Switching Up My Diet and Workouts Helped Me Lose Weight and Pack on Muscle

Anthony Makins, 31, from London, shares with Men’s Health how being stuck indoors during the pandemic kickstarted a healthier lifestyle.

I’ve always been in decent shape, and have been going to the gym since I was 16. But after leaving university, I’ve struggled to maintain the level of fitness I had back then, when I was doing a lot of boxing training. For the last few years I had set—and then failed—resolutions to get back to a certain weight and reduce my body fat to a level where I could really see my abs again.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to my diet. I’d often overeat at the weekends, usually junk food. And despite being fairly active, looking back I wasn’t working out at the gym with as much intensity as I thought.

The turning point came in early 2020, which looked like it was going to be the third year in a row where I wasn’t going to achieve my New Year’s resolution. I was feeling frustrated, and started looking at what I was doing in the gm and considering whether I’d been training wrong all this time. I thought that really, given the time and money I’ve spent over 15 years of gym memberships, I should be in brilliant shape, otherwise what was I doing there?

I did some research, buying the two UP Fitness books on meal plan and training plan design, and made some adjustments to my gym routine and diet. But it wasn’t until lockdown in March when the gyms closed that I was really forced to make changes, and focus on how I was working out and what I was eating, to ensure I could still make progress while training at home. I decided to use the money I’d been saving on a gym membership to try UP Fitness’ LiveUP coaching program.

I used to lift weights 4 days a week following my chest, back, shoulders and leg days. I stuck with the same workout for months and didn’t see any change, so would feel like I had to be doing this just to maintain the body I did have, meaning I would sometimes lose motivation and see it as a chore. I hated cardio and never really did it unless I was training for something specific, like a triathlon, and while I started cycling to work, I wasn’t able to this every single day.

The key changes to my training involved training less frequently with more intensity, giving myself sufficient recovery time. I also changed my workout split to full body workouts and began super-setting all of my exercises. And I’m generally more active on a day-to-day basis, hitting 12,500 steps per day without any need for dedicated cardio. My program changes every month, which keeps it interesting, and I make sure I improve my performance in every session and leave the gym knowing I couldn’t have worked harder.

I thought I was a healthy eater, but in retrospect I was consuming far too much protein (2 shakes a day) and constantly felt bloated. I’ve been meal-prepping during the week for a couple of years now, but would regularly snack in between meals on protein bars and nuts, and then go off the rails at weekends with pizzas and curries. Now I eat four well-spaced meals throughout the day, and don’t snack at all as they keep my full. I measure my foods based on food group portion sizes, which has made it easier to track my macronutrients and also allows me to be flexible when I am out at a restaurant. I’ve learned so much about building a sustainable, balanced diet that doesn’t rely on counting calories, and how to combine nutrition with training to get the maximum results.

I lost 15 pounds in 11 weeks during lockdown, dropping from 173 to 158 pounds. After that, I started putting on muscle mass. I feel a lot fitter and stronger. I also look forward to every training session a lot more, and am really enjoying each workout and the progress I’m making. And I’m not finished yet: my next goal is to try and build more muscle, though I’m finding that gaining weight once it’s off is actually a much slower and harder process than losing it in the first place!

My biggest tip is to make sure you’re progressing your performance each week: you should leave every session knowing you couldn’t have done any more. No cheating on form, and no getting distracted. You also need to structure your diet so that you can stick to it. It should be sustainable enough that you don’t feel the need to cheat on weekends. And finally, consider investing in a good trainer, even if it’s just for the first few months to get you on the right track. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to all of the money you might spend on a gym membership.

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