Kill your strength tests,
What I am about to share is the nutrition plan that allowed me to drop over twenty pounds of body weight in eight weeks—without sacrificing strength and muscle mass.
I know this is an uncommon topic for the StrongFirst blog and this is, in fact, the first article that has to do with nutrition. But there are quite a few good reasons that prompted me to embark on this challenge, and to share it with you.
Yes, I know most of you are thinking my reasons must have to do with being lean and muscular, looking good, and all this bodybuilding stuff. Some of you, most likely those who, as me, have left their forties behind them, may be thinking about being healthy, which is a more foresighted thought.
Well, you all are right! Only I have another very good reason you might not have guessed. This reason is called relative strength.
The Value of Relative Strength
While absolute strength refers simply to the amount of weight you are lifting, relative strength refers to the amount of weight you are lifting in relation to your bodyweight.
And if you think about it, all of the strength tests you undergo when you attend a StrongFirst Certification actually challenge your relative strength—the half-bodyweight military press at the SFG II, the one-arm one-leg pushup at the SFB, and the two-time bodyweight deadlift and 1.25-time bodyweight bench press at the SFL.
In general, if being strong delivers countless benefits, being strong relatively to your bodyweight delivers even more.
There are many great articles on our blog that provide good advice on how to prepare for our Certifications, how to improve your skill in certain movements, and how to become stronger in specific lifts in order to pass the tests. But, in some cases, all this may be not enough.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to lose some weight. This will increase your relative strength, and at the same time decrease the weight that must be used at the tests.
So perhaps you’ll agree with me now, that my final reason for sharing my nutrition plan that allowed me to lose over twenty pounds of bodyweight without sacrificing strength and muscle mass is a good reason after all.
The Story Behind the HTT Fat Loss Plan
Given my long history in the natural bodybuilding business, I have been more or less on a diet for over half of my life. Only in recent years, it was rather less than more.
To stick to the slang of the bodybuilder, I kept trying to “eat clean,” limit unhealthy and calorie-dense foods, and restrict the binges to rare occasions. But without my yearly appointment with the bodybuilding stage, I was lacking a short- or medium-term goal to keep me on track. As a result, my average bodyweight gradually grew from the 190-195lb of a few years ago to 210-215lb by the end of 2014.
Of course, along with my bodyweight, my amount of body fat increased, as well. Since I had quit bodybuilding and devoted myself to strength training, it wasn’t necessary for me to show off a super-defined six-pack anymore. But while the excessively low body fat typical of a competitive bodybuilder doesn’t seem to get along too well with being strong and in good health, an adequate amount of leanness is good for health. And, as I mentioned above, it certainly helps relative strength. It’s also true that keeping body fat under control helps increase the level of self-esteem you experience when you find yourself in underwear in front of the mirror.
So, I decided to use the knowledge I acquired at college and by reading countless books and articles on nutrition, combined with the experience I accumulated over decades as a coach and athlete in the natural bodybuilding business, to design my own dietary plan. My challenge was to reduce my bodyweight and minimize my fat mass, while preserving as much as possible my absolute strength and, therefore, increase my relative strength.
Very ambitious, but a challenge is a challenge, right? It’s worth quoting a sentence I have heard from Pavel on several occasions: “If it was easy, everyone would do it!”
I must say that my plan worked—and it did so way beyond my expectations.
I lost over twenty pounds in eight weeks, I never felt tired or hungry, and I didn’t sacrifice my strength. At the end of the eight weeks, my 1RMs in the squat and deadlift remained unchanged, though I lost around ten pounds in my bench press. That said, even if I had been competing in a powerlifting meet, I would have achieved a better result than if I hadn’t gone through my nutritional plan, given that it is a weight-class sport and I would have dropped to a lower class. And, on top of all this, I experienced an increased ease when I performed my pullups, pistols, and one-arm pushups.
When I started the plan, I did it together with Marco De Pretto, my training partner, and Thomas Pesce, my business partner, and they both experienced equally encouraging results. Therefore, within a short time, many of our friends and colleagues started asking about our diet and expressed the desire to give it a shot.
Thanks to the power of social media, in response to pictures and posts on the part of those who followed the plan, the news spread like wildfire and I soon found myself barraged with requests. This prompted me to restructure the plan in a way that allowed me to adapt it to different people and, at the same time, gather data I could use to improve it.
