This is the story of what I did to go from fat to fit in five months.
I’d been working my ass off for the past year and, other than the occasional run, I’d been paying little attention to exercise and nutrition.
My career was going well and on top of that, I was laser focused on a couple of side projects I was working on.
Finding a life balance can be difficult (if not impossible) so when you’re fixated on one part of life other parts can suffer.
The rude awakening and going from fat to fit
It was spring 2015 and I was out of shape, and while I wasn’t morbid obese by today’s standards it was the worst shape I’d ever been in.
When work takes over your life you’re not conscious of your body’s deterioration and you generally feel you’re in better condition than you actually are. Taking the before picture was the necessary rude awakening I needed to motivate me to start taking action.
The before image was taken in late May 2015 and the after image was taken in late October of the same year. The tan in the after image is because I’d just returned from ten days in Miami.
I’m not claiming to be an Adonis in the after picture and there are lots of guys who have made more extreme transformations than mine but going from fat to fit in a five month timescale requires meticulous planning and diligent hard work.
Below I’ll outline how I did it.
Firstly, the transformation was done naturally with no use of performance-enhancing stimulants though I think the general attitude to the likes of hormone replacement therapy is beginning to go through a sea change with more and more positive results reported.
1. I made the commitment to prioritise my health
Any bodybuilder, athlete and fitness enthusiast will tell you that you need to take a long-term perspective with health. When embarking on a change of health and body composition you’ve got to be in it for the long term. I made a commitment to myself that I would prioritise the gym over work and healthy eating over junk food and alcohol.
If you don’t make the commitment to yourself at the beginning the odds won’t be in your favour. Every January gyms are full of people who make half-assed commitments to themselves and by February most have given up.
People today are always looking for shortcuts in life and that’s why books like the Five Minute Abs and Lose One Pound A Day do so well. They are, of course, a lie but they tap into people’s longing for a quick fix.
Despite this transformation taking place last year to this day I am still hitting the gym and eating as healthy as I can. My health is still my priority and I’m still committed to ensuring that I stay in the best shape possible.
Maintaining good health, particularly as we get older, is a long and continuous road with no final destination. It’s a journey so you have to enjoy all of it.
2. Education, education, education
I consumed information of health and fitness from all corners of the internet and bookstore. YouTube videos, podcasts, Kindle books, blog posts, you name it.
I educated myself on the types of foods I should be eating, the difference between hypertrophy and strength training, how high-intensity interval training is more beneficial for fat loss than steady-state cardio and the importance of rest to rebalance and grow.
The internet is awash with lots of free information so you have no excuse not to educate yourself on the tried and tested exercises of old and also on the latest developments and theories to achieving good health.
Be warned, there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen claiming to provide new miraculous solutions to help you feel younger, fitter and better if you just buy their product or program. This is total bullshit so don’t buy into it.
Only listen to people who walk the walk (are in great shape themselves) and who hammer home that good health is a long-term commitment of habit and consistently making small incremental improvements.
Also, unless you’re a sportsman at the top of his game, getting the basics right should be your main priority. You can get lost in the masses of information out there and some people take it too seriously so that it impacts other parts of their lives.
3. I focussed on nutrition
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
If you’re training and not eating the right foods your results will be mediocre at best. Unless you’re on steroids, in which case you’ll still make massive gains regardless of nutrition. I wasn’t so I had to ensure that what went in my mouth was going to help me in the gym.
Each time I went to the supermarket I bought the same items which were: chicken, steak, tuna steak, tinned tuna, eggs, sweet potatoes, seasoning (for chicken), avocados, peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, olives, tomatoes, leafy veg, apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peanut butter, almond butter, almonds, porridge, 85% dark chocolate and goats milk.
These foods made up the core of my nutritional intake and, other than switching up chicken for a steak, I generally ate a lot of the same foods daily. To some people this may not be appealing but, despite me liking the taste of this food, I was looking at it more from a macro and micronutrient point-of-view and less so about variety. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
Meal prep. A selection of the types of meals I ate are below.
4. I sought expert help
I’m a good self-starter and can motivate myself to get my ass to the gym during times when I don’t feel like it. Having a training partner would be better to help push out those last reps of a heavy weight but my training times are based around my own schedule so I train alone.
That doesn’t mean I’m not open to outside help though and for months three and four of my five month transformation I hired a personal trainer. A good (some are mediocre) personal trainer can help you in numerous ways, including:
- Plan your routines and nutrition
They can take an objective look at your goals, body and abilities to provide you with the right training programs and correct nutrition.
- Push you further in the gym
Most people train harder when someone is pushing them and a good PT can get you to squeeze out those last remaining couple of reps on the bench or assist you while squatting that weight you’d never tried before.
They can also advise you on a myriad of other things like correct form when lifting, time between sets, supersets, stretching and new exercises.
- Ensure you stay on course
A good PT should make you feel guilty if you haven’t been following the plan. You don’t pay them to pander and please you. They are there to get you out of your comfort zone as that’s where the magic happens.
If you’re keen and motivated to improve it will inspire a good PT to up his or her game too as a positive attitude is infectious. If you take a half-hearted approach and give off the impression you don’t want to be there the PT is likely to react accordingly.
5. I used technology where appropriate
The core objectives for my transformation was to build muscle and lose fat.
