how i'm fixing my diet and lifting
Back in Feb 2019, I evolved from lifting weights very casually and eating poorly to lifting more seriously with a program and paying more attention to my protein, carb, and fat intake. After doing this for years, I want to talk about what I've learned and what I'm changing after reaching a plateau.
When i started lifting seriously, I chose to work through the Stronglifts 5x5 program. This program is amazing for beginners in the gym who want to explosively increase the amount of weight they can lift in a short period of time. It focuses on 4 main lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and Bench Press. These 4 movements are the ones you'll see repeated in many different programs and for good reason - they're all compound movements that work out your entire body. This program netted me great initial results: my ass and legs grew a bunch from all the squatting, my posture got better, and overall I looked better in clothing. It was great, but eventually it was time to move on because you can't possibly add weight every single week forever - eventually, it gets too heavy, and you need to move to an intermediate program.
During the time before Covid, I started working through Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program. This plan is similar to Stronglifts in that it focuses on the same 4 core lifts, but the difference is that you add weight once a month, instead of every workout, and you get to do other accessory lifts on top of the main stuff. I started this program before Covid and then resumed after the gyms re-opened. It's worth noting I did go back to an intermediate variant of Stronglifts, called Madcow 5x5 for a brief period before resuming 5/3/1, so I could get back to the larger weight I was lifting pre-Covid. 5/3/1 is only meant for people who already progressed out of the beginner weights, so going right back to that after taking a lifting hiatus wouldn't have made sense.
Overall, the time doing 5/3/1 was underwhelming. Since 2019, my Squat went from 135lbs (~61kg) to 315lbs (142kg) and all my other lifts had similarly large gains, but from about 2021 to 2023, my body remained mostly the same and I never questioned if there was something I'm missing. So the weights were going up and I wasn't seeing change. But let's take a break to talk about food real quick.
So in 2019, I said I started to pay more attention to my protein, fat, and carb intake (we'll refer to them as "macros" going forward). This is totally true, but I only made an effort to consume things I thought were good for me. I ate a lot of eggs and oatmeal, had protein shakes to supplement my meals, and tried to avoid sugars as much as possible.
But then at around 2020, I started tracking my food with an app. This is huge because I finally understood why my diet wasn't getting me where I wanted to be. I don't think most people realize that if you're struggling to gain weight and muscle mass, it's because you're not eating enough. I know you think you are, but really, you're not. Once I started tracking my food, I realized I was still consuming more carbs than anything else, not eating enough protein, and definitely eating less calories than I should for my goal of gaining weight. But when I made more of an effort to get visibility into this, I corrected my eating and my weight very quickly went from 170lbs (77kg) to 210lbs (95kg) in about a year. In 2023, I'm sustaining that 210lb weight by eating 50% protein, 30% fats, and 20% carb intake in roughly 2200-2500 calories (on a perfect day). And I'm 5'9". All while just doing the 5/3/1 program at the gym with very little or no cardio.
So What's the Problem?
The problem is that it's been 2 years of eating consistently and going to the gym, and I've seen very little change from my body and have basically just sustained my appearance while slowing progressing how much weight I'm lifting. I was hitting personal records (PRs) in the gym, but I started to realize lifting more and more weight wasn't my goal - it was to change how I looked.
So with all this experience and understanding what my body doesn't respond to, I created some new goals for myself going forward. First, I'm going to stop focusing so much on strength training (AKA lifting as much as possible for a lower amount of reps) and instead focus more on Hypertrophy training (more intensity by lifting more reps and going until failure). This is going to be done by following the Stronger By Science: Reps to Failure routine. I'm in week 2 of this 21-week plan, and I can honestly already recommend it. It's $10 for 6 different options in programming, but I swear it's a really amazing, configurable program that is going to beat your ass.
The second goal is to move more. I'm walking about 60 minutes per day. 30 minutes in the afternoon to get some sunshine on my body for my mental health, and another 30 minutes in the evening to make sure I'm counterbalancing the sitting I do all day while working from home. These times might increase - we'll see.
And finally, the third goal is to continue my diet, but rely less on protein shake supplements, and instead make more of an effort to cook lunches and dinners that are filling and dense with carbs and protein. My fat intake is still going to come from mostly almonds that I throw in a protein shake.
The Plan (Lifting)
Here's my basic plan for lifting that I configured myself using the Stronger By Science: Reps to Failure plan I linked above. The weights and amount of repetitions each week vary, but the gist is that you do 4 sets of a lift, then go for as many reps as possible on a final 5th set.
5 sets Squats
5 sets Dumbell Overhead Press
5 sets Lu Raises
5 sets Hip Thrust
5 sets Bench Press
5 sets Hack Squat (holy fuck these are hard)
5 sets Assisted Pullups
5 sets Hamstring Curls
5 sets Deadlift
5 sets Spoto Press
5 sets Cable Rows
5 sets Dumbbell Flys
5 sets Overhead Press
5 sets Paused Squat
5 sets Dumbbell Split Squat
5 sets Lu Raises
5 sets Incline Press
5 sets Romanian Deadlift
5 sets Assisted Pullups
5 sets Russian Twist
walk for 60 minutes
The Plan (Diet)
okay obviously this is the goal, but this isn't going to be everyday - just most days. I'm still going to eat pizza and get nutty some days.
9-10am: Drink protein shake (protein powder, greek yogurt, 1/4 cup of almonds)
12-3pm: Eat quick lunch (lately it's been bell peppers, chicken sausage or flap steak, and 1/2 cup of rice)
5-7pm: Eat dinner (just a protein and a vegetable since I ate my carbs earlier in the day)
7-9pm: Another protein shake (protein powder, greek yogurt, 1/4 cup of almonds)
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