In this blog, I’m going to be walking you step-by-step through the exact process we took my client Rachel (shown below) through to get her in super lean, photoshoot condition.
First and foremost, realize that this didn’t happen overnight.
This was a 6 month process (2/25 → 8/17).
Rachel acheived results that have her sustainably leaner, stronger, and more confident because she committed to the long-game. Like with every online client, we prioritized a smart approach to her training and proper nutritional periodization instead of chasing overnight, temporary results.
As always, my goal with this blog is to educate you on how to implement smart, sustainable nutrition and training strategies to create the body composition you want.
Nothing is more empowering than going through a transformation like Rachel did. It completely changes your body, obviously… but more importantly, it completely changes your confidence. The effect that education around nutrition and training has on empowering people to create better, more confident versions of themselves is exactly why I create blogs just like this - that’s what I want to give YOU today.
Last thing before we get into Rachel’s transformation - realize that nutrition coaching is a very individualized thing.
Following her macros to the letter won't give you the same results as her, because you’re NOT Rachel. Everyone is different, which is why individualized nutrition coaching is so important.
As a badass coach herself (check out her website and Instagram for some great content), Rachel had recently gone through a period of crazy stress throughout the process of publishing her book on nutrition. She lacked structure within her training, and was feeling burnout on all things fitness and nutrition.
As a result of her crazy high life stress paired with the fact that she straight up just wasn’t having as much fun with training and nutrition, she was suddenly not liking what she saw in the mirror or how she felt.
Her goal - like most of us - was simply to feel lean, strong, and confident (the photoshoot came later).
This is her first progress picture, right after our initial strategy call:
NOTE: When it comes to changing your body composition, metrics are everything. All of my online nutrition and training clients take progress pictures monthly, body measurements weekly, weight at least three times per week, weight lifted, and biofeedback.
All of this gives us a MUCH better picture of your actual progress, and ensures that we know exactly when we need to adjust your nutrition to continue making progress (as you’ll see in this blog).
One of the biggest mistakes new online clients have been making in the past stalling their fat loss attempts is always failure to track metrics outside of weight.
This is what my client's body stats tracker looks like:
Rachel started following a 4x/week upper/lower split with a conjugate style of periodization. I programmed this for her because it allowed a solid blend of strength and hypertrophy work (she wanted to focus on building more lean muscle and strength simultaneously - a conjugate style of programming is generally what I use for online clients in situations like this).
She also had two shorter cardio days implementing the rowing machine, sleds, and the like.
Now, while I won’t give you her specific customized training program, you can download a free, periodized upper/lower split similar to what Rachel followed HERE.
→ The Initial Macro Prescription (Week 1)
To start out, we had Rachel following a 5|2 macro split.
The idea here is, we want to create a calorie deficit 5x/week. Your calorie deficit is where fat loss occurs, so we have to set your nutrition up to where you’re spending a reasonable amount of time here if you ever want to get lean.
That said, with this strategy 2x/week, on back-to-back days, we're refeeding you with higher carbs. Studies have shown the 48 hours+ of increased carb intake (as shown) can help prevent negative hormonal and metabolic adaptations to dieting.
This is a strategy I use a lot within nutrition coaching. Women also seem to be more sensitive to the stress of dieting to men, which makes implementing strategies like this even more important.
For long-term metabolic and hormonal health, and sustainable results, using strategies like the 5|2 or 10-14 days in a deficit, followed by a 3 day diet break (calories at maintenance, coming from increased carbs) is smart.
You’ll also notice her carbs are relatively low 5 days per week.
Rachel personally preferred to follow a lower carb diet - it fit her lifestyle and food preferences best.
The reality of drastically changing your body composition like this is, there is NO perfect plan - it’s all about finding the strategy that works best for YOU long-term.
In Rachel’s case, we knew that a higher fat approach would yield the best adherence. This is where the art of coaching comes in - mixing proven strategies with we know will allow you to best stick to your diet.
To add another point to adherence and why the 5|2 split was a good fit in this case - Rachel also had a weekend tradition of trying different restaurants with friends around town. She mentioned this tradition as something that was very important to her. I knew that to make living as a leaner, stronger version of herself sustainable, we needed a diet structure that wouldn’t make the rest of her life suck, so the 5|2 split worked well here. Adherence is the MOST important part of changing anyone’s body composition.
All the above said, I intentionally set her calories right around her established maintenance intake (determined from the initial nutrition assessment I take all clients through), to take her through a Primer Phase.
The length varies by the individual, but nutrition clients always go through a Primer Phase to:
1. Get used to any new diet structures.
2. Recover from past diets
3. Optimize metabolic capacity
Rachel started this process at 148.4 lbs, with a solid amount of muscle mass (key to looking lean and defined instead of skinny). As a coach herself, she already had a great idea of how to fuel her body. She hadn’t been dieting recently, and wasn’t doing much cardio when she started - so we knew she was in a good place hormonally and had a full metabolic gas tank.
