The Never Ending Search for Abs

Over the last 2 years, I have been in pursuit of a chiseled 6-pack. Unfortunately, things haven’t happened for me as fast as I would have liked. In hindsight, my difficulties in achieving this aesthetic goal, has allowed me to learn so much about health and fitness. After I try something that doesn’t work, I read more and learn in order to fix my shortcomings. When I first began going to the gym in August of 2014, I was under the impression that to lose weight, all you had to do was go to the gym and work hard. It soon became apparent that fat loss required much more than just hard work in the gym. Through following several different workout/nutrition programs on www.bodybuilding.com, I was motivated to transform. Eventually my interest shifted to learning more about health and fitness through these programs. Every trainer has a technique or set of values when it comes to fitness. It is important to understand several different perspectives to be able to sift through the misinformation that we are fed each day.

James Grage Rewired Fitness Trainer

September to December 2014

This was my very first fitness trainer. It taught me a lot! The basis of the program was to assess each individual to find out what makes them tick. This helped me immensely in establishing a work ethic that lasted. It made me understand what the goal was and that nothing should stand in my way. The training philosophy was a mixture of steady state cardio (either to warm-up or burn calories depending on the phase) and supersets. The superset is a resistance training technique in which two sets of different exercises are done successively before resting. For example, one set could be leg extensions followed by straight legged deadlifts without taking a break. After a short break, this cycle is repeated 3 or 4 times. This technique is used by many people in order to achieve accelerated fat loss.

I repeated this 9 week program twice. I saw results and it fit my busy engineering school schedule so I thought it would be best to do it over. Unfortunately, my diet was out of order. I was not tracking calories and I was stress eating because of school. This led to a slight body re-composition (shifting from fat to muscle) but there was no considerable fat loss. Following the second go of this program, I was off of school on Christmas break. It gave me a chance to start reading more about how to magnify my fat loss. At that point I was introduced to calorie counting apps like Noom and MyFitnessPal. These apps made me realize how out of order my diet was. It turned out that on a regular day at school, I was consuming over 3000 dirty calories from processed foods that I would pack or buy from school. I clearly had to change something.

Here is the program is you would like to try it for yourself.

Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred

January to April 2015

Jim Stoppani is a PhD in exercise physiology with a minor in biochemistry. This program was my introduction to macronutrients. The 3 macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates and protein. The program was made up of 3 2-week phases. In each phase you eat less calories from the last. This nutrition plan was structured in a way that would allow the total amount of calories to be scaled depending on the size of the person. It called for:

1.5g of protein per lb of bodyweight

0.5g of fat per lb of bodyweight

1.5g of carb per lb of bodyweight with carbs decreasing by 0.5g every 2 weeks

I made a mistake when starting this program. I thought that if I maintained the final phase of the diet throughout the program then I would be better off. Unfortunately I was very wrong. The reason that this idea failed, is that the metabolism crashes as rapidly as the speed at which you put yourself into a calorie defecit. The program begins with a high amount of calories in order to ensure that the metabolism is burning calories at its highest ability. With time, it is intended that you slowly drop your calories so as not to shock the metabolism. This ensures that the body is continuously burning as much as it can with the given caloric intake.

After doing this program the first time, I decided to do it again, this time properly. It was in the second go that I started to see consistent results. The main idea behind this program is to squeeze 1 minute worth of HIIT (High intensity interval training) cardio after each set. An example would be a set of bench press, immediately followed by 1 minute of weighted step ups. Research has shown that this form of cardio does not burn as many calories during the workout but does help you to burn more calories throughout the day by activating fat burning genes.

This program also incorporates the idea of periodization. Periodization is the varying of Rep ranges when doing weight lifting. An example is having the first half of the week fall within the 12 Rep range, the second half of the week falling within the 8 Rep range. This pattern repeats, moving from 12 to 8 to 10 to 5 to 20 to 2 to 30 reps. This technique ensures that your muscles do not get adapted to a specific Rep range because when that happens, muscle growth plateaus. There is plenty of research to show the muscle growth and fat loss benefits associated with periodization.

