A few months ago, my girlfriend and I were at a loss for what to do in our workouts and what we were looking to achieve. We had no real goals in mind so we joked about doing a photo shoot. Well, that joke inevitably turned into a reality, and we laid out an eight week plan to get camera ready.
To say that it was difficult would be an understatement.
Foregoing all of the luxuries we take for granted like having a beer every once and awhile proved to be challenging – not to mention Fall may be the toughest season to diet through. I mean c’mon, no Halloween candy? Plus, watching TV leaves you foaming at the mouth for all of the delicious treats showcased in commercials.
But, we made our way through it and finally had the shots taken.
Outside of eating a little cleaner and staying away from alcohol, the prep wasn’t all that different than our normal workouts. The only slight difference was adding a few more sprint sessions per week. Outside of that, Char and I mainly stayed with an upper/lower split hitting each twice a week. Towards the end, we added in a circuit day with bootcamp equipment like tire flips, rope slams, sled drags, and the like which can loosely be described as torture.
Here’s a sample week of workouts towards the end:
Monday & Thursday- Upper Body Complex
4 sets of each:
1A) Plyometric Push-ups
1B) Dumbbell Press
1C) Weight Dip
1D) Chest Fly
2B) T-Bar Row
2C) Reverse Fly
2D) Hammer Curl
Tuesday & Friday – Lower Body Complex
4 sets of each:
1A) Box Jump
1B) Back Squat
1C) Leg Press
1D) Hamstring Curl
2A) Seated Calf Raises
2B) Standing Calf Raises
Saturday – Bootcamp style workout
30 seconds each of the following:
Sled Push or Drag with Rope
Repeat for 4 rounds
**Optional: Puke in trash can
The workouts were pretty tough but the food was the toughest part. We stayed extremely clean with our diets throughout the eight weeks with the only exception being a weekly trip to Genghis Grill on Saturday nights to binge on protein and rice for our high carb days.
Sample Low-Carb Day:
Breakfast: 5 Eggs, meat (bacon or sausage), spinach, peppers, avocado
Snack: Protein shake mixed with water
Lunch #1 & #2: 8 ounces of chicken, broccoli (eaten twice)
Snack: Protein shake, fruit, almonds
Dinner: Steak, big salad
Sample high carb day:
Breakfast: Same, but with 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter
Snack: Protein shake mixed with a banana and milk
Lunch #1 & #2: 8 ounces of chicken, broccoli, sweet potato (eaten twice)
Snack: Protein shake, fruit, almonds
Dinner: Steak, big salad, with 1.5 cups of rice
Yep, that was it for 8 weeks. To say that I’m impressed by bodybuilders who routinely are on these sorts of diets is a complete understatement. Eating the same foods over and over again became really monotonous and boring although it did make food prep a hell of a lot easier.
One tip I would give anyone looking to improve your diet is forget variety. Learn how to eat well before you go crazy with recipes.
Every week, Char and I would run through the store to get the same key ingredients that constitute our entire week of meals. Traditionally, it would have taken us an hour or so, but that time was trimmed down to 30 minutes in and out the door after buying the same foods week after week.
During the week leading up to the shoot, we relied on our buddy Jason – a fellow trainer and bodybuilder – for peak week diet and workout advice. The plan slowly cut down on carbs over the period of 4 days before ramping back up and cutting out water for dehydration. Below is a recount of the final 36 hours…
36 Hour Countdown…
5:45AM– Hallelujah! Friday is finally here. After 4 days of steady carb depletion, we’re finally going to be able to indulge.
6:45AM– My excitement wanes as I come to the realization that our carbs are going to come from three pieces of dried toast. That’s a letdown.
8:00AM– Time for some work. Head into the gym for an all-day training. Crazy amounts of carb ingestion inevitably will lead to a mid-afternoon crash. This should be fun.
11:30AM– The disappointment of breakfast is only surpassed by the joy of scarfing down 8 ounces of chicken, 1 1/2 sweet potatoes, and some broccoli – all sprinkled with a little bit of salt.
12:00PM– Think I dosed off there for a minute…
12:15PM– Seriously, I think I’ve made a trip to the bathroom every hour for the past 2 days. Consuming 2 gallons of a water a day does work on a man’s bladder.
2:00PM– Another delicious lunch of sweet potatoes, chicken, and broccoli.
3:00PM– Alright, so now we stop drinking water until the shoot (3:00PM on Saturday). That shouldn’t be hard. After guzzling down bottle after bottle the past few days, there’s no way I’ll be thirsty.
3:03PM– Damn, I’m parched.
4:00PM– Char and I push ourselves through a last depletion workout. My mouth feels like I’ve been walking through a desert for weeks and it’s only been an hour.
5:00PM– Twix bars are a proper form of carb loading right?
8:00PM– Dinner is composed of chicken sausage, salad, and you guessed it, more sweet potatoes. After eating a farm full during this prep, there isn’t anything sweet about them. This is all choked down with a few sips of water.
