Nick Mitchell is a leading body composition expert and the founder of global personal training gym Ultimate Performance. He is based in Los Angeles.
If I had a pound coin for every time I’d been asked what’s the secret behind a successful body transformation project then I’d be able to buy Twitter. And then shut it down.
The secret is that there is no secret. There isn’t one magic formula that categorically states it’s 80% diet, 15% training and 5% supplements. Or 99% determination and 1% everything else. If only it was that simple. I’d have made a hundred times more money from writing that definitive guide than I would have made from my personal training business.
But if someone held a gun against my head and I had to answer then I’d say the biggest factor behind achieving your dream physique is this: having a clearly defined and realistic goal.
Let me give you an example. I can actually give you dozens of examples, but essentially they’re all the same case study. The single-best transformation candidates I have ever worked with – every single time – are women wanting to get into shape for their wedding.
I had one client who bought her wedding dress two sizes too small. She had six weeks to make sure it would fit. Was she successful? Yes. And she was a dream client because she had the perfect mindset needed to accomplish her goal.
She knew that those wedding day pictures would be on her mantelpiece forever. She knew she would have to look at them every day and she wanted those pictures to show her at her absolute best. She wanted to be able to smile at them and not turn them to face the wall. She wanted to enjoy them and treasure them. And she wanted her children and for her grandchildren to treasure them too and say ‘wow, Nana, you were stunning!’ And you know what? She absolutely nailed it. Having a very clearly defined goal, and the right mindset, are the foundations of achieving your physique goal.
The need to believe
We know mindset is so important because bodybuilders for the last half a century have been getting in unbelievable shape. They have deployed numerous approaches in their quest – some of them widely different from others – but the one thing they all had in common is that the guy really, really wanted to stand on stage looking better than everyone else. Some of them proved more effective than others, but they’ve all looked 99.99999% better than anyone else who has ever walked on this earth.
Sure, you can talk about genetics and drugs but only with unfaltering and unwavering determination and discipline will they ever get into a position where they should be standing on stage. And discipline is another key attribute you need to hone to make significant physique changes. I’ve always maintained that training is rarely the hardest part of transforming your body. When you’re dieting the fridge will be calling your name – for me, that was around 9pm every night – but you can never afford to give into that temptation.
Whenever you are tempted by something you know you shouldn’t really be eating just ask yourself what you want more. The pizza, or whatever it is, or the very best body possible. If you take any longer than five seconds to answer it you’re never going to achieve that dream physique. And remember, if you’re trying to get really lean it’s not the end of the world if you go to bed each night a little bit hungry.
Eating consistently clean, and not skipping meals, is essential to a successful transformation, and you need to squeeze every last drop of nutrition out of what you eat without taking on board excess calories. That’s why when you’re tempted to have a 200 calorie croissant it’s far better to have 200 calories from nuts instead, with their good fats, protein and vitamins and minerals. Over time these positive food choices massively add up.
What works for me
While I can’t give you the ultimate transformation blueprint, because we are all unique and respond differently to various training and diet protocols, what I can do is let you into the secret of how I last got ripped for a shoot.
I had 10 weeks, which was not really as long as I needed, but I was going to be in front of the camera and wanted to make damn sure I looked as good as possible. I am not saying this is the best or only way to get shredded by any stretch, but it worked for me, so there may be some elements you can play around with and then monitor whether you have any success with it.
I trained twice a day for three days out of five, but this is an over-simplification because I’d cycle macrocycles within my overall programme so that I was overreaching, and then I’d back off. As an advanced trainee this worked for me.
I started with a little cardio, but only low-intensity so that it wasn’t too taxing either mentally or physically, because beginning with minimal cardio meant I could up the stakes later if I needed to tap away at any stubborn body fat that was refusing to shift. For my diet I went uber-low carbs and as I got leaner I phased more and more carbs back in. Starting at 12% body fat at 40 years old meant I simply could not tolerate carbs as well as when I was 25 and 8%. If I needed more carbs as I got leaner, then like with cardio, I had a little room to manoeuvre.
One of the most overlooked aspects of a success transformation, or even building a better physique over the longer term, is the importance of sleep. You have to change your habits to avoid late nights so you can get to bed early every night to give you the time to recover and grow. I always found that a nap in the day, if you can get away with such a luxury, is hugely beneficial.
So, maybe there is a secret to getting a better body. And that’s optimise everything. Your training, your diet, your sleep, rest and recovery. Look at it this way. Training perfectly but following a shit diet will most likely result in your body composition deteriorating.
A perfect diet with sub-optimal training may lead to a slightly improved body, but not by that much. And training perfectly with a perfect diet and terrible sleep? I don’t think training 100% and eating 100% is even possible without enough shuteye. Make a plan, optimise every element as much as you can, and never stop working towards your goal until you get there.