Quarterly Insights Part 3, Instalment I – Akash’s Photoshoot Prep, 2019

Quarterly Insights Part 3, Instalment I – Akash’s Photoshoot Prep, 2019

When you’ve been training consistently for over ten years, it becomes part of what you do. It’s no longer a forced concept, or something you need to think about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making progress or not, the habit of showing up 3 to 4 days a week to move some iron is firmly engrained into your life.

We all have our reasons for training, and they continually evolve through the years. For me, the one constant training has given me is an outlet, a focus, and a place to get my fix. It’s always been beyond aesthetics. And what I’ve noticed over the years is that when my training is on a downward trajectory, and not quite where I’d like it to be, everything else in my life suffers.

I’ve always been a fan of the saying, ‘how you do one thing is how you do everything’. Training epitomises this in every sense, and I can look back at exact moments in my life whereby lacklustre training periods have led to reduced quality in other significant areas of my life.

If you’ve read part one of my 2019 Quarterly Insights, you’ll know that in February this year, I hit the red line and collapsed. I was on a string of weeks and weeks of 16+ hours a day of working and rarely leaving my laptop. Here’s what’s interesting. While I was staying in decent shape during this period, when I look through my training journal for this time period, all I can see are skipped training sessions, minimal strength gains, and half assed workouts.

I was going to the gym on average 3 days a week, but I wasn’t really there. I was going through the motions, lacking focus, and ultimately, this was a reflection on myself. I didn’t value taking care of myself at the time, and I paid the price. Whilst I was achieving my business goals, my personal health was on a landslide, and I was forced to course correct. My structure, strategy and systems in my day were all over the place; I was taking false shortcuts to try get ahead, but only setting myself up for future failure.

Something needed to change, and I knew that the only way I was going to make my work sustainable, and achieve my long term goals in business, relationships and life overall was to bring the focus back to myself. I needed to sharpen the sword, and take care of number one. It’s easy to bury your head into the laptop and continue to crank. Anyone can do that, and it’s a vicious cycle.

I had to go back to basics, and when auditing my life in April (shortly after the denial phase of what was happening!), the one area that was faltering terribly was my training.

Back in 2017 when I last competed in bodybuilding, the plan after was to spend 3 years building, with the aim to add 3-4lbs of new tissue and dial back in for 2020. Up till September 2018, this was all on schedule. I was stronger than I’d ever been, at my heaviest ever (91kg) during an off season, and really pushing the limit with food. In the final quarter of 2018, things changed.

The structure of the business became different, and the adjustment period, coupled with a reoccurring back injury and an upcoming Christmas wedding in Thailand meant I started to ease off pounding the food, and lean out a little. In this period, I ended up dropping down from 91kg to 82-83kg ‘by accident’. I had no real intention to drop that much, but a lack of appetite, a fragmenting structure in my day, and floundering personal health focus was impacting me more than I’d realised.

My first attempt to regain this was when I entered the Birmingham Half Marathon. The goal here, outside of helping raise money for a great cause in Operation Smile (where we broke a collective world record!), was to add a new focus, and try something different. While I spent 13 weeks preparing for it and hitting my goal of sub 2 hours (I clocked in on the day at 1 hour 58 minutes), I didn’t enjoy the process as I thought I would. My weight training wasn’t being prioritised, and as mentioned earlier, I was guilty of skipping one too many sessions. Something needed to change. With my bodyweight sticking around 80-82kg now, and an upcoming month away in South East Asia, I decided to tighten up my diet, lock in a new training schedule, and start sharpening the sword.

For four weeks in the lead up to Asia, I set my protein at 160-180g, carbs at 200g, and fats at 60g, while training 6 days a week on a program designed by RNT Coach Ben. This was a shock to the body, and to show you just far I’d let it slide, a 5 day food diary audit just prior to this showed my protein at 100-120g, carbs at 150-250g and fats at 30-50g, with an average of 2-3 days a week of training. This was happening for three months, so it was no surprise that my body composition at 80-82kg was not the 80-82kg it should be (I’d lost more muscle mass than I thought), and no surprise I’d approached the ‘red line symptoms’ of being close to collapsing on two more occasions in the two months after the first episode.

