They say abs are made in the kitchen, so my recent efforts to build muscle as part of a 12-week body-transformation challenge meant I had to pay attention to my diet like never before.
Thankfully, some of the hassle was taken out of my hands because I used a food-delivery service, Fresh Fitness Foods, that brought tailored meals to my home – but anyone looking to bulk up for the first time should know that managing your nutritional needs doesn’t come easy. Here’s six things I learned…
1. Food will become an obsession
Prior to working out, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner without much thought, and had snacks here and there. I also drank alcohol occasionally, and felt happy to raise a glass at friends’ birthdays and during work outings.
That approach served me well, but it won’t work if you’re serious about bulking up. Instead, expect to register the exact calorie count and composition of every foodstuff you encounter (the MyFitnessPal app is good for this); to time your meals so they best support your training needs; and to be a bore at restaurants until you fully know your stuff. I found myself frequently asking about salad dressings (“can I have it on the side?”).
Also, spontaneous after-work drinks, should such a thing again prove possible over the coming months, will go out the window. If you want to make quick progress, it’s more likely you’ll start rationing boozy nights out (“I’ll be drinking at Steve’s wedding on Saturday, so can’t during Rob’s leaving do on Friday”).
2. You will learn what ‘macros’ are
This is short for macronutrients and details how much fat, protein and carbohydrates are contained in the food you’re eating. The amount matters because you’ll need a finely balanced diet for your exercise regime to be truly efficient. Overall expect your knowledge of nutrition to increase dramatically, but try not to go on about it too much to colleagues and friends. Nobody else cares about what you’ve eaten that day.
3. You won’t go hungry
It takes a lot of calories to bulk up, about 3,000 or so per day in my case. That’s an easy target to reach if you’re downing milkshakes and pizza, but more demanding if everything you’re eating is healthy.
In my case, Fresh Fitness Food delivered four pre-prepared, microwave-ready meals per day, plus one snack. A typical day’s delivery might include tonka and coconut yoghurt with fruit compote and sticky coconut rice for breakfast; citrus chicken with veg and quinoa for lunch; umami-spiced fish with stir-fried veg, noodles and miso for dinner; spiced chicken with Kerala vegetables and cinnamon-baked cauliflower and rice for my second evening meal; plus maybe some peanut butter fudge cups as a snack.
The meals were tasty, but eating so much felt laborious, particularly as my training regime progressed and I was supplementing deliveries with rice puddings, extra protein shakes and night-time almond-butter yoghurt. I was always full, sometimes uncomfortably.
4. You will spend a lot of money
For the 12 weeks of my routine, I was spending £50 per month on protein shakes alone. Fresh Fitness Food deliveries cost a minimum of £23 per day. On days away from home, I was buying pricey pre-cooked chicken breasts from supermarkets to eat on the go.
More generally, the supposed significance to my regime of every mouthful I was consuming meant that I placed more emphasis on ordering organic and high-quality meat and produce if eating out, which was invariably more costly. The only saving of note was down to cutting out booze, and there was also a bit of clawback due to sweets, chocolate, sugary drinks and takeaways being taken off the menu.
5. A question of waste
After concluding my training programme I didn’t consider continuing my food-delivery programme because the amount of plastic containers I had accumulated felt too ridiculous and wasteful (I ended up passing surplus packaging on to friends, neighbours, friends of friends and local charities.) Fresh Fitness Foods has since upgraded to compostable containers.
Conversely, again preparing my own meals from scratch has made me aware that too much of the food I buy goes to waste. I now try to plan my meals more scrupulously, rather than chucking food into my trolley just because it catches my attention or is on offer. The most organised weight lifters often make meals in batches and freeze the surplus.
6. Real-world rehabilitation is hard
Resuming conventional eating habits after concluding a training programme can be jarring – after three months’ avoidance, I had almost forgotten supermarkets existed (of course, in the age of Covid, the opportunity to avoid supermarkets entirely is now another selling point).
One drawback to using a food-delivery service and having someone else think everything through for you is that maintaining a comparable diet afterwards can be confusing – it’s the ‘give a man a fish, teach a man to fish’ adage for the Instagram age. It took me some time to find the right balance between eating for function and fun, by following a reasonably healthy diet much of the time but allowing myself to again indulge occasionally and enjoy drinks out with friends.
For more on Fresh Fitness Food, visit freshfitnessfood.com
Read more about John’s fitness challenge here