Akash Vaghela’s Vegan Road to The April Fools’ Photoshoot

Akash Vaghela’s Vegan Road to The April Fools’ Photoshoot

My journey since the last shoot, and what the next checkpoint is all about!

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 28 Oct 2021

Akash’s Blog Intermediate
25 Mins

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In the fitness world right now, we’re plagued with a few different types of influencers and ‘coaches’:

1. The ‘Show Off’ Influencer

These are the influencers who will show off how much they can eat, and not show where they restrict. I saw one girl the other day show herself ‘staying lean while eating a box of donuts’, and taking on 20,000 calorie challenges regularly. I’m all for flexibility, but let’s be real - a sub 50kg woman with a six pack is going to need to restrict a lot elsewhere (either through activity or food) to be eating high calorie meals daily.. 

2. The ‘Love Yourself’ Influencer

This is a popular one coming out of lockdown. These are the influencers who have lost their way, so start saying ‘you gotta love yourself’, or ‘it’s okay not to be in shape’. What’s strange is only a year earlier, they were fresh off a photoshoot or a competition telling everyone to get involved. One thing I never get in these scenarios is when comments pour in congratulating them on how brave they are for showing they’ve let loose.. 

3. The ‘Regurgitating’ Coach

Ever seen a fitness trainer or coach still living off the same pictures from 3+ years ago? I mean c’mon, I know you might have gotten a bit lean a while back, but where are the physique pictures from the last 3 years?! 

This one is massive. I don’t expect trainers or coaches to be six pack shredded year round - but I do expect a trainer or coach to be able to show their physique at any time and be impressive to their clients at least. 

Why? Because it shows they live and breathe whatever they are preaching. If you’re focused on maintenance, show you can maintain your physique. If you are building, show you are packing on muscle mass. Don’t hide behind old pictures. 

This has grown a lot because now there’s no barrier to being an ‘online fitness coach’, and you can hide behind a keyboard. There’s nothing like keeping you in check than walking the gym-floor everyday, and your physique being your ultimate business card and first impression! In fact, I remember well-renowned strength expert, Paul Chek, once saying that every trainer should be able to deliver a seminar or lecture topless. Extreme, but you get the point.

Sometimes, you’ll get the influencer or coach that’s a mix of all three. Eating junk (‘live a little!’), saying it’s okay to be out of shape (‘it’s all about how we feel inside’ or ‘don’t put so much pressure on yourself’), and to top it off, posting motivational quotes and captions with their ancient pictures (like ‘be the change you want to see’)

Anyway, enough of my observations. Of course, I’m telling you all this as a preamble to the main topic of today - the Road to April Fools.

As you can tell, I am extremely passionate about trainers leading the way, and always living the lifestyle. There’s a misconception that this means we need to be robots, and that we can’t have a social life. That’s all BS. 

What impresses me is when I see trainers who are living the fitness lifestyle, having an amazing social and family life, making gains, and doing it in a way that we call a lifestyle solution. They don’t let themselves go, they don’t proclaim stupid calorie gluttony, and they are either maintaining without restriction, or focused on building. 

It’s so easy to forget the different elements of the journey. The time you first do a fat loss phase is always the hardest, and those memories fade quick. That’s why every couple of years, I like to test the boundaries again. I take myself to the extreme so I can take others there, and be able to empathise along the entire spectrum of how that might look.

The reason for this is that every couple of years, life is different, so it’s a new challenge and an entirely different experience. Each time, I set myself a new constraint under which to achieve the condition I want. It gives me more tools in my arsenal for our members, and it builds empathy.

Everyone should get shredded once in their lifetime. I don’t think, however, that everyone needs to do this regularly. Most people just need to do it once, consolidate well, then figure out how to stay in their Optimal FLP Zone, or ‘sweet spot’ - the point where they feel, look and perform at their best - for the rest of their life. Whether they want to pursue aggressive muscle building, and further potential diets, is totally up to their appetite and goals. But at the very least, get lean, then learn how to stay there in a flexible, sustainable way.

A Vegan Constraint To Getting Lean

In 2014, it was to get bodybuilding lean, no matter what. Before that, I’d only ever got beach lean. In 2017 it was to get shredded glutes without giving up a social life - which apart from the last 10-14 days, I managed well. In 2019 it was to get the same condition as 2017 but more flexibly, intuitively, and whilst taking RNT to the next level - the main constraint here was doing this all whilst managing a growing business.