I began to tell myself, ‘How I do one thing is how I do everything’. It was finally hitting home. I knew what I needed to do.

For the next four weeks, I began to regain the training spirit I so badly missed. My strength was coming back up (I was shocked how far it had dropped), my body composition was improving (my bodyweight didn’t change from ~81kg, as I was experiencing a strong recomposition effect), and most importantly, I was feeling better with my 3Ss – structure, strategy and systems, back in place. I was back in the game, and ready for Asia.

While off the grid in Asia (Koh Rong Samloem, specifically, as in the picture below), I was reflecting on the first half of the year, and how I could maintain build on the momentum I’d generated just prior to the trip. I didn’t want to fall into the same trap as before and sacrifice my own health. So I decided to create the ultimate internal focus: get absolutely shredded. It was a year earlier than planned, but I needed to do this for myself. I needed to put myself number one. I needed to explore my inner core, and gain the introspective insights that the process of getting shredded forces. I needed to take myself to that dark place. I knew this would force me to harness my type A, and force me to create the right systems in the business to allow me to flourish in all domains of life.

And so straight after the two year anniversary party, while harnessing a brutal hangover inflicted from our RNT Family (!), I started. It was week one, day one again. It was time to start from scratch again.

In this Quarterly Insights, I’m going to split it up into three parts:

Part One – The Prep

Part Two – What I Learned On The Grind

Part Three – Why Everyone Should Grind

In this first part, I’m going to finish by going through the week by week changes made through the first three phases of my ‘Restart Journey’, discuss my next Investment phase plans, and talk about what’s been different about the ‘tools’ used in the process this time compared to before.

Starting Point

What’s interesting is when I set out to do this in Asia, I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t take any traditional ‘before’ pictures, nor take any measurements. I was weighing myself here and there, and just before going away, I was sitting at 81kg.

During a random posing session in Cambodia to see where I was at after recomp’ing in the four weeks prior, here’s how I was looking:

Not a bad starting position, and certainly better than being 90kg, as I’d been in the peaks of my previous off seasons! I knew I had about 8-10kg to chop off, and with the shoot date set at almost exactly 12 weeks away, this was perfect as historically I’d always dieted at around a kilo a week.

Phase One: Cleaning the Palate (CTP)

While in the context of the RNT Journey, I’m in the Reward phase, what this phase actually entails is a repeating cycle of the first four phases as you continually search for self- improvement.

When I returned from Asia, I needed to go through a phase of Cleaning the Palate. I needed to reinstall the non-negotiables into my day, create routine, and solidify my structure, strategy and systems. 

Here’s how it looked:

Diet – My macros to begin with were:

Protein – 175g

Carbs – 200g

Fats – 50g

Here’s how the set meal plan looked:

Meal 1 (11am) – 4 whole eggs, 200ml egg whites, 5g butter, 100g sourdough

Meal 2 (3pm) – 60g whey, 80g oats, 20g dark chocolate, 15g PB, 2 rice cakes, 400g fruit

Meal 3 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 50g rice, bowl of veggies

This was easy, as this was exactly how I ate before in terms of meal structure, only now I was being precise with my measurements. I kept this the same every day to reduce all decision fatigue and create the ability to go on autopilot.

Training – Having averaged 3 sessions a week for January to April, I decided to jump straight up to 6 days a week. This was purely for routine purposes, and having a structure in my week that meant Monday to Saturday at 9am, I was training. Given I work from home, this gave me a ‘place to go’ at a predictable time daily.

The split was as follows:

Day 1 – Chest and Arms

Day 2 – Legs

Day 3 – Back and Shoulders

Day 4-6 – Repeat

The training was exactly how I love to train. Hard and heavy, low volume, and with a focus on progressive overload with a few key indicator lifts each session. Each session was max 45 minutes, and this meant I wasn’t overcooking it by going daily.

