“Nick is a right fat bastard” are words that had never been uttered until 2016. Then, at the tail end of the year, I stepped onto the scales to see I weighed a whopping 13 1/2 stone (86kg/189lbs). Those of you familiar with the old boxing weight divisions will remember the cruiser-weight limit is 190lbs.
Famous cruiser-weight world champions include Evander Holyfield and David Haye, men who went on to win the heavyweight title. Another heavyweight champ, Michael Moorer, won his first world title at light heavyweight. So, 189lbs was clearly not a good weight for me. I took a bit more care, laid off the TGI Friday’s milkshakes, and slimmed down to 83kg, 183lbs.
The real weight loss began in July 2018, at 83kg, and ended in February 2019, at 70kg. So now I was in my natural boxing weight division and I’d only need to fight guys like Gennady Golovkin and Carl Frotch. My waist shrank from 36 inches to 29 – the slimmest of my entire adult life. I’m far from a diet expert but I think trimming 13kg at the age of 43 was quite an achievement and some of you might want to know how I did it.
Phase 1 – The Mad Crash Diet
I installed the Chronometer app on my phone in which I input my daily food intake. The app’s database holds the relevant nutritional data so it can track my daily calories and macro-nutrients. For two months my only target was to maximise my daily calorie deficit. My body required approximately 2000 calories for maintenance and most days I ate around 1000, giving me a whopping 1000 calorie deficit. Typically, I ate only once a day at 3pm after the gym, so I was intermittent fasting 23 hours.
In addition to this I went to the gym three times a week (half-assing it) and walked an average of 7 miles a day, equivalent to adding another 400 calories to the deficit. The result was I ended August at 76kg, a total cut of 7kg.
All was not as good as it appears. First, it wasn’t 7kg of fat. Contained in that weight was loss of glycogen muscle stores and lots of water. I also was laid up in bed three times with ‘flu, something I rarely catch under normal conditions. I was also listless and irritable. I spent every evening fantasising about food and it took tremendous willpower to keep to the diet.
Still, I lost a ton of weight so I was happy.
Phase 2 – Maintenance
It was then that my bodybuilder friend convinced me my madcap diet was foolhardy. For all of September I’d been unable to lose any more weight. I was still on regular -700 to -1000 deficits but despite ravenous hunger I couldn’t shift weight. My body had adjusted my metabolism to cope with the starvation. So, I spent one full month back on 1900 calories daily maintenance.
My weight went up to 78kg which bothered me but it was just the water and glycogen refilling. I felt much better. It was also on the third month that I began weightlifting properly. My weekly routine was split into 4 sessions. Each began with a large compound (dead-lift, bench press, barbell squat, overhead dumbbell press respectively) and then three smaller exercises. The two key principles were:
1. Reverse Pyramid Training: lift the first set at maximum load. Take 10% off the bar for the second set and try to match same reps, plus one extra. If there’s a third set, keep it same as second.
2. Progressive Overload: single-minded focus on adding weight to the bar every session, and if unable to do that, try to force out at least one more rep. Keeping pushing weight upwards.
Psychologically, my trainer encouraged me to put 100% mental focus into the first set of the first compound exercise. Max that, then just try my best for the rest of the session without undue worry. I trained six times a week. It would’ve been seven, but the gym was closed on Sunday.
Phase 3 – Sensible deficit
With my metabolism reset, I returned to daily calorie deficits, but only -300 to -500. I remained ravenously hungry at night but was no longer a slobbering beast. I still had newbie gains in the gym so was making good progress with the overloading, despite the deficit that should’ve been weakening me. This was my CNS adaptation – my central nervous system was becoming more efficient at controlling my muscles, so my strength gains were due to that more than they were to hypertrophy and repair. It’s why I could keep training six times a week.
At the end of December I’d gotten to 73kg but it was a much better body composition than my August 76kg. I wasn’t so drained. I was 50% stronger on all my lifts compared to August.
Phase 4 – Sensible recovery
My lifts plateaued in December on all the compounds, my gains limited to the secondary exercises. This suggested my newbie CNS-adaptation gains were over. Now I needed hypertrophy, which meant I needed longer recovery. So, I cut the training from six to four days and also eliminated one secondary exercise per session. I also increased rest time between sets, using a stopwatch to be precise.
From mid-December to mid-February I finally hit my goal of 70kg. The compounds were stubbornly unchanged but I was pleased to at least retain my strength under deficit conditions. It took rather a lot of willpower in the gym. While lifting, I sounded like a women’s tennis match.
I’m now doing lean gains with a calorie surplus and am up to 74kg but I’ll report back on that later. It’s a completely different process and I’ve been doing it less than two months. Early results are encouraging. So, that’s the detail. How about if I learned anything from the process? Okay, here are some thoughts…..
1. To lose weight, only calorie control really matters. You must run a daily deficit. It takes willpower because you’ll be hungry most of your waking hours.
2. Intermittent fasting helps, especially a 16-hour fast – that basically means skipping supper and breakfast. It’s very easy to do.
3. Sugar is the big killer. Cut it out of everything. Get used to bland food.
4. I’d never taken diet or weights seriously before. You absolutely must make it your first priority in life to make big fast improvement. If I’d had a job, or been daygaming, I’d have too little willpower remaining to expend in the gym and resisting bad food.
5. Almost everyone in the gym is half-assing it or training badly. I made more progress in six months than the previous five years combined. So many people do stupid routines, girly gay weights, and bad form.
6. It’s incredibly satisfying to see your body look a little better every single week.
7. Body dysmorphic disorder is real. I would take a photo in the mirror and think I looked good, then two months later look back on it and realise I was still fat then and wonder how I’d been unable to see it.
8. Everything in life became easier. Imagine how heavy a 15kg rucksack feels on your back. I’d been walking around with one of them every minute of every day. Now I’m free of it.
9. It’s astonishing what can be achieved at 44 years old 100% naturally. I look better now than I did in my mid-twenties when I was extremely fit from kickboxing (but had a shit diet). I’ve far exceeded my original target from beginning the cut.