The goal with this series is for you guys to get a behind the scenes of how I approach coaching my clients – from training, nutrition, supplement recs etc. and for you to see what ‘real’ transformations look like, instead of the ubiquitous 5-week abs bullshit.
Anyhoo – diatribes aside; let us begin.
After the client consultation, Tiago had made it clear that he had two main goals:
- Drop body fat for an upcoming holiday
- Maintain and increase strength and performance for powerlifting
And two subgoals:
- Be able to maintain the physique he gained after ending the diet
- Tiago, also a PT, wanted to learn more about the coaching / fat loss process.
Tiago was a special case as he differed greatly from the normal guys I coach – who are mainly focussed on looking good naked – as his main focus was on powerlifting and maintaining his performance, his protocol had to cater to this.
His diet had to allow enough of a deficit to send the signal to his body to burn fat, but not so much that performance was impeded.
His training had to be programmed to cater to his sport and allow him to continue getting stronger in the big three lifts: squat, bench and deadlift; but also including sufficient metabolic and hypertrophy work to maintain muscle mass [and even gain new mass*]
*as Tiago didn’t do much high rep/hypertrophy style training there was a lot of potential to milk out some muscle growth even in a deficit.
Looking good and lifting heavy shit is all good and well, but doesn’t mean jack if your health and social life suffer as a result. Therefore, we also had to take into consideration the following:
- No crash dieting
- No unnecessary food restrictions*
- Keeping metabolic and hormonal health in mind
- Providing a diet plan that would give Tiago the freedom to go out and enjoy the weekends with his girlfriend [this was a big point for him]
- Providing a plan that wouldn’t encourage eating disorders, or a bad relationship with food
- A plan that was sustainable both during the diet and after the diet ended to allow Tiago to maintain his new physique.
*When I say unnecessary, I mean restricting foods without a need [i.e no carbs, because they’re ‘bad’]. For some clients, though, certain foods can trigger them to overeat, in which case those foods are removed from the diet and kept out of the house until the end of the diet. This is done for the overarching goal and not to hinder progress.
The Start Point: February 2015
This was Tiago’s starting point.
One of the reasons I wanted to start this series with Tee’s transformation was because his starting body composition was more or less what a lot of guys start at, what I call: the ‘not-really-fat; just need some fine tuning’ body comp [patent pending].
Starting weight: 79.5kg / 175.2lbs
Body Measurements? – I didn’t have Tee track body measurements. This was mainly to make things easier for him. He worked a pretty hectic schedule training clients in London city, and he would be up and out of the house sometimes before dawn.
I didn’t feel the need to have him worry about yet another thing. While the extra data would have been awesome, the main goal for me as a coach is always to make the process as easy as possible for the client to adhere to.
I had Tee track his nutrition intake for a week before starting and the average came to:
I made some adjustments to these numbers and had him cycling calories throughout the week [training days versus rest days] with one ‘free day’ on the weekends. The free day wasn’t an all out ‘cheat day’; but, simply a day where he could be a bit more chilled with his food intake while enjoying nights out with friends and fam.
Training day Intake:
Rest day Intake:
Note that I didn’t make any drastic changes to overall calorie intake – apart from optimising his macros, the calories I set and the calories he was eating prior, differ by only a 100 cals or so.
I don’t like arbitrary deficits [i.e X cals = Y amount of fat loss], I prefer biofeedback – a fancy way of saying making changes as per the body’s response – thus, I changed his macros a little bit and waited to see what would happen over the coming week.
Why the choice of Macros?
- I upped protein from 165g to 170g because, a) I hate odd numbers. No, really, and, b) I’d rather have clients eating a bit more protein during a deficit to help with muscle retention and the satiety effects of protein.
- I didn’t see a need for such a high fat intake, so I reduced his fat intake and increased carb intake [better performance, energy and muscle retention]
Deadlift: 160 kg / 350 lbs
Back Sq: 140 kg / 308 lbs
Bench: 95 kg / 210 lbs
Tiago was playing an hour of Football [you know, the real kind, that you American folk call Soccer] once a week, so I didn’t have him doing any additional cardio to start with [I estimated the calorie burn to be around 300-400 cals].
I planned out the programme specifically for Tiago, and I won’t be posting it as I know someone will copy it without understanding why certain things were done certain ways and why I chose the exercises I did.
I will, however, give a general overview of his training week
Monday: Squat/Deadlift focus + lower body hypertrophy
Tuesday: Bench focus + upper body hypertrophy
Thursday: Squat focus + lower body hypertrophy
Friday: Bench focus + Upper hypertrophy
Saturday: Optional hypertrophy day [metabolic work]
I recommended Tiago to take:
- Creatine [5g anytime – no need to load]
- Fish oil [2-3g EPA/DHA]
- Vit D [2000iu]
Yup. That’s all.
No fat burners, or any other exotic voodoo shit.
This was around a month into the diet. Everything was progressing well, so I didn’t feel the need to make any changes: macros stayed the same.
Week 4 Weight [weekly average]: 164.9lbs (going to be using lbs going forward).
As I mentioned in this post, I recommend giving yourself around 4 weeks, from when you first set the deficit or set up your fat loss diet before making any changes for this exact reason – your body takes some time to adjust to the deficit, so you may not see changes for the first week or two and then see a sudden drop in weight.
