Getting jacked during the pandemic (how and what I learned)

This is going to be a strange post for those who follow me for growth or content advice. But fuck it.

I’ve always wanted to get jacked.

Health and fitness have always been top priorities for me. But at a very basic level, I’ve always wanted to achieve the vanity goal of looking shredded.

Why? Mainly to see if I could do it. A personal challenge.

Plus, if we’re being honest, deep down I think every man wants to do this.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, I figured it would be the perfect time. I could fully control my diet and exercise routine, and I didn’t have any external distractions or social temptations.

So I hired a diet and fitness coach and plugged in.

Here’s the before and after pics (Dec 2019 and June 2021)

I started the program around May 2020 and stopped in June 2021, so roughly a full year for the transformation.

I weighed ~200 lbs before and ~181lbs in the after picture. I didn’t take my body fat percentage before, but I was around 8-9% in the after picture according to InBody Scan.

I’ll break down how I did it and I’ll also cover some learnings (which apply beyond fitness, I think).

My Process for Getting Jacked

Before I started the program, I would have considered myself in the “optimizer” or “biohacker” category.

I read all of Tim Ferriss’s books and listened to the podcast.

I ate broccoli sprouts because Rhonda Patrick recommended it.

I drank bulletproof coffee in the morning and did keto because Dave Asprey recommended it.

I intermittent fasted because a bunch of gurus recommended it.

And I jumped on every trendy health topic you could imagine.

But I stayed around the same weight and fitness level. Healthy enough, but just a bit thiccc.

(By the way, it’s hard to filter out the hype in the diet and fitness space. Diet Wars, Legion Athletics, and Examine.com are three great places to get research backed info.)

When I started the program, I was almost appalled to learn that I would be:

  • Eating 300g of carbs per day
  • Eating breakfast
  • Doing a fairly boring workout routine with periodization

All the stupid shit that nerdy biohackers talk about, it turns out, either a) doesn’t matter or b) doesn’t work.

When you do keto, you deplete your glycogen and energy levels for workouts (not to mention potentially increase SHBG and reduce your free testosterone). This is clearly not good if you want to build muscle. Both your brain and your muscles like good carbohydrates (I wasn’t eating plates of sweets and white bread, you know).

When you intermittent fast, you lose muscle at a faster rate than when you simply eat breakfast and otherwise restrict calories. The autophagy and longevity benefits of fasting also appear to be exaggerated when compared to simple calorie restriction.

You don’t need to wear a continuous glucose monitor (which may mislead you into thinking blueberries and HIIT workouts are bad for you). This nerd shit is overkill. Return to bro science: rice, veggies, salmon, and consistent resistance training with some cardio.

That’s it.

My workout schedule was the following:

  • Monday: CrossFit
  • Tuesday: Chest and arms
  • Wednesday: CrossFit
  • Thursday: Deadlifts and legs

Then I would do some yoga or whatever I felt like doing on other days. Didn’t matter too much.

My diet changed every two weeks (either progressively reducing calories during cutting or increasing during bulking), but looked like this:

  • Breakfast: fruit and protein smooth / avocado toast and eggs
  • Lunch: rice, salmon, veggies
  • Dinner: rice, steak/chicken, veggies
  • Snack: Halo Top, rice cakes, peanut butter

The lowest caloric intake during cutting was around 2000 calories. The highest during bulking was around 4500 calories.

During cutting, I tried to lose about 1 pound per week. This varied. Sometimes it was 2 pounds. Sometimes I didn’t lose anything during a week. We adjusted diet and cardio based on feedback.

During bulking, I tried to gain about 2 pounds per month (to minimize fat gain while putting on muscle). Bulking was much less strict, to be honest.

I did take supplements. I always do. I just took the same stuff during this time period that I did before. For what it’s worth, you probably don’t need most of these. But I like taking them.

I’ll list them here (with affiliate links)

For fitness:

For nootropics:

For general health / immunity / covid:

For sleep:

I also did quite a bit of recovery work.

  • Sauna, ice bath, hot tub combo: 3-4 days per week
  • ART once every 3 months
  • Yoga usually once per week

I wasn’t super strict on any of this. I had many more cheat meals than I was supposed to, and I even drank alcohol several times during the program, to my coach’s annoyance.

But it still worked over the long run.

What I learned from all of this

I won’t try to stretch the metaphor too much, but I did learn a lot from this process.

Namely, most of the shit thought leaders talk about is totally useless and/or wrong. I’ve basically entirely stopped following the constant noise flowing from influencers like Ben Greenfield and Dave Asprey, and now I just hit the fundamentals and then enjoy the rest of my life.

Sometimes, in fact, I think the advice from these thought leaders can backfire and create a sort of orthorexia. When you think all carbs or bread is evil and you’re counting down your fasting time on some app, it can be quite stress inducing. Not the way I want to live.

So I learned to stop listening to the noise and run my own race using science and experience backed protocols.

Next, I learned about the value of big goals over long time horizons.

During the pandemic, I felt my world get much smaller. I used to travel almost as a function of my personality. I was gone 6 months out of the year. I filled my life with noise, excitement, and social stuff. Then, silence.

This was great, as it forced me to look internally and start doing a lot of inner work and healing. But it also sucked. I didn’t feel the same motivation and many days I felt directionless.

Having these fitness goals were really a stable rock in the storm for me. Something to strive towards, chip away at day by day. Progress and goals are inherently important for me. Doing this during the pandemic taught me that.

Finally, I learned that while goals are great, which goal and at which time of life matters a lot more. This was fun and challenging to do during the pandemic, but I don’t want to keep up the same level of fanatical dieting and fitness. I don’t need to be 8% body fat. I want to be fit, but that comes at a sacrifice – socially, energetically, etc.

Health and wellness will always be huge priorities in my life, and it was fun hitting this vanity goal out of personal challenge, but in the future I’ll be setting different types of fitness goals (Spartan races, BJJ goals, etc.) and focusing less on pure bodybuilding stuff.

Best Resources to Look Into

Alex Birkett
Alex Birkett is a product growth and experimentation expert as well as co-founder of Omniscient Digital, a premium content marketing agency. He enjoys skiing, making and experiencing music, reading and writing, and language learning. He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog, Biscuit.

One Response to “Getting jacked during the pandemic (how and what I learned)

  • Health and fitness have always been top priorities for me. But at a very basic level, I’ve always wanted to achieve the vanity goal of looking shredded.
    fitness is important for me. this advice is good for me.

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