I’m telling you all this because I want you to know that what I am about to share is a plan that has proven to be effective for a large number of people of both genders, of different ages, and from different countries.
The HTT Fat Loss Plan Philosophy
Before I proceed, I want to be clear from the outset. I am not a dietician or a nutritional biologist, and therefore I do not have a license for designing diets. What I present below is for informational purposes only. Do you want to know how I lost those pounds of fat without sacrificing muscle mass and strength? Do you wish to experience the plan yourself? Before you do, you must first ask your doctor’s advice and strictly follow his or her instructions.
Also, I must tell you about my operating choices and how they have been dictated in part by my knowledge of how most people’s bodies react to different foods, and in part by my long experience as an athlete and as a coach of competitive athletes in the natural bodybuilding business. It should be noted that my choices are not always in agreement with all the various nutritional philosophies. When I designed my plan, I was inspired by the nutritional patterns proposed by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale and his Radical Diet and by Dr. Loren Cordain and his Paleo Diet.
Notice I wrote that I was inspired by these ideas, not that I copied them. So I ask the fundamentalists of the Radical Diet and Paleo Diet to not to blame me if they find some inconsistencies with the two dietary patterns in what I present below. Those of you who have been exposed to the writings of Mauro Di Pasquale and/or Loren Cordain may have already guessed that my plan is particularly generous in animal protein and low in carbohydrates. (Pavel recommends the animal protein at Butcher Box, by the way.)
In general, my plan is based on the intake of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil. It does not contemplate the intake of cereals, legumes, or dairy products, at least not for most of the time. (Though there are the “Jolly Days,” but now I’m getting ahead of myself!)
Many of you will be wondering why no cereals, legumes, and dairy products and, therefore, no pasta, bread, crackers, beans, soy, peas, milk, cheese, and yogurt. I could refer you to the writings of Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, or simply tell you that in my decades-long experience as a natural bodybuilding athlete and coach, when it was time to quickly get rid of excess fat these foods were the first to be eliminated.
Does it really matter so much why? Eliminating them works, period. But let’s say it does matter to you. Well, there are loads of books out there on the subject out there, and I wouldn’t be able to provide better explanations than those.
Others among you will wonder if you can get the same results without giving up certain foods, or with lower proteins and higher carbs, or even with a vegetarian or a vegan approach. I think the answer is yes. I know many people who are in admirable shape and eat in a way that is diametrically opposed to mine. But if you are interested in a different approach, you’ll have to ask others how to do it, because I don’t have the knowledge and experience that would allow me to give you such advice.
Finally, some of you will wonder if a diet that is particularly rich in animal protein can be harmful to your health, especially in the long term. In my humble opinion, it is not. But this is, of course, my humble opinion. As you surely know, in the field of human nutrition there are many conflicting opinions, even among the most authoritative experts.
My library has many college books on nutrition, but also several texts deployed at the extremes of dietary philosophy, from The Metabolic Diet to The China Study, and I can guarantee that in each of the books the author reinforces his thesis with arguments that are, at least apparently, indisputable. But let’s assume for a moment that a diet rich in proteins pursued in the long term is harmful to health. Being chronically overweight—is that beneficial to health? Is it more harmful to health to temporarily unbalance the nutritional supply toward proteins for the limited time needed to reach your ideal weight or to remain overweight indefinitely? I leave the answers to you.
I must also stress that what follows is a plan that aims for rapid weight loss and fat loss, rather than something to be adopted as a nutritional lifestyle. It is rather like the peak phase of a strength cycle—it leads you to an apex of performance, but it’s not the way you would train for the rest of the year.
The Heart of the HTT Fat Loss Plan
I will provide you with an example of the plan calibrated for a subject of 210lb of bodyweight, whose goal it is to reach a bodyweight of 190lb. (As you might guess, this was me.) Then, I will explain the calculations necessary for you to personalize the plan.
What follows is the list of permitted foods. This means those who follow the plan can eat any of the foods that are listed, but none of those that aren’t.