What all this means is, the Primer Phase didn’t need to last long. In Rachel’s case, we kept her here for two weeks.
She ended the Primer Phase weighing… 148.4. Exactly where we started. Measurement shifts were also minimal.
We were good with that, because we now knew she was 100% ready for a fat loss phase. Which leads us to…
→ Week 3 Adjustment
We dropped total weekly calories by approximately 7% here.
While this doesn’t seem like a lot, the goal is always to get you lean while eating as many calories as possible.
Dieting on higher calories allows for better training performance, healthier hormones, and a faster metabolism.
Now, we do need a calorie deficit to create fat loss, and stricter timelines require larger deficits. That said, for clients looking for a reasonable rate of fat loss (.5-1% of body weight per week) and more body recomposition than rapid fat loss, simply adjusting calories by 5-10% will get you losing perfectly again. No need to slash calories a crazy amount.
This is what I would consider the start of Rachel's first fat loss phase - weight dropped this week to 147, and we also saw a solid decrease in body measurements.
→ Week 4 Adjustment
Rachel saw a solid drop from our previous change. That said, she had a beach trip coming up for Memorial Day, and was ready to get more aggressive with the fat loss for a short period of time.
Now, since Rachel’s fat loss strategy implemented nutritional periodization, we knew that a more aggressive approach would be followed by a diet break, so we were good to push hard here.
Periodization was a strong theme through this entire photoshoot prep. We had periods of aggressive fat loss when circumstances were ideal, followed by diet breaks and periods of practicing maintenance when fat loss wasn’t realistic.
With this adjustment, a big chunk of her calorie drop came from implementing a protein-sparing modified fast: a day where the goal is to keep calories from fats & carbs minimal, while still hitting your protein goal.
Rachel was actually the first client I implemented this with. Coaching is always a collaborative effort, when I asked Rachel what method of creating a larger deficit would be easiest for her to adhere to, she brought up the PSMF day.
Now, realize that fasting does create additional stress on the body, so it’s very individual whether I’ll recommend it to you as a nutrition client or not. It’s very dependent on YOUR lifestyle and stressors. In Rachel’s case, she was well-versed in fasting and knew her body handled it well, so I felt comfortable prescribing this.
Since, I’ve used this with a lot of my more advanced clients and the coaches I coach. Most people seem to find one day of lower calories much easier to stick to than lower calories every day of the week. Again, it’s all comes down to creating a diet structure you can adhere to.
We rode out the above adjustment for the next few weeks, with Rachel’s weight dropping to 143-144, and much more importantly, body measurements dropping quickly.
NOTE: Generally, body measurements are a much better indicator of fat loss progress than weight. While weight generally should shift with fat loss, with a body recomposition (you’re losing fat and building muscle) case like this, often weight will stay stagnant, but measurements will decrease drastically.
This lead into a short diet break. Normally, we would push carbs higher and get more specific with macros on a diet break, but in this case, Rachel wanted a few days with friends on her trip without stressing the food too much. So we dialed her in on the most important factors (calories & protein) and gave her a bit of a psychological break here.
Coming back from a brief diet break, THIS is when Rachel decided she wanted to get super lean for a photoshoot.
With a crazy summer schedule of traveling and speaking at events, we knew to get her maximally lean over the next 4 months, we had to periodize her nutrition properly to help her capitalize on the times when she wasn’t traveling to maximize fat loss, and practice maintaining her new levels of leanness while on the road.
→ Weeks 8 & 9 Adjustments
Added two LISS cardio sessions @30 mins ~120-130BPM (Incline treadmill)
Just like before, we dropped total calories by ~7%. Since we’d established that we had a relatively short timeline to get Rachel photoshoot lean (when considering all her trips coming up), it was time to get more aggressive.
Rather than dramatically dropping calories or drastically increasing movement, we went with a combination of both.
We were also experimenting with some different carb vs fat-timing strategies here.
Since Rachel is a coach, and loves nerding out over all of this stuff just as much as I do, I felt comfortable prescribing her something as complex as the above. But generally, simpler is better/easier to adhere to when it comes to nutrition.
We also dropped 1 refeed day. While there aren’t a lot of metabolic or hormonal benefits to a single refeed day (so 2-3 refeed days back to back is more ideal), the reality was we needed to create a larger deficit to get Rachel to her goals within our timeline.
The remaining refeed day still allowed her to carry on her weekend dinner tradition (again, prioritizing adherence), and slightly increases training performance by refilling muscle glycogen stores.
Rachel worked her ass off, and hit the 140lb mark, and again saw super consistent measurement changes with the above prescription.
All of this was leading into a 2.5 week trip, where we knew the best strategy was to simply “practice maintenance” (a skill we emphasize with all online clients to make your results sustainable) of her leaner physique while on the road.
Our hard push over the last few weeks led up to a diet break on vacation.
