entrepreneur's guide to fat loss (reprint)

I'm reprinting below two articles that I found very interesting about fitness from Dick Talens, the cofounder of Fitocracy.

How I Got Ripped At 500 Startups

Saturday, April 14th, 2012
Editor’s note: Dick Talens is one of the founders of Fitocracy and an amateur competitive bodybuilder. Follow him on Twitter@DickTalens.
Little sleep, lots of stress, free food at all hours, and Paul Singh constantly try to booze you under the table. Sounds like the old college days when you tried to rush for Sigma Chi, doesn’t it?
But nope. That describes life at 500 Startups.
For a former fat kid like me, it’s an environment where I can accidentally gain 15 lbs in the blink of an eye.  Put a pizza or a tray of doughnuts in front of me and I will devour the goodies without a second thought.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), being the co-founder of a fitness startup does not afford me this pleasure.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before – the myth that losing weight is impossible for the busy entrepreneur.  As a veteran dieter, amateur bodybuilder, and nutritional coach, I knew that this was wrong, and decided to prove it. My time in 500 Startups’ 4-month program turned out to be the perfect case study to show that you can still play beer pong with Dave McClure and discover your abs.
I skipped cardio
Herein lies the greatest irony: in the office, we endlessly obsess over ROI; in the gym, however, we pound away on the treadmill for hours and hours (probably while thinking about none other than ROI). What most entrepreneurs don’t realize is that cardio is the very last thing that’s going to yield an appreciable return.  Think about how many lines of code you could have written instead of all that time on the hamster wheel!
Weight loss comes from nothing more than a caloric deficit.  You can either create a caloric deficit through diet, or additional exercise.  I chose the former.  In other words, would you rather gruel through 30 minutes on the treadmill (which may actually leave you hungrier afterwards) or skip the equivalent of four Oreos per day?
I focused on strength training
Instead, my time at the gym consisted of 45 minutes/session, 3 times a week, performing only 5 exercises.  These exercises hit every single muscle group in the body.  By tracking my workouts and making sure that I increased the weight or reps that I performed each week, I ensured that I was constantly building muscle. This was great, as lean tissue burns more calories pound for pound than fat does, even while sitting all day. Below is an outline of what my routine looked like:
Monday (40 minutes) –
3 sets of barbell squats
2 sets of stiff legged deadlifts
Wednesday (45 minutes) –
3 sets of dumbbell bench press
2 sets of incline dumbbell bench press
Friday (45 minutes) –
3 sets of deadlifts
2 sets of chin-ups
2 sets of barbell rows
(Each session also included 15 minutes of light warm up sets)
Creating a caloric deficit through cardio, instead of diet and additional muscle, is like flipping burgers to pay for a developer, when you already know how to code.  You’ll also notice that I did no abdominal work, which is another low ROI exercise.  Abs already get stronger from deadlifts and squats, and it’s fat loss which gets them “defined”.
I counted calories
At the end of the day, weight loss is determined by burning more calories throughout a day than you consume.  This is the most important determinant of weight loss.  I consumed 11 times my bodyweight in calories (a good starting point for an otherwise sedentary individual), which came out to 2000 calories/day. I tracked my calories on an online calorie tracker like FitDay.com.  I did have some other tricks up my sleeve, however.
