This week, our awesome trainer Adam shares his story about how he lost fat and gained weight. He also shares suggestions about how you can get your ideal body without falling off-track.
Unlike some other trainers, I am very open about how I’m by no means a perfect example of physical perfection. I’m not the trainer who has always been in great shape. In fact, I’m the opposite. I was never athletic growing up, I let myself become dangerously obese, I lost weight in an unhealthy way, my powerlifting career was ended by injuries built up from poor habits and misunderstanding proper progression, and since those injuries I’ve struggled to find a balance in keeping myself strong, lean, and happy.
However, I hope that being open about my past helps the people I work with because I can relate to their struggles. In 2013 and 2014 respectively, I sustained a shoulder and lower back injury. While these injuries introduced me to the importance of learning about movement, mobility, and injury prevention before hitting the weights, they were also huge blows to my ego and my overall motivation. After being sidelined from lifting for a year, when I got back into it, my competition lifts went down hundreds of pounds. Old movements I used to enjoy were now either difficult, or downright painful. I was hit with a reality that I may never compete again. I went from being excited to train, to dreading it.
The worst of this culminated in 2015. I was depressed about my decrease in performance and motivation. My eating habits became very unhealthy, and my training was incredibly infrequent. Finally I had hit a point where I knew if I let that get any worse, well, I would have no business telling other people how to live healthy active lifestyles. So I set out to get stronger again, to increase my training frequency, and to eat lean and healthy again. My overall goal was to get back down to around 205-210lbs. Well, I can tell you by how my physique has changed over the last year and a half, I’ve lost a decent amount of fat. But on the scale, I weigh around 240lbs. So much for weight loss.
So, what happened? Well part of why I was able to stay so light and lean when I was powerlifting was because I was younger and had never been injured. I used to push myself so hard in the weight room that I didn’t need any kind of cardio to drop from 220lbs to 195lbs to make competition weight. Today however, I just can’t do that without hurting myself. That’s not to say I can’t push myself or lift heavy. But 90 minute gym sessions filled with dropsets and high rep ranges with 300lb barbells just isn’t happening.
My other advantage was at the time I was living at home. The weightlifter diet is real cheap when you’re not paying for your food. I was eating tons and tons of vegetables every day and loads of meat and eggs. I also worked at a protein shake bar, so I could easily get in a calorie controlled protein packed meal there 5-7 times a week. I ate a LOT, but it was very low calorie foods that kept me in check. Now that I’ve joined the rest of the average adult world, I’ve learned just how expensive truckloads of vegetables are. Temptation is more abundant, even if it’s just the times you decide you don’t feel like cooking and want to order out. Oftentimes, higher fat foods and denser carbohydrates are easier to eat and take with you as well. Meal prepping works. But you literally can spend an entire day off dedicating yourself to it. And honestly, I just don’t have the motivation to do that. I like my Sundays.
So what happened this last year? How did I gain weight but lose fat? I appropriately split up my training schedule to a 5 day routine. I needed an extra day dedicated to shoulder and arm rehabilitation anyway, and this ensured that to hit this routine properly I would be in the gym 3-5 days a week and at least 4 on average. That would prevent me from those lazy weeks where I lifted twice and mostly just practiced. I also made sure certain workouts were done at a different gym than the performance center. Now there’s NOTHING that prevents me from getting everything I need done at OrthoCore, however as it’s an environment I’m in 5 to 6 days a week, sometimes a change of scenery helps me focus. I tend to get distracted during certain workouts there, forcing myself to go the local gym helps make sure I don’t waste time and am only there to lift and leave. The point I’m making here is, make sure the training environment you’re in is one that you’ll be focused and motivated in. Sometimes that means being alone, sometimes it means being around other people, sometimes it means having a workout buddy to keep you accountable. But wasting time when training can have a noticeable effect (or lack thereof) in your results.
Now to the really important part (and tricky part), what was I eating? Well simply the difference between how I ate now and the diet I described to you above, is that I just stopped worrying about carbs so much. Part of that is because that I’ve found a good mindset in really not caring if I ever compete again. I’m happy enough to help my clients avoid the mistakes I made in this journey. I found other hobbies to occupy my time outside the gym and now treat training the way most of my clients do anyway. I train to keep my body strong and moving well so that when I’m older, I’m not weak and in pain. This seems like an immediate sidetrack from the nutrition portion here but mindset is huge in reaching your goals. And it’s often why when people are trying to lose fat, they end up falling off track so quickly. So I want you first off, to be happy with who you are, what you do, and accept that it’s always a journey that may have setbacks to reach your goals.
