Read Part I of The Workout here.
It may be late, but my first report on The Workout is finally here. I’m sure you weren’t waiting with bated breath, but since you’re here you may as well stick around. Let’s start proceedings by diving straight into the diary cos that’s where the best action can be found.
My Workout Diary
Monday 9th June (Day 1)
My fortnight of dietary freedom ends in the early hours of Monday morning; by 3:30 I’m asleep at last. Two hours later, I’m awake again, the alarm summoning me to the gym.
I’m all about the fitness man, but not on < 2hrs’ kip. Sure, it’s the first day of The Workout and I should be making a supreme effort, but hey, a man needs his sleep, to build muscle and to dream about qt 3.14s he will never kiss.
When I finally deign to drag myself out of bed, it’s to visit McDonald’s, not the gym. I haven’t fallen off the wagon this early – I just need McD’s for their coffee and wifi. Then it’s on to Lidl for my first official healthy shop. My basket has nary an unhealthy victual to be seen, unless you count a packet of dates. As I drop them onto the conveyor belt, a thousand date jokes course through my head, all of which conclude in a similar fashion:
My first day of clean eating is primarily spent entering all the raw ingredients into My Fitness Pal. Subsequent days will get easier, but scanning every item of shopping and weighing portions of chicken before lobbing them on the grill is a hassle. It’s also the first step towards becoming a calorie-counting health freak.
I-I’m just doing it to track my nutrients guys.
The RDA calorie limit for men is 2,500; during The McWorkout, I averaged 2,850. For The Workout, I’ve set a daily target of 2,800, a figure which can be revised as the month progresses if required.
Not content with missing the gym, I presently conspire to consume my entire day’s calorie quota and then some. My mate is having a few friends over for dinner; by the time we’ve demolished a roast followed by a couple of ciders, I’m nudging 4,000 calories. Even on my worst McDonald’s days I was never this bad.
Later, on my way into town, I get a text from my mate.
I dutifully grab him a sixer and head over. At first I decline the beer I’m offered, before later relenting. This day’s on course to be my fattest in a while, despite the clean eating; one beer isn’t going to make a difference at this late stage.
By the time I leave, it’s past midnight. I get into the car and head for home, rinsing the same tune I’ve been rinsing all day since adding it to my iPod.
It’s the sort of banger you could run miles to – it’s the sort of banger I will run miles to, when I eventually get my ass to a gym. Fuck it, there’s no time like the present.
(For more of my dubious musical choices, see the blog I wrote for Kaiga Design this week.)
Sure, I’m a beer and a couple of smokes to the good, but I’m also 4,000 calories up. Let’s do this.
And so I proceed to Pure Gym where I pump iron for 45 minutes while listening to that track on repeat. It’s awesome. My workout is awesome. Everything is awesome. Well, almost everything…
Tuesday 10th June (Day 2)
6:30am: I’m back at Pure Gym after a mere six-hour break. “I’m turning into one of those guys who works such long hours it becomes easier just to crash in the office,” I remark.
Kev is my new workout partner and together we shall embark on a quest to become fully-fledged gym bros. But first we need to develop some muscle.
We debated calling him The Hulk in this diary. We contemplated calling him Myron Gaines. But in the end we settled on Kev.
Soon we’re deep in conversation about the prospect of creating a gym you can sleep in. It could be the next big thing: a fully-equipped gym with a series of sleep pods. Some cardio bunnies seem to live there anyway; throw in a few pods with mirrored ceilings for mirin and you’d have the ultimate gym. Kev even comes up with a name for it: Gainz Station (formerly my pet name for McDonald’s).
Anyone wanna back our surefire idea on Kickstarter?
1pm: I awaken from my nap and tuck into an avocado with peanut butter. It tastes great, but then everything tastes great with peanut butter. Everything.
I’m driving to Edinburgh for a Frankie Boyle stand-up show, which means I must prepare accordingly. I leave Aberdeen clutching a bowl of chicken, fresh from the gf, and half a head of boiled broccoli.
Sure, I get some strange looks as I’m passing through Dundee, but it’s to be expected: they’ve never seen green veg before.