I’ve always had it in my mind to do it again to peak just before my 30th. The objective this time is to do it alongside all the RNTers starting their journeys inside RNT Pro come January 3rd. I want to be right inside RNT Pro doing it alongside everyone else getting into the shape of their lives. Walnut glutes are on the agenda, that’s for sure. And I know as always, whenever I go through the process again, my performance in all aspects of life just goes to another level. So with big expansion plans for RNT next year, this works nicely.
The constraint is going to be doing it without meat, fish or dairy in my diet.
Despite helping hundreds of vegans and vegetarians get shredded, build muscle and live healthier lifestyles, I’ve never done it myself. Whilst I don’t necessarily think you need to be exactly like the people you help (I’m never going to be a working mother of two, for example), the more you can simulate this, the more specific knowledge you build. Core principles and truths will take you very, very far, but walking in the shoes themselves can give you a different perspective.

Anyone who knows my dietary preferences will know I’ve always been a big meat guy. Until about 3 years ago, I was doing a kilo of meat a day. Then I started cutting it down for a host of different reasons, to just one singular meal in the evening. So I don’t see this being a massive change, more just a new constraint to play with and understand when the Grind kicks in, which is where optimising satiating food choices really makes a difference. 

Since August 13th, so a little over two months ago, I’ve not eaten any meat, fish or dairy. I have been eating eggs however, to ease the transition; around December time I’ll flip the switch to hit the ground running come January 3rd.

This dietary experience will warrant a deeper piece once I’ve done it for enough time (two months is too short to give a full report on it), but the basic headline right now is life hasn’t really changed at all. It’s been super easy as I’ve only had to replace one meal (dinner); the main thing has been ensuring any restaurants I go to have suitable protein options, as otherwise you can end up leaving it pretty hungry!

My reasons for this aren’t entirely constraint based. I’m not just doing this for a challenge. I have been exploring veganism for a while, especially as I’ve been more intune with the ethical and philosphical reasons for making the switch. There’s so many arguments for and against, but in my mind, I feel the future of the world is going vegan, especially as it becomes more accessible, which I think is the biggest fear most have. Again, I’ll write a more in-depth piece as I gain more experience, but for now, my general baseline diet is as follows. You’ll notice the first two are my already staple meals, with the 3rd being the differentiator.

Meal 1, 12pm: 4 large eggs, ½ avocado, 125g sourdough

Meal 2, 3pm: 40g protein powder, 90g oats, ½ banana, 100g frozen berries, 20g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate

Meal 3, 7pm
  • Option 1: 220g tofu, 50g beans or lentils, 50g rice, tons of veggies
  • Option 2: 50g tempeh, 50g high protein pasta (edamame or lentil based), 50g beans or lentils, 50g rice, tons of veggies.
  • There are a few other options I have in the rota, but more experimenting here, so it’s not as consistent. 
Meal 4, straight after, could call it a dessert but it’s pretty big (!): 30g protein powder, 75g oats, 25g granola, ½ banana, 50g frozen berries, 25g peanut butter, 10g dark chocolate

I’ve not calculated the exact calories, but I’ve figured this is roughly what I’ve realised I need to keep my bodyweight in the 78s (I am quite intuitive about tracking, and haven’t used a calculator in years). The issue I’ve had in the past 6 months has been undereating, and as a result, having an impact on my bodyweight and subsequently my strength in the gym. So I’ve had to make an effort on that final meal to get the calories in (not the worst problem I know!).

That brings me to the next bit, what’s been going on since the last shoot?

Lockdown Gains and 2021 Investing

After my last photoshoot in 2019, I wrote an article (here) with the why, how and what of the prep, as well as my next Investment Phase plans.

This is what I wrote:

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.

Funnily enough, I only re-read the article again just as I sat down to write this piece, and the Investment Phase since September 2019 has been exactly this: a real focus and hunt for my ultimate ‘sweet spot’.

During the first 8-10 weeks of Consolidation last time, I slowly let my bodyweight go from 71kg up to about 76kg. I felt OK up to this point, but I had a little too much food focus. So then I started venturing into the 76-78 bracket, which not only felt great, but was super easy lifestyle flexibility too. 

When lockdown hit in March 2020, I was sitting around 78kg, and I was keen to explore whether going into the 78-82 bracket would make a difference. And so I did, and I noticed strength start to fly up. That can get a little addictive, so I thought maybe 82-84 would reap even better gains. 

