The benefits of long periods of muscle building are often overlooked when continuously faced with the allure of being beach body ready year round. It’s not always easy to accept being a little fluffier than you’d like, to play the long game and reap the rewards of something better later down the line. It’s like with anything in life, where getting to the next level requires some discomfort, getting out of your comfort zone, and leaning into the things you don’t always want to do. A productive Investment Phase is no different, and for anyone with aspirations to really build and improve upon their physique, it’s a critical part of the process. Of course, psychology, background, age, lifestyle and a host of individual factors will determine how you approach a building phase, but if we take the man or woman who wants to build a bigger engine productively, not having abs year round will be a necessary sacrifice.
Minil knows this dilemma all too well. Having trained for a decade in a progressive manner, he spent many of these years stuck in the grey zone of not knowing whether to build or stay lean. Ultimately, it left him staying ‘in the desert’ of achieving neither goal for long periods of time. This can be a frustrating place to be in, but for Minil, his saving grace was that he always did one thing well: he trained like an animal. Progressive overload was always at the forefront of his mind, and while he often shied away from a steady long calorie surplus, he never failed to push the limit with his training.
What this did is build a real foundation. So much so that when he finally decided to pull the pin and get shredded, he was able to reveal a highly impressive physique underneath. What’s interesting about Minil’s story in particular is; about two years ago, he made the switch to become vegan, while also working erratic shifts as a doctor in the NHS. Both bring with them their own challenges, and so this first ‘journey to shredded’ for Minil was about balancing multiple hats, and proving to himself that he could accomplish his goal in new circumstances.
“I started training way back in school when I was 17 (over ten years ago) but had absolutely no idea how to train or eat. I turned to Akash for guidance when I was about 19, and he told me some basics of nutrition and also introduced me to some websites he found useful for information while he was starting up in his career as a body transformation coach and learning the ropes.
After training using some programs off various websites, I was starting to see results. Even though it was never optimal (I fell into the trap of cutting out carbs for weeks at a time followed by huge refeeds, etc…), I was a beginner so I saw results.
One day I decided to train with Akash and this totally changed how I trained from then on. Intensity. Focus. Work. From that day forward that is what the gym was about. The following summer was when I began to train at Genesis Gym in Alperton with Akash and Shyam, where I developed a love for powerlifting. We trained like animals, and focused on pure progressive overload while eating big at the same time. We were all getting bigger and stronger, and it was working great!
That was also the time I started to feel uncomfortable in ‘embracing the fluff’. While Akash continued to push in a surplus, I started a cycle of not knowing whether to ‘bulk’ or ‘cut’, and started fluctuating between the two, where I never really got super lean, nor did I gain much size. I would always end up eating at maintenance!
All being said, I was continuing to get relatively stronger; so much so that in November 2013 I competed in powerlifting, where I set a junior British deadlift record in the federation I was competing in, pulling 190kg off the floor at 58kg body weight – 3.25x my body weight!
As I began to work as a junior doctor, my routine started to fluctuate severely. I was no longer following a concrete plan, not taking care of my diet, and I was definitely not paying much attention to myself. I was in a long distance relationship at the time too, so I’d regularly put training on hold and then play catch up when I returned from trips abroad. This coupled with an overnight switch to a vegan diet threw everything off balance, and I had no idea what to eat, or how to live day to day.
I ended up living off mock meats, for the protein, and even as a doctor, my knowledge of proper nutrition was floundering, and I missed the accountability and coaching I previously had from Akash. My saving grace was my ability to train with intensity, when I did train that is. It was all I knew.
At the start of 2019 I went abroad to Thailand and the Philippines for around 2 and a half months. I was determined to stay vegan during my time away whilst travelling – definitely a challenge in South East Asia unless you only eat tofu, rice, fruit and vegetables. Somehow I managed to do it, but it meant not being able to eat as much protein because there’s only so much tofu a man can eat! I was also incredibly active whilst away, averaging over 10,000 steps a day with ease, swimming frequently, kayaking as well as training when I could. But I ended up losing weight and muscle, and when I came back I overate to compensate.
What happened however was that I went the opposite way. I gained the muscle back, but also gained a fair amount of extra body fat. Now back in London, I was also nowhere near as active. My shifts as a doctor were picking up, and I was regularly working 13 hour on-call shifts in general surgery. Training took a back seat and everything fell to the wayside.