Near the end of my second round of this program, I became frustrated with the lack of fat loss compared to others progress that I had seen online. I was losing fat but not at all at the same pace as others. I began reading into over training and under eating. It turns out that when your calorie defecit is very large because of high activity level, your body can be placed under sustained stress. This causes the body to release one of the fight or flight hormones called cortisol. Cortisol is great for us in bursts but is unhealthy when sustained through ongoing stress. This encourages the body to actually want to lose muscle and hold on to fat. The evolutionary explanation being that your body would want to hold on to fat under stress because it assumes that you may need that stored energy soon. For example, if you were being chased by a lion, cortisol would be released as a stress response and the body would hold on to fat for the sake of energy replenishment after the chase and amino acid availability through the breakdown of muscle. Unfortunately, sustaining this response has very unhealthy long term effects.

If you would like to try this program click here.

My First Custom Made Program

April to May 2015

Being that I had finished Shortcut to Shred at the end of April, I needed something short to last me a month since I was leaving to Dubai for an internship in May. I decided to create my own program based on the information that I had learned to that point. My program consisted of 4 exercises for each workout day (which was focused on a specific body part) and incorporated a short stint of HIIT cardio or a superset depending on which point in the workout I was. I maintained a diet of about 150g of carbohydrates. I felt good throughout this 1 month period but I didn’t see any significant results although I did maintain.

The Overseas Experiment

 May to June 2015

The first thing that I did upon arriving in Dubai was buy pre-workout and Musclepharm Combat protein. I followed a very relaxed meal schedule. It all fell within an 16/8 hour intermittent fasting/feeding window. During lunch breaks I would go find a restaurant where I could get a low carb meal. It wasn’t necessarily healthy but it was low carb. Occasionally my lunches were not low carb (maybe twice or three times a week). At home I would have a cooked whole chicken that I would eat from along with some eggs. I would take a protein scoop with some lactose free milk once a day and I worked out 4 days a week using the Rewired program workouts.

Twice within my 2 month internship, I did a 30 hour water fast. What I found is that following these fasts, I would have a crazy craving for carbs which I wouldn’t be able to control. Although this was the case, following the 2 month period, I had made some great progress losing belly fat.

Labrada Lean Body Trainer

June to July 2015

This program was a bridge for me to stabilize my diet and prepare for another fat loss attempt. This program focused on high meal frequency (5 per day), balanced carb protein fat, strength training and HIIT cardio. It was a great way to re-implement structure. I only completed about 3 weeks of this program before I moved on to my scheduled plan.

Here is where you can find this program.

Shortcut To Shred…Again

July to August 2015

This was my third round of Shortcut to Shred. This time, I was determined to get into a keto style diet. I started with the Shortcut to Shred diet for the first 4 weeks. In the final 2 weeks, I reduced my carbs to under 20g net carbs to try to fall into ketosis. The problem that I didn’t realize at the time, is that a high protein intake does not work for ketosis. This is because the body can convert an excess of protein into carbs, in the absence of carbs. This process is called gluconeogenesis and is a process which ensures that the bodily processes which require glucose can still function in the absence of dietary carbs. However, if one in not keto adapted, the carbs produced from excess protein will be converted to carb and burned. This will not allow your body to adapt to burning fat in the form of ketones.

Although I did the keto diet wrong, I still saw great results. Problem was that the rebound put me back where I started.

Jim Stopanni 12 Week Shortcut to Size

September to November 2015

This was another Jim Stopanni program but unlike the last, it was a lean mass gaining program. The fat and protein requirements of this program were the same as that of Shortcut to Shred but the carbs were much higher (2g per lb of body weight). The training technique that was at the core of this program was rest pause drop sets. What is that? It’s really simple. When you are performing your last set, you must continue pumping out reps until you fail. Following a 15 second rest, you drop the weight and go to failure again. This ensures that the muscle is broken down completely. From there it is important to recover with proper nutrition for the muscle to grow larger.

I didn’t want to gain too much fat during this program so I decided to implement some of my own intuition. Since there were only 4 workout days, I decided to intermittent fast and reduce my carbs on my off days. When the body is on a very high carb diet, it becomes insensitive to insulin (aka high tolerance to it which means the same amount will not have the same effect as before). Insulin regulates the blood sugar and also signals the body to store excess sugar as fat. One of its counter part hormones is leptin, which releases fat from storage. When insensitive to insulin, the body is most likely sensitive to leptin. My thinking was that if I reduced carbs on rest days, I would stave off any fat gain. This did work effectively. I maintained weight while making muscle gains.