Upon reaching Edinburgh, things take a turn for the dirtier as I slug a large whisky, a pint of beer, a cocktail and a bottle of 5AM. Still, it’s not all bad: I collect a month’s supply of Graze boxes which have been stacking up at my mate’s.
Now all I need to do is stop drinking erry day.
Wednesday 11th June (Day 3)
“What’s this? Can I open it?”
E prods at the top of the dashboard as we drive to the beach.
“That’s the airbag,” I explain. “It only opens if you crash.”
“Crash the car then,” she orders.
I may be eating clean, but I’ll allow myself an ice cream with my daughter. The girls tolerated my weird eating habits last month; they deserve to have a normal dad again, even if I’ll be eating like a clean freak in private and engaging in other unconventional behaviour.
11pm: I round off the evening with a tin of beer at my mate’s, another alcohol-free day narrowly avoided.
Thursday 12th June (Day 4)
12pm: I enter Lidl and stride past the bread section, the smell of freshly baked cookies and all things doughy tantalising my senses.
Not today gluten. I love you, but we can’t be buds right now.
Last month’s McWorkout diaries were filled with gratuitous pics of stodgy McDonald’s meals. This month, they’re destined to be replaced with pics of the gf, complete with dodgy puns about browning meat in my grill.
Get used to it.
3pm: I must be the only guy who sits eating lean chicken in the car park before entering McDonald’s. I order a coffee before using the stirrer to mix my protein shake.
This month, I’ll be eating zero burgers and zero fries, whilst gobbling up that free wifi and cheap coffee. Don’t serve McDonald’s: make McDonald’s serve you.
6pm: After eating two Graze snacks from the stash in my car, I’ve got 862 calories left. That ought to be enough to cover a light evening meal and pre-bed snack. There’s just one problem: it’s the first day of the World Cup. Which means lots of this:
10pm: I’m three beers to the good. Any more and I’m gonna go hurtling over my calorie threshold for the fourth day in succession.
As it stands though, I’ve got a whopping 21 still to play with. Then Bob hands me another bottle.
Friday 13th June (Day 5)
My days are merging into one, an infinite, indistinguishable struggle to source lean protein. I feel like a hunter gatherer, only as good as my last meal, my survival only assured by the arrival of my next.
I take care of my gains and my gains take care of me.
2pm: My neighbour txts me to say that his gf has just bought a gf.
Let the gf wars begin.
4pm: The last of my grilled chicken breasts has been consumed. This leaves me the grand total of 720 calories to get through till bedtime.
11pm: I’ve hit my calorie quota for the day. If I was to go to bed now, I could sleep soundly. The only trouble is, there’s a World Cup match to watch. Sleep ain’t happening any time soon so I’m gonna need to eat.
I pick out the least calorific food I can find in my kitchen and whack it on the grill.
Saturday 14th June (Day 6)
A few weeks ago, I observed: “The McWorkout does strange things to body and mind.”
Today, I was forced to reflect on those words as I found myself recording the raw weight of chicken breasts to determine the amount lost in the grilling process.
My phone is full of annotations and strange shopping lists, while my estimative powers (“That’s 100g, that’s a 40/30/30 nutrient split, that’s 200 cals”) are so sharp they deserve their own LinkedIn profile.
It’s the first time I’ve owned a set of scales that aren’t used for nefarious purposes. The me of ten years ago would be most disappointed. (Don’t worry, bad-ass ex-me: I do occasionally still use them for those purposes.)
The Workout does strange things to body and mind.
“What’s in there?” asks K glancing at the tupperware box on the front seat.
“Chicken,” I reply.
She opens it and peers cautiously inside. “Yuk.”
I take back everything I said about being a normal dad: I may be eating healthily this month, but my behaviour is just as erratic.
K is staying with me for the next 24 hours, most of which are spent listening to her prattle on about loom bands. It’s all she talks about. It’s all her classmates talk about. It’s all anyone under the age of ten seems to talk about.
From what I can gather, K is well on her way to becoming the Tony Montana of P4, a mover and shaker of all things loom.
“Online you get 100 S-clips for £1 so I gave mum £2 to get me 200,” she chatters. “At school you can swap 5 S-clips for one bracelet but I was then swapping the S-clips for C-clips cos Cs are rare.”
“Leon does them. Granny says they had loom when she was little but the colours weren’t as bright.”