Cardio – No cardio to begin with, except for a 10,000 a day step target.

Supplements – This was very basic, with the following used:

Whey Protein – as per meal plan

Vitamin D3 – 10,000 IU a day

Creatine Monohydrate – 5g a day (I hadn’t used this in 18 months!)

Yohimbine – 12.5mg a day (this started in week 2, and escalated up)

Caffeine – 200mg a day (this started in week 2, and escalated up)

EAAs – 15g intra workout (taken with 1/3 tsp pink salt)

My start date was Monday 17th June, and on my first official weigh in after Asia, I clocked in at 78kg. On the last leg of my trip, I suffered from a fever that took me out of the game for a few days and cost me a few kilos – not the best start!

CTP: 1 Week In, 24th June – 78.5kg

Week one was all about building routine and embedding the 3S’s into my day. Almost immediately, I was enjoying the feeling again of having daily targets to meet, and I felt like the flip had been switched inside.

I was also conscious that I only had about 11-12 weeks of dieting, so I needed to hit it hard. I added in 25 minutes of daily LISS, pushed my steps up to 13,000, and plugged in 10 minutes of level 8 on the Stairmaster post workout on the four upper body days. In addition to my morning coffees, I started taking 12.5mg yohimbine HCL with 200mg caffeine about 30 minutes before my training sessions. Bear in mind that this time I was weight training on EAAs only, and doing my cardio in the afternoon instead (more on this to come later).

CTP: 2 Weeks In, 1st July – 77.9kg

No major changes made this week outside of dropping carbs to 175g a day, sneaking cardio up to 30 minutes daily, Stairmaster to level 9, and steps to 15,000. Small tweaks, big results! 

As you can see here, lots of work to be done, and after having neglected myself for so long, I’d lose a significant amount of muscle mass compared to my normal size, which is especially evident in this front lat spread pose.

CTP: 3 Weeks In, 8th July – 78.1kg

My strength was beginning to pick up again from pre Asia, and everything was now on autopilot. No changes on the diet this week, with only differences being an increase to level 10 on the Stairmaster, and actually a drop in steps to 11-12,000. I could feel I was potentially overcooking it too early, so backed off a little on the steps.

Process: 4 Weeks In, 15th July – 77kg

Everything was locked in now, and I’d completely recomped as expected. As you can see, my bodyweight had barely moved, but when you consider the fever weight lost in Asia, and the general effects of the first half of the year, this was what I was after.

The picture above shows a lot more filling out in this pose compared to a few weeks earlier, while still being a similar bodyweight.

I was feeling great too. My energy was sky high and productivity was through the roof, which tied in very nicely with the relaunch of our client intake this week, and the now infamous ‘Internet crash’ that was triggered on Sunday 14th July at 6am! To say I needed to be on my A game would be an understatement, and so being at my sharpest really helped.

Process: 5 Weeks In, 22nd July – 76.2kg

The Process phase was well and truly underway now. The routine was set, and all I needed to do was execute, tick the boxes, and trust the process. I shaved my carbs down to 160g, solidified steps at 12,000, and kept everything else the same – it was all working very nicely!

Process: 6 Weeks In, 29th July – 75.9kg

I was now sitting at that very nice sweet spot of condition and fullness. My pumps were skin splitting, and I was setting strong records in the gym across the board. This is where you start crossing the border of lean and shredded, and it’s a great place to be. It almost feels like the calm before the storm, because you know in a few weeks things are about to get nasty!

This week carbs dropped another 10g to 150g, steps were at 13,000, and cardio was pushed to 40 minutes, although my diligence to the 40 minutes wasn’t great. I was mentally feeling ahead of myself, so was battling with justifying whether 40 minutes was needed! 

Process: 7 Weeks In, 5th Aug – 75kg

With a bit of a Precision Dip rearing its ugly head in the cardio department, I was determined not to let the first 6 weeks worth of momentum fall to the wayside. I went for a big push this week, and dropped carbs down to 135g, fats to 45g, and pushed steps up to 15,000, while ensuring every 40 minute cardio session was hit.