Something that I observed throughout this program was that most people around me could eat whatever they wanted without gaining weight. It’s a frustrating thing to see when you’re working so hard. I started to look into testosterone. Maybe I was on the lower end of average for testosterone. I found that during workouts my sweat didn’t smell like anything. Now that may be a silly observation but it really got me thinking. Muscle gain wasn’t an issue for me but the fat loss was. Sure enough after some research I came across many articles that pointed out how being on the lower end of average for testosterone does not affect muscle gains. In other words, regardless of where you fall on the range of normal testosterone, you’ll still make gains. However, being on the lower end of average does limit fat loss. Those with higher testosterone don’t really have to try. Their bodies are more inclined to losing fat.

Find Shortcut to Size here

Kris Gethin Muscle Building Trainer

November 2015 to February 2016

TORTURE. The only word that can describe this program. It does the lean mass gaining part very well. In the first 6 weeks, this program takes you through different training techniques: y3t, fst7, german volume training and HIIT training. These 6 weeks (especially German volume training) are torturous but the gains are undeniable. At the end of each workout there was also a HIIT cardio session of 15 minutes. Before performing the cardio however, Kris Gethin advised the intake of a hydrolyzed whey protein shake claiming that with an increase in circulation, the protein will be absorbed more effectively.

I did not follow the suggested nutrition plan however. I instead continued with the Shortcut to Size meals and basically stopped caring about what I ate. In other words, I ate what was required to meet a baseline of calories but let loose when I felt like it. This caused me to build a lot of additional muscle but at the expense of some additional fat.

Find Muscle Building Trainer here

RSP Chiseled

February to April 2016

Starting RSP chiseled I was excited to take another shot at removing what was left of my belly fat. The program consisted of steady state cardio, HIIT cardio, strength training and power training. What I found interesting about the HIIT cardio, steady-state cardio combo was that there turns out to be some very beneficial metabolic advantages to training with this combo. This approach build metabolic flexibility. In other words, it builds your body’s ability to revert between burning sugar and stored fat more efficiently. This combo made me feel great! I highly recommend this approach if your plan is to perform cardio. Do not focus on one or the other. Do both!

The meal schedule called for a high number of calories (about 2600 for me) that would be decreased every 2 weeks (about 200 calories coming from fat and carbs) over the span of 8 total weeks. This program was very rigorous. Most days there were 2 workouts which is why the total calories were so high. Overall this was a fun program in which I did see results. I dropped about 4 pounds worth of body weight.

Find RSP Chiseled here

Kris Gethin 4 Weeks 2 Shred

April to May 2016

This program was extreme. It was a traditional, very low calorie weight loss plan. It started at around 1500 calories then dropped to 1300, 1200 and finished at 1100. Meals were required to carry no fat and carbs were limited. Protein was also a bit lower than other programs at about 1.1 g per lb of body weight. 6 days of the week required a strength training and cardio session and a separate cardio session of at least 30 minutes. On the seventh day, there was only a cardio session.

I found that on this program I felt miserable. Not only were carbs deprived but fat was also deprived. I was a bit confused. Even though I lost about 11 pounds in the first 3 weeks, I wasn’t sure that it was proper to be restricting fat to that extent. Through my entire weight loss journey, I haven’t lost weight easily until this program. To be completely honest, I didn’t like that. If my body is in an unhealthy state where it’s holding on to an excess of stored fat, shouldn’t the fat fall off as soon as the proper diet is implemented? I started to think that there had to be something more to losing fat then what traditional trainers and dietitians suggested.

On the final week of this program, I decided to stray away from the suggested meal plan and instead try ketosis again. I then reduced carbs to under 20g net carbs and increased my fat to about 120 g. This time around however, I reduced my protein to 80 g to be able to ensure that gluconeogenesis did not kick me out of nutritional ketosis.

The final week of this program and the 2 weeks after it had concluded, I was following a strict keto diet. I haven’t felt better then when I had finished 2 weeks of this diet.