I had no plan, no goal, and no accountability anymore. It was only when I went to train with Akash in early May, two and a half months after my return, that I had my wake up call. As all good friends and training partners do, he decided to do a ‘homemade calliper test’ to assess my body fat – I mean all this consisted of was, him pinching my belly and looking at me with a disappointed look saying “rah you’ve gotten fat!” He’d been on my case to do a photoshoot for a while, making the point I had dieted before to get beach body lean and that I’d always maintained my abs, but I’d never got completely shredded. I’d never had to really “suffer”. He was right, but I felt I had this chronic fear that I did not have enough muscle on me. As Arnold liked to say, “you can’t carve a pebble”!
However, the push from Akash coupled with seeing Tom’s transformation on the RNT page made me realise enough was enough. It was time to get serious again. I was going to get in the best condition of my life and I was prepared to do whatever it took – but I was always going to do it whilst maintaining my vegan lifestyle. All I now needed was a plan – which is where RNT came in!”
In the two years since going vegan prior to this particular diet, Minil was doing the following:
Training – He was generally training 4 days a week, occasionally skipping workouts, and more or less following the same split consistently of:
Day 1 – Chest & Arms
Day 2 – Back & Shoulders
Day 3 – Rest
Day 4 – Legs & Abs
Day 5 – Rest
Day 6 – Repeat cycle
Cardio – Non-existent whilst only doing on average 4,000 steps a day.
Diet – This is where Minil was going wrong, and in his new found vegan lifestyle, he was falling guilty of mixing healthy foods with the wide array of ‘vegan junk food’ available, and having an over reliance on mock meats. His diet was more a case of eat as much as protein and carbs as possible with no regard for fat consumption, or overall calorie intake, and this combined with no daily activity was the issue!
Here was a typical day for him:
[7:00] Breakfast: big bowl of oats with plant based milk, vegan protein shake, peanut or almond nut butter
[11:00] Snack: protein bar (whilst on the ward during his shifts)
[13:00] Lunch: lentils/dhal/mock meat/lentil pasta with rice/sweet potatoes/normal potatoes/beans and broccoli
[18:30] Post work meal/pre-workout meal: mock meats with beans and broccoli or dhal/lentil curry with rice or Chinese style stir fries with mock meats and rice
[22:00] Post workout protein shake: pea/rice/hemp seed based shake with banana and a carb powder or cereal with plant based milk
More often than not, the evening meals were replaced by takeaways – never healthy, and always full of calories and comfort!
Starting Bodyweight – 64kg at 163cm
Training – Intensity and a progressive overload mindset was never an issue for Minil. What he needed was structure, knowing when to back off, and proper volume guidelines in place to ensure he was able to stay strong and recover as the diet progressed. To help create more routine in his week, we decided to ‘set’ the days in advance for the week, rather than continue his 5 day repeating cycle he was following. The split we decided to go for was an upper / lower / push / pull program, which stayed the same throughout.
Diet – His macros to begin with were:
Here’s how a typical day looked for Minil:
Breakfast (post workout): Oats, oat milk and a soy isolate protein shake
Lunch: Veggie steak and beans with boiled new potatoes and green vegetables
Snack: Vegan protein shake
Dinner: Tofu and lentils with mixed vegetables
Given his experience and education of nutrition, Minil used MyFitnessPal occasionally to add variety to his food plan, while maintaining the above as his ‘base’ for the most part for meal prep, decision fatigue, and structure purposes.
Supplements – The protocol here was very simple, and we stuck to the tried and test, ensuring all products were vegan. Minil’s added links here to the brands he used specifically, if you’re struggling to find vegan options for protein powders, EAAs and omega 3s.
– Essential Amino Acids (taken during his fasted training sessions): ALRI HumaPro
– Creatine Monohydrate
– Omega 3: Vegan Omega 3 Algae Oil from Vegan Vitality
“There are so many vegan protein powders on the market and to be honest the taste and mixability varies a lot. The ones I used worked for me but I know other great brands like Vega, Sun Warrior, and Clean Lean Vegan exist. I would encourage people to find what works for them, as there is so much choice out there.”
Cardio – During the process, Minil implemented the following:
LISS – 3 days a week for 30 minutes on the Stairmaster or high incline treadmill
Steps – 10,000 daily, titrating up towards 15-20,000 as he got deeper into the deficit
Real physiques are built over years. It’s never done in a month, three months or six months. It takes time to build the physique you’re truly after, and to then make it a sustainable lifestyle. All too often people fall off after reaching their first checkpoint, or they don’t commit to the long term process enough to realise the gains that await on the other side. It could be argued that Minil played the ultimate long game here with his physique revelation, and it all boils down to his decade of progressive training that was required to lay down the foundation of muscle necessary to firstly get as lean as he did, but also to look good while lean, and not just skinny. The problem with the long game is it’s not sexy, and as Minil has mentioned, it’s all too easy to fall off track, which he did many times. His best muscle building progress over the years has always come during periods of high accountability, structure and routine, and when he’s been able to purely focus on execution, versus falling into the trap of paralysis by analysis.
