Using his experience of cutting weight for boxing fights, Elite Trainer George Toohey runs through the crazy and dangerous to the safe and sustainable ways to shed kilos.
What follows is as much an admission of what not to do as it is advice on how to safely achieve your weightloss goals. A lot of this was foolish. Some of it was downright dangerous. But it is my hope that it can help you to better understand the risks, arm yourself with the knowledge to say ‘no’ to some crazy fat loss solutions, as well as provide a blue print to success, risk-free.
The Athens Cut
I was sitting in McDonalds, Athens Airport at 2.30am waiting for a flight back to the UK, which departed at 4.30am. My nose still had blood around it, I was nursing a badly bruised eye and wearing the same sweat that I fought in 12 hours earlier thanks to the showers in the Athens olympic stadium being out of order. I felt frail and was standing at little more than 60kg (around 10kg less than what I weighed 10 days before.)
Prior to making my way to McDonalds I had already eaten a baguette filled to the brim with egg, bacon, cheese, mayonnaise and salad, 2 pots of 3 scoop ice cream, a pint of larger and a slice of pizza. I ordered myself 20 nuggets (if Usain Bolt can, so can I) a Big Mac meal and a strawberry milkshake. I bit into a nugget, however, and my mind body and soul rejected it. I sprinted to the toilet and was unpleasantly reacquainted with the baguette, ice cream, pizza and beer.
The reason? Three months earlier, after rehabbing from a torn hamstring, I accepted a fight in Athens at a K1 tournament. I would fight at super light weight (62kg) but was sat at Cruiserweight (82kg). I had put on a lot of weight on whist being injured.
The hardwork began. Every day I would use a heart rate monitor to see what my daily expenditure of calories was and I made sure it was always above 2000kcal burned from training. This meant that every morning I would wake up at 5am and get to my K1 gym before the first class at 6.30am and run 6-8km on a treadmill with a full tracksuit and sweat suit over the top. I would then participate in the 6.30am class consisting of fitness drills, combat drills and sparring followed by 30-60 mins of weight training.
At lunch times I would don the same sweat suit and go through another strength and conditioning training or circuit based training session before jumping in the steam room and shadow boxing for 20mins.
The diet I followed is known as the Green Face Concept. The premise is very simple, but adherence is very low. “If it is green you can eat it, if it has a face you can eat it, if it’s water you can drink it.”
So for a little over 90 days I only ate green vegetables and meat. Stir fries with no sauce, spinach and eggs, broccoli and chicken. If it sounds tough, that’s because it is.
Even though I was in a large calorie deficit, consuming the calories I needed was very difficult. To put things into perspective, 500g of broccoli contains only 170kcal. A very crude equation brought me to these numbers. Let me explain. I needed to burn ~4000Kcal a day (active + BMR) and consume 1800kcal of green veg and flesh.
How did I work that out? Well, stay with me…
90 days x 4000 kcals = 360,000 kcal burnt and 90 days x 1800 kcals = 162,000 consumed.
360,000 – 162,000 = 198,000 net burnt kcals over 90 days.
There are nine calories in a gram of fat therefore, 198,000 / 9 = the grams of fat burned over 90 days. The answer? 22,000g / 1000 = 22kg. I needed to lose 20kg so this plan also gave me a buffer.
I assumed that if I kept my protein high enough, and continued to weight train, I would keep as much muscle and only burn fat. So after 90 days of adhering to the above I made weight on the day and went on to win in Athens feeling very frail and absurdly skinny.
It brought me short-term success, yes, but it was anything but a balanced lifestyle. It was all consuming. Sensible weightloss is sustainable.
Bath Time at the Marriott
(Disclaimer: performing this technique should not be used. It is very dangerous and will only dehydrate you. Myself nor Third Space can be responsible for any attempts you make to follow this protocol.)
After 13 weeks of training and restrictive dieting all that remained was fight night. The easy part. Me and another fighter from my gym were set to fight on the same card – MMA this time. We were amped up, feeling like we were fighting at the UFC in Las Vegas, instead of standing in the old beaten up TROXY on commercial road.
I was first on the scales. Prior to making our way to the venue we had weighed in and I was exactly were I should be 64.9kg. No food or water on the way and I’d be fine. I stepped up and looked down a the scale – 68.1kg! I couldn’t believe my eyes. The announcer shouted, “George Toohey fails to make weight – you have two hours.” Two hours to reach the 65kg weight category. It turns out the scales that myself and my teammate had been using were faulty. (Always trust your coaches, right?)
We made our way back to our coaches hotel room after stopping off for some essentials at the store. What happened next was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done. My coach referred to it as a Thompson’s Bath. He pulled out a large bottle of rubbing alcohol, an industrial sized tub of E45 cream and two large boxes of salt.
While I rubbed myself from neck downwards with the alcohol the bath was filled with only hot water; the contents of the salt and E45 were also emptied into the bath. Once the bath was full I sat there for as long as I could with only my neck and head out of the water.
I could feel the moisture being sucked out of my body. Once the water had cooled enough for me to stop sweating, my coach helped me out of the bath. I could barely walk straight. We finally got to the venue and I was able to get back on the scales and make weight.
When the bout came around I don’t remember exactly what happened, but suffice to say I lost the fight. Quickly.
We can all agree that neither of the above were sustainable, smart or healthy.
However, after a couple of years away, I plan to once again step on the scales and compete in the squared circle of Boxing. And this time I’m doing it the smart way.
These are the most sustainable and successful techniques I’m using today:
- The numbers game
Losing weight is all based on being in a calorie deficit. You can’t get away from it. If you burn more than you consume then you will lose weight. However, the most sustainable way of doing this is to give yourself enough time to lose small amounts weekly. Speak to a personal trainer about working out your daily calorie expenditure then figuring out a plan to gradually cut to your desired weight, size or look.
- Picking the right fuel
I will leave the low carb, high carb debate to Tim Hart and Andy Vincent, but what I have learnt through competitive sport can be explained as follows.
Think about sitting around a campfire and pouring petrol on it. Sure, it works in the short term, but every two minutes, once the petrol has burnt out, you need to add more petrol, and more, and more. Then all you can think about is when you need to add more petrol and have no time to play Country and Western on your acoustic guitar. This is what eating carbs at every meal is like – small bursts of rocket fuel that gives you highs and lows. After a while you increase the amount of carbs in each meal to give you longer and longer highs, but this often leads to storage and over production of fat.
Now imagine sitting around your campfire and finding a huge dry wooden log that you can leave for hours whilst you get on with our sing-alongs, This is what consuming the right fats is like. Sustained, low-intensity energy that will keep you engaged for longer.
Changing the timings of your fuel consumption to fats around low energy requirements and carbohydrates around high intensity bouts of requirement, such as hard weight training sessions or HIIT sessions, can dramatically change the way your body processes stored fuels and help you to lose weight more quickly.
- Keeping your protein high
This is incredibly important, especially when losing weight. According to the ACSM, consuming 1.0 – 2.0 g of protein per kilo of bodyweight you weigh, per day is needed for recovery, remodelling and metabolic adaptation. When it comes to fuelling your training days, you should up that to 2.4 g/ kg bw /day. This has been seen to aid in muscle growth whilst you are in a calorie deficit.
It’s obvious, but it remains on of the most important pieces of advice for any changes you want to make to your body. Whether that is to lose weight or gain muscle getting the preferred 6+ hours of sleep every night is key. I’m sure we have all woken up from 2 or 3 hours sleep to look at ourselves and see a water retained flabby mess staring back at us. This is due to the body needing those 6 hours+ for your body to reset, lay down energy stores, recover your muscles refuel and balance hormone production.