Find 4 weeks 2 shred here

5 Day Water Fast

June 2 to June 7, 2016

The 2 weeks following 4 weeks 2 shred, I was following a keto diet and training using my own training program again. The 5 day fast was a way for me to detox and monitor my ketone levels. If you are interested in reading more into my fast you can check out my blog post here.

I’ve noticed since fasting that my ability to sweat (which I mentioned earlier) was coming back. My digestion was fixed from taking VSL #3 probiotic and prebiotics. Overall the fast turned out to have some major benefits.

Jake Wilson’s Project Mass

June – Current

This program is focused on size an strength. My original plan was to complete this program with a vegetarian diet. I had designed my meal plan to contain: P-140g, C-270g, F-100g for a total of about 2700 kcal. The suggested meal layout also required BCAAs (Base Chain Amino Acids) to be taken in between each meal for a total of 3 times daily.

Dr. Wilson approaches the training aspect in a very smart way. It is basically 3 days of strength (muscle strength/3 rep) training followed by 3 days of hypertrophy (muscle size/10 rep) training days. This allows for tremendous increase in overall strength and size which is not interrupted by plateaus. This is because of the continuous surprise or shock that is presented to the muscle.

The workouts are great and I began to see real progress within 3 weeks. Unfortunately, having to eat beans and drink vegan protein was taking it’s toll on my digestive system. On top of this was the fact that the Mutant BCAA’s that I was taking were causing some scary side effects. After consuming my scoops (around week 2/3), I would get very short tempered and angry. I had troubles focusing on things and all I wanted to do was sleep. After not taking the BCAA’s, my symptoms subsided. Aside from this, I was so frustrated with the bloating caused by the beans in my diet that I stopped the diet all together. Basically, I went back to feeling like I did before (what normal used to be for me). I continued following the workouts but I decided to revert to a keto diet again except this time in a calorie surplus for the sake of gaining some lean mass. This idea came to me after reading this study which shows that muscle can be gained on a strict keto diet. I decided that it was worth a try. That’s where i’m at now.

Find Project Mass here

What I’ve Learned

Throughout the last two years I’ve been running into rewards and roadblocks. In doing so many programs I’ve started to question the nutritional suggestions given by these various trainers or even doctors. Sure, what they suggest works for most people but is it good for us in the long term. If carrying excess fat around the waist is so unhealthy, shouldn’t the human body remove it without us starving ourselves or taking additional supplements? This thought has rung in my head for a while now. None of the trainers that I have followed, have recommended the keto diet. In fact, they’ve said negative things about it. They completely ignore the fact that people in ketosis experience extreme levels of energy and that science is starting to show that it can prevent or improve seizures, cancer, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, etc. In fact, if we look at secluded races of people that live to surpass 100 years of age, the difference between them and us is that they eat FAR LESS CARBS AND MUCH MORE FAT. So to me this suggests that everything we’ve been taught is upside down. It isn’t until I eat a keto style diet that I start to see permanent results, I don’t feel hunger and I enjoy the food. So to the trainers out there that tell you to “try this. It works. Trust me, I have thousands of clients who saw results “, I say “GREAT!”. Eating a banana a day for a month WORKS but it sure as hell isn’t healthy in the long term and you’ll just put the weight back on after. Dietary fat has been demonized by the media along with many ignorant scientists or doctors. The association between fat and heart disease has been long disproven. In fact, our bodies use fat in so many different processes and when we restrict fat we actually do not feel at 100%. Instead of dieting when we put on too much fat, isn’t it better to train the body to prefer fat as it’s main fuel source rather then sugar? That’s IDEAL. Unfortunately, the traditional western diet has destroyed our ability to utilize fat or ketones. With ketosis, one can renew this metabolic pathway.

Along the way I also noticed many food intolerance that I didn’t pay attention to in the past. I’m talking about milk and gluten in my case. When I isolated these food items and realized the energy that they sucked out of me, I overhauled my entire pantry. I am still working on eliminating things that suck me dry of my motivation and energy. I recommend that everyone finds what they are intolerant to and eliminates it. Do not discount any food items in your search, it can be anything.

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