“Can we go to Tesco? I wanna get loom bands.”
“You know mum’s getting me 3,000?”
16:30: “Loom bands are like hardly anywhere in the world right now.”
I’m pretty sure that’s because K has been stockpiling them to drive up street prices.
“That’s what this village needs: a sweet shop and a separate shop that sells loom bands.”
During our Tesco visit (where there was no loom to be found), we pick up smoothie ingredients – or milkshake ingredients in K’s case. Last month, Patrick’s girlfriend loaned me a smoothie maker for use during The Workout.
The time has come to dust it down and delve deeper into the rabbit hole of healthfreakery.
No one ever just makes a smoothie: they make a smoothie and then take a bunch of pictures and start extolling its virtues to all their friends. Look:
Since you asked, the ingredients for my smoothie – plus every other meal I ate this week – can be found later in today’s blog.
10pm: When K falls asleep, I pop across the landing to watch the Nigels get cuffed by the Italians. There, my second beer of the evening sends me over the 3,000 calorie mark for the fifth time in six days.
Sunday 15th June (Day 7)
All week I’ve eaten clean while subsisting on the simplest fare known to man. Poaching a couple of eggs or wapping some meat on the gf is as complex as it’s got.
For today’s lunch, I’ve decided go all out by attempting to cook a whole trout. It’s the first time I’ve used the oven since The Workout started, or indeed since I moved in three months ago, come to think of it.
I make a few incisions, dollop some Nando’s BBQ marinade (which seems to go with everything), wrap it in foil and get on with my life for the next 20 minutes.
When I peel back the foil, the silvery fish is soft and pink inside. Well, that was easy. I serve it with a bag of kale which I blast in the microwave for five minutes.
A packet of kale contains less than 90 calories. When it comes to green veg, you can pretty much go cray cray with that shit – sit in a darkened room munching on broccoli florets if you like. It’s probably impossible to comfort eat yourself fat on green veg, though feel free to accept that challenge.
At 4:30 I jump into McD’s for summa that sweet wifi. The queue is interminable and the tables are packed with excitable kids and weary parents. Is this really how you wanted to spend Father’s Day? Really?
Ah, shucks guys, who am I to judge? You’re not the only dads spending your allotted day in a Gainz Station.
Like the Wal-Mart lowering its prices, the McDonald’s menu is tempting me with a plethora of new choices. The Big Tasty back on the menu. Mars and Snickers McFlurries. Onion rings. Surely one meal wouldn’t hurt?
Sorry McDonald’s. You’re so last month.
The queue is so long I don’t even get round to ordering a coffee: after siphoning off 40 mins’ wifi, I abandon thread and beat a hasty retreat.
Later, at Tesco, a disposable grill taunts me for not having a disposable grill.
>tfw no match.
Back at the flat, I climb into bed (alone) and sit reading a fitness mag (alone), shaking my head with bemusement at the increasingly alpha ads.
I fall asleep (alone), pondering what a Prisoner Bulgarian Split Squat might entail.
If you’re following The Workout purely for entertainment, this is the point where we bid farewell until Monday. If you’re following for health and fitness reasons, read on: this is the point where we delve into the minutiae of eating clean and training dirty.
Mad feelz, mad gainz
It may be partially psychological, but already I feel stronger than at any stage in The McWorkout. It wasn’t until the end of my fast foodathon that I felt confident I would have some sort of gains to show for my efforts. One week into The Workout, and I’m feeling good. Barring a major case of fuck-this-shit-I’m-out, I should be in much better shape by the end of the month.
How much of this improvement is due to eating clean? Probably quite a lot, but I’ll be better placed to assess that later in the month.
Because I’m not eating bread or gluten (as outlined in Rule # 4 of The Workout), carb consumption is much lower than normal. This means that most of my nutrition is coming from fat and protein instead. Without the feeling of fullness that comes from carbs, it’s possible to consume 2,800 calories a day and still have room for more, as I discovered every day this week.
On Friday, for example, I noted:
14:30: It’s only 90 minutes since I last ate and I’m starving. Lesson: Don’t cut carbs. Swap the crappy carbs you’re eating for complex ones, but don’t dingy them altogether.