I only ate lunch and dinner
Breakfast? No thanks. “But you’ll be mentally lethargic!” is what you’re probably thinking right now.  That’s a myth.  The truth is, I’ve never been a breakfast person.  In fact, on days that I would eat breakfast, I often felt hungrier by the time lunch rolled around. I soon discovered the Leangains method, which entails skipping breakfast (a huge time saver) and consuming all of my day’s calories from lunch and dinner.  Many Leangains practitioners also report an increase in concentration and energy once they get used to breakfast skipping.
I ate lots of protein and skipped the other free snacks
While I avoided breakfast, I did not avoid protein.  In fact, I ate a lot of it, to the tune one gram per pound of bodyweight (180g for me). Eating protein kept me fuller for a longer period of time.  When free food rolled around the 500 Startups office, I only consumed the protein portions of those foods.  This kept my overall calorie intake lower while still being able to dine on Dave McClure’s tab.  From geeking out on recent nutrition studies, I knew that more protein in place of carbohydrates was beneficial in decreasing fat and increasing muscle.
I developed food staples
Since I aimed for 2,000 calories/day, I simply sourced meals that contained 1,000 calories each and ate them repeatedly for lunch and dinner.  One of those was a large plate of beef and vegetables from a Mongolian barbeque restaurant.  Another go-to was a foot-long Subway sandwich with double meat and baked chips.  These were extremely large, filling meals that left even a bottomless pit like me extremely satiated.
I restricted alcohol choices, not quantity
I limited my beverage of choice to liquor and diet soda with the occasional light beer, but I drank as much as I wanted. You see, alcohol’s fattening reputation is misleading. Alcohol in itself does not contain many calories (less than 60 calories per drink). When people talk about getting fat from college late-night partying, they conveniently forget about the Big Mac and fries they ate afterwards (as well as the not-so-attractive girl they brought home). It’s the sugary drink mixes and after party binge food that contain lots of calories, not alcohol.  I used this handy guide to determine my alcohol choices, and paid no attention to quantity.
Taking all of this into account, here is what my typical Friday looked like:
9-10am – Gym
10-12pm – Work/Meetings
Lunch – Footlong from Subway, chips, free food from 500 Startups.
12:30-8pm – Work/Meetings
Dinner – Large plate of barbeque beef with unlimited veggies
8:30-10pm – Work/Meetings
10pm – Party with the 500 crew.  Anywhere from 5-15 drinks.
I used the schedule above to achieve the results below. If it seems a little too simple, that’s because weight loss is just that – simple. There is no magic pill, no special trick.  The only secret is making sure that everything you do has high fitness ROI.
What I’m about to tell you is very powerful: Not only is weight loss possible with a hectic schedule, but it’s actually easier. Think about it. The more free time a dieter has on his/her hands, the more time he/she has to actually obsess over food. It’s why people eat when they’re bored. Thinking about dieting all the time ironically makes the process an uncomfortable, miserable one. Develop a plan with high ROI, stick to it, and then don’t think about it.  Take advantage of the fact that you’re too busy focusing on your work to focus on the tire that’s on your waist.