That’s when I decided I didn’t want to go any higher. I flirted in the 83s for a bit, and whilst strength was good, I felt a bit too fluffy, and starting to feel out of shape. So I tapered it down for almost a year (mid 2020 to mid 2021) at about the 80-82kg range.
This is me at 83.9kg - full on lockdown hair looking grizzly and as you can see compared to some pictures later in this article of when I’m 81kg, definitely fluffier!
Then it was time to get married, and my vanity kicked in. Whilst I had a great balance at 80-82, my favourite place to be for overall aesthetics (especially face) was around 76-78. So I decided to just tidy up a few snacks, tighten measurements around food, eat out less, and over the course of 6-8 weeks, moved from being in the 80-82s, to the 76-78s.

And I went back in full circle from the start of the Investment Phase -  this is definitely my favourite place to be. More specifically, I’d say between 77.5 and 78.5 puts me right in the middle of my Optimal FLP Zone - where I feel, look and perform at my best. The problem with 76-77.5 is it compromises performance a bit too much. 
In this new updated chart below,  you’ll notice above where the crossover lies in the different groupings. You’ll also see how it’s impossible to be 10/10 across the board, mainly because being heavier will always drive better performance up to a point.

71-73kg – 16/30
Feel: Horrible (2/10)
Look: Shredded (10/10)
Perform: Very weak (4/10)

73-75kg – 17/30
Feel: Lower energy (4/10)
Look: Very lean (9/10)
Perform: Weak (4/10)

75-78kg – 24/30
Feel: Amazing (10/10)
Look: Beach lean (8/10)
Perform: Weak at lower end, good at upper end (6/10)

78-82kg – 23/30
Feel: High energy (8/10)
Look: Average lean (7/10)
Perform: Progressively better (8/10)

82-84kg – 21/30
Feel: OK (6/10)
Look: Little fluffy (6/10)
Perform: Progressively better (9/10)

84-87kg – 20/30
Feel: Off the mark (5/10)
Look: Fluffy (5/10)
Perform: Strongest ever (10/10)

87-91kg – 16/30
Feel: Off the mark (3/10)
Look: Very fluffy (3/10)
Perform: Strongest ever (10/10)

What this shows more than anything is that the middle lane always wins. But you can’t know what your sweet spot is without going to either ends of the extremes, which is why as trainers it’s so key to practice what you preach. And why for everyone on this journey, there’s merit to getting shredded and embracing the fluff (actively gaining weight in a controlled fashion to build muscle) at least once. Else, how will you know?

Writing this all out, it’s crazy how much my motivations have changed over the years. Up till the 2019 prep, all my Investment Phases put me on the far right of the Investment Continuum - embracing the fluff to build muscle as fast as possible, which has meant spending time at the 90kg mark.

With different priorities now, I’d much rather be in a place that brings gains slower, but has me cognitively firing on all cylinders, whilst also staying relatively lean year round. It means when I do want to pull the pin, I don’t need to spend 16-24 weeks, like I’ve done in the past. 

The other key point to emphasise is how long it’s taken me to get here. It’s taken ten years to find my ultimate lifestyle solution, and my biggest win for the last 18 months has been finishing the decade long experiment in finding mine. 

Training Update

Training has been a tricky one since the last prep, and probably not what I hoped for. At the start of 2020, I was in a position where I was challenging some of my all time lifts at 10kg lighter. 

Having pressed the 55s for 6 reps when 87-90kg, I was at about 52kg for 3-4 reps in February 2020. Then a ticking time bomb finally exploded. I’d been floor pressing for years because of a dodgey shoulder that didn’t allow me to bench, or do much other pressing besides the floor. 

I took it for granted and milked pressing off the floor, until I heard the most violent click when pressing the 52s. Every single warm up rep that day hurt, but I thought it was just stiffness. How wrong I was. I was out of commission for all upper body work for a good 6-8 weeks, just relying on isometrics and rehab, then a further few months just on super light weights, whilst also being introduced to the trusty landmine press - which definitely kept my muscle mass during this recovery. 

The MRI report showed an inflamed bursa and a torn labrum, with the consultant saying to my physio, “If this guy doesn’t rehab properly he’s going under the knife”. For a good 4-6 months I was thinking there was no way out of this option, but I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. 

What it means is I’ve probably not made the upper body improvements I wanted in the past 18 months, but I am glad I’ve managed to maintain well. Some pictures however, show some gains in areas I wasn’t expecting!
This picture was taken the week of my injury, and one year later - despite no heavy pressing, I think there are some gains! I’m the same bodyweight exactly (81kg) in both.
During lockdown, I stripped my training back to the bare basics, and just focused on my landmines and Bulgarians. The stop/starts of the gyms meant I struggled to build momentum on my hacks and RDLs, but it is what it is. 