→ Week 13 Diet Break
Again, with Rachel being on the road getting super specific with macros was going to be a significant source of stress. I prescribed this with the recommendation that she eat more carbs, but prioritize total calories and protein above all.
→ Week 15 Adjustment
Through the diet break & vacation, Rachel did an awesome job maintaining, weighing in at 140 and with reduced measurements going into this adjustment.
This adjustment actually wasn’t a decrease from her prescription previous to the diet break - she was losing perfectly on that intake, so I knew we could make more progress without slashing calories.
Here, we simply shifted macros to a higher carb/lower fat approach. This allowed more room for fibrous, filling carbs, which in turn allowed me to get into her food logs and help her shift her food choices to optimize satiety.
The reality of getting ready for a photoshoot is, you’re going to have to get pretty hungry regardless. Hunger is the BIGGEST enemy you’re fighting when you’re working to get super lean.
That said, there’s a lot you can do within your food choices to help make the amount of calories you’re eating much more filling. Personally, I love digging into client’s food logs and educating them on where they can make swaps to increase fullness and make the diet easier to stick to.
Rachel crushed it over the next few weeks, with weight dropping all the way down to 134. All of this lead into another 10 days of traveling where she essentially maintained.
→ Week 21 Adjustment
Coming back from her trip and exactly a month out from the photoshoot, it was time to capitalize on the last month and PUSH the fat loss.
Again, I asked Rachel what she thought would be easiest for her specifically to adhere to. A sizeable increase in cardio paired with a moderate calorie drop was her answer.
We had her doing cardio 6x/week here, which is not what I would consider sustainable, but was a must to hit her goal. That said, we kept intensity for the cardio low over the last few months leading up to the photoshoot.
When you’re in a large calorie deficit like this, you have very limited “recovery resources” a.k.a. calories. If we push the limits of your recovery too much, you’ll regress.
Rachel saw consistent strength gains through this entire process (which is hard to doing while also losing as much as she did). That’s a huge testament to how hard she worked and how we structured her plan.
See, knowing the her recovery resources were limited, we knew that we wanted as many of those resources as possible to go to maintaining and building lean muscle. Thus, it wouldn’t make sense to have her working in lots of high-intensity cardio (which would steal a big chunk of her recovery resources), when we could have her focus more on low-intensity cardio which actually promotes recovery, while also helping fat loss.
→ Week 22 Adjustment
Added two more LISS cardio sessions @30 mins ~120-130BPM (Incline treadmill)
This is where Rachel was sitting this week.
I expected a big drop with her last adjustment, as measurements and weight had essentially plateaued the previous few weeks on the road. The expected drop didn't happen.
Now, normally I would wait it out another week. But in this case, we had to get more aggressive again to meet Rachel's deadline.
We also ramped protein up to help keep her full in this period of lower calories (lean protein is the most filling macro).
Following this adjustment, we saw a solid rate of loss with both weight and measurements over the course of the next four weeks. This brought Rachel in to photoshoot week weighing 129-130, and looking pretty damn lean.
Here's how Rachel's weight shifted over the last 6 months. (This is actually an excerpt from an awesome blog series that Rachel wrote about this transformation. Check out here blogs on the transformation HERE.)
Photo Shoot Week (Week 25):
This was Rachel’s “peak week” - similar to what you’d do for a bodybuilding show.
Now, while I’m not going to give you her specific prescription because it does vary a lot, I can tell you we:
→ Dropped calories a bit more to maximize fat loss (within what she could adhere to) over the next week.
→ Limited food choices & created a lot of structure around meal-timing to remove anything that could create bloat or water retention, as well as optimize digestion.
→ Increased carbs the day before the shoot, to have her muscles looking full during the shoot.
→ Didn’t mess with water or salt - we simply focused on keeping these similar to previous weeks to prevent any drastic changes in muscle fullness.
The End Result
Rachel started coaching with the goal of feeling leaner, stronger, and more confident.
She worked her ass off.
She committed to the long-game (remember, this took 6 whole months).
The results speak for themselves.
Throughout the process, she was consistently getting stronger, despite weighing in whole 20lbs lighter the morning of the photoshoot.
The best part of this - her results will be sustainable.
That’s the beauty of following a periodized nutrition & training strategy. Instead of crash dieting her for a quicky result, followed by a rebound, we took our time with lots of refeeds, deloads, and diet breaks along the way. As a result she’s much leaner AND stronger than when she started the process 6 months ago.
Most importantly though, she’s a more confident, (even more) badass version of herself. That’s why education centered around nutrition and training is so important. When you change your body, your mind follows.
Rachel still had a life during this time-frame. She traveled a TON. She had a social life.
A few lessons here:
1. Everyone benefits from having a coach. Even badass coaches like Rachel need coaches.
2. You don’t have to be perfect to achieve the leanest, strongest, most confident version of yourself. You just have to be consistent, and committed to playing the long-game.
Want to transform your body AND your confidence like Rachel? CLICK HERE to apply for a strategy call.