It’s the time of year again when gym memberships spike. When Costco starts stocking fitness equipment and personal trainers are stuffing their bank accounts. This is of course because of New Year’s resolutions, as people say they will finally shed those extra pounds or get in better shape. Sadly, very few people actually see these through.
Now, I’ve always been in fairly good physical shape, so I never made any resolution along those lines before. This is especially true because I played basketball during the winter, so in January I was typically in as good of shape as you can be. Of course this year I’m not playing organized basketball (which is sad, I love the game), but that’s no reason not to be in good shape. So I thought to myself, why not challenge myself to get in to the best shape of my life as a sort of New Year’s resolution? And that is exactly what I’m doing.
Starting today I’m beginning an eight week long challenge with myself to burn off fat and simultaneously build substantial muscle. I’m going to be holding myself to lofty expectations, and intentionally am going to have to rush this process. Eight weeks isn’t a whole lot of time to accomplish what I want to do.
And to make this even harder, I forced several rules unto myself:
- No gyms, personal trainers, or anything similar. For one thing, I think gyms are a very unnecessary expense when you can get an equal workout without one for free. For another, I want anyone who reads about this challenge to be able to duplicate it, and that means I can’t be doing anything expensive or impossible. In fact, the total cost of purchasing the gym equipment I’m using was less than two months of a typical gym membership.
- Track my progress as accurately as possible. I want to be able to point to this little experiment in the future as an example without critics being able to rip it apart on technicalities.
- For the before and after photos, I won’t be using any “Hollywood tricks” in order to make it appear that I was more successful than I really was. If I fail, I have to show my failure.
So here is what I’m going to do. I’ve seen countless case studies of people who have lost a significant amount of fat. I’ve also seen some that show how a person gained a large amount of muscle quickly. But very rarely do you see anyone combine the two. So I’m going to try and build my ideal body by both dropping my body fat percentage drastically and simultaneously building muscle.
My weight fluctuates substantially on a daily basis, so I’m using a four day average for my starting numbers. Putting together my weight this morning and the three prior days, my official starting number is 168.85 pounds. My target weight is 175 pounds. Obviously that isn’t much of a change, but it is when you consider the body fat I’ll be losing.
I have a home body fat scale that I will be using during this experiment. However, these are notorious for reporting inaccurately high if you have an athletic build, which I do. The four day average puts my body fat read at 18.4%. However, I know that I am nowhere near that. Using picture estimators (like this or this), I am more likely in the 12% to 15% range. Unfortunately, more accurate ways of measuring body fat are either expensive or require going to a trainer, which violates my first rule. But despite the inaccuracy of my scale, it should still be a good measure of how much fat I am losing. To keep it as accurate and scientific as possible, I will always be doing these measurements upon waking, after using the restroom, and before eating or drinking anything.
My goal is to lose at least 5% body fat. That will put me at 13.4% on the scale, or around 5% to 8% using picture based estimations. While it may be hard to get a true measure of exactly how much body fat I lost, I think that the difference will be very noticeable, which is the main goal anyway.
So if we do some quick math, we can get a better look at what I want to do. Dropping 5% body fat essentially means losing 5% of my weight, which comes out to 8.44 pounds. And while that may not sound like a lot of weight considering what you’ve seen in other places online and in advertisements, remember two things:
- I am already in good shape, so I don’t have much to lose.
- I am going to be simultaneously gaining muscle mass. Doing so typically involves lots of anaerobic exercise and eating large amounts of food, the opposite of what typical weight loss involves.
Accounting for that total amount of fat loss, that will put my weight at 160.41. So I will have to build 14.6 pounds of lean muscle mass in order to hit my target weight of 175 pounds.
This is a somewhat unique challenge that I am undertaking, but I have worked out a solid plan that I think should allow me to accomplish this. I’ve taken inspiration from several different places, including Tim Ferriss’s crazy muscle mass building experiment and Joel Runyon’s six pack abs experiment.
I will be following a diet that is a hybrid of the paleo and slow carb diets. This means I will be eating an all natural diet full of protein, fats, and low glycemic index carbohydrates. Here is what I will be eating lots of:
- Meat: A good portion of my calories will be coming in the form of animal proteins. I’m able to eat meat very cost effectively, which you can read about here. I would be eating all grass fed and organic if I could, but price is too big of a prohibitor for that.
