With the guidance and support of his bodybuilding coach and good friend Otis Hooper, Fisher got to work. For 18 weeks, he followed a strict eating regimen, taking in roughly 1,800 to 2,400 calories a day, depending on how his coach modified his protein, carb, and fat intake every week.
Breakfast typically consisted of egg whites and oatmeal, lunch was a plate of lean ground turkey and broccoli, and his dinner of tilapia, also served with broccoli, came with a side of almond butter spread upon a piece of Ezekiel bread. For his two to three snacks a day, Fisher typically downed protein shakes, protein bars, sweet potatoes, or chicken. Day in and day out, he ate the same foods.
For someone with a sweet tooth as strong as his, prepping for his physique show was the second hardest thing he had ever done, next to graduating college, he says.
By the end of October 2016 – 11 months after the before photo above was taken and 18 weeks after starting his physique show training – Fisher lost another 15kg, dropped to an estimated 8 to 9 per cent body fat, and gained a rippling six-pack for the first time in his life.
“When I walked on stage, there were no nerves,” Fisher recalls. “I was really proud of myself and even if I wasn’t the best looking physique up there, I knew how much work I put into it.”
Unfortunately, the results didn’t last for long: Just two months after that competition, Fisher gained back nearly 22 kilograms
“The physique I achieved and the amount of weight I had to drop to get into “stage shape” isn’t necessarily what I’d call ‘real life,’” Fisher says. “The diet I followed strictly for 18 weeks isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone unless they’re prepping for a bodybuilding show.”
Right after his show, the cravings started to kick in. Fisher went straight back to his old eating habits, treating himself to fast food and pizza and binging on sugar-laden foods like brownies and ice cream.
“Known as the ‘post-show rebound,’ I really struggled with getting back on track and following a proper nutrition plan, in part because I deprived myself of certain foods for so long,” Fisher says.
Here’s why that rebound happens – and why single-digit body fat isn’t always realistic for the average guy.
Why It’s Hard to Maintain Single Digit Body Fat
When you lose weight, the goal is to try and preserve muscle while losing fat, says Dr Brad Schoenfeld, an assistant professor in exercise science at Lehman College, who has won numerous national bodybuilding titles. But that’s much easier said than done.
When you lose weight quickly like Fisher did, you actually end up losingmuscle and slowing down your metabolism as your body tries to make up for your reduced caloric intake, he says. Your body perceives the weight loss as a threat to your survival, Schoenfeld explains.
According to one theory, everyone has a unique “body fat set point,” or your body’s optimal body fat state. Once you start dipping below that, your body produces less of an appetite-supressing hormone called leptin, which makes you feel hungrier, he says.
Once your body starts to subdue your metabolism, the only way you’re going to maintain that level of lean is by continuously reducing the amount of calories you eat, says Schoenfeld.
And that’s not realistic when all you want to do is slam a cheeseburger.
So you’ll start to struggle mentally as well, says Schoenfeld. If you were prepping for a bodybuilding competition (especially if its your first time), you’ll no longer have a goal to aim for once it’s over. All of a sudden, that strict diet doesn’t feel necessary, and anything that’s not tilapia and broccoli will start looking tempting.
The drive to eat becomes so strong that you end up binging, like Fisher did, and all of the weight you worked so hard to lose will pile back on and then some, a phenomenon known as “fat overshooting,” Schoenfeld explains.
The same thing can occur even if you don’t make it all the way down to single-digit body fat. Maintaining weight loss can be a battle, especially if you drop the pounds quickly.
If you want to keep your weight loss stable, eating enough protein (about 2 grams per kilogram of lean body mass per day) and doing enough resistance training is crucial, says Schoenfeld. That’s because protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer and has a greater thermic effect, meaning your body burns more calories digesting and processing it, than carbs and fat, he says.
The resistance training preserves, and can even increase, lean mass if you’re cutting calories. Aim for a minimum of three sessions a week, Schoenfeld suggests.
As for Fisher? He is currently working toward a masters degree in nutrition education. Despite all that he went through during his first competition, he has decided to train for another physique show – just with a new strategy in mind this time around. He now follows a “flexible dieting” plan, something Schoenfeld recommends, and is giving himself 30 weeks to reach his goal weight instead of 18.
In his new eating plan, Fisher still aims to eat a specific amount of protein, carbs, and fat a day, depending on what his progress is looking like for that week. But now, he eats about 2,800 calories a day and incorporates a wider variety of foods in his daily diet (meaning low-calorie, high-protein ice cream, baked fries, and homemade healthy pizza are now on the list).