I did a few photo shoots and decided to do them to test out how to get lean and photoshoot (or competition) ready on a vegetarian/vegan diet as it is not something I have done or knew how to do since becoming vegetarian. Though I am vegetarian, the meal plan that I followed (for just under two months) leading up to the shoots was a vegan diet.
For the shoots I wanted to be lean, vascular and full, but not as lean as I would need to be for a fitness/bodybuilding competition. So if I had planned to compete in such a competition I would probably have needed to extend the preparation a few weeks to get a lot more shredded and lose that last bit of fat around the lower abs (which is always the last bit of fat to go for me :/ ).
In this post (Part 1) I will cover the background, my diet, what I ate and how I manipulated my calories as well as the overall strategy. In Part 2 I will cover the training and cardio and the final week leading up to the shoots as well as a bit of information on carb cycling that I did.
A little history:
Some time ago I was lucky enough to compete in a few bodybuilding shows, and throughout the preparation I managed to learn quite a bit about leaning down and shedding body fat. I was not vegetarian then and really focused on, and put a lot of emphasis on protein consumption during that time.
When preparing for a competition (or when wanting to lose body fat), my basic approach has always been very simple:
- Step 1: Clean up the diet and become consistent every day.
I cut out any junk and extra food such as take aways, eating out etc. and had a fixed meal schedule. I also made sure to have the same portion sizes, meal frequency and mostly the same foods everyday, keeping protein the same throughout and not decreasing it.
- Step 2: Keep the training consistent, keeping relatively heavy weights and add in one session of HIIT cardio per week.
- Step 3: After 2 weeks add in another 1 or 2 HIIT sessions.
- Step 4: Check body fat levels every week. If they are reducing gradually then don’t change anything. If body fat doesn’t seem to reduce then decrease a portion of the carbs from one meal.
Repeat step 4 a few times week after week.
- Step 5: Add in another HIIT session or increase intensity of existing sessions.
While it is a very basic approach it did the job and worked well. I also included some carb cycling about 2 – 3 weeks before the competition but more on that later.
Since becoming vegetarian I have not worried much about protein and focused more on total calories and I have realised we don’t really need as much protein as we think, even as bodybuilders. We also should not fear the elusive carbs!
My one concern with trying to lean down while on a vegan diet was the process of manipulating carbohydrates and isolating protein, since many vegetables that I eat and that contain protein also contain significant carbohydrates such as lentils or beans or oats. Thus this aspect was the main part of the preparation that I wanted to experiment with and see what I would do.
I followed the basic approach as before (as above) starting with Step 1 to Step 3. I had mostly been training in calisthenics with not a lot of weights, so I started to include a lot more weight training and muscle isolation training into my workouts.
An outline of the diet I followed is below:
Full Vegan diet:
- Meal 1: 120 grams Oats, 1 banana
- Meal 2: 1 Apple, 200 grams Rice, 150 grams Chick peas/butter beans
- Meal 3: 1 Apple, Peanut butter sandwich X 2
Training: +- 2 – 3 hours.
- Meal 4: 200 grams Sweet potato, 200 grams Green lentils, Green salad
- Late night Snack: 1 tbsp peanut butter.
I had been following a rough version of the above meal plan for a few months before I started the prep, although I was not very strict, allowing myself to eat out or eat other foods as I felt I wanted to. When the prep started and I cut out all the extra ‘junk’ and the above diet was the foundation of what I followed and ate.
It is not a lot of total calories but it worked for me, though I probably could have added in a few more calories. I used no supplements and also had one cheat meal once a week, which really helped.
I followed this diet for about three weeks before I had to adjust anything, losing about +- 0.4 Kgs per week. The side by side images within this article are in chronological (from top to bottom and left to right) order to show the gradual process and small changes as the weeks went by. In most of the pictures I was quite flat due to the lower calories but once I raised the calories slightly, the muscle fullness started to come.
- The first adjustment I made was to reduce the amount of carbs in meal 3 from 2 peanut butter sandwiches down to 1. ( I also do not like eating a lot before training so this was great)
- The second adjustment was in Meal 2 from 200 grams rice down to 150 grams rice.
- The third adjustment was in Meal 4 from 200 grams Sweet potato down to 150 grams.
- The fourth adjustment I made was in Meal 4 from 200 grams Green lentils to 160 grams green lentils.
So you can see the changes were very small and nothing too extravagant. Each adjustment was made after a week where no or very little fat loss was made. So over the period of about 2 months I only lost +- 4 Kgs, which was roughly what I wanted to lose. I was more concerned about the way I looked rather than what the scale showed.
As I said, since becoming vegetarian I have not focused so much on protein intake (nor do I monitor calories really, it’s mostly done in my head) as I did before and through this experience I realised that all that needs to be done is to just focus on quality natural foods and manipulate the direct sources of carbohydrates. Don’t worry about cutting all carbs or trying to keep protein extremely high, focus slightly on each macronutrient but be more concerned with overall calories and quality foods. Simplicity always works best so remember to not complicate your life!
In part two I will briefly cover more on my training and cardio and the final week leading up to the shoot as well as what I did for the carb cycling :) Some photos from some of the shoots can be seen on our Flickr account below.
I have also decided to give Intermittent Fasting a try, and I will do a write up about my experiences with it soon.