- Vegetables: If you want a good indication of how much vegetable mass I will be eating, today I bought a ten pound bag of organic carrots and a five pound bag of organic green beans at Costco (the organic price there was cheaper than the non organic anywhere else, even my local favorite Winco). Vegetables will be a primary staple of my diet, and will most times be stir fried in olive oil or homemade ghee. I will, however, avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams.
- Legumes: At the beginning of the eight weeks I will be eating quite a few legumes. Mostly beans, my favorites being black beans and lentils, but also some nuts. I am planning on quickly phasing out the nuts, and possibly the other legumes as well. Legumes in general are great, but vegetables are better.
- Fruits: The only fruits I will eat a lot of will be avocado and tomatoes. Both are relatively expensive, but they are the only fruits that don’t have a lot of natural sugar. In the beginning I may eat the occasional apple or other fruit, but I plan to quickly phase that out as well.
- Eggs and Dairy: Eggs will be another staple, especially for breakfast. I am what would be called a milk addict (going through two gallons per week by myself isn’t uncommon), so even though it violates both the diets I am modeling after, I will be eating/drinking dairy. For one thing, I am trying to build muscle. Tim Ferriss, who created the slow carb diet, wrote in the 4-Hour Body that drinking lots of milk is one of the best ways to do so. For another, my body is accustomed to an abundance of dairy, and eliminating it may be quite the shock to the system. I may try it another time, but not while I’m changing so many other variables at the same time.
There are also some foods that will be strictly on my do-not-eat list. For the most part, they are simple carbohydrates.
- Sugar: Sorry kids, sugar is bad for you. And while I am as guilty as anyone of eating ridiculous quantities of the stuff, we all have to face facts at some point. It isn’t a coincidence that as sugar has become more prevalent in our society, so has obesity. If there is one thing that this plan hinges on more than any other, it is eliminating sugar. That also means nothing that contains any sort of sugar, like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and pretty much any commercially made drink.
- Grains: Grains are just another form of simple carbohydrate, and eating them isn’t doing you any favors. I know this will be a tough sell for a lot of you, including my entire family, but I’ll let the results speak for themselves in eight weeks.
- Processed Food: I feel like a broken record writing this again on this blog, but eliminating as much processed food as possible from your diet is one of the most effective ways to boost your health and save hundreds of dollars at the same time.
Of course, the diet alone isn’t going to be enough. In order for me to get the muscle tone and build I want, I’m going to be doing a lot of exercising. But given the restrictions I put on myself, I am extremely limited as far as what equipment I can use. I’m going to be doing lots of body weight exercises, such as pushups and situps. I also have two pieces of equipment I will be using, which cost less than $80 in total:
- Door mounted pull up bar: One of those things that you see on the infomercials (I bought mine several years ago, I believe it is an Iron Gym). These things actually do make great pullup bars, and you can use them for other exercises as well. A good one costs about $30.
- T-Bar: This is essentially an adjustable kettlebell that I made myself out of some steel piping. I will be using this for kettlebell swings and squats. Buying all the steel piping and weights was less than $50.
I’ll be breaking my workouts into upper body and lower body, and alternating them. I will have a break day on Sunday. I’m going to be detailing this more in an upcoming post, so be on the lookout for that.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend dietary supplements. However, for this challenge I will taking a small amount of creatine supplements for several reasons:
- Creatine is a totally natural organic acid found in all vertebrates. That means you already have some in you, and you get more every time you eat meat. Adding creatine supplements to your diet is a proven way to increase muscle growth with a very tiny risk of side effects.
- I’ve used creatine before and found that it was the only way I could gain large amounts of muscle quickly due to my extremely fast metabolism. I’m one of those guys that just burns through food and can’t gain weight very easily (it isn’t uncommon for me to eat 4000 calories per day). In order to gain almost 15 pounds of lean muscle mass so quickly, creatine is really my only option.
So that is the plan for my next eight weeks. I will be writing a lot more about this challenge in the near future, especially once I’ve completed it. I’m going to be sticking to the plan above, but things are subject to change. In fact, I would be willing to bet that my routine is very different at the end of the eight weeks. For instance, if I’m having a hard time gaining the muscle I want, I may start taking protein supplements. Or if I gain weight too fast, I’ll lay off the creatine or cut out dairy. The main thing is that I will be hitting my target whatever it takes.
Do you have a fitness goal for the new year? Let us know in the comments below!