New year, new you, right? For many people that means losing weight and getting in better shape--but that can be hard when you work 12- to 14-hour days and are constantly on the road.
But it is possible.
The following is from Richard Jalichandra, the CEO of Bodybuilding.com. He's a technology executive who has scaled B2C and B2B tech companies in mobile, social, e-commerce, and advertising. He's on the road a ton. Yet he's extremely fit. Clearly his approach works, and not just for him: My wife lost five pounds in her first week on the diet and she was already trim and fit.
As someone who works in the health, fitness, and nutrition industry, I get asked about my diet and routines all the time. In the past year, people have been particularly interested in my diet.
For starters, I am 6 foot 1, 165 pounds, and sport six-pack abs. I am also 54 years old, the CEO of two companies, and regularly work 60 to 80 hours a week in the relentless pursuit of growing those companies. In the past 2 years, I flew more than 335,000 miles.
As a result of being on the road so much, I ate out all the time, often grabbing whatever was available in airports or whatever quick-service food option was on the line between points A and B. In all, over the past year I've eaten more than three-quarters of all my meals in restaurants. I also generally eat as much as I want, consuming anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 calories a day and occasionally more than 6,000 calories. I also drink wine. A lot of it. Both for business and pleasure.
In any case, these travel stats, job demands, and calorie intakes are typically not the types of metrics that result in six-pack abs -- hence the strong interest in my diet.
So here's what I do: I adopted a low-carb diet.
In its simplest form, if you just eliminate most carbs, particularly starchy and processed carbs, you'll do just fine and lose weight naturally. But by taking it a few steps further, you can quickly get pretty dramatic results.
And the most important thing to remember about doing this: I lost weight/fat while also increasing my energy levels and mental performance significantly.
Let me be a little bit more specific about what I'm doing and how I got there.
As background, I experimented with a very extreme low-carb diet, called a ketogenic diet. I should also note that I didn't start the diet to lose weight; rather, I tried the diet to increase my energy output and brain function, as I was already reasonably fit.
Losing weight and decreasing body fat are also normal results of doing a ketogenic or low-carb diet, so I began recommending the diet to literally many dozens of friends who wanted to lose weight, and many have since shed double-digit pounds.
In a ketogenic diet, you try to consume less than 50 net carbs per day, plus maintain a 4:1 ratio of fats to protein.
Here's the grossly oversimplified rationale behind a ketogenic diet (Google it if you want to get into the weeds on keto): The goal is essentially to train your body to burn fat for energy versus burning carbohydrates for energy.
I've added my own small customization to simultaneously build muscle mass, to enhance physical performance and fat burning (more on that later).
Fat is the most efficient energy source, so it also has the positive side effects of also increasing your energy and brainpower as well as a few other health benefits. At the same time, you're starving your body of carbs, which are the easiest calories to convert to fat (side benefit: Cancer uses carbs to grow, so a low-carb diet also decreases your chance of cancer growing and spreading. Note that keto for medical purposes would aim for less than 20 net carbs a day).
The big problem with doing keto is that it can pretty hard to do and maintain for long periods, particularly if you live a super active and busy lifestyle and don't have time to shop for and prepare proper meals. So after more research, I settled on something doable in everyday life over the long term -- what I'd term a "modified keto diet."
I'm now a year into it and have no desire or intent to get off the diet anytime soon. Modified keto is really just a low-carb diet, very similar to an Atkins diet, but with keto principles thrown in. From a strictly definition standpoint, most of the time I'm in what would be classified as a low state of nutritional ketosis, or oftentimes, just really close.
This could mean only having a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of fats to protein, and maybe occasionally exceeding the 50 net-carb limit, up to 75 or so. I do cheat with carbs now and again, and in those periods, I would just classify my diet as "low carb."
Here's what I do:
My goal is to be on a modified keto at least 6 days a week (paying homage to Tim Ferriss's "Slow Carb Diet").
To achieve this, I mentally budget myself one cheat day, on which I am allowed to eat carbs. Literally anything goes: pizza, ice cream, burger and fries, etc.
That said, I've found that a modified keto diet is so easy to execute and cravings disappear to the degree that I don't need or take any cheat days at all. I also find the diet is so satisfying that I literally may go many consecutive weeks or even months without a cheat day. In fact, I'm often beyond modified keto and in full keto -- the state of nutritional ketosis where the body and brain are burning fat for energy.
These days, I am more likely to have a cheat meal, or even cheat bites, rather than a full cheat day: I may have a bite of dessert or tortilla chips, etc. I may be a bit more hardcore than most people, so feel free to allow yourself a cheat day, and you'll do fine just being low carb.
In terms of how strict I am about what type of carbs I eat (cheat days aside), the only things that I try to avoid are processed carbs such as bread, pasta, and tortillas; starchy carbs such as potatoes, rice, and quinoa; most fruits because they are loaded with sugar; fruit juices; beer; and all sugar.
One really important note about sugar: Once you're off sugar, and especially if you train your body to burn fats versus carbohydrates, you will stop craving sugar. This is big for me, because I've always had a huge sweet tooth. Now, I occasionally crave sugar, but for the most part I'm fine without it.
The type of carbs I eat are usually green vegetables, with asparagus and broccoli being the top choices, but most salad leafy greens and vegetables will do. Remember the term "net carbs"? Fiber in vegetables and other carbs does offset the gross impact of total carbs, hence the term net carbs. (Basically, you subtract the fiber carbs from the total carbs to determine net carbs.)