6:00AM– Perhaps the only beneficial thing about this water depletion is I’m forced to drink copious amounts of coffee since it’s both a stimulant and a dehydrator. My love for the black gold continues to grow.
7:00AM– Force down 4 eggs, spinach, a regular potato, and three pieces of dry toast. Tastes wonderful…
9:00AM– Same breakfast as before just swap out the toast with dry rice cakes. Supposed to have 350g of carbs today. Don’t know how I’m going to make it.
1:00PM– Last full meal before the shoot consists of a Gargantuan from Jimmy John’s. Loading up on carbs, protein, and sodium. Splash it down with more coffee.
1:30PM– Go through a light circuit to keep myself warm and pump up a little bit. Looking dry and lean.
2:30PM– Eat a pack of Clif shot blocks for 25g of carbs and some additional caffeine. Wash it down with more coffee. The cafe individual probably thinks I’m an addict.
2:32PM– Pump up routine in full effect.
3:00PM– Go time.
To start, these pics turned out even better than I could hope thanks to the magic of Alix Mozota. She’s a photographer in the Denver, Colorado area, and I couldn’t say enough nice things about her. She did a wonderful job as you can see below. If you need any photos done out this way, I highly suggest you visit her site and contact her.
All in all, I was very happy with the way things turned out. Being that this was my first photo shoot ever, I’d say I was pleased with my size and definition. If I ever were to do it again, I’d like to gain about 15 pounds. In fact, that will be my goal over the next few months.
Also, before I get lit up with comments, that’s a plastic tube on my left side, not a huge vein. It’s the result of a surgery I had when I was really little. I had a condition called shunted hydrocephalus. It’s not going away any time soon.
[Photo Credit: All photos were taken by Alix Mozota of Pixie Dust by Alix.]
Lessons on Getting Leaner
I’ll confess: this was my first time actually dieting down for any kind of physique transformation so I was relatively new to the whole thing going in. Overall, I’d consider the experiment a success. We’ll be doing another one in a little while, but for now, it’s back to eating and training normally. Outside of how to create the biggest bowl ever witnessed at Genghis Grill, I learned a couple interesting things along the way:
- Spray tanning is a necessary evil and perhaps the most confusing thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been tanning in my entire life before this shoot and I won’t be going again unless it’s for the camera, but being tan definitely helps your overall look.
- Water depletion is the worst kind of torture out there. It’s like psychological warfare. I was really looking forward to the carb up, but it was difficult to enjoy with no water.
- It’s absolutely amazing what your body can do in 24 hours. Starting Friday morning and ending right before the photo shoot, I was amazed by how much more definition I gained.
- Isolation exercises are key. Beforehand, I rarely did them. In prep, I had to start implementing them if I wanted definition. I started even doing lateral raises and front raises to get more definition out of my shoulders. I haven’t done those in years.
- The pre-shoot pump is key. I was weighing in at around 152 lbs during the shoot, but I’d say that I look a bit bigger than that. After the carb up, you have to get in a light, high volume lift. You’ll be amazed by the results.
- Nutrition cycling works wonders. Whether it’s carbs or calories, I’m a believer in ramping up and down throughout the week. First off, it helps you maintain the high intake on the high-calorie days. Second, it ensures that you aren’t constantly flooding your body with carbs and calories to help reset hormones and such. I’m currently experimenting with a 24-hour fast once a week. We’ll see how that goes.
Actionable Steps for You
- Get a coach. The best thing about having friends in the fitness industry is being able to call on them for advice. Neither of us had ever been on a diet looking to lean out for a shoot or show. Luckily, we had several bodybuilders and figure competitors to help us along. Find someone that knows in detail what it takes to achieve what you’re looking for. They will be your best resources.
- Make it easy. If you have to buy all of your food and cook it from scratch, be prepared to invest a ton of your time. Frozen veggies and crock pots are your friend. We would cook a bulk of our meals on Sunday so we had less prep time throughout the week.
- Make it public. To be honest, I may have backed out of the whole thing had we not set a date and told our friends and co-workers. Telling other people makes it real and puts the pressure on you to actually go through with whatever it is you’re doing.
- Do it together. Find someone that is looking to achieve the same thing you are and partner up. It will be more fun and you’ll be less likely to skip a workout. There were plenty of times where Charlotte helped keep me on track and vice versa.
- Take pictures and measurements. Although I didn’t post them here, we took pictures every few weeks to track our progress. It’s hard to see how much progress you’ve made unless you know where you start. We were also conscious of our weight and body comp throughout the entire process.
Would I do it again? Hell yeah, and we will in the future. For now, it’s back to traditional eating. First meal after we got done: pizza and beer. I think had a pizza the next day complete with 5 donuts. The whole thing was a pretty crazy experience.
Now, I want to hear from you. Have you don’t a physique transformation diet? How did it go? Have you had photos taken? Would you do it again? Let me know in the comments below!