The permitted foods are divided in two main categories: those that can be eaten in limited quantities and those that can be eaten in unlimited quantities. A certain amount (portion) of each food belonging to the limited quantities category is assigned a score of 10. You will understand the purpose of the score given to those foods later as you read the operational part of the plan.
Foods That Can Be Eaten in Limited Quantities
The specified quantities are valued at 10 points
- 3.5 oz. lean beef or veal steak
- 3.5 oz. lean beef burger or ground lean beef or veal
- 3.5 oz. chicken breast or turkey or chicken thigh without skin
- 5.3 oz. octopus or squid or cuttlefish or fillet of cod or hake fillet
- 4.5 oz. crab or shrimp or lobster
- 4.2 oz. sole or trout or red fish or sea bass or sea bream or fresh tuna
- 3.5 oz. canned tuna in brine
- 2.5 oz. canned salmon in brine or fresh salmon or smoked salmon
- 3.5 oz. sliced roast beef
- 3.5 oz. sliced turkey breast
- 5 oz. canned lean meat
- 2.5 oz. bresaola
- 2.5 oz. crudo ham
- 1.4 oz. beef jerky
- 1 whole egg
- 6 egg whites
- 1 oz. very low-carb protein powder
- 1 apple
- 1 pear
- 1 peach
- 3 apricots
- 3 plums
- 1 orange
- 2 tangerines
- 2 kiwis
- 1 grapefruit
- 7 oz. fresh pineapple or sugar-free canned pineapple
- 7 oz. watermelon
- 7 oz. melon
- 1 cup of strawberries or berries
- 1 cup of fresh cherries
- 1 cup of grapes
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 0.8 oz. walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews
- 1.8 oz. avocado
Foods That Can Be Eaten in Unlimited Quantities
The specified foods/beverages are valued at 0 points
- Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
- Cucumbers, celery, radishes
- Lettuce, arugula, radicchio
- Onions, leeks, scallions
- Tomatoes, peppers
- Spinach, chicory (curly endive), boiled vegetables
- Pumpkin, zucchini
- Coffee, tea, herbal teas (with no sweeteners or dairy added)
- Diet cola and other zero-calorie beverages
Spices and dressings:
- All spices
- Wine vinegar (not balsamic)
- Lemon juice
Now that you have the list of the foods that can be eaten, it’s time to understand when they should be eaten and in what amount. This is also when you will understand the scores assigned to certain foods and how the plan works in practice.
First, here is a list of acronyms you’re about to run into:
- TMS: Total Maximum Score
- TmS: Total minimum Score
- ProS: Protein Score
- FruS: Fruit Score
- FatS: Fat Score
- HTT: Hit The Target
The Hit The Target Plan
How Does It Work?
- You can eat all the foods on the lists.
- You can combine the foods on the lists as you wish.
- You can eat as many times as you want, at any time of the day.
- Calculate the score for each food according the amount you are about to eat, e.g. you are about to eat 7oz. of beefsteak. 3.5oz. of beefsteak is worth 10 points. Therefore, you are about to ingest 20 points.
- Sum all the scores from the foods you ingest and keep note of the total as it accrues over the course of the day.
- Your goal each day is to accumulate a minimum of 150 points (TmS) and a maximum of 180 points (TMS).
- The minimum score that must result from protein foods is 90 points (ProS).
- The maximum score that can result from fruits is 30 points (FruS).
- The maximum score that can result from fatty foods is 30 points (FatS).
- Weigh yourself every morning when you wake up, after having completed any physiological function and before ingesting any food or any liquid. Take note of your weight and enter it into your journal (see below).
- The quantities indicated in the lists refer to raw foods.
- Cook your foods without adding fats.
- Consume your vegetables raw, boiled, steamed, baked, or grilled.
- Before eating a food, make sure it’s on the lists. If a food is not present on any of the lists of allowed foods, you are NOT allowed to eat it.
- Drink plenty of fluids, ideally at least one gallon of water every day.
- Keep a journal of what you eat.
The Jolly Day
- Each time you drop 2lb and its multiples from your beginning bodyweight, you have Hit the Target (HTT) and you earn the right to a Jolly Day. So, if your initial bodyweight is 210lb, you will will earn your Jolly Day when your bodyweight has reached or dropped below 208, 206, 204, 202, 200, 198, 196, 194, 192, 190, etc.