My diet at this point was as follows:

Meal 1 (11am) – 3 whole eggs, 250ml egg whites, 5g butter, 75g sourdough

Meal 2 (3pm) – 60g whey, 50g oats, 20g dark chocolate, 15g PB, 250g fruit

Meal 3 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 40g rice, bowl of veggies

Process: 8 Weeks In, 12th Aug – 74.1kg

One thing I’ve always noticed is that everyone has different ranges of bodyweight they feel strongest in, and they look best in. There’s certain points in these ranges that reflect a dip in strength, and a significant increase in conditioning.

For me, it’s always been the following:

71-73kg – Shredded

73-75kg – Very lean

75-78kg – Beach lean

78-82kg – Average lean

82-84kg – Little fluffy

84-87kg – Fluffy

87-91kg – Very fluffy

Along this continuum, I know my strength will vary, with specific points marking noticeable changes.

Between 71 and 75, it’s all about maintaining whatever I can. There’s no strength gain, and the sub 75kg mark always signifies a drop to a new strength level.

Between 75 and 82 is always very similar in strength, and is a place good strength gains can be made while still staying lean. This is where I spent the majority of this diet recomping, regaining old strength, and feeling good!

Between 82 and 84 I notice a spike in strength from the previous band, and I start getting into bigger numbers.

My best strength gaining range is between 84 and 87, and it’s historically where my best all time absolute strength PRs have been hit. I credit a lot of my muscle mass to staying in this range for a long time chasing numbers. I’ve also dipped into the 87 and 91 range for long periods, and upon reflection there was definitely a point of diminishing returns. I was certainly getting stronger in this range, but the gains were no different to being 84 to 87. It’s only when I dipped below 84kg did I notice a change.

This week marked entering a new range, and into what’s arguably the hardest range for anyone to be in. It’s that very lean to shredded zone, and it’s where everything changes overnight. This is where you go from energetic and strong to feeling irritable, lethargic and ‘heavy’. That being said, this is the ‘suck’ you have to embrace in order to get to the next level of condition, and is where leaning into the #VaghelaGrind becomes ever more critical.

I dropped the hammer this week by pulling carbs down to 125g and fats down to 30g, while blasting steps up to 17-20,000 daily, and cardio up to 50 minutes a day. At this point I added a second afternoon half dose of yohimbine HCL and caffeine too.

My diet now looked like this:

Meal 1 (11am) – 2 whole eggs, 300ml egg whites, 5g butter, 75g sourdough

Meal 2 (3pm) – 60g whey, 40g oats, 10g dark chocolate, 10g PB, 200g fruit

Meal 3 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 40g rice, bowl of veggies

Process: 9 Weeks In, 19th Aug – 73.8kg

I was now well and truly in the #VaghelaGrind, and riding all the gathered momentum of the previous 9 weeks. After running the above for 10 days, I pulled the pin even further for a 4 day blast of 100g carbs, while pushing daily LISS to 55 minutes and steps to a steady 20,000. To reflect the carb drop, I simply took out the fruit.

At this point I was feeling very flat, cold all the time, and the mind games were at an all time high. The stims were being pushed hard, and while they were keeping hunger at bay, they were starting to feel rough on the body overall. This was easily the hardest week of the diet, with some extremely low days being thrown into the mix!

This shot was taken at a client shoot during this particular week. Every time you diet is different, and this is no exception, as the structure of the day, feelings and methods have been nothing like last time. What’s stayed the same though is the level of introspection gained, the character building moments you go through, and the experience of feeling the physical as a vehicle to level up again.

Process: 10 Weeks In, 26th Aug – 73kg

After consulting with the rest of the RNT team, we decided that I was on the cusp of being ready, with the danger of pushing too far into a hole with no way of coming out in time for the shoot.