Another side benefit of eliminating processed carbs is you'll essentially be gluten free, which has also shown to boost energy in people who aren't even celiac.
After reducing or illuminating most carbs, I then try to eat at a minimum a 2:1 ratio of fat to protein, and preferably closer to the pure keto goal of 4:1.
Another nice thing about eating a high fat to protein ratio is that it's very satisfying and tasty from an appetite standpoint. One of the biggest problems with most diets is that people feel hungry all the time, or don't eat food that tastes good.
With a low-carb, high-fat diet, I eat until I'm fully satisfied both in taste and quantity and don't feel hungry or even get a craving to snack between meals. Remember, fatty foods are usually rich in flavor as well as calories, so this diet ends up being very satisfying and never leaves you hungry or out of energy.
In fact, with respect to energy, my energy levels are also the highest they've ever been, as ketones produce greater and longer-lasting energy output.
One keto principle is intermittent fasting. All that means is that I eat a full meal, and then don't eat anything until the next full meal. Intermittent fasting helps put your body into and maintain a state of ketosis, in which you start converting fat into ketones used for powering your body more efficiently than carbs.
This sounds like it might be painful or difficult, but the surprising thing is that again you will lose a lot of cravings as well as be very satisfied with how much you're eating -- if you do this correctly by eliminating carbs and eating more fat, and start burning fat for energy.
And this is coming from a guy who used to eat five carb-packed meals a day.
Most people doing low carb only eat two meals a day, and they don't suffer at all for it (more on that later). But you can do three meals, as long as you follow the low-carb fat to protein ratio.
Another ketogenic principle I use is taking two to four tablespoons of MCT oil per day. MCT oil is made up from the good medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil, and does two really important things. First, it stimulates your body to burn fat. Second, it's also great for your brain, and will improve your brain function -- nice side effects when you're trying to lose weight!
So specifically, and this is perhaps an important part of this whole thing for me personally, is that I make and drink fat-protein-bomb shakes made of MCT oil, grass-fed butter, and whey protein isolate (often with coffee, too -- coffee is probably the most powerful anti-oxidant, by the way). Isolate protein is the purest and most easily digested form of protein supplement, which means it goes straight to the muscles, more easily than just about any other form of protein. The combo of a tablespoon each of MCT and butter with a scoop of isolate really helps get to at least a 3:1 ratio of fat to protein; add an omega gel cap, and I'm easily at 4:1.
You may be asking: "Seriously? Butter and coconut oil with coffee and protein powder?" Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying, and I will tell you: It actually tastes awesome -- like a thick, rich milkshake!
So now, not only do I get the right kind and right dose of fat, but I'm also adding protein to help build muscle and keep my body from consuming my muscle protein for energy.
And what does muscle do? Muscles burn calories! So adding even a slight gain to muscle mass helps you burn calories even faster.
Here's a typical day:
Breakfast: A shake of MCT oil, grass-fed butter, and whey isolate, usually mixed with warm or room-temp coffee (hot coffee coagulates the whey -- yucky). This is plenty of energy to last me until lunch. No more than a tablespoon of MCT, though (unless you want to be more than regular!).
In case you're wondering: These shakes contain about 350 to 400 calories, plenty of fuel to carry you a half day and achieve intermittent fasting.
Lunch (example): Cobb salad with extra ranch dressing and extra avocado (no croutons!).
Afternoon snack: Another MCT/whey/coffee shake, sometimes with grass-fed butter, sometimes without (usually depends on the proximity to butter -- harder at the office for example).
Dinner: Fish, steak, or chicken with a vegetable sautéed in extra butter, salad with extra avocado, cheese, and fatty dressing (extra ranch please!).
Fat hacks: if you do this diet, you will soon discover how hard it is to eat the specified amount of fat.
Here are a few tips to add fat to meals: extra dressing on salad, avocado or guac is your friend at every meal, add or be copious in your use of butter and olive oil when cooking, make and use aioli as a dip for meats and veggies, and sprinkle drops (not too much) of MCT oil over meals or salads. Sometimes I'll put two to three pats of herb butter on steak or salmon; same with sautéed vegetables.
You can find loads of keto and low-carb recipes and meal plans if you Google "Atkins," "low carb," "keto," or "ketogenic."
IMPORTANT: You don't need to kill yourself with this diet. If you occasionally consume slightly more carbs (for me, certain cheeses have high carbs; too much avocado does as well), you'll still achieve most of the benefits of a low-carb diet.
Snacking: There are several keto snacks hitting the market, but simple snacks are cashews or almonds. They both have some carbs but overall give you the desired fat and protein, and both are tasty and satisfy any between-meal craving for salt. If I have sweet cravings, I'll do another protein shake.
A quick word on drinking: I refuse to quit drinking while dieting, and you should too!
I drink red wine, and the alcohol and carbs don't attach in me for some reason. No beer though -- that goes straight to the gut. A glass of red wine has about four to five net carbs, and is good for the heart (and palate, too).
The hardcore low-carbers only drink tequila and soda! Whiskey and rye by themselves surprisingly have 0 to one net carbs (this is good, as I like an Old Fashioned cocktail; I ask the mixologist to go light on the sugar).
If you want to really go for it, here are some links to good products that will accelerate both muscle gain and fat loss (some links go to Bodybuilding.com, but you can find similar products in a number of places):