- The Jolly Day must happen on the day that follows the weigh-in where you Hit the Target. Note: It’s actually important for the Jolly Day to happen! Don’t skip it and try to be a hero!
- The day after a Jolly Day you must resume the program.
If you are accustomed to eating in a manner that is very different to the one suggested in this program, you may experience rapid weight loss, especially in the first few days of the plan. This means you might Hit The Target quickly, perhaps even on the second or third day. Also, at least at the beginning, you may Hit The Target very often, possibly twice a week or more. Don’t worry about this and always do your Jolly Day every time you Hit The Target, even if it seems too early to you.
Trust me, within a few weeks you will be missing the times when you had so many Jolly Days so close to each other!
How Does the Jolly Day Work?
On this day, you are allowed to indulge in all the foods and drinks that you like, and there are no quantity limits. Although nothing is off-limits, you should know that if this “bonus day” turns into a crazy 24-hour binge, your progress will slow down. If you stick to the suggestions that follow, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the day without adversely affecting all the work you’ve done up to that point.
- Instead of eating all day without any rules, select one or two meals where you indulge in the foods and drinks you miss the most.
- For the rest of the day, eat as you have been on the program, but without paying too much attention to the quantities.
- Still do your best to ensure a good intake of greens and vegetables, and drink plenty of water.
- The ideal is to maintain a regimen similar to the basic program, without paying much attention to the amounts, and add a hearty main dish or a pizza, a dessert, and possibly some alcoholic beverages somewhere in the course of your day.
- Always opt for genuine and wholesome foods over industrial products even on your Jolly Days. It’s better to consume a good dish of pasta and homemade cake or cookies as opposed to industrial snacks, bags of chips, etc.
- When it comes to alcoholic beverages, wine is preferable, especially if red, but beer, whiskey, rum, vodka, and tequila can also be fine. Try to avoid sweet spirits and cocktails.
Tips for Following This Plan
- Learn how to allocate the amount of food you are eating so you do not run out of points by mid-day.
- Similarly, don’t set yourself up to have to binge at night in order to reach your required minimum score.
- It shouldn’t happen, but: in the extreme case that you find yourself at mid-day with no points left, you can continue to eat the foods worth zero points.
- It shouldn’t happen, but: in the extreme case that you happen to exceed the maximum score, note the additional points accumulated and “pay your debt” the following day. If you have exceeded your maximum by more than 30 points, break up your repayment plan over several days so that you never pay more than 30 points a day. For example, let’s assume your TMS is 150 points and you have eaten a total of 170 points. The next day, your limit will be 130 points instead of 150. But if your TMS is 150 points and you ate a total of 210 points, then for the next two days, your limit would be 120 points.
- It shouldn’t happen, but: if you have earned the right to a Jolly Day, but you know that after a few days you will attend a social event where it will be difficult for you to follow protocol, reschedule your Jolly Day to the day of the event. This is an exception, not the rule!
- If you happen to be overcome by ingesting foods that are not included on the lists, it means you’re a sissy with no willpower. Forget the program and go to subscribe to a Zumba class.
- The permitted foods are all common and available at any grocery store or restaurant. Many of them can be kept at room temperature and are easily transportable. So, you have no excuses!
- Instructions cannot cover all eventualities and there is no substitute for good judgment.
Pretty simple, right? It’s all about keeping track of what you eat during the day. Take note of the scores of your meals, add them up, and make sure your daily totals remain within the given ranges (or make up accidental overages as indicated above).
What absolutely isn’t allowed is introducing foods not on the lists.
But, come on, how hard is that? After all, there are plenty of choices on the lists!
Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about respecting a strict number of meals and snacks per day or to eat at set times. All that is important is complying every day with the range of the total scores and eating from the lists.
And every time you Hit The Target, you gain the right to a Jolly Day. So remember that and stay dedicated—then you’ll earn the days where you can eat whatever you want and in the amount you want!
A Tip About Weighing and Measuring
It will serve you to start thinking in terms of portions rather than ounces. Weighing your food out to fractions of an ounce will make you crazy!
For example, once you have assessed the average size of a beef sirloin steak that weighs 10.5oz, it will be easy for you to eyeball that portion moving forward. You’ll be able to look at steak on your plate and get an idea of how much it weighs.