Some people will say it’s not possible to do both simultaneously but this is a lie, especially for newbies and people who are out of shape where the very act of lifting weights and eating nutritious foods will increase the body’s muscular composition and reduce its fat percentage.
I only lifted weights for the first two months. Over time I wanted to introduce cardio to my routine to speed up the fat burning process and for all the other benefits that come along with it.
I’ve always enjoyed cardio and have ran half marathons and participated in triathlons in the past so, unlike some people who lift, running, cycling, swimming is something I enjoy. I then began pounding the pavement and the treadmill running (not jogging) for around 30mins each time.
Once I built up my cardiovascular fitness I wanted to understand my heart rate training zones. There are charts online that will provide you a guideline based on your age but these can be woefully inaccurate depending on your fitness.
To get a more accurate picture, I got a VO2 max test which analyses your heart rate training zones to allow you to know when you’re in fat burning zone. Besides, it also makes you feel like you’re training like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.
Using a Polar heart rate monitor and the Digifit iCardio app with my personal heart rate zones plugged in I can tailor my cardio to specifically burn fat.
6. I tracked my progress
“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” Peter Drucker
I’m a big fan of using data to track my improvements inside and outside the gym. With the introduction of new tools and technologies, there’s a never-ending list of metrics you can measure.
In fact, there’s a whole movement dedicated to it called the Quantified Self whereby people use technology to document all kinds of variables in their health and life. Sure, the mirror will tell you if you’re going from fat to fit but data and technology helps you understand your performance.
You can take it too far of course and when that happens the costs outweigh the benefits and you just begin to waste your time. On the flip side some people don’t self-track at all which, again, is counterintuitive because you can’t learn how you’re progressing.
Before I began I took my body part measurements including, chest, biceps, waist, thigh and calf. I then measured my weight using digital scales, body fat percentage using a skin calliper, resting heart rate with the Azumio Instant Heart Rate app and occasionally blood pressure and heart rate variability.
Track your workouts
Each workout I did I tracked religiously. This included weight lifted, reps, sets and, where relevant, supersets and dropsets. The following week I’d try and beat my previous week even if it was just by one rep, it meant progress. Usually, however, I was increasing the weight and reps multiple times per week.
The rush I would feel when seeing the data in front of me and seeing that I was beating my previous week’s workout gave me the incentive to push on during times when I was feeling lazy.
I use Google Sheets to track my data which has a smartphone app version I would use during a training session. After the workout I’d email myself the workout and input the data from my laptop.
Track your calories and macronutrients
This is something I didn’t do throughout the entire five months but rather just for one month to make sure I was receiving the adequate amount of calories and macronutrients.
To do this I first used the Mifflin St-Joer calculator to understand my daily nutritional needs and then to track my food intake free food tracking app, MyFitnessPal.
My daily food remained pretty much the same throughout which didn’t bother me at all because I enjoy the foods I was eating. Of course, I had cheat meals (not cheat days) but I generally ate the same amount of calories each day so tracking for a month was more than adequate to understand my intake.
The month of tracking my food I used a set of digital scales to weigh the raw food so I got the measures right and I’d use MyFitnessPal’s databank to input the data on a daily basis with little effort.
In terms of macronutrient split I went for carbohydrate 40% / Protein 40% / Fat 20%. I didn’t always get this right but this didn’t bother me as I was making good gains without being too regimental about it.
You have to live your life so don’t beat yourself up if you go over your daily calorie limit every now and again.
Take lots of photos
Like anything of value, developing a stronger, leaner and healthier body, and going from fat to fit requires consistent effort and time. The day to day, week to week and month to month grind of hitting the gym hard, eating well and getting adequate rest develops incremental and often unnoticeable steps especially when you’re doing it naturally.
Because the changes are small we often don’t notice them which can be disheartening but because I took regular photos of myself the camera showed me the progress I had made and often it was much more impressive than I had anticipated.
This was a huge boost and incentivised me to continue working hard, and in fact it made me want to push myself further and harder.
Don’t underestimate the importance of tracking your progress and especially of seeing, first hand, the metamorphosis your body is going through using photos.
What’s next for me?
Ten months in I’m still maintaining my strength and conditioning. I’ve put on a few pounds of fat during the winter months but that’s to be expected since eating salads when it’s zero degrees outside is unappealing. My strength is still there and since I’m training muay thai and boxing my cardiovascular fitness isn’t bad either.
Now that summer’s approaching again my diet will improve once more and I’ll begin to lose the excess fat I’ve put on. In fact I’m starting to see it happen now as the days have been less cold and my appetite for stodgy food has decreased.
The next 12 months will consist of:
- Using more technology and innovation. I want to try a DEXA body scan, cryotherapy and be consistently monitoring my blood variables
- Working on my weaker body parts, mainly my core and calves. I’ll be switching my routine around and prioritising exercises to fulfil this
- Introducing more power based exercises. I’ll split my routine to include a mix of explosive strength based exercises with more muscle building hypertrophy exercises
- Doing the 100 pushup challenge. This looks like fun
- Increasing my flexibility through stretching and yoga. I’m a naturally stiff guy which hasn’t really bothered me in the past (no injuries thus far) but training muay thai I can tell it hinders me when stretching with a kick
- Testing new methods. I haven’t tried intermittent fasting yet but it’s an area I’d like to explore
I’ll write an update post in the next 6 to 12 months.