One thing I’ve learnt about my body in and out of lockdown, is it really likes consistency for maximal gains. If I even miss a week of my big lifts (RDLs, hacks in particular), the week I come back is a maintenance week at best. Strangely, I’ve found this to be more and more the case as I’ve become more advanced in my training, and for the average person with average genetics (like myself), it’s the same. Variety kills the gains, and creates more illusions of fake progress than anything else. 

All being said, with about 10-11 weeks till the end of the year, my goals are to:
  • Stay in the 77.5-78.5kg range.
  • RDL 140kg for 5 reps. I’ve not done this at 78kg before, with the range I now have, and with my history of disc issues, I take these very very slowly in progression. 1 rep every 6-8 weeks is about what I aim for. 
  • Hack squat 115kg for 5 reps, reverse band paused. These Watson hacks are the hardest I’ve experienced - can be rough on the knees without reverse banding.
  • One arm floor press 46kg for 5. Having been unable to press heavy for a year, I’m slowly bringing these back to my best. I’m at about 42kg for 6, so this will be doable, just needs patience.
  • Bulgarian split squat 48kg for 5. I took the 50s for a ride the day before my wedding and got 3 reps. I think getting that to 5 will be a big ask, but 48kg for 5 is realistic (best is 46kg for 5).
  • Neutral grip chin up 25kg for 5. Another slow burner that comes and goes over the years, and one I’ve had to build up again after the shoulder injury.
  • Be cognitively at my best to keep building RNT Pro! We’ve got a lot happening inside, with managing new hires, creating new technology, and getting more results for our members!
My training programme is currently six days a week, consisting of 5 resistance training sessions, and one cardio session. You’ll notice I do a lot of supersets - primarily to save time, and I don’t do a lot of volume either. Over the years I’ve found better and better gains from doing less with better quality and intensity. Monday and Tuesday are particularly short as they are busy work days. This is how I’ve trained for years now - the only differences have been because of lockdown and/or injuries.

Sunday - Upper Body

1A. Kneeling Landmine Press 1x4-6, 1x6-8
1B. Neutral Grip Chin Up 2x4-6 (2nd set is lighter)

2A. Weighted Banded Paused Pushup 1x4-6, 1x6-8
2B. Bent Over Row 1x4-6, 1x6-8

3A. Hammer Strength Shoulder Press 1x6-8, 1x8-10
3B. Wide Pulldown 1x6-8, 1x8-10

Monday - Arms & Delts

1A. Hammer Curl 1x6-8 1x8-10
1B. Lying DB Extension 1x6-8, 1x8-10
1C. Lateral Raise 2x10-15

2A. Incline DB Curl 1x6-8, 1x8-10
2B. PJR Pullover 1x6-8, 1x8-10
2C. Rear Delt Swings 2x20-25

Tuesday - Lower Body

1A. Standing Leg Curl 2x6-8
1B. Bulgarian Split Squat 1x6-8, 1x8-10

2A. Seated Calf Raise 2x8-12
2B. Adductor 1x20-30 (rest-pause)

Wednesday - Cardio

Option 1: Battle Ropes w/ Prowler x 5 rounds
Option 2: Airdyne Bike x 10 rounds

Thursday - Upper Body

1A. One Arm Floor Press 1x4-6, 1x6-8
1B. One Arm Row 1x5-7, 1x8-10

2A. Standing Banded Landmine 1x4-6, 1x6-8
2B. One Arm Hammer Strength Pulldown 1x6-8, 1x8-10

3A. Weighted Banded Push Ups 2x8-12
3B. Seated Row 2x8-12

Friday - Lower Body

1. GHR 3x Failure
2. RDL 2x4-6 (2nd set lighter)
3. Reverse Band Hack Squat 1x5-7, 1x8-12
4. Banded Leg Presses 1x15-20 (rest-pause)

Saturday - Off

Chill out!

The Road to April Fools

And so it begins. The next checkpoint is around the corner. The constraints are set, and the accountability and challenge is in place.

The aim is to beat my best ever conditioning, which on reflection, was in 2017. I’ve never hit 70kg; maybe this is when I go that little bit extra to see a few more lines on the glutes, without flattening out too much. Oh, and do it all vegan!

I’m excited to share this journey with RNTers all around the world, as we push ourselves to the next level, and unlock more growth and high performance! 
The starting point - October 25th 2021, 78kg.
Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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