William, a 31-year-old Los Angeles attorney, shares with… Men’s health how he burned fat and built muscle by reviewing his lifestyle and being consistent in his diet and training.
My job is incredibly stressful and lends itself to late nights, poor eating habits and alcohol/drug abuse. Fortunately, I saw those risks ahead of time and tried to avert them from the start. I started training alone in February 2019, with the goal of losing about 20 pounds and getting a six pack, through a combination of running and weight lifting with dumbbells. Although I lost weight and gained some definition, I didn’t see the kind of results I really wanted. I did that for a while until mid-2020 and ran my first half marathon (pretty much because of Covid).
In October 2020, I got a health scare and passed out in my apartment. I went to the emergency room and the doctors’ best explanation was probably stress and lack of sleep. After that I was afraid to exercise. I was afraid I would pass out again and be in a place where I would hurt myself badly, or where no one could help me. I also gave myself a lot more leeway with my diet and turned to comfort foods like pizza throughout the week. Over time, the weight I had shed slowly came back, and I found myself back on track. In May 2021 I weighed about 169 pounds with 27 percent body fat. I don’t remember being ashamed of the way I looked, but I wanted to change. I knew I had to put it back into gear and change my lifestyle for good.
I started training three times a week at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles with strength training: deadlifts, bench press, hack squat, pendulum, pull-ups, lateral pull-downs, and accessory work with machines and dumbbells. I also started running again and walked a few miles a few times a week. And I made sure to take at least 10,000 steps a day every day. I also usually did a HIIT Peloton class once a week, along with a 10-minute abs video on YouTube a few times a week.
I had worked with dumbbells before, but not a barbell. Frankly, I was intimidated by the barbell work and worried that I would look like an idiot in the gym or worse hurt myself because of poor form. Lateral pulldowns were really hard for me in the beginning. I felt there was a lot of work being done in my forearms and I would get tired pretty quickly. Kevin, my trainer, coached me to focus on feeling my shoulder blades lift and then focus on consciously pulling my shoulder blades down as I progressed through the exercise. Thinking about that more during the reps really changed the way I did the exercise and made sure I got the most out of my lats. I tried to focus on the growth the discomfort would bring me when I was in the middle of a tough set.
I cut out processed foods and focused on eating whole foods with several servings of vegetables a day. I made sure to eat at least 165 grams of protein and tried to drink as close to a gallon of water a day as I could. For the first two weeks of the program, I followed an extremely low-carb diet of about 50 grams per day to reset. For the following weeks of the program I was more around 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. It’s so easy. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s easy.
A typical day of meals for me during the transformation was an omelet with egg whites and whole eggs with spinach and onions for breakfast. Lunch usually consisted of skinless chicken thighs (which I prefer over chicken breasts, but had to account for the extra fat) with cauliflower rice, zucchini, broccoli, or bell peppers. Dinner was usually similar to lunch, with the protein being either chicken, salmon, sea bass, or a lean steak.
I also have almost no alcohol at all. I like to drink but don’t need it and didn’t really want anything to stop my progress. I attended a bachelorette party for one of my best friends in the midst of the transformation, but Kevin and I planned that and I stuck to hard liquor instead of beer. As the transformation progressed, I’d have a glass of wine or cocktail now and then, but by then I knew how to take it into account and not let it spiral out of control where it ruins my diet for the day, or how my body feels the next day.
Kevin really helped me to be consistent and patient, teaching me not to overreact to weight fluctuations but instead to focus on the trends over time. He also taught me so much about proper form and how to really get the most out of each exercise. I no longer feel intimidated when I walk into a gym and I feel much more comfortable with barbell work than before I started working with Kevin.
I travel a lot for work, and I had a trial in the middle of the transformation. Kevin worked with me to develop a program that I could use while away from Ultimate Performance’s facilities, but it was up to me to make sure I get the workouts in. What I realized is that even if we seem overwhelmed with work, there is still time that we can free up for the things we really care about. So I found a 24 hour gym and most days I would get up at 4 a.m. to make sure I hit the gym, get a workout, and then have enough time to get to the office to work on things. working for the trial before court began that day.
Over the course of five months, I dropped from 169 pounds to 149 pounds, lost 30 pounds of fat, and gained 10 pounds of muscle. I also had a DEXA scan which showed that I had reduced my body fat to 9.7%. I’ve never really struggled with my self-esteem, but my body composition definitely makes me feel more confident about my physical attributes now. The biggest thing I gained was more confidence in my ability to achieve any goal I set for myself. I didn’t keep any health tags or do any blood work so I have no idea how those changed during the transformation. But overall I feel healthier with my lifestyle now. I eat better, sleep better, work better. Exercise is a huge stress reliever for me. So while work stress has increased over the past few weeks, keeping my workout schedule consistent has helped me adapt and deal with it in a much healthier way than in the past.
My next goal is to run the LA Marathon in March. I started training for that towards the end of my transformation and I’m looking forward to pushing my body in a different way. I have to say that I’ve found that all the strength training I’ve done has had an incredibly positive impact on my running. I recover faster and suffer less from lingering injuries / ailments. Hopefully that happiness continues.
If you want to improve your own fitness but don’t know where to start, my advice is not to be afraid to ask for help. Just try to teach yourself what you need to do to achieve your goals. There are many fitness snake oil sellers out there, but you can find free videos of proper form or different exercises on YouTube. The important thing is not to know where to start, but simply to start in any way. As has been said so many times, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
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