What I Learned about Fitness and Nutrition in 2016

I gained 18 lbs in 10 months, and most of that was muscle. But it wasn’t easy, and here’s the story of how I did it:

Back in January 2016, I started on a journey. I wanted to see how strong I could become physically in one year. I set a goal to become a mixed martial arts fighter. While I never planned to fight for sport (I’m quite non-violent), it was fun to set this as a goal and go for it. I always believe in setting high goals.

So I slowly revamped everything from diet to workout routine. In January I introduced myself to high intensity boxing workouts, and then I transitioned to SEAL-type exercise at my apartment gym (I bought a book about SEAL training exercises and followed the weekly schedule in the book). And then in April, I transitioned to warrior training at UFC Gym (weights, Muay Thai class, Jiu Jitsu class, cardio class, etc…). I also tossed in two half marathons and got into the best shape of my life.

I went from 132 lbs (thin as a twig!) to a healthy 150 lbs in about 10 months. Gains!

Here’s what I learned:

  1. It takes about 6 months to convince your brain that working out is the new normal.

At first your body and brain really won’t like exercising a lot. Your brain will make up excuses like, “Oh but I have so much work to do today!” or “Maybe on the weekend we can exercise, but not today.” If you do get to the gym, your brain will start to say stuff like, “This gym is kind of intimidating, I don’t like working out here.” or “I don’t like this.”

The trick is to power through the first 6 months without relenting on your workouts. You need to jazz up the 6 months with novelty and mini challenges. For me, a half marathon was a great mini-challenge to train for. And the martial arts classes added novelty and motivation to go back to the weight room and get stronger.

After 6 months, your brain begins to think that exercise is the rule rather than the exception. Now if I go more than 3–4 days without a workout, my brain thinks something is wrong.

2. You’ll need a lot of aggressive, “rachet” music

My exercise playlist is inappropriate for most of civil society. But it serves a purpose — rap music and “rachet” music (I love the word “rachet” by the way) helps you tap into the aggressive part of your brain, and this allows you to workout harder. For some reason, doing push-ups to failure to the sound of Jay-Z “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” is easier than doing push-ups to jazzy cool music. The rappers put their anger into their music, and it’s great to exercise with.

Here are some of my favorite workout songs:

-Ace Hood “Hustle Hard” (the remix is great)

-Meek Mill “I’m a Boss” (the remix is great)

-Meek Mill “On the Regular”

-Lil Wayne “6 Foot 7 Foot”

3. True workout progress comes from months of sustained effort

I recently did push-ups to failure and hit 55 push-ups. That’s just two push-ups below the 90th percentile for men my age (so close!!). But when I started, I was at 25 push-ups, which is the 24th percentile.

So somehow I went from the 24th percentile to nearly the 90th percentile for push-ups. But it took 12 months of continuous work — I never went a week without at least two workouts.

4. Your brain knows what it needs to eat if the goal is clear

It’s magical, but the brain seems to know what food is good for you and what is bad for you. If your brain’s goal is to turn you into a fighting warrior, it will start to naturally steer you away from unhealthy foods. But your brain can only do this if your goal is clear and you are unforgiving in your pursuit of that goal. If you aren’t serious about your goal, your brain will let you slip up and eat candy and all that other crap that sets you back.

PS: I still eat candy every now and then. It’s great pre-workout.

But because I’m so committed to becoming a stronger fighter, my brain naturally filters out a lot of bad food choices. Essentially, I’ve tricked it into wanting healthy foods more than unhealthy foods (even though unhealthy foods are delicious!).

5. Somehow you gain more time than you put into exercise and diet

When you become fit and healthy, weird things happen. You become happier, more productive, and more cognizant of time. I feel like I have more time in my life than before I started exercising, even though I put in 4–5 hours to working out each week!

Anyway, that’s what I learned about exercise and nutrition in 2016 :)

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