I know historically my weakness is going too hard for too long (in all areas of life!), so I needed this 3rd eye from the team. After the four day low carb stint, we pushed food up to 200g carbs and 40g fats, while keeping all stims and activity the same.

My diet was as follows:

Meal 1 (11am) – 3 whole eggs, 200ml egg whites, 5g butter, 120g sourdough

Meal 2 (3pm) – 60g whey, 70g oats, 20g dark chocolate, 10g PB, 250g fruit

Meal 3 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 60g rice, bowl of veggies

This week the goal of every prep I do had been accomplished – shredded glutes! While last time I didn’t see them till peak week, it was very cool to have them appear two weeks out.

If we want to take our clients to the extreme, we have to have gone to the extreme ourselves. The extreme is subjective, relative and individual to the person. The key to it being extreme is it has to push you like nothing else, and take you into the depths of your mind to have to pull out the result. This is my extreme and my yardstick to achieve when I diet down. It’s only when the glutes are in am I satisfied, as I know what needs to be done to get there. The mind games, the extreme fatigue and the ruthless consistency required. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t even think many people should attempt getting this lean. But if you’ve got the muscle mass, dieting experience and the mental resolve, then the insights and introspection you’ll gain about yourself will be second to none. Your empathy for anyone else on their journey sky rockets too. Even if our clients don’t have aspirations to get this lean, this allows me to empathise on every part of the spectrum, and relate to all the feelings that come with pushing and taking your body to the extreme. 2 weeks to go, time to continue peeling off this final layer to turn them into walnuts 🥨

Process: 11 Weeks In, 2nd Sept – 72.2kg

The increase in food so far was going well, and after 6 days of running the above protocol, we decided to lower activity down to 12,000 steps a day and 30 minutes of cardio, while dropping post workout Stairmaster, and easing off the stimulants to only the morning dose of caffeine (dropping yohimbine HCL altogether, 7 days out). The food was kept the same, and this was run from Friday 30th to Sunday 1st.

Here’s how the rest of the week unravelled:

Mon 2nd and Tues 3rd

Diet – 160P/300C/40F

Cardio – None

Training – Normal Split Deload

Steps – 6-8,000

Stims – 200mg caffeine in AM + regular morning coffees

Wed 4th

Diet – 160P/350C/50F

Cardio – None

Training – Normal Split Deload

Steps – 6-8,000

Stims – 200mg caffeine in AM + regular morning coffees

Got a cheeky tan on Wednesday at the local salon, which was a first compared to my previous dark bodybuilding ones!

Thurs 5th

Diet – 175P/400C/60F (I added a fourth meal at 10am to make it easier to get the 400g carbs in)

Cardio – None

Training – None

Steps – 6-8,000

Stims – Regular morning coffees

I added a fourth meal at 10am to make it easier to get the 400g carbs in, with the diet looking as follows:

Meal 1 (10am) – 25g whey, 100g Rice Krispies, 20g PB

Meal 2 (1pm) – 3 whole eggs, 100ml egg whites, 200g sourdough

Meal 3 (4pm) – 25g whey, 120g oats, 300g apple, 20g dark chocolate

Meal 4 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 120g rice, 5g Butter, 10g PB, bowl of veggies

Shoot Day, 6th Sept  – 72.5kg

My bodyweight held more or less the same through the week as food came up each day, and on the morning of the shoot, this was how I was looking:

5 min after waking up this morning… just the haircut, trim & final lot of carbs to go in to finish filling out! It’s funny how even though I’m not competing, the areas I still look at most for condition are the glutes and upper quads (which will probably be mostly covered up throughout!). Think we’re ready 🚀💪🏽🙌🏽 #vaghelagrind

The shoot was at 3pm, and here’s how the day unravelled.

Meal 1 (9.30am) – 25g whey, 100g Rice Krispies, 20g PB

Meal 2 (12pm) – 4 whole eggs, 200g sourdough, extra salt

Pre Pump (2.30pm) – Rice Krispies treat, ½ tsp salt

During Shoot (3pm-5pm) – Haribo as needed

Post Shoot – Enjoy a home cooked meal outside of chicken and rice!

