So, it’s February and dry January is over. I’m pleased to say I made it all the way through without an alcoholic beverage. I also managed to stick to a reasonably healthy diet, bar a few slip ups – but more on that later.
How was it for you? I know most of my clients managed an equally successful January which is great to see.
So I decided to treat my dry January as a science experiment and have documented it in “old school science experiment” fashion below. You can be the judge of the results.
The aim of this experiment is to see what results I can achieve by cutting out alcohol, sweets and starchy carbohydrates whilst sticking to a diet of mainly meat and veg. I will be performing a full body muscular workout out 3 x per week and playing basketball and football each for an hour every week. I’m aiming to maintain an average daily calorie deficit of around 1000 calories per day.
The theory is that by creating a significant calorie deficit whilst continuing with a well programmed full body muscular workout my body will choose to retain muscle and make up for the daily calorie deficit by burning excess body fat. Based on the fact that there are 9000 calories in a KG of fat and I’m losing 1000 calories for 28 days I plan to lose around 3kg (28 x 1000/9000=3.1).
This is based on the theory that the human body is intelligent enough to understand where to take its fuel from depending on the situation. If the muscles are being used regularly, they are worth holding onto, and the excess fat is the best choice to fuel the deficit, whereas a 1000 calorie per day deficit used without a muscular workout is likely to result in muscle loss rather than fat loss. The body assumes that in a state of starvation, when muscle isn’t used, it is wasted mass which requires fuel to sustain, therefore breaking down muscle to use it as a fuel source seems sensible. The fat however is worth holding onto as it is a good source of energy and also an insulator. So typically diets without muscular workouts result in a loss of muscle and retention of fat, in turn the body doesn’t tone up, it simply gets lighter and arguably softer. Obviously the former is the preferred method, which is why we should all be doing full body muscular workouts on a regular basis.
To carry this out I will be cutting out all alcohol completely during the month of January. I will be cutting out all sugary foods including fizzy drinks. I will not snack between meals and will stick to a 3 meal per day format. Time of day of these particular meals is irrelevant but due to my lifestyle I tend to eat breakfast at 6am and eat my dinner after a workout which usually takes place in the evening at 8 or 9pm. I then go straight to bed. Lunch time comes at some point between the two depending on when a gap in my diary allows it. The plan is to avoid snacking in between meals.
Due to a hectic work schedule during January (a PTs busiest period) and the January rush in the gym, I’ll be working out at home using a chin up bar and performing body weight exercises only.
Protein based breakfasts such as a roasted chicken fillet, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, a 3 egg omelette with ham, cheese and tomato or a no carb fry up (sausage, egg, bacon, tomato and mushrooms).
There is no particular rule to this. Basically, 1 or 2 pieces of meat and lots of veg in various formats for either meal. Examples below.
- stir fry
- steak and asparagus
- stuffed chicken fillets with green veg
- pan fried duck breast with red wine jus, broccoli and caramelized chicory
- a packet of chopped chicken breasts and sugar snap peas (if I’m on the road)
- chicken salads
- various fish and veg combos
Most of these combinations will range from 300 to 600 calories per meal.
I don’t really drink water so I will be drinking mainly coffee with milk and one sugar and tea with milk and one sugar. Probably about 5-10 cups per day.
The Workout (performed in full 3 x per week)
10 underarm grip chin ups
As many press ups as possible
10 wide grip overhand chins ups
As many close grip press ups as possible
10 Close grip overhand chin ups
As many wide grip press ups as possible
Repeat the above 3 times
(I’m not sure about you, but I certainly can’t do 90 chin ups in one workout so I’ll use a chair under my tip-toes to assist with the completion of the chin ups)
3 sets of 10 single leg squats (full depth) on either leg
3 sets of 10 full squat jumps (as high as possible)
20 leg raises
20 dorsal raises
Repeat 3 times
2 sets of 50 Rocky Sit ups (elbow to opposite knee)
For the most part I kept to the diet although I quickly realized that I couldn’t perform at sports without upping my calorie/carb intake somewhat, therefore the diet wasn’t as strict as I would have liked it to be. On sport days I carb loaded somewhat which was the best way I could manage to sustain energy throughout the matches. I successfully managed a full month with no alcohol. I also decided that to eat meat or protein for breakfast was putting me slightly over my food budget so I opted for a full sized bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes instead. I would suggest that this would have had a detrimental effect on the physical results however from a sports performance perspective I expect it helped me somewhat.
I carried out the workout 3 times per week with the exception of the 3rd week when I only managed it twice.
Below are the photos taken before and after the 4 week period. What I’d like you to appreciate is that I haven’t used any of the usual tricks. No fake tan, no shaved chest (I don’t have much chest hair anyway), no relaxed poses or belly bulging in the before shots and no fancy new hair cuts in the after shots. I’ve tried to keep the images as consistent as possible (including patchy facial hair) to show the actual difference rather than cheating to enhance the results (which is what most people do in before and after photos).
Starting weight 86kg
Finishing weight 83kg
As you can see, I am far leaner in the after shots. However I do look a lot happier in the before shots so maybe a bit if body fat is good for the mental wellbeing? Who knows?
The quick weight loss seemed to have an effect on my ability to increase strength and endurance. I did improve slightly in these areas but not as quickly as I have done previously when eating a more fulfilling diet.
The low carb diet meant that I was unable to perform effectively when playing sport. In the first week on two occasions I ended up running out of fuel completely during my football matches-the equivalent of a marathon runner hitting “The Wall”. As a result I chose to carb load before and during the days when I played sport (for the benefit of my teammates). To be safe I overloaded on carbs which meant I was likely to have excess fuel in the body at the end of the games. In turn this is likely to have had a detrimental effect on my “rippedness” in the after shots.
However, on a day to day basis I felt fine and had plenty of energy. It was only when I asked my body to perform at significantly higher intensities that I struggled.
If I wasn’t playing performance sports I would have stuck to the diet and dealt with the lack of energy during my regular workouts.
My body composition changed and I lost a significant amount of fat, particularly around the waist area. It’s difficult to say how much muscle mass was lost as I don’t have access to equipment advanced enough to measure this. I would suggest that I did lose some muscle mass although looking at the images I would say that it was minimal. I certainly didn’t lose any strength which would be a good indicator of a reduction in muscle mass.
To conclude I would say that in this experience, a low carb, high protein diet complimented by regular full body muscular workouts was indeed a good way to reduce fat, tone up and maintain muscle mass.
One thing I would like to highlight is the difference between training for sport and training for improvements in your body composition and shape. Athletes train hard and consume a great amount of fuel. They are not trying to lose weight therefore they rarely have a diet which results in a calorie deficit. For them it is important to keep fueled up in order to maximize their fitness gains, hence the need for energy drinks during exercise and recovery drinks after exercise. If you are training for weight loss, then eating these high energy diets is counterproductive. And with regards to muscle gains, particularly for the females out there who are afraid of becoming too muscular, by pushing weights whilst eating a calorie controlled diet your muscle gains will be minimal and your fat will be used to make up for any deficit. However, diet without working your muscles and you will lose them and retain the fat. The former should give you a healthier body and a firmer figure.
So to summarise, I’m pleased with the results I achieved in just 4 weeks. I think that with more discipline I could have done better as I ended dry January and had some boozy, carby nights before the after shots were taken. But I certainly feel like I have rectified the damage done throughout dastardly December with his copious amounts of alcohol, sweets and food.