**“**My training has evolved over the years from typical high volume bodybuilding in the early days, to performance based powerlifting, to a combination of the two together that I really love. Either way, the focus has always been on progressive overload. I’ve always tracked my lifts in a small hand written diary, making sure to write every set, rep and weight lifted, so I could beat it the next time that lift came around. This kept me focused, and it allowed me to track progress. I would set indicator lift targets with Akash on a regular basis, and then get laser focused on them to ensure I reached what was set out for me. I knew hitting these numbers meant a better physique, so I stayed accountable to the process. My all time best lifts for the standard big three were: 127.5kg squat, 97.5kg bench press and a 190kg deadlift, all at 58-60kg body weight. I now no longer do these lifts (injury reasons), and my new indicators for the past few years have been Bulgarian split squat, low incline dumbbell press, and RDLs, where my best lifts are 35kg for 8, 40kg for 4, and 120kg for 8, respectively.”
Why Minil Became Vegan
Arguably one of the biggest myths in the world of body composition is that you can’t get in shape on a vegan or vegetarian diet. At RNT we’ve busted this multiple times, but the jury is still out (for most) on whether it can be done.
If your goal is to get into the best shape possible, there are two key elements you need to follow that override any dietary principles you may follow:
- Progressive overload with perfect form
- Correct calorie intake for your goal with minimum protein thresholds
Outside of this, it doesn’t matter what type of diet you follow, it simply needs to fit your lifestyle, and be easy for you to comply with.
If you’re vegan, the same rules apply. While many may worry about protein intake, healthy vegan options, and being able to follow it while having a life, the truth is that in this modern age, it’s never been easier to be vegan should you wish to. Any potential deficiencies can be shored up with supplementation, and there’s now so many different options for vegans that it can never get boring for you, if that’s also a concern.
What’s great about Minil’s transformation is it busted arguably the biggest myth out there: that vegans can’t get shredded.
What’s also interesting is his backstory behind going vegan. For years he was as carnivorous as they came, often eating meat five times a day! But his journey into veganism came through an ethical dilemma he’d been battling for years, which he outlines below in an interesting account.
“I’ve always loved animals, and I grew up with a fascination for them. But I have not always been vegan. I have always eaten meat. My mother often asked me how I could justify doing both: eating meat and claiming to love animals. Funny she never asked about the eggs or dairy! She of course had a point but I could not see it; to me you could be both and I continued eating meat, even increasing my intake to 5 servings of meat or dairy a day – just for the protein!
The first time veganism crossed my mind was when I was listening to a podcast back in 2015 by Sam Harris and there was mention of the morality of veganism, how it is logically consistent, and that one day humans will look back at our poor treatment of animals with utter disgust and shame. The next time I flirted with the thought of veganism was a few months later, when my friends were going to go watch Greyhound racing, which was totally normalised in society at the time for some reason. I told them I would not go because of ethical reasons and then someone kindly reminded me, , “but you eat meat.” This was very true and made me feel like a hypocrite. I wrestled with the idea for the next year or so until I was speaking to a friend online who was vegan, who made me realise I agreed with veganism entirely in principle – but just could not give up the lifestyle that I had led for the last 7 years. Training and nutrition was so important to me and I could not conceive of continuing the way I trained without the way I was eating at the time. So I buried the idea again.
Over a year later I was taken to an animal sanctuary by my ex-girlfriend who happened to be vegan. Here I saw so many animals rescued from slaughterhouses and farms and from people who had no further use for them. But here they seemed truly free and happy. I was faced with what felt like essentially victims of my lifestyle and something inside me cracked that day. A month later I was sent a video by my ex-girlfriend who asked me to just “watch it with an open mind” to see if I would agree with the points being made. I was reluctant at first as I did not want to watch something that I knew would be the last straw. I watched the video and instantly decided to go vegan overnight. I had to align my actions with my morals.
So, my reasons for going vegan were purely ethical – it was not just that I liked animals, you do not need to like animals to understand that what we as humans do to them is not right. We use them for food, entertainment, fashion and research. I did not want to contribute to their suffering any longer and going vegan seemed the easiest way to minimise my negative impact towards them. It was only once I had made the change I started looking into the other benefits of going vegan – such as that on the environment and health. An analysis conducted by researchers at Oxford University released in June 2018 garnered a lot of attention when it revealed that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%, and global farmland use could be reduced by 75% – an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined. These numbers were crazy and were not the first time I had read about all the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. I think the availability of information like this as well as increased awareness about the treatment of animals is driving the surge in the vegan movement today – and I am all for it!”