It’s funny. The day and week of the shoot for me felt like a complete anti-climax. I accomplished everything I wanted from this prep 2 weeks before the shoot. The realignment of focus, the self prioritisation, and the insights, introspection and ideas being in the depths of the ‘grind’ brings you. This was merely a formality. It’s always about the journey, and shoot was purely a checkpoint for me to then push on to bigger things.

The shoot itself with Shyam of Skot Visuals was great fun, and it was cool to be photographed by one of my best friends. Here’s a little behind the scenes clip from the day taken off my iPhone:

Before / After Pics

I have no ‘official’ before / after pictures, as I didn’t take many through the process, but here’s the closest comparison I can find.

Initial Consolidation: 7th Sept – 11th Sept – 71.7kg

My attitude towards the shoot made a tremendous difference when it came to the early days of Consolidation, which is where it can be easy to lose it all in the space of 48-72 hours! I’ve been there, so I had no plans to repeat the same.

My first meal post shoot was a nice home cooked meal of fish and potatoes, with some homemade peanut butter dark chocolate cookies. On the weekend after, I took a trip to my favourite restaurant in London, Hawksmoor, and devoured a long awaited piece of bone in prime rib! No bingeing, no stuffing myself till I couldn’t move; just an enjoyable meal out with great company!

Besides this, it was more of the same, and with the pending test of 12 days in the USA coming up, I kept things tight as follows in the lead up:

Diet – 160P/300C/50F

Cardio – None

Training – Normal Split

Steps – 12,000

Stims – Regular morning coffees

What was interesting is now my bodyweight started to drop further, and I was tightening up even further like crazy.

Here’s what happened:

Sept 6th (shoot) – 72.5kg

Sept 7th – 72.5kg

Sept 8th – 71.8kg

Sept 9th – 71.8kg

Sept 10th – 72.3kg

Sept 11th – 71.9kg

Sept 12th – 71.6kg

I’d dropped a kilo in the 5 days following the shoot, and was starting to adopt my best ever look. It was a little frustrating, but I know why. I’d made the same mistake as in 2017, and pushed it too hard and far for too long. I should’ve backed off way earlier on the activity front, and my body just didn’t get the rest it needed.

Reflecting on the shoot day, I was tired, somewhat flat and potentially holding a film of water caused by the body being under a lot of stress still. 5 days later I looked way sharper, and this only continued as I went to the USA.

Lesson to be learned? Know where the red line is!

Consolidation: Post USA, 23rd Sept – 71.7kg

Nearly two weeks in the USA is enough to throw anyone off course straight after a brutal diet, but I was determined to make it work. I wanted to enjoy the experience of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, while also staying in shape, and it’s safe to say that I nailed it!

This morning I clocked in at 0.6kg lighter than my shoot on the 6th Sept, and after 12 days in the US, I’m very pleased with this result.⁣⁣ It’s so easy to blow the start of a Consolidation phase (as I’ve done multiple times, especially when travel comes straight after), but I’ve never done it this well before. I’ve felt in complete control, and have been able to balance enjoying delicious meals out while staying in shape.

The secret? Really it all boils down to the mindset behind how you eat. It’s keeping high levels of meal hygiene, staying self aware, and being present and mindful with your food. ⁣⁣It’s enjoying the taste, texture and experience, rather than using the fact you’re away or eating out as an excuse to ‘make the most of it’, order everything on the menu, and stuff yourself till you can’t move.

It’s knowing if you’ve had a big steak at Peter Luger or Del Frisco’s, that your next meal may have to be a light salad. ⁣⁣It’s passing on the bread basket at most places, ordering one portion vs three courses, and practising healthy lean habits in restaurant settings.

