We all know that achieving your health, fitness or physique goal is a guarantee if you just put the proper mindset and dedication to your training and nutrition. Put in hard work and over time, progress will not be a question of can it be done, but rather, a question of when it will be done. Here’s the fine print though: the challenge may be a 21-day fitness and nutrition challenge BUT the main objective isn’t all about getting the best fitness results the fastest possible way, instead it is about seeing what the human body can achieve and how it can improve given proper fitness and nutritional coaching in a given time frame. Bottom-line, it isn’t about how fast you can achieve your goals but how you can sustain your fitness and nutritional protocols over your entire lifetime.
However, there’s a catch. In fitness and in basically everything else, the faster you want to achieve results, the more aggressive you need to be. This comes with a lot of sacrifice not many are willing to make because of their work schedule or other commitments. This is why I usually recommend a more flexible program with a longer time period especially for those starting out. But we’ll save that for another article. In this article, I’ll show you how to maximize the short duration of three weeks while striking a balance between hard work and fun.
Meet Paolo Nolasco, a super busy, third year Architecture student who aspires to graduate with honors and to look good naked at the same time. He’s been into fitness and working out since high school, but has always struggled to find the energy and motivation to stay consistent with his training and diet. As he says, university life happens. School work, exams and deadlines seem never ending. There’s always a lot on his plate and a lot more plates to finish. Recently, stress is getting the best of him. Hell week on top of hell week and he is starting to get really unhealthy so I challenged him to a quick three-week transformation before the holiday season totally takes over his body. I urged him to finish the decade strong and showed him it can indeed be done.
1. Recompose the body. To lose fat and maintain/ build a little muscle mass within three weeks means working out at least three times a week. Four is ideal. Five is too much. Remember, he only has three weeks so he needs to overstimulate his muscles to remain anabolic. Bumping it up to five workouts a week would cause overfatigue and make him gain fat. Remember, training should be a stimulus to grow, not to burn the body down. Knowing the volume your body can recover from given your current lifestyle is paramount to success.
2. Clean up the diet. To achieve fast results in a short amount of time means aggresively cleaning up his diet. Letting go of fried, oily, processed food is a must. Also, no sugar and dairy. He shopped for staple food ingredients and had his mom prepare and rotate the same foods everyday. This may sound too restrictive but keep in mind, this is only for three weeks. This is where it gets a little rigid. He stuck with real, whole, nutritionally dense foods which include a variety of vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, spinach, chayote and monggo. His carbohydrates would include low glycemic sources such as sweet potato, plantains, brown rice and sometimes a little bit of white rice when left with no choice. His proteins would include lean meats like pork, chicken, fish and a little bit of beef, eggs and beans. For his fats, he’d include egg yolks, add MCT oil to his coffee, some nuts and seeds and let the fats from meat and cooking oil add up. Also, he added apple cider vinegar after meals to improve digestion and absorption. My advise is to look for healthy sources you can easily stick with in order to be consistent.
3. Intermittent Fasting. Everyday, he ate within the period of eight hours and fasted for the rest of the day. As a student, this is very convenient for him because he wouldn’t need to spend so much for his food while in school. Also, he’s fueled by coffee with MCT oil for energy and clear brain function. Intermittent fasting boosts your body’s ability to burn fat by tapping into stored body fat for fuel. Here’s how his typical meals look like:
Meal 1: Pre-workout- something light, low fat, a little protein and carbs for easy digestion. He doesn’t want to workout with a heavy stomach as this would compromise his performance.
Meal 2: Post-workout- higher protein, higher carb and a little fat. The premise for this is that he would need the protein to rebuild his muscle and carbs to replenish energy. Fat slows down food absorption and so we’d save that later before bed.
Meal 3: His last meal before sleeping would include higher fat, higher protein, lower carb. He’d need healthy fats while sleeping to regulate his hormones and provide steady energy while asleep.