When you buy your foods, the net weight is always indicated somewhere on the package. Therefore, it is easy to get an idea of how many points you would be ingesting if you ate one third of the package. At restaurants, the average weight of the portions is often indicated on the menu and, if it’s not, you can ask the waiter.
Come on, let’s be pragmatists!
Example of a Typical Day
Below is an example of a typical day’s journal with a score of 150 points. It will allow you to see how easy it is to keep track of scores and make sure they stay within the given ranges. Even though this examples shows three main meals and two snacks, remember there are no obligations regarding the number of daily meals and the times at which these are to be consumed.
How to Personalize the Plan
The following explanations are exclusively operational, if you are searching for the physiological and biochemical reasons that led me to make my choices with regard to the foods and calculations, you will be disappointed.
I am not going to write a treatise on human nutrition, it would be long and tedious. And, as I already said, I am not a dietician or a nutrition biologist. Besides, I have no desire of entering into polemics with anyone, especially those who would have addressed the fat-loss matter with a different approach.
I don’t claim to know more than others and I am not stating that my program is better, more effective, healthier, or more fulfilling than others. I’m only saying it has worked very well for me and for others, and I invite you to study it and draw your own conclusions.
If your study of the Hit The Target Fat Loss Plan leads you to want to follow this protocol yourself, then you need to customize this plan. First, you need to have a goal to achieve in terms of body weight. And your goal should be determined according to a realistic assessment, rather than the search for a miracle.
Ideally, you should have access to some kind of body composition assessment tool, such as a skin-fold caliper or a bio-electrical impedance device to help you estimate your ideal bodyweight. If nothing is accessible, you can assume your ideal weight based on how much you weighed at the times in your life when you were in good shape. Or you can use one of the many formulas and tables available on the web that estimate ideal bodyweight according to height, age, gender, etc.
If you are a strength athlete or a bodybuilder, you should be particularly careful as the ideal bodyweight of muscular people will be, in most cases, higher than what is estimated by formulas based on data such as height and age. Typically, these generic calculators and formulas don’t take into account the amount of a person’s lean body mass. In these cases, a little extra caution always pays off. I recommend you initially estimate an ideal bodyweight that exceeds the one obtained from the formulas. Once you have reached that weight, if you are not satisfied with the results, you can recalculate your scores according to a new and more audacious goal.
The same applies for those whose are over weight by more than 25lb. In this case, the best option is to establish a first target that, once reached, will be the starting point for a second round of calculations. I recommend that reaching the first target should not require a weight loss that exceeds 25lb. For instance, a person who weighs 220, with an ideal bodyweight of 185, should set a first goal of 195. Once he has reached this bodyweight, he should then recalculate his score according to his final goal of 185lb. A person weighing 210, with an ideal body weight of 190 can instead calculate his score directly according to his final target bodyweight.
To guide you through the process of calculating the customized scores, I will keep using the example of the male subject weighing 210lb with a goal of 185lb.
- The minimum score from the intake of protein foods (ProS) must equal the target weight divided by two, and then rounded to the closest tenth unit. In our example: 185/2 = 95, rounded to 90 points.
- The maximum score from the intake of fruits (FruS) must equal one third of ProS, rounded to the closest tenth unit. In our example: 90/3 = 30 points.
- The maximum score from the intake of fatty foods (FatS) must equal one third of ProS, rounded to the to the closest tenth unit. In our example: 90/3 = 30 points.
- The daily minimum total score (TmS) is the sum of the three previous scores: 90 + 30 + 30 = 150 points.
- The daily maximum total score (TMS) is equal to TmS plus 30 points: 150 + 30 = 180 points.
- The amount of bodyweight to lose (HTT) each time in order to Hit The Target and earn a Jolly Day is equal to the target bodyweight divided by 100 and rounded to the closest half pound. In our example: 185/100=1.85, rounded to 2 lbs.
All you have to do to customize the Hit The Target Fat Loss Plan is make the above calculations according to a certain target bodyweight and plug those numbers into the program.
That’s all! Simple and effective! Should you wish to experience yourself this protocol, I remind you once again that you must first talk to your doctor and strictly follow his or her instructions.