Note: This is a followup to the TechCrunch article that I wrote on “Getting Ripped at 500 Startups”.  I noticed that a lot of people started following the plan that I outlined in my post.  Unfortunately, the article was not really meant as a “How to” guide.  I didn’t want anyone following an incomplete version of a program and filling in the blanks with guesswork, so I decided to throw this guide together in my spare time.  This is a simplified version of Intermittent Fasting and Leangains that will work for any new dieter looking to lose weight.  For full versions, check out leangains.com and rippedbody.jp.

Disclaimer: Like any other fitness/nutrition advice, follow at your own risk.  Please consult a physician before starting any sort of training program.

Why do entrepreneurs require a specific fitness program?  Well, entrepreneurs have a special set of characteristics...

1.  A jam-packed schedule keeps them constantly busy
2.  They spend much of the day being sedentary
3.  They’re constantly surrounded by food and alcohol
4.  They want to look good (let’s be honest)
5.  Fitness is not the primary focus of their lives
6.  Their goals are usually fat loss, preventing weight gain, or more energy

Does this sound like you?  98% of entrepreneurs that I know fit these 5 characteristics.  The only way that a fitness program can help you reach your goals is if...

1.  It yields extremely high ROI on your time
2.  You don’t have to think about it
3.  It leaves you more energetic, rather than hungry and lethargic

Core concepts

Leangains/Intermittent Fasting
Leangains is a program invented by Swedish nutritionist and fitness author Martin Berkhan.  It is followed by me and almost all of my clients.  Intermittent fasting is a method where you fast for 16 hours a day and only eat in an 8-hour period (or 14 hours, 10 hours respectively for women).  This allows you to eat larger meals, save time on food preparation, increase the amount of energy you have in the morning, and aid in simultaneously building muscle and losing fat (via increased insulin sensitivity)

You can read the full rundown of Leangains here and the health benefits of intermittent fasting here.

We will be using a simplified, less granular version of Leangains, which will work very effectively for most people.  For the full version, check out http://leangains.com or http://rippedbody.jp

B… but… my mommy told me breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

There is nothing inherently good or bad about breakfast, but the fact that breakfast is needed is a myth.  Skipping breakfast has certain benefits, including:

1. More concentration/energy in the morning (once you get used to it)
2. Not having to worry about food when you first wake up
3. Allows larger meals for lunch and dinner, keeping you fuller throughout the day and less likely to snack

If you are used to breakfast, then you may be hungry in the first week because the hormone ghrelin, which regulates meal timing, kicks in at times you are used to eating.  This should subside within a week.  I have yet to have a client who has not gotten used to breakfast skipping; in fact, almost everyone prefers it once the initial phase is over.  You can drink black coffee in the morning to curb hunger.

For more information, Leangains’ Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked.

Increased protein
We’ll be aiming for 1g of protein per goal pound of bodyweight per day.  Increasing your protein intake has a ton of benefits.  First off, protein provides more satiety than any other macronutrient, so you will be fuller, for longer, and have constant energy.  Secondly, in a caloric deficit, increased protein amounts help spare muscle (which means using stored bodyfat instead), and even help build muscle if you’re strength training.  In fact, eating more protein in itself burns calories, as it has the highest thermic effect of any macronutrient.

Weights, not cardio
Cardio is one of the most inefficient ways to lose weight.  In fact, a meta-analysis of studies has shown that it is quite ineffective when it comes to weight loss.

Another study (Friedenreich 2010) showed that it took women an average of 35 hours to lose of cardio to lose 1 lb of fat.  If you do cardio, do it for fun or for health, but not to lose weight.

Strength training, on the other hand, is a great use of your time.  By lifting (relatively) heavy weights, you can build muscle, which burns calories while you’re sitting on your ass all day long.  Strength training also increases insulin sensitivity, which means that calories have a greater chance of being used towards building muscle, rather than being stored as fat.

The Setup

Step 1. Figure out your daily caloric need
The first thing that you need to do is figure out how many calories you should be consuming on a daily basis in order to lose weight.

For men, take your bodyweight (in lbs) and multiply it by 12.
For women, take your bodyweight (in lbs) and multiply it by 11.

For example, a 200 lb male will be consuming 2400 calories (2400 x 12) on this diet.

You can read more about how I derived these numbers here: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/how-to-estimate-maintenance-caloric-intake.html

Step 2.  Figure out your calories per meal
Once you have your daily caloric intake, halve the number.  This is the amount of calories that you will be consuming for each meal.  Our 200 lb male will be consuming 1200 calories per meal (2400/2).

Step 3.  Pick a feeding window
Men get a window of 8 hours, while women get a window of 10 hours.  Both of your meals must be consumed within that timeframe.  You can pick any time to start your window...  I suggest noon.

For example, your two meals will need to be consumed within these hours:
Men: 12pm and 8pm
Women: 12pm and 10pm

Step 4.  Figure out your target protein intake
This is easy.  Figure out what weight (in lbs) you want to be at and get at least that amount of protein in grams every day.

E.g. a woman who weighs 140 lbs and wants to get to 120 lbs should consume 120g of protein.  A man who weighs 200 lbs and wants to get down to 170 lbs should consume 170g of protein.

If you are not used to getting this amount of protein, consider using a protein supplement like whey or casein protein.