But Where Do You Get Your Protein As A Vegan?
Outside of questioning whether you can get in shape or not, the next question faced by many who struggle with the concept of veganism is around protein deficiency. It’s the first thing anyone with body composition ambitions will be concerned about, but what we’re becoming more and more clear about across all dietary practices is that protein requirements don’t need to be as high as you may think.
Common bodybuilding belief and old school practices would have you believe that you need 1.5-2g/lb of protein in order to improve your physique. The reality is you’ll get all the benefits you need from 0.8-1g/lb, with none of the side effects of gas, bloating and poor digestion that such high intakes can give you. Not to mention the holes in your wallet!
**“**As soon as I went vegan, the question I was always asked is, ‘but where do you get your protein?’ I admit this was my first fear before going vegan, but I realised that I could easily get protein from vegan sources like beans, chickpeas, tofu, lentils, lentil based pastas, mock meats and protein shakes. In fact, it was hard to not overeat protein sometimes!”
Is Being Vegan Healthy?
When you hear anecdotes of people who turn vegan and either feel amazing for the first time, or begin to feel terrible, it all boils down to how they approach the practice of being vegan, and what you’ve transitioned from. Ultimately, being vegan is another example of ‘one decision cutting a thousand’, and by default, much of the junk our society is addicted to is no longer an option.
When you go from a junk food typical Western diet, to a healthy balanced diet, you will feel great across the board. Whether it’s vegan or not, it’s irrelevant. Where people go wrong being vegan is they simply swap all meat/fish/dairy with vegan alternatives, and end up following a vegan junk food heavy diet. With the addition of a lot more processed foods, they feel weak, sluggish, heavy and then blame being vegan! In reality, it’s the choices you make, irrespective of the dietary principles you follow. You should always follow a diet that emphasises natural foods, with plenty of vegetables, fibre and minerals, and a vegan diet done right can absolutely tick these boxes.
People often associate vegans with being weak and fatigued. But I found that eating so many fruits, vegetables and plants was giving me so much more energy. I felt lighter and my mood was better, as was my skin. My digestion was also phenomenal once my body became accustomed to eating more than double the amount of fibre I used to eat. I also noticed a lot of athletes were going plant based or vegan and cited similar effects on their health and performance. In fact, the NHS and British Dietetic Association both recognise that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages – so it’s not all bad!
I think this is the key thing people need to be aware of when going vegan. You cannot just live off chips and Greggs vegan sausage rolls. You need a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, good vegan protein sources and complex carbs. That is not to say you should stay away from ‘vegan junk food’, but balance is key and eating healthy most of the time and indulging on occasion is perfectly fine if it’s in line with your current goals.
Life As A Doctor
Being a doctor can throw many curveballs into your lifestyle if you’re not careful. The erratic schedule, high levels of pressure, and emotionally demanding situations can throw your own self-care to the bottom of your priority list. It’s not uncommon to meet doctors who don’t follow good health practices and aren’t in shape. The irony is their duty to help means they forget to help themselves, and Minil knows this too well as he adjusted to life as a doctor. For a long time, he struggled to build routine, and had no structure, strategy or system to manage his own life while building his career. When the nail dropped for Minil to go on this transformation, he was forced to evaluate his lifestyle, and make the changes necessary to accommodate his own needs as well his patients.
“When I initially started the program I was still used to training in the evenings (as late at 9.30pm!), however I realised quickly that training after work was becoming difficult. At one point, I had a 5 day stretch of 13 hour on call shifts in which I knew training at night would be very difficult. So I decided to wake up at 5 am every morning during this period and train before work. It was a huge light bulb moment, and this was a massive change for me as until now I had been a total night owl. Training in the evening and sleeping late. Now I was in bed by 10pm and up by 5am daily. I became accustomed to this new routine and began to thrive with it. I was up early and therefore more productive; training before work freed up my evenings for studying, spending time with friends and family, and allowed me to sleep at a reasonable time. I found this routine worked really well and was a key player in making my transformation successful. It also gave me structure to my day, and helped me apply more control to my routine wherever I could control it, which isn’t all the time given the changing shifts that can occur as a doctor.