I’ve been there before, where every meal out (which if away, can be 3x a day) is thought of as a time to go all out, and I know many struggle with this. ⁣⁣It’s something we will be speaking more and more about, as this is ultimately the way to create a real lifestyle solution.⁣⁣

To hear more about my insights on how to master portion control, transfer your habits to any environment, and build your unique lifestyle solution, make sure you listen to episode 99 of RNT Fitness Radio with the Hitman here:

 

This USA trip was a huge win for me. Five years ago in 2014 I went on an all inclusive a week after my competition diet and completely blew it, coming back 7-8kg heavier in 7 days. To come back 0.6kg lighter from arguably the place filled with more temptations than anywhere is a testament to how far my habits, relationship with food, and overall well-being has come. Additionally, to do it in a way that still created an enjoyable experience was big. Practising mindful eating, staying self aware and in tune with my body really paid hefty dividends, and I’m excited to see how this can continue to cascade into my own lifestyle solution.

Consolidation: 4 Weeks In, 7th Oct – 71.6kg

I’m writing this as of being 4 weeks post shoot, and I’m still sitting a touch lighter (0.8kg!) than shoot day. It’s been the best Consolidation phase I’ve ever had, and I’m starting to learn how every Consolidation phase you go through becomes easier. The first is always very difficult, but the improvement curves anyone who’s been through a second is very steep, after which it gets easier and easier.⁣

Right now here’s what I’m doing:⁣

Training – I’ve now shifted to 5 days a week (instead of 6) on a chest/delts/arms, legs, back, chest/delts/arms, legs split. I wanted to keep training Monday to Friday to help with routine and structure, and opted to less back frequency to accommodate this; it’s my strongest part, and it’ll also get hit indirectly a fair amount on the Friday with RDLs! The reason for the drop to 5 from 6 was purely to keep weekends free from going to the gym.

Diet – 180P / 350C / 75F (~2800 cals), split across three meals in this format:

Meal 1 (11am) – 4 whole eggs, 100ml, Egg Whites, 5g butter, 200g sourdough

Meal 2 (3pm) – 50g whey, 130g oats, 2 squares dark chocolate, 25g PB, 200g fruit

Meal 3 (7pm) – 200g chicken, 130g rice, 2tsp olive oil, bowl of veggies, 200g fruit, 1 square dark chocolate

Activity – Steps are in the 10-12,000 range, and cardio is a 20 minute brisk walk daily. ⁣

Next Investment Phase Plans

A question I’m still looking for the confirmed answer with is ‘what’s next?’ Having trained for ten years, and been on multiple ‘bulk’ and ‘cut’ cycles, I’ve been battling with whether another classic ‘bulk’ is still beneficial for me. I know they work, and have been responsible for the physique I have today, but I’m not sure if the benefits would still be there if done in the same manner.

I’m really enjoying the feeling of being lean, and the sharpness it forces you to create in all areas of your life (that can often go lax during a ‘bulk’). It keeps me aligned to myself, and means I can’t go through periods of ‘letting things go’, or allowing ‘life to get in the way’. It removes all excuses, and keeps in line with the motto of ‘how you do one thing is how you do everything’.

So my early answers for this next Investment phase is revolving around maintaining a very lean condition for an extended period of time, and then slowly adding mass but capping a limit of it at around potentially 10% above my leanest. It’s hard to define this goal just yet, so will continue to blog around it as it evolves.

What Was Different This Time?

Every time you different, and this was no exception. In the past three years, I’ve changed a lot of my daily structure to accommodate my lifestyle more. The transition from being a full time gym floor PT to running an online coaching business has been the key driver in this, and as a result, this diet has been very different to the one in 2017 in my structure, strategy and systems.

The key differences are as follows:

1) Fasting

Over the past 18 months I’ve become a huge advocate for fasting. Ever since I first tried as an experiment at the start of 2018, I’ve continued the practice of delaying my breakfast purely for the productivity benefits. I love to start my work as soon as I wake up, and hate interrupting my flow to eat a meal. Instead, I like to get a ton of deep work in and then use my first meal as a break from work, and a transition in my day.