4. Balance. To prevent him from going crazy, he needs to be disciplined enough to stick with the program yet flexible enough to have wiggle room for school assignments, family and leisure. I advised him not to stress too much about making everything perfect. Just focus on one small task every hour, everyday. Being too stressed physically and psychologically can make him gain fat. As a rule of thumb, we’d want to be at 85 to 90% clean and 10 to 15% dirty during this challenge. As long as he’s hitting his daily caloric goals with the right amount of macronutrients, he’s good.
5. Macronutrients. He tracked his daily calories and macros religiously. His estimated daily caloric needs is at 2000 calories with 175g of carbs, 200g of protein and 55g of fat, a ratio of C35%, P40% and F25%. Keep in mind that these numbers will vary from person to person because of the differences in age, bodyweight and daily activity level.
He’d usually attend a CrossFit class in the evening and perform additional accessory work after. We’d also go to commercial gyms to work on his strength and muscle building.
7 cal Assault bike
10 Wall slides
10 Glute Bridge
5 Slow Push ups
10 Barbell Bench Press
8 Single arm DB Row
Rest 1 min
*increase weight as tolerated
4 giant sets
10 Double Kettlebell Swing
10 DB Spiderman
10 Russian twist
Rest 1 min
*increase as tolerated
10 Rounds for Time (team of 2)
10 Pull ups
20 DB Front Squats 35lbs/arm
30 V ups
Interview with Paolo Nolasco, 21 year-old student of Architecture
If you’re wondering what Paolo went through physically and mentally, I interviewed him about his general thoughts about this challenge. Here are my questions and his answers:
1. What made you decide to take this challenge on? And why?
I decided to take on this challenge because i really wanted to be more fit. The demands in university took its toll on my overall health and fitness because I was sleeping less and at the same time spent more time away from any physical activities.
2. What were the common obstacles you encountered during this challenge?
The common obstacles I encountered were the temptations to cheat. I was on a strict diet so I would see good but unhealthy foods around me. Another obstacle was making time to workout. Doing schoolwork is in itself time consuming so I had to dedicate a time in each day to workout or to make sure I get to workout 3 or more times a week. If I really can’t find the time to workout, I compensate by the food I put in my mouth.
3. What did you find easy and enjoyable?
The thing/s I found easy and enjoyable were the food that I was eating. It’s a common misconception that eating healthy, real, and clean food is expensive and unenjoyable because of the taste. I prepared my food in such a way that I would still enjoy eating them. If you have an end goal in mind, it’s easy to be disciplined and dedicated in order to reach the goal.
4. What you can say are the key factors (food, strategy, mindset, etc) for your success? And why?
The key factors for my success is/are the mindset and the ways to hack the food. Mindset because I have an end goal so of course I wanna reach it. As I said in number 3, people misinterpret that eating healthy is expensive and unenjoyable. If you allot money for clean and real food and you take out all the junk and processed food, it’s actually cheaper. Also, there are many ways to make vegetables yummy. I would watch YouTube videos on how fitness experts prepare their meals and also, seasoning the food and balancing it with other foods makes it really yummy. For example broccolis and cauliflowers are kind of bitter and tasteless. But if you season it, cook it in butter maybe and pair it with say boiled plantains and meat, the sweetness of the plantain and the taste of meat balances out the bitterness of the vegetables. You have to make the food enjoyable for you so that it’s easier.
5. What advise can you give to those who would want to do the same challenge or to those to simply want to start their fitness journey?
My advice is each one starts somewhere. Some have it easier and some find it hard. But the important thing is to just start. You can take things slowly and over time, be more disciplined and then you’ll get used to it eventually. Changing the mindset is also very important. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it’ll lead to fatigue and satiation. Make the journey enjoyable. Last but not the least, count your calories! Don’t overeat! Haha!
Balance is Key
Three weeks is such a short time to achieve significant and drastic results, however, it can be done. No two individuals are the same and it’s all about finding the process that’s right for you. Before embarking on your fitness journey or reaching for that next level of growth, plan ahead. Study your current lifestyle, routines and habits and determine how you can seamlessly integrate exercise and healthy eating.
It’s all about having the wisdom to let go of the things that are not supporting your growth and replacing them with good habits
As they say, life is give and take. A healthy lifestyle is no different. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how much you want it. As they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way.