I feel there is some duty for doctors to stay in decent shape and also practice a healthy lifestyle. I mean we are treating patients daily with a wide array of illnesses, many of which are a by-product of an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. How can we best advise our patients to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly when we do not practice what we preach. This is similar to personal training in a way where clients would also want someone who’s in good shape themselves advising them. There is a famous saying “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” – and this is what food is for many of us, a way of preventing illness and a way of combating illnesses naturally. Unfortunately, modern medical education has less of a focus on nutrition and more on pharmacological management of disease, focusing on the treatments not prevention. I now hope to continue furthering my knowledge of nutrition so that I can use it to help patients prevent disease.”
Going through a transformation where you’re taken into dark periods of ‘suffering’ is where the greatest growth comes from. It forces introspection that comes from no other process, and it’s why any transformation always becomes more than just the physical. It’s a journey that forces you to evaluate everything in your life, highlight the essential, and cut out all of the bloat.
In the past, Minil’s dieting phases had always stopped at the point just before this. He’d got into reasonable shape before, but never shredded. Never to the point where he’d experience the powerful vehicle the physical transformation has to improve all areas of your life.
That’s why after the shoot, the first question we asked is, what did you learn?
“There were many lessons I learned during this transformation. I finally understood what Akash and other RNT clients meant when they said “the physical is just a vehicle.” Yes, I was shredded, but the transformation became about a lot more than that. I had found my “why?” somewhere along the way. I wanted to show people that you could get in the best shape of your life, despite eating plants. Something so many people thought was impossible. I wanted to use my example to convince the doubters wrong and to try and inspire others to make a positive change for the animals, the environment, and their health by adopting a plant-based diet. And to do it right. I also learned a lot about myself on those long lonely early morning walks. Self-reflective thinking and deep levels of introspection are inevitable when you spend so much time focusing on yourself, and these lead to what I would say have been profound life changing realisations about what I feel my purpose in life is. These were things I had never had time to think about prior to this – I had just gone through life without ever stopping to really think.”
To dive deeper into Minil’s decade of building a foundation, being vegan, and his life as a doctor, make sure you tune into episode 95 of RNT Fitness Radio on your preferred podcast platform, or directly here:
Stats & Pictures
Starting Bodyweight: 64kg
Leanest Bodyweight: 56kg
What’s Next For The Vegan Doctor?
Six weeks after his photoshoot, Minil has successfully consolidated very well, with minimal change to his body composition, while eating more food and bringing activity levels down to a healthy sustainable range.
The next goal now is to build on this new checkpoint he’s reached and push on further, this time entering an Investment Phase with a goal of really taking his muscle mass to the next level.
My next goal is to steadily gain muscle whilst keeping the fat gain to a minimum. I also want to use this to show that you can gain muscle on a vegan diet and not just get shredded. I accept that I may get a bit “fluffy” as time goes on but as long as I am making steady progress with my lifts with progressive overload and I am monitoring my weight and caloric intake relatively carefully I will be happy. That way when it is time to shred down again I will be in a good position. Who knows, maybe I will listen to Akash’s suggestion and compete one day. That would be something different and a new type of challenge for me!
“Akash has been a good friend of mine for the past 15 years and we truly bonded over our love for the iron. I looked to him for advice on training and nutrition throughout my fitness journey and watched as he made his passion into his career.
Finally I got to work with him more closely as I turned to him to get me into the best shape of my life – I did not appreciate at the time what a truly life changing experience this would be.
I have been training for the best part of the last decade, building a strong foundation through plenty of compound lifts and even competed in powerlifting. This has allowed me to stay in decent shape but I have never peeled back the layers to reveal what I had been building underneath. With some encouragement from Akash and also seeing all the amazing work RNT has done with their other clients I felt it was time I pulled the pin and embraced the famous Vaghela Grind I had heard so much about.
I knew it would be a challenge given that I worked erratic hours as a junior doctor and on top of this I would be staying true to my vegan lifestyle and eating entirely plant based for this transformation, something even I had doubts about. But I was determined to prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong and in RNT I had an enthusiastic, motivated and highly knowledgeable team of coaches to see me through this journey.
Over the course of the transformation I completely changed my lifestyle habits – from going to bed in the early hours of the morning I was now rising before the sun to get my morning fasted cardio in. I used this time for self-reflective thinking and honestly it has made a huge impact on my overall well-being. It is true what they say at RNT, “the physical is just the vehicle.”
The results have blown me away and the response from friends, family and even strangers has been phenomenal. Through this transformation, Akash and RNT have not only changed my life, but impacted the lives of so many wanting to make positive changes for themselves, for animals and for the planet.”