Despite that revelation, I kept my carb consumption to a minimum for the remainder of the week, figuring that it would be interesting to discover what a week of low carbs does for weight and body fat.
When I re-tested these stats yesterday, it was to find mixed results:
After a week, my weight has decreased by 300 grams – but my body fat has increased by 1%. This isn’t too surprising when you look at Week 1’s nutritional breakdown:
Most of it may have been healthy fats, but percentage-wise that’s still a lot of lard – far in excess of the 40/30/30 Carbs/Fat/Protein ratio I’d targeted.
While I’ve trained hard this week, completing six gym sessions, I’ve also consumed a helluva lot of calories – 3,500 over my weekly target. Had I been eating the male RDA – 2,500 – I would have wound up 5,500 calories over my target.
That’s more than two days’ excess eating crammed into a week.
Lesson 2: If you want to hit your calorie target, don’t drink alcohol six days a week.
So what carbs should I be eating to sate hunger pangs and lower fat intake? To find out more, click the tab below, in which Dr Chris talks complex carbs in simple terms.
During the week I emailed Dr Chris:
“Do you have any thoughts on what my carb/fat/protein ratio should be? 40/30/30 would appear to be the conventional web wisdom. So far however, because I’ve not replaced the carbs in wraps etc with anything else, my nutrient intake is more like 20/55/25 i.e fat is making up the bulk of my diet. It’s all ‘good’ fats, but still…
The plan is for me to start accompanying my grilled chicken and green veg with sweet potato/butternut squash etc but tbh I haven’t had the time yet to boil and grill root vegetables.”
“As long at the fat content is good fat, that is OK. Otherwise you are just repeating the McD’s month! I would try to eat more protein and the extra carbs you suggest are perfect. It is when the carbs come from loads of bread or pastry, biscuits or cakes that the health aspect goes out the window.
Your [suggested] butternut squash and other veggies are a good option. Also brown rice (the decent stuff from a wholefood shop – not the white rice coloured brown, which is often “quick cook” as well). Decent brown rice should take about 20-25 mins to cook.
You could also add in beans (not just the ones in tomato sauce). Make a bean and veg casserole. Saute some onion and garlic then chuck in chunks of potato, carrot, courgette etc and empty a few tins of butter beans, chick peas, haricot beans (whatever you like) with a tin of tomatoes too. Sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese on top, and/or serve with brown rice. Loads of carbs in that lot – but the good ones!
Alternatively, you can make a salad: loads of chopped lettuce, sliced avo, tomatoes, peppers etc (whatever you like and is cheap), tin of butter beans or chickpeas with some toasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole almonds or Brazils, cashews thrown in too with a spicy balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. Make this yourself – don’t buy a bottle of 1000 island dressing. They are gloopy and poor quality fats.”
If you’re looking to start eating healthier, you could do worse than to crtl+c ctrl +v Dr Chris Fenn’s words, which provide a good starting point.
I took her advice to heart, but deferred heeding it it for a few more days, explaining:
“What I’m gonna do is up my carb intake from Monday, purely because I’ve made it this far through the week with precious little of them, so I’m intrigued to see what a week of low carbs/high protein/high unsaturated fat does in terms of weight and body fat. It’s not an exact science of course, cos the exercise I’ve been doing this week will also have shaped these stats to some extent.
I certainly wouldn’t want to live without carbs on a permanent basis: I’ve felt really good this week, but I also get hungry quickly without the fullness that carbs usually provide.”
Dr Fenn can be found on Twitter and at ChrisFenn.com
The recommended daily calories for men and women is 2,500 and 2,000 respectively, but there’s room for negotiation depending on the amount of exercise you’re doing and that most contentious of variables – your metabolism.
I’ve always been skinny which, according to everyone less skinny than me is “because you’re blessed with a fast metabolism”.
“It couldn’t be because I avoid fizzy juice, sweets and crisps?”
“No, it’s your fast metabolism.”
As noted earlier, I’ve exceeded my weekly calorie target by over 3,500. Still, if there’s going to be a week where I overload on calories, it might as well be week one. That way, should those excess cals lead to fat storage, I can cut back accordingly.
