I think it’s important to point out that I am not a qualified nutritionist or a fitness coach. The reality is that with study and with paying for a tonne of trainers over the years I’ve self-taught my way to learning what works. The reality is that most of it was done through trial and error and going through a lot of things that didn’t work because they were fads or myths. Fake news has never been more alive than in health and fitness. Anyone within the industry I believe would attest to that.
So here is the short version, most trainers will put you on unhealthy programmes that don’t make you lose fat but instead make you lose as much weight as possible. To a trainer or a nutritionist who is under pressure to show quantifiable results fast, making you lose muscle is the best way forward. This means de-prioritise protein and creating a combo of fats and carbs. Macro manipulation dictates body composition – meaning how much of you is fat or muscle.
How you look is down to a few things:
- your muscle and fat balance,
- your bone structure which you can’t change (albeit with some pretty serious surgery),
- the type of skin you have,
- the natural tightness of that skin,
- the colour of that skin (the darker you are the more defined you will look – hence why bodybuilders get these crazy spray tans so you see every chiselled aspect),
- the length of your muscles (I’m 6’4” so for my muscles to start to look big I would need to put on an extra 10kg of lean muscle mass compared to someone who is 5’10”)
- and finally, of that fat you hold where you genetically tend to hold it and a lot of this is age-dependent.
I prefer when deciding how my progress is going to stick to a combination of metrics, I check my weight more to monitor how quickly I lose weight when I’m cutting. Too fast and all you are doing is losing muscle and not very much fat. The result is a slower metabolism. Unfortunately, most people are obsessed with this idea that they can lose some insane amount of weight and it will be fat, it simply won’t no matter how lucky you are genetically. This is particularly common in women more than men and the result if the skinny fat look with a bum that looks like a tyre with a puncture – deflated. Relying on aesthetic, how we look in the mirror is very dangerous as it is constantly changing due to water retention. We all have those mornings where we look better than others but this is something bodybuilders work very hard and scientifically to achieve for the day of a competition.
What I prefer to do is use weight in combination with measuring my waist, my arm, my leg and my chest. These factors will give you a very good indication of how you are changing. If your waist is getting bigger it is mostly likely body fat. This is a hard place to thicken within a slow period of time unless you are doing some very substantial compound movements like deadlift or clean and press. The other indication is you are taking some very strange performance-enhancing drugs that will likely take about 10 years off of your life if used incorrectly. On a personal note, I’m not against people taking these things as long as they do them with proper medical supervision and from trusted sources. Buying online strange pills is a recipe for hurting yourself, you will most likely be sold an aspirin or worse something harmful to you.
The trap when changing our body composition is to place too much importance on shrinking in our clothes around our shoulders and not around our midlines. A classic symptom of losing muscle over fat. This again you can monitor with measurements and you can’t with scales.
The other consideration is to keep a diary which is so easy these days with MyFitnessPal or FitBit App. I would encourage anyone who wants to start getting fit for the first time to use MyFitnessPal, you will learn so much by food just by following a macro led diet. At the time of writing I’m currently on:
- 250g Protein
- 170g Carbs
- 70g Fat
Bear in mind this is while I am cutting and both my fats and carbs will go up considerably while I’m working to build muscle mass. I’m very light right now, 85kg which is because for the last few years I’ve focussed on following a programme advised by a doctor friend of mine which is geared around longevity. I wanted to commit to it for several years to see how it would make me feel. My consensus now is to keep using intermittent fasting but also to eat more to allow muscle repair to be sufficiently maintained.
I also want to point out that we can always be learning, I have an excellent trainer now who works with me for weight sessions and also guides me on my macros. He keeps me on the straight and narrow by taking away doubts and giving some outside perspective. The reality is all the information is in bodybuilding books, you might say that you’re not looking to become a bodybuilder, neither am I, only that those guys know more about changing and manipulating the body than anyone else on the planet. If you had to take advice on your heart would you go to someone who runs lots and uses their heart a lot or would you rather go to a surgeon? Bodybuilders are the surgeons of their own physical design.