of food gets old pretty quickly, particularly if what you're eating is bland.
The workouts were extremely rigorous which consisted of 5 weight sessions/week, each targeting different muscle groups which lasted roughly an hour, as well as a 15-20min ab session at the end. My typical sets and reps were designed around hypertrophy training, so I would be completing 3 sets at 8-12 reps pretty much every session. The whole idea was that you should be struggling to get the end of each set, have a 30s-45s rest period and then go again.
However, it was the ab routines that were the real challenge. A typical 20min session would include: 30 knee to hip raises x2, 30 decline crunches x2, 30 weighted side bends x2, 30 raised elbow to knee crunches x2, followed by the infamous Arnold Shwartznegger stomach vacuum.
I made sure to try and document everything as best as possible including an initial Bioscan and recorded every exercise that I did with the weight + reps that I achieved.
After just 4-5 weeks of being on the program, my body fat reduced from 16.8% to 12.1% with a total loss of approx. 3kg. What I began to notice that I found interesting was that I wasn't getting particularly heavier but rather losing fat and replacing it with muscle (leaning out). My whole body began to become much more defined and the suit that was feeling tight around my chest and shoulders after my "dirty bulk" sat perfectly on me leaving me with a satisfied feeling. I continued the 12 week program and have only just very recently finished it off. To sum the diet up I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely do it again. I had a high point of reaching 10.4% body fat at 69kg and am currently working towards trying to put a few kg back on but in lean mass rather than in fat.
I'm sure there are some people that wouldn't have read to the end of this article, but for those of you that have I'll leave you with this. if you're thinking about trying a diet that your friend has told you about or that you heard about online, do some more research first or seek advice from one of us here at the studio! I have definitely learned a lot from experimenting with different diets but I undertook them with advice and assistance from professionals around me as well as having done my own research on potential side effects and the most efficient ways to go about it. As I'm sure you've learned from reading of my experiences, not everything will work! But it's about trying things to find that sweet spot for you as well as having an experience along the way and learning things you didn't know about your body. To me, this is just the beginning of my journey and I know that I have a lot more to learn. If you ever feel lost about dieting/exercise or even want to ask me questions, please approach me in the studio! I'm always happy to have a chat. Stay tuned for more to come!
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.