I mean, let's be honest: Who doesn't want to look good naked? It's the goal that most of us want to tell our trainers, but when push comes to shove, we retreat to responses like, "I want to feel fit and strong", or "To be more alert and healthy". Whatever. Stop beating around the bush. As for me, when I embarked on my 12-week training program with Ultimate Performance Singapore — the international fitness franchise from the United Kingdom which guarantees results, not promises — manager Chris Richards was upfront with the end goal: "Who do you want to look like?" Two words: Pietro Boselli. For the uninitiated, Boselli is a mathematics lecturer turned international male model after students started sneaking pictures of him during class and sharing it online, dubbing him, "The world's hottest math teacher." In short, he looks good naked. Richards' response? You better work.
First up: I'm no Pietro Boselli. That man has spent years sculpting and clean-eating his body to perfection. However, after just 12 weeks of training with Richards (three times a week) and following a strict eating plan (more on this later), I'm happy to report that I've managed to cut my body fat percentage from 15.8% down to 8.7%, and increase my lean body mass from 145.7 pounds to 149.6 pounds. It bloody hurt, it wasn't pretty, and there were times I just wanted to give up — especially when I pulled my back in the first month or endured a week of food-poisoning in Paris during men's fashion week — but looking back at the journey now, it's amazing what you can achieve in 12 weeks when you just keep on keeping on; especially since I was out of town (and didn't have access to a proper gym) for four of those weeks on various work trips.
THE RESULTS: 12 WEEKS LATER
So, it is with equal parts terror (the Internet is forever!) and pride (I stayed away from burgers and ice cream for 3 months!) that I present the before and after photos below. The great thing about training at Ultimate Performance Singapore was the professional support and investment that Richards made to ensure I maximised my potential during the 12 week period. So often personal trainers are on their phones during your training session; are fully committed at the beginning of your journey, but later fall into an uninspired routine; or are simply just not qualified to really help you transform your body. However, with Ultimate Performance, there were fortnightly measurements (weight, blood pressure, that dreaded body fat caliper) and photos (from every possible angle and at 8am in the morning when the caffeine still hadn't kicked in) to track progress and, as a result, to tailor the following fortnight's program and diet plan. Think your tailor knows you best? Wait till you meet a personal trainer from Ultimate Performance.
IT'S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU EAT
Personally, the biggest takeaway from my Ultimate Performance journey was just how important nutrition is to your overall body composition. We all know that we are what we eat, but do you really know what you're eating? For example, did you know that there are essential amino acids (proteins) and essential fatty acids (fat), but no such thing as essential carbohydrates? That's right, your body doesn't actually need carbs to survive. Why? because there are carbs in freaking everything from broccoli (6 grams per 150 grams) to kale (10 grams per 100 grams). And not all carbs are created equal. Case in point: There are only 20 grams of carbs per 100 grams of sweet potato compared to 80 grams of carbs in the equivalent amount of rice. This might not sound all that enlightening now, but when you're only allocated 130 grams of carbs for the entire day by your personal trainer, eating a bowl of rice is going to screw you over later (read: leave you starving) compared to eating a greater volume of sweet potatoes.
"You can't out-train a bad diet. People don't burn as many calories as they think while exercising and it's all too easy to overeat."
Since my fitness goal was to get ripped (that is, I wanted to see my abs) I had to achieve a calorie deficit. To achieve a calorie deficit, you first have to calculate the number of calories required to maintain your current body weight and then, as recommended by Richards, minus 10 to 30 percent from that total to create the deficit. Of course, the most accurate way to work this out is to consult a personal trainer, but there are also online formulas available. To accelerate the process, and to add lean muscle mass, Richards threw in a heap of compound body exercises (such as squats, bench presses and lateral pulldowns) to get the metabolism firing — including my personal favourite: High Intensive Interval Training (HIIT) by way of cardio to finish off my workouts. It all made sense in theory: Burn more calories than you consume. But in practice? Me. Exhausted on the floor. Legs raised to get the blood back to my vital organs. The pain is real.
GETTING FIT IS A 24-HOUR COMMITMENT
Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle, or both — discipline and focus is required 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's not enough to just hit it hard in the gym for an hour and then tuck into cheesecakes, chocolates and croissants afterwards as a 'treat'. As Richards says, "You can't out-train a bad diet. People don't burn as many calories as they think while exercising and it's all too easy to overeat." So, if you're really serious about seeing a transformation, then you have to count your calories. There's no way around it. But with apps such as MyFitnessPal on your phone, getting into the habit of inputing your food really isn't that hard. In fact, I found it downright educational.
Interesting fact: One tablespoon of oil is equivalent to 15 grams of fat, which translates to 135 calories. And it takes me about 30 minutes on a treadmill — walking on an incline — to burn off 150 calories. Just think of how many tablespoons of oil there is in your favourite hawker meal! A plate of chicken rice alone will have me on the treadmill for two hours.
Another truth nugget: There are nine calories per gram of fat compared to just four calories per gram of protein or carbs. "A common mistake when people start to diet is that they will have healthy meals with oily fish, add oil-based dressings to their salads, or snack on huge bags of nuts throughout the day without realising that they are eating significantly more calories than they need," warns Richards. "Also, managing blood sugar is very important. You want to keep your insulin levels in check because it's a storage hormone. What does this mean? If you have high insulin levels, and you overeat, this excess food will be stored as fat." That's right kids, sugar is the devil. Alcohol? "High in calories with negative knock-on effects," says Richards. "Because of the hormonal downregulation that occurs in the following days, making you feel tired and lethargic, you also tend to make poor food choices."
WOULD I RECOMMEND ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE?
Most definitely. Training with Richards has really introduced discipline and self-care back into my daily routine. It's been a lifestyle change, from training three to four times a week and eating clean (made easier by customising and ordering my meals online) to forcing myself to drink gallons of water each day (it's recommended that you drink one litre per 25 kg of bodyweight), but it's been totally worth it. Besides looking good, I now feel strong, lean and healthy. I'm in the best shape I've been in since moving to Singapore six years ago. Everything is firing on all engines, and there is a renewed sense of alertness.
If you're thinking about training with Ultimate Performance, my advice is to set up a consultation and find out more. Let me tell you: They are the real deal. And, if you do commit to a transformation program, know this: There's going to be tears. You can't look good naked without 100% commitment. As Chris Martin sings in 'The Scientist': Nobody said it was easy. Or, to put it more bluntly, Britney Spears style, "You want a hot body?... Look hot in a bikini? You better work b*tch."