The lessons (and the science) of getting back in shape

Amsterdam, Noord Holland, The Netherlands.

I feel proud and satisfied. The week is almost gone and some good things happened. Inspiring things. I look forward to what will come. Although the nature of my happiness is not solely due to the results I received today it will be the subject of this post.

Almost 5 weeks ago I entered a 12-week hypertrophy program designed by my buddies at Evolve Personal Health Institute (click on the link and you will see my face again but now on their homepage promoting mindfulness). Hypertrophy ‘involves an increase in size of skeletal muscle through an increase in the size of its component cells’. In short: it is a program designed to make you build muscle. I joined because I liked the idea of going through physical transformation where I normally focus more on spiritual transformation and growth.

The first 21 days of the program we (6 other guys and me) were put on a pretty strict diet. 5 of us needed to lose weight, 2 of us needed to gain weight. The skinny guys needed to learn to eat 6 times per day, the bigger guys needed to watch what they eat (none of us are obese though). We all need to eat ‘clean’. That means no gluten, no carbs, no fruit, no sugar, no dairy, no caffeine. Just meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and lots of veggies. All preferably organic, sustainable and – in case of the beef – from grass fed happy cows. Fluid comes from water or green tea, nothing else. No calorie intake from drinks. Post work-out protein come from Sun Warrior and is plant-based, not whey.

It is not that difficult to stick to the diet for me. My body likes the food and thrives on it. The only thing is that it becomes a bit boring: veggies with fish, veggies with minced beef, veggies with chicken. Eat 4 portions a day and even when you have a lot of variation in your meals you still eat veggies, veggies and veggies and meat, meat, chicken, meat and fish. I have bought all the veggies in the super market already at least a million times and although I like broccoli when it is on my plate I feel resistance when I have to buy broccoli again. Sometimes I just buy veggies and some protein containing food at random and then Google if I can make a dish from the combination. I found out that if you buy cauliflower and smoked salmon there is a cauliflower with smoked salmon soup for you. Tasted pretty good.

Not only did I make it through the first 21 days of nutrition endurance but I lost about 8.5 kg of body fat and gained 7.8 kg of muscle tissue in exactly 35 days. On September 6th my weight was 98.7kg and my body fat 21.5%. Today my weight was 96 kg and my body fat 13.2 %. According to the scale I only lost 2.7 kg but my body looks entirely different. This is interesting and remarkable because people used to believe that one could not gain muscle when you restricted your calorie intake until below daily maintenance. It makes me proud that my body responds so well. See the difference between Day 1 and Day 35:

What is also interesting is how the work-outs work on the body. In a way I was somewhat disappointed about the work-outs. I had fantasies about 6 guys going all-out 4 times per week, training and enduring pain almost to the point of crying. I wanted some heroic stuff. But they don’t feel that hard to me. My muscles are not really sore. I always thought that a work-out is good when your muscles burn. Apparently it is not the case. The trick is not to exhaust the body but to improve the body.

So it is not about being heroic but about paying your dues. It is about patience, perseverance and trust. The body functions like an equation: put in balanced nutrition and balanced exercise and a different form will reveal itself, a form that is potentially already there. And if you loyally surrender to the regimen you can have results remarkably quick.

Currently we are combining upper body exercises with lower body exercises. Combining 2 exercises and doing them consecutively is called a super set. Now what I didn’t know is that combining an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise is causing the blood to flow from upper body to lower body and back. The science behind this is that although is doesn’t cause the muscles to seriously burn as when you isolate them but the flow increases calorie burning and stimulates growth hormone to be released. The growth hormone is necessary for your muscles to grow. So instead of hurting the muscle to a point that it will grow in strength to prevent it from happening again you facilitate a process that causes the body to release a fertilizer. I had never heard of that principle.

It is kind of hip to be healthy. But never before in history of mankind did we have nutrition and exercise so well figured out, 2 digits after the dot. 20 years ago only jocks looked really fit and they all lost it when they stopped competing. A 6-pack over 40 was unimaginable. It simply did not exist. Now it is not that weird. The whole road is pretty much mapped out. I find that fascinating. Just look at the differences between James Bond and James Bond. It is not that Sean Connery did not want to be ripped – he was once elected as Mr Universe just like Arnie – but in his time there was a lot less knowledge of exercise and nutrition than in the days of Daniel Craig.

Check out James Bond below and see the differences. Fascinating don’t you think? And apart from the anthropological perspective I just realized that I have completed only 33 days of Evolve’s Hypertrophy Camp and have 49 more days to go. It seems not that impossible that I can kick James’ ass before the end of the month. Ha! 😉


  1. Caro says

    I was wondering if I should comment on this post at all, as it may sound very critical – really no bad intentions, it really just made me think a bit.
    As a regular follower of your blog, I had a quick look at the pictures by the gym in your last post on this topic, and was wondering if this type of muscle training is really desirable. I certainly agree that it is good to get rid of too much body fat. As a woman (and I know that many of my female friends think the same), I think that there is nothing wrong with the body of Sean Connery and don´t particularly like to watch bodybuilders (male or female by the way), as the amount of muscles seems too extreme – that´s really just a personal view of course. But I am also wondering if it is really healthy in the long-run to have such a high muscle mass. And I am sceptical of a diet that includes such a high ratio of animal protein as that doesn´t seem a sustainable way forward for the whole planet….

    • says

      Ooff.. Interesting comment.. There is a whole post in the things I have to say. First thing that comes up: I have contemplated veganism for environmental purposes and I would probably take it a step further if my body type wasn’t the ‘protein type’. The aim in the end is not to be a bodybuilder but be ‘functionally strong’. That means lean, fast, strong, flexible and with endurance. Anyway, there is more to say but I’ll get back about that. Thx for your comment!

  2. says

    Phhwoooa! You look incredible! Good on you Sir – I would just like to remind you, that standing on a crowded hot and sticky street in Hanoi four months ago, you said you would do this. And you definitely are.

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