I’d never dieted super aggressively using fasting, so this was a first, and in reality it made things a lot easier. Better control of hunger, higher levels of productivity, and less food focus through the day.

What ultimately became a real game changer was moving my training to the mornings too, and training only with EAAs. This was something I was hesitant around given I’d always trained with 1-2 meals in my system, but the results surprised me. Could I apply more intensity in a fed state? Maybe, potentially… Was I able to maintain strength well in a fasted state? Certainly! Did I feel hungry, low on energy or lethargic without food? Not at all. Did this fit well with my schedule and make adherence easier? Very much so. The last point was most critical for me, as at this stage I’m all about adherence and lifestyle. Training at 9am after 2-3 hours of deep work gave me a huge sense of accomplishment, set my day up well, and also ticked all my boxes of being in flow. There’s nothing better than having breakfast at 11am knowing you’ve moved the business forward, helped other people transform, and trained yourself hard.

Bear in mind that this works for me well as I have complete control of my schedule. For others it may not be possible, and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong here.

2) Lower Protein

For 9 years, I was always a high protein guy. I’ve stayed for the most part in that 1.2-1.5g/lb  range for as long as I can remember, with brief stints up to 2g/lb too! This was particularly true when dieting, as I feared for muscle and strength retention.

This year my protein was set at anywhere between 160 and 180g, which works out to be around a gram per pound. My digestion has never been better, and I’ve seen no adverse effect on strength or muscle retention. In fact, I could probably get away with less, and drop it to 0.6-0.8g/lb, but I like the gram per pound mark for the satiety benefits, as well as an ‘insurance policy’.

3) Forbidden Fruits, Chocolates & Sourdough!

I like to think of myself as a bit of a dark chocolate connoisseur. It’s been a staple in my diet for the past five years, but every time I’ve dieted, I’ve always cut it out, fearing that it’d be a trigger for more, or that it’d slow down fat loss.

This year I decided to keep it in my diet every single day, and use it as part of my fat allocation. What a game changer for flavour, taste and adherence! By eating it daily, I had no ‘urge’ to eat a ton of it straight after, which has been my downfall in the past, and instead, I was able to enjoy it as part of my diet throughout. The key of course is to be sensible, and know that two squares means two squares!

Similarly, I’ve been guilty of falling into the trap of thinking fruit was evil for fat loss. For years I didn’t eat any fruit, and I now scratch my head as to why. With so many nutrients, antioxidants, fibre and goodness, there’s nothing wrong with fruit in moderation portions. And so I continued with my fruit bowls that I’d begun to incorporate last year, and maintained my fruit intake for the most part of my diet (only removed during the 100g carb periods!)

Again, this helped with diet satisfaction, satiety and taste buds, and made everything on the diet feel so much easier.

Last but not least, bread. It’s crazy how many nutritional fads I’ve fallen for over the past decade, and the gluten free bandwagon was one that caught me for a long time. I didn’t eat bread for years until I discovered sourdough at the tail end of 2017. And what a discovery it was! Lo and behold, my insides didn’t disappear, and gluten didn’t kill me! Of course, if you’re gluten intolerant or coeliac, you should avoid it. But if you’re fine with it, like I now know I am, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with. Bring on more eggs on toast!

You can see now just how much the front lat spread has filled out since the pictures earlier in the process where I’d been lacking some of my previous muscle mass.

The Grind Is The Same 

While I may have used different strategies and routines this time round, some things never change. Driving yourself hard in a calorie deficit isn’t easy, and it will force you to go to places inside your mind that aren’t easy to dive into. It will create levels of introspection that can be both scary and enlightening, and it will urge you to question areas in your life that you may have been running away from for a long time. Everyone should embrace this form of grind at least once in their lives, not just for the incredible physical gains, but for its ability to build character, and act as a vehicle to change your life across the board.

I’m going to dive deep into what I learned from this particular ‘grind’ and how it’s allowed me to level up across the board in the next part of this Quarterly Insights. Stay tuned!

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Akash Vaghela
akash@rntfitness.co.uk

Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.