This also brings with it the benefits of being able to diet on more food, having better energy for performance in the gym and not feeling like you’re depriving yourself from the outset.
There was a stall in weight loss during weeks 5-7 in which I made two small tweaks:
- Dropping fats by 5g on both training and rest days
- Also dropping carbs on rest days by 10g
This worked a treat and kick started fat loss again – bringing us to week 8 in Tiago’s fat loss journey with a remarkable difference.
While I could have waited out those two weeks, seeing your body change, or scale weight drop can be highly motivating for a client – and because Tee was consuming adequate calories and felt fine [energy, strength etc] I decided to make a small tweak to keep things progressing a tad faster.
The reasoning for the adjustments:
- Tiago was consuming more than adequate amounts of fat, so we had wiggle room to reduce fat intake while leaving carbs as they were to help aid his performance. As fats are more calorically dense than carbs, we’re able to cut more calories with a smaller reduction in food.
- As there isn’t much need for extra carbs on rest days, I dropped them accordingly and this allowed carbs on training days to be left untouched [for the days they were needed].
Week 8 Weight [weekly average]: 158.7lbs
Around this point in the cut – Tiago had stopped playing Football, so I reduced calories to compensate for the decreased calorie expenditure.
Week 12 Weight [weekly average]: 155.2lbs
No changes were made at this point as the adjustment from the prior week did the trick.
Week 16 Weight [weekly average]: 152.3lbs
Week 20 [end of cut]
No changes were made to Tiago’s nutrition protocol from weeks 12 – 20 apart from the addition of spike days -one day a week where he could eat more freely without worrying about calories or macros – and the addition of one twenty minute HIIT session.
Week 20 Weight [weekly average]: 151.9lbs
The End Results
After 20 weeks, we decided to bring the cut to an end.
We didn’t make any drastic changes to Tiago’s protocol: we set the deficit, waited to see how his body responded while he focussed on his performance in the gym, and made the necessary adjustments when and if needed.
As I always say:
Don’t train to “burn fat”. Train for muscle gain and/or retention. Let your calorie deficit handle the “fat burning”
People are too hasty to cut calories when they see no changes after one week.
Tiago commented on this, saying:
‘Funny how week to week it looks so similar. Taking a step back makes you realise how much progress you’ve made. Looking at progress through a microscope can be so misleading. It’s good to have someone from the outside looking in to keep you from making silly changes to the plan’
Could we have cut faster? Sure. Was there a need? Nope.
Remember, Tiago’s main goal was fat loss while maintaining and even gaining strength [and size]. There wasn’t a need to cut any faster than necessary; Tiago was progressing well week to week, excessive hunger wasn’t an issue and most importantly, his performance wasn’t impaired.
It’s easy to drop weight [or gain weight] – drastically cut calories, or eat excessive amounts – but, building a good physique – where muscle retention and gain are the overarching goal requires a strategic balance between nutrition, training and environment [stress, sleep, hunger etc]
End Of Diet Stats
Total weight loss
- 10.5kg / 21.2lbs
Strength loss? Absolute Versus Relative Strength
I want to quickly touch on the topic of ‘strength loss’ as this tends to be a topic of perturbation for a lot of guys.
Tiago hit me up near the end of the diet, worried that he was losing strength. And, looking at the table above, you may think that also.
But, here’s the thing: when you lean down there will, to some extent ; depending on how much weight you [have to] lose, be some strength loss.
There’s many factors at play here but mainly because there’s ‘less of you’ and your body mechanics have changed [cos #physics]
However, while there may be absolute strength loss; meaning the total amount of weight you lift in relation to your bodyweight, you’ll find more often than not, you’re actually relatively stronger; meaning, the amount of weight you lift in relation to your bodyweight.*
Let’s look at this in Tiago’s case:
Sure, his absolute strength took a hit.
His relative strength shot up.
Why is relative strength important?
Two things to consider:
- Relative strength takes into account your weight and size. All things being equal – a bigger person [height/weight] will be absolutely stronger than a smaller person.
- This puts things into perspective. Did you actually lose strength?
In Tiago’s case, he actually got stronger.
*To work out relative strength – divide your max lift by your bodyweight.
Absolute strength is simply the most amount of weight you can lift.
A Few Months after
Tee sent me this pic a few months after we finished working together. Evidently he’s been able to maintain an awesome level of conditioning after ending the diet, ticking off another one of his goals. I’m showing this to you also because I want to emphasise the importance of following a plan that is sustainable – not just for the length of your diet, but for the long haul.
Closing thoughts from Tee:
There were multiple benefits to having a coach but if you asked me to choose the one, I’d say
‘no, I’m going to choose three’:
1) Accountability –
I’d tracked Caloric and macronutrient intake, tracked weight and gym before previously but only for intermittent spells. Adam provided me with systems that were an easy and effective way of tracking all the key variables. This really reiterated the value of what a period of consistent few months of solid training, recovery and nutrition.
2) External perspective –
Being a PT and involved in a MSc program, I’d say I’m capable of writing my own program. However it was refreshing to have someone take care of that and highlight weak areas forcing me to go where I wouldn’t have gone on my own. It was also so useful to have Adam make the decisions with regards to my training/nutrition and know that an unbiased and knowledgeable decision was being made.
3) Expertise –
Simply a really well-rounded guy both in terms of experience, online and offline and in having a sound grasp of the implications of research on training.