Eight Week Fitness Challenge Wrap Up

13 Mar

Just over eight weeks ago, I started something that I have very much enjoyed. Essentially, it was a fitness challenge to get into the best shape possible in eight weeks. The goals were to burn fat and build muscle, and I went about it by keeping to a strict diet and exercise program. You can read the initial post detailing it here.

The challenge officially wrapped up last Wednesday. I meant to post the results sooner, but I ended up being a big part of the Idaho Business Professionals of America state conference for the last half of last week, and took a trip to visit my family for my nephew’s birthday over the weekend.

Well enough excuses for the tardiness of this post, let’s get down to the facts.

The Numbers

My main goal was to go from a total weight of 168 to 175 pounds. This was to include losing 8.4 pounds of fat, and gaining 14.6 pounds of muscle. The real challenge here was obviously doing those two things simultaneously.

I actually ended up getting to my target weight in only five weeks. For the last three weeks, I floated between 172 and 175 fairly consistently. So I did hit my weight mark pretty easily. But what about the body composition changes?

The body fat scale I’ve been using turned out to be even more useless than I thought it would. I noted in my last post on this challenge how inaccurate it appeared to be, and this definitely held true. Regardless of my body composition, the body fat reading would change consistently with my weight. Seeing as my weight tends to fluctuate pretty heavily, this would mean that I would sometimes (according to the scale) gain an entire percentage of body fat in a single day, and then drop it all the next. As such, I decided to pretty much ignore the body fat readings on the scale.

However, I did notice a clear difference in my physique. I saw increased vascularity (visibility of veins), and significantly increased muscle definition. I really didn’t end up adding much bulk, but I’m okay with that for the time being.

Now with that said, I don’t think that I actually hit the numbers I was seeking as far as fat loss and muscle building go. While I did see some big differences, they weren’t enormous. So overall, I would say that I sorta-kinda met my goals number wise. I hit my target weight, but I didn’t quite hit the overall body composition I wanted.

What Went Wrong

There were several things that I think contributed to this. First off was my goal of doing both fat loss and muscle building simultaneously. While many people will try to say this is impossible, I disagree. I proved that it is possible, it just takes a lot longer than I thought. Many others that I’ve read about have had similar results. Because your body can’t build muscle without an excess of calories (especially proteins), and can’t burn fat without being calorically deficient, it is impossible to do them both truly simultaneously. However, you can definitely do them both during the same time frame. For instance, you might swim and burn a lot of calories on an empty stomach, leading to some fat loss. You could then lift weights the next day and eat thousands of calories, resulting in muscle growth. However, doing so isn’t nearly as efficient as simply focusing on one at a time.

The other thing that I had trouble with was I had a few too many days on which I had no choice but to break my diet. Whenever you are eating with other people, especially large groups of people, it is nearly impossible to eat on the paleo diet. Because the average person’s diet is made up in large part of empty carbs (which is why the average person is so unhealthy), you will likely end up eating that way when with a group. During these eight weeks, I spent three days on a youth retreat as a volunteer leader, had two family members insist on celebrating birthdays with me, was in a big conference, and was back in my hometown to attend a funeral which happened to be the same weekend as the super bowl. All of these occasions led to binge eating of all sorts of sugars and grains, and the only real alternative would have been fasting. Seeing as the slow carb diet, as recommended by Tim Ferriss, actually includes a weekly cheat day, I didn’t figure this would be a big deal. However, in the end I think it actually did make a difference in the body composition department.

What Went (Very) Right

Despite not truly meeting my goals, this was an overwhelmingly positive experiment. Here are the things that went right:

Getting Stronger

There is no question about it, I am in much better shape now than I was eight weeks ago. The consistent home workout schedule definitely helped me gain some fairly substantial strength, both aerobic and anaerobic. Besides the visible increases in muscle size and definition, it is an awesome feeling to know that I am getting stronger by the day. Seeing as this was one of the primary goals of this ordeal, I am very satisfied with the results.

Overall Health

When it comes to my overall level of health, I must say that I was absolutely shocked by the results. Once I switched over 100% to my paleo/slow carb diet, I saw some pretty incredible changes in my health in many different ways. Here are some of the most prominent:

  • Vastly Increased Energy: This was without a doubt the most dramatic, and welcome, surprise change. Despite getting rid of all kinds of quick burning carbohydrates like sugars and grains, which are typically thought of as what give you energy, I saw huge increases in my overall energy level. The best part was that instead of seeing swings in energy that corresponded with how recently I had eaten like I always had in the past, my energy level was nearly always constant.
  • Need Less Sleep: Along with the above, I noticed that I needed to sleep less in order to function well during the day. This was a most welcome effect considering how busy I’ve been lately.
  • Quicker Workout Recovery: I noticed that I didn’t get as sore after workouts after making the switch to the new diet. I think this was in part due to the increased percentage of protein in my diet, and also could have been tied into the consistent energy levels mentioned above (feeling tired gives the illusion of being sore as well oftentimes).
  • Less Headaches: Again, I believe this was tied to the energy levels mentioned above. I’ve always been prone to regular headaches, but I noticed the frequency with which these occur dropped off dramatically after starting the new diet.
  • Clearer Skin: This is kind of a random one, but I noticed that I went from minimal acne to absolutely none for eight whole weeks. At the end of the two months, I decided to binge out for a few days before starting again for the fun of it and ate tons of sugar and grains. The result? Nearly immediately I had several pimples. I’ve never been prone to big breakouts, so this wasn’t that big of a deal to me. But it is still a welcome change to say the least.

So in short, I have seen a drastically increased level of overall health as a result of this new diet. I couldn’t be happier with that part of things.

I think that most of those above effects were due to eating a diet that didn’t include any high glycemic index foods. The glycemic index is a measure of how fast eating a food affects your blood sugar levels. High glycemic index foods, like sugars, grains, and even most fruits, cause spikes in blood sugar, which in turn are responsible for unsteady energy levels. Eating a low glycemic index diet may be the best decision I have ever made.

Lessons Learned

More valuable than the physical changes I experienced throughout these eight weeks were the many lessons I learned. Here are some of the biggest:

  • Choose a Goal: Like I mentioned above, I believe that it will be much more efficient in the future to focus on one category of goal at a time instead of doing two simultaneously. In the future, I will be focusing on either fat loss or muscle building, not both at the same time.
  • Paleo is Awesome: There is just no way around it in my opinion, the food pyramid lied to us. Eating a diet that is a majority grains and other empty carbs simply isn’t the way to optimal health. Going paleo opened my world to a totally new definition of healthy. And, unless something major changes in the future for me, I never intend to go back to a grain based diet.

What’s Next?

Eight weeks of hard core dieting and consistent exercise was great, but it was only the beginning. I intend to not only keep this up, but also increase the intensity. My goal is to find as many ways as possible to maximize the human body physically. I started a new fitness challenge on Monday which I won’t be talking about until it is over. I want to keep it a surprise, but I’ll give you a hint: It involves the number six.

Stay tuned for more, and be on the watch for more finance posts soon!

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