As Dr Chris explained during The McWorkout:
“It is not just a matter of calories in V calories out. It is possible for a person eating 2,000 calories (mainly from refined carbohydrates and starch) to put on weight, whilst if they ate 2,000 calories (mainly from fat and protein foods) they would lose weight. All calories are not the same.”
My Fitness Pal
How would you like to be friends? Well if you use My Fitness Pal, we can be best buds. I’m not quite sure what the benefits of being MFP BFFs entail, but we can worry about that later.
For those of you slim or sane enough not to care about faithfully logging every last morsel, you can still view my profile, where you’ll find a complete breakdown of meals and nutrition – data that should come in handy if you’re planning to jump on that fitness train.
For the first five days of the week, my meal settings are all to fuck: lunch is filed under snacks, for example. That’s because on Friday I updated MFP’s settings to record five meals a day instead of the default three (plus snacks). Ignore week one’s meal times then: all you need to know is that I ate a bunch of food spaced out over the course of the day.
From week two onwards, I have the following meal categories to choose from:
You can find My Fitness Pal profile here, including food diary and nutrition charts. To see exactly what I ate this week – yes, we’re talking full food porn – click on the tab below. Calorie totals and prep time are also included, in case you want to recreate these meals on your gf at home.
You do have a gf, right?
Week 1 Meals
For those who care about such matters, every last morsel I ate in week one can be viewed in MFP. There follows a summary of the main meals I ate in case you’d like to replicate these ‘recipes’, which largely consist of grilling some shit, seasoning some shit and throwing it on a plate. I’ll get more adventurous in week two and start peeling vegetables, I promise. Calories and prep time are also included, so you can determine the level of investment that eating clean entails. Spoiler: it’s piss easy.
Click on the day of the week for a complete breakdown of everything I ate (snacks, coffee and alcohol included):
Breakfast: Porridge. (Microwave sachet, but I’ll be switching to proper oats once I’ve used up my Oatlilicious.) Prep/Cook: 1 + 2 mins. Cals: 286
Lunch: Trout fillet salad w/ cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, spinach & cucumber. Prep/Cook: 2 mins. Cals: 374
Dinner: Grilled chicken breast w/ spinach, green beans, sweet red pepper & mozzarella. Prep/Cook: 2 + 12 mins. Cals: 575
A good day for: Eating a fuckton of calories. A bad day for: Eating a fuckton of calories.
Breakfast: 6 cherry tomatoes & 1 avocado (pre-gym) plus mackerel fillet, mozza, light mayo and spinach (post-gym). Prep/Cook: 1 + 1 mins. Cals: 648
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast, mozza & broccoli. Prep/Cook: 1 + 12 mins. Cals: 603
Dinner: Jerk-style boneless chicken and half a fishcake (pub food). Calories (we’ll ignore the cocktail it was washed down with): 543
A good day for: Fish. A bad day for: Alcohol (though it felt pretty good at the time).
Breakfast I: Avocado & 2 Graze snacks (express brekky cos I was on the road). Breakfast II: Grilled pork loin & spinach. Prep/Cook: 1 + 10 mins. Cals (# II only): 416
Lunch: Trout fillet, kale & seeds. Prep/Cook: 1 + 5 mins. Cals: 414
Dinner: Porridge with blueberries followed by a Graze box. Cals: 394
A good day for: Carbs. A bad day for: Fat. I went 76g over my daily target of 93g. That’s 180% (though saturated fat was only 1/3 over).
Breakfast: Tuna chunks mixed w/ light mayo & grilled sweet red pepper. Prep/Cook: 3 + 5 mins. Cals: 169
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast w/ grilled courgette, black olives & Nando’s sauce (I’ll eat their condiments but I still hate their restaurants). Prep/Cook: 2 + 12 mins. Cals: 458
Dinner: Chicken tandoori w/ salad (takeaway). Cals: 270
A good day for: Sugar. I consumed just 2/3 of my daily target. A bad day for: Protein. I ate less than 50% of my target.
Breakfast I: 2 poached eggs w/ grilled red onion & sweet red pepper. Prep/Cook: 2 + 6 mins. Cals: 279
Breakfast II: Mackerel fillet w/ raw spinach and mozzarella. Prep/Cook: 1 min. Cals: 489
Lunch: Grilled pork loin w/ grilled courgette, light mayo, spinach & mozza. Prep/Cook: 2 + 10 min. Cals: 518
(I also ate 367g of grilled chicken between lunch and dinner but that disclosure – and many more like it – can be found in MFP diary.)