Step 5.  Develop a “portfolio” of meals
Start figuring out meals that fit your caloric budget and target protein intakes.  This part is fun!  Google the calories in meals of restaurants nearby you or use CalorieCount, FitDay, MyFitnessPal, or CalorieKing to start planning your meals using foods you buy at the grocery.  Make a spreadsheet with meals that contain your required calorie and protein amounts.


Again, using our 200 lb male as an example.  He wants to get down to 170 lbs.  He needs 1200 calories/meal and 170g protein/day.  Some meals on his meal plan can be...

Meal 1: 2 footlong turkey subs from subway with double meat, no mayo (1200 calories, 100g protein)

Meal 2: Salad from chipotle with double meat and guacamole, chips, scoop of whey protein (1200 calories, 85g protein)

Meal 3: 13oz top round steak, baked potato, snicker’s bar (1200 calories, 130g protein)

If he eats any two of those meals, he hits his daily totals of 2400 calories and at least 170 grams of protein.  See how enjoyable those meals are?  Steak and potatoes?  Snickers bars?  Mmmm the power of Leangains.  You can eat any of these meals because they are high in protein and fit your caloric budget.

Make a portfolio of as many of these meals as you want and go to them over and over again.

(This is a quick summary of Martin’s article on fasted training)

Training will be first thing in the morning using free weights, and it will be done fasted.   Wait a minute…  fasted?  But I won’t have any energy!

There is evidence showing that fasted training improves insulin sensitivity, boosts muscle growth, and increases glycogen storage/endurance.

Anecdotally, almost every client that I’ve had has enjoyed morning fasted training and have found that it leaves them more energetic throughout the day.  We’ll be using “Reverse Pyramid Training”, which is the highest ROI workout (~45-50 minutes/workout) that I’ve found and what I prefer to use personally.

Monday Workout 9AM
Barbell/Dumbbell Deadlift –
Set 1: 6-8 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%
Set 3: Lower the weight 10%

Chin-up (you can use an assisted machine) –
Set 1: As many as you can
Set 2: Same
Set 3: Same

Dumbbell Rows –
Set 1: 6-8 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%

Wednesday Workout 9AM
Dumbbell Bench Press –
Set 1: 8-12 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%
Set 3: Lower the weight 10%

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press –
Set 1: 8-12 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%

Friday Workout 9AM
Goblet or Barbell Squats –
Set 1: 6-8 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%
Set 3: Lower the weight 10%

Dumbbell or Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts –
Set 1: 6-8 reps (until you cannot do one more full rep)
Set 2: Lower the weight 10%

Some notes
I am using Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as the example below, but feel free to use whatever days you need to use, as long as there is a rest day separating each workout.

Get stronger every workout
On every workout, work on slightly increasing the weight or reps of your first working set of every exercise.  By doing this and getting stronger, you will be building muscle and lowering your bodyfat %.  For example, barbell deadlifts are prescribed at the 4-6 range.  If I did 4 reps of 225 lbs last week, I will try to do 5 reps the following week.  Once I hit 7 reps, then I will be outside of the prescribed rep range, and will bump the weight up to 240 lbs.  Try to go up 1-2 reps or 2% in weight every time.

On warmup setsOn each workout, I am only listing what’s called “working sets”.  These are the sets that you will strive to improve each session with either a higher weight or more reps and do not count warmup sets.  You will need to warm up with lighter weight until you hit your top working set.  For example, if your top working set on dumbbell bench press is 50 x 8, then you will probably want to warm up with 25 x 5, 30 x 3, 40 x 1.  Warmups should not be taxing in the slightest and should not interfere with your working sets.

Rest time
You should take 3-4 minutes to rest in between sets.  If that seems like a lot of time, it’s not.  By the end of your first deadlift set, for example, you should be breathing hard and will need a good 3-4 minutes in order to fully recover.

Questions? Email me at richard@fitocracy.com

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