Okay, let’s finally get back to the food. So no matter what your goals are, your number one focus should always be on protein. This is what builds, repairs, and maintains your body. Adequate protein intake is essential for staying lean and muscular. Next is the hot button issue, carbs. So as a general rule I still suggest avoiding simple sugars whenever possible. The exception would be an instance where you have not eaten in a while and need some quick energy for your training session. But try to avoid that scenario too. However, I used to be of the mindset that avoiding all starchy carbs was the best route. Even whole grains. When competing the heaviest carbs I ate were oats and sweet potatoes. Every other carb was vegetables. But that takes a level of discipline that can be very hard for people to maintain, especially jumping into it. It’s why I don’t recommend diets like “keto” for the average person trying to lose weight. SO what I did was make sure that I got an appropriate amount of vegetables in every day, dinner was usually easiest. And then I started eating a lot more heavy carbs than I have before. If I had a bagel for breakfast, so be it. I didn’t worry about it. I always had a loaf of sprouted grain bread ready for peanut butter sandwiches. They’re easy to make and the bread even contains complete proteins. I would cook quinoa and red lentil pasta often to get both my carbs and protein in easily (this was a great post workout dinner). And I treated myself often. Probably once a week I went out for Chinese food (my favorite). I however would usually try to get dishes of meat and veggies and avoid fried sugar sauce foods and rice. For fats, the amount of natural peanut butter I eat combined with how I cook everything in avocado oil, I’m always getting my good fats in.
So after about 6 weeks or so, a crazy thing happened. I looked in the mirror and for the first time in years I had abdominal definition poking through. I could already tell by my face and neck I was leaner, but abs showing is huge for me. That takes a lot of work. I rushed to the scale to see how much weight I lost, and that’s when I found out I was packing on weight instead. But it made sense, my arms and chest were bigger, my back was wider, and I was getting crazy strong again in some lifts. I decided then, I really don’t care what the scale says. I never really have too much and always stress to clients not to worry about it. But having one of those moments again myself where in my mind I was thinking that weight loss would just be an inevitable byproduct of leaning out from my weight gain, I ended up surprised from proving myself right essentially. So again, toss your scale in the trash. It means essentially nothing. What matters more is how you look, how you feel, and how you feel about how you look.
Finally, to wrap this all up, I want you to try this. In 6 weeks it’ll be August. That may mark the closing month of summer for many, but there’s still time to work on that beach body to shine for a moment of glory. Starting right now I want you to devise a 4 or 5 day workout split. Something that will get you in the gym a minimum of 3 times a week. Gear it towards whatever goals you want to see (strength, endurance, muscle mass). And then eat. Eat without worrying so much about calories and macronutrients and cheat meals. Just eat. Make the majority or what you’re eating healthy foods, and don’t fear carbs, they’re an efficient source of energy and greatly help with the muscle building process. Without so much restriction and monitoring of your nutrition, you may find that you’re much less likely to binge or fall off tack. You should feel like you’re getting to eat what you want while you get the results you want. And should you start to lose focus, it’s even easier to adjust what you’re eating to get right back where you want to be. With all of that said enjoy your summer and achieve your goals. Here’s a suggested list of foods to help along the way.
Carbs - Tier 1: Sweet potatoes, whole grain brown rice, quinoa, whole oats, veggies (steamed/grilled)
Tier 2: Sprouted grain bread, sprouted grain pasta, brown rice products (bread/pasta)
Tier 3: Whole Grain Bread, Whole Grain Wraps, Whole Grain Pasta
Protein: Chicken breast, lean red meat (steak, ground meat), turkey (ground or baked), lean fish (tuna), fatty fish (salmon), whole eggs and egg whites, cottage cheese (skim, 1%, 2%), Protein powder (Whey, Casein, Blends)
Fats: Olive oil (cold pressed, extra virgin), nuts (almonds are my go-to), avocado and avocado oil, fish oil (caps/liquid form), peanut/almond butter, flax seeds/oil