I am writing this 8-week guide in conjunction with my "Ask an Expert" LifeHacker Q&A. I will be linking to the Q&A as soon as it is up. I am happy to answer questions if you have your own plan, but I highly suggest that you use this one and stick to it!
So you want to get a better body in 8 weeks. Congrats! You've come to the right place.
Sicking to this program will put you in the best shape of your life – even if you're short on time, like John, a busy developer, or Rehouven, a busy dad.
This guide will include a few core concepts. Let's chat about them here, then go through your training and diet setup.
A Primer on Intermittent Fasting
If I told you there were a way to decrease hunger, increase your ability to lose fat and gain muscle, and save time in your day, would you do it?
Of course you would! That sounds like the ultimate "life hack" for fitness, no?
This is what Intermittent Fasting, a protocol created by Swedish nutritionist and fitness author Martin Berkhan, does.
The word "fasting" is scary for some people. They think of Gandhi-style-hunger-inducing-water-deprived fasts.
This is not the fasting I will be talking about. The fasting that I'm talking about merely means shifting your first meal of the day back a few hours. So every day you'll stick to a specific "window of time" to eat: 8 hours per day for men and 10 hours per day for women. Don't eat anything outside that window. (drinking water or any calorie-free beverage is fine)
tl;dr – postpone "breakfast" until your normal lunch time.
Contrary to popular belief, short-term fasting will not impair cognitive function or athletic performance... in fact, research suggests that fasted training will improve your ability to build muscle. Breakfast isn't the most important meal of the day; that's a myth propagated by the breakfast industry.
Intermittent Fasting is not a requirement... nor is it a magic pill. For most people, however, it will make the dieting process substantially easier. Try it out for 2 weeks in conjunction with this program and I will bet you never go back to your previous way of eating.
Training fasted has benefits as they relate to enhanced nutrient partitioning. (i.e. using fat for fuel and sending extra calories towards muscle) You can read more about them here and here. Fasted training means just that... training without eating anything in the day, with the exception of two scoops of BCAAs.
If you train fasted, you'll need 10g of BCAAs (I recommend the brand Extend) after training every 2 hours, until your feeding window. If you cannot do this, then just train later in the day.
This means that you will want to train before your first meal in the day. Instinctively, it seems like you might be sluggish, but that's not the case for the type of training that we will be doing – strength training. Some people actually report an increase in energy and mental focus when training fasted.
The Diet Setup
Ok, now that we've talked about Intermittent Fasting, we're going to set up your diet. Diet will account for 80% of your success, so make sure that you make it a point to stick with it!
First, as explained, pick your 8-hour (men) or 10-hour (women) feeding window. I suggest 1pm to 9pm or 1pm to 10pm.
So if you wake up at 7:30am...
8:00am – 10g BCAAs
8:30am – Training
9:30am – 10g BCAAs
11:30am – 10g BCAAs
1pm – First meal
You'll need to log everything that you eat on a food tracking site – I suggest MyFitnessPal. This is important, because you'll be tracking macronutrients as well as calories. This might seem like overkill for a first-time dieter, but remember, we're trying to get you as sexy as possible in 8 weeks.
Your diet will be split into two days.
1. Training days – days you work out
2. Rest days – days that you don't work out
Target calories: 14 x current bodyweight for men, 12 x current bodyweight for women.
Target protein: >= current body weight in grams. (e.g. a 200 lb man should aim for 200g of protein. Yes, this is difficult, but protein is important. Use a whey protein supplement if you need to.)
Target fat: <= 25% x target calories
Target carbohydrates*: As much as you can to get to your calorie totals. For some of you, this may be a lot! You should stick to a majority whole foods, but don't be shy about including low fat ice cream, white rice, etc. here.
Target calories: 10 x current bodyweight for men, 10 x current bodyweight for women
Target protein: >= same as training days
Target carbohydrates*: <= 50g
Target fat: as much as you need to get to your caloric totals
*For simplicity purposes, no need to count carbohydrates from fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Just remain consistent. These should be in every meal!
Training will require the use of a gym. If you do not have access to a gym or do not know certain lifts, I can answer in the Q&A. However, this specific program will require a gym for best results.
Pick either one, but make sure that you are improving on every workout. (with good form, of course)
You'll notice I didn't include cardio. That's because cardio is one of the most inefficient ways to lose weight. In fact, a meta-analysis of studies has shown that it is quite ineffective when it comes to weight loss. It's great for health, great for fun if you love it, but most people reading this will get optimal results on this program by skipping cardio. If you need to, add it in the last 4 weeks.
Don't skimp on this part. You cannot manage what you don't measure. Pick a day each week, and take 2 measurements first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything:
- Your weight
- Your waist (at the navel)
Record these each week and make sure that you're losing about 1 lb/week. Even if you lose weight, do not adjust your caloric intake just yet... use the previous week's until you stall. If you stall, then decrease your caloric intake by 10%.