Dinner: Two bacon rashers w/ smoked salmon & scrambled egg (cooked by Coz). Cals: 470
A good day for: Protein – I ate 257g. That’s more than 3g per kilo of bodyweight. A bad day for: Carbs. I ate just 13% of my target. Still, dat protein.
Breakfast: 2 poached eggs w/ grilled red pepper & bbq peri peri marinade. Prep/Cook: 1 + 6 mins. Cals: 256
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast, cooked spinach, sunflower seeds, peri peri marinade, red onion, black olives. Prep/Cook: 1 + 12 mins. Cals: 662
Dinner: Homemade smoothie w/ oats, milk, strawberries, grapes & mango. Prep: 3 mins. Cals: 435
A good day for: Hitting my daily nutrition targets. For the first time all week, the 40/30/30 carbs/fat/protein ratio was almost achieved.
A bad day for: McDonald’s Corporation. I enjoyed my first McD’s-free day since Barcelona, a month ago.
Breakfast: Grilled aubergine & 2 poached eggs.
Prep/Cook: 1 + 7 mins.
Breakfast II: Strawberry, banana, oats & grape smoothie.
Prep: 1 min.
Lunch: Baked rainbow trout with kale, seeds & bbq sauce. Prep/Cook: 3 + 20 mins. Cals: 406
Dinner: Thai pork salad (cooked by a mate, hence Dat Presentation). Cals: 488
A good day for: Cooking and being cooked for. A bad day for: Alcohol. Again.
For the most part, I haven’t cooked properly (firing up the gf doesn’t count), but I’ve certainly eaten healthily. I’ve enjoyed all my hastily assembled meals, but these have been the pick of the bunch:
Trout salad: So easy that even a crack baby could make it. Buy a Lidl trout fillet, a mozza ball, some spinach and some sunflower seeds. Assemble on a plate. Eat.
Late night snack: Grilled aubergine. Just that, with some seasoning and a dash of chilli sauce. Americlaps call it eggplant because they can’t pronounce aubergine.
This week has been all about the weights, save for a couple of fast 2k runs on the treadmill. (Technically they were just warm ups, though I wasn’t holding back.) Next week I’ll be looking to add more cardio including interval training.
Tuesday: Chest + legs + 5 mins abs
Wednesday: Shoulders + 10 mins abs
Thursday: Incline chest + triceps
Friday: Traps & squats + 10 mins abs
Saturday: Chest + 15 mins abs
Sunday: Rest day, as ordered by the big man upstairs
Next week I’ll pick a muscle group and detail the exercises I find most effective. If you’re a seasoned gym bro, my pickings probably won’t hold much interest; for beginners or casual gym-goers, however, this shit should be useful.
At this juncture, I’d better throw in a disclaimer lest anyone accuse me of strutting around like Maximus Gainus. Just because I ate McDonald’s for a month while going to the gym doesn’t make me some sort of fitness expert: I’ve still got a lot to learn.
My current level of knowledge is based on:
Acquired wisdom: I’ve dabbled in weight-lifting and running for years, with occasional spells of activity broken by long periods of indolence. I’ve learned a few things along the way, even if I’ve only recently begun putting them into practice.
Ongoing learning: I read the usual fitness mags and am getting pretty good at differentiating the bro science from the actual science: not everything the fitness industry says can be taken verbatim, but they’re good for supplying workout tips and meal plans.
Work: One of my ongoing jobs calls for writing about fitness and nutrition. I ain’t no Nutritional Consultant (that’ll be Dr Chris Fenn), but I’ve got the basics covered and I’m learning fast.
A morsel of K’s rowie, a bite of a wrap and a couple of thumb-sized baguettes that were in a Graze box is the only bread I’ve had this week. 9/10.
I’ve drank alcohol six days this week. Pretty shocking for a supposedly healthy week, but hey, if you wanna learn what clean living, intense training and drinking like a normal human being does, we’re on course to find out. 3/10.
Gym work = good. Everything else = bad. 6/10.
Catch up on The Workout and its unhealthy predecessor here.
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