90 Day Fitness Challenge: Results and Lessons

90 Day Fitness Challenge: Results and Lessons

"If a man achieves victory over this body, who in the world can exercise power over him? He who rules himself rules over the whole world." - Vinoba Bhave

For the past almost four years, I've trained at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems in Glendale, AZ.

I went from being a mostly sedentary programmer who smoked a pack-and-a-half a day and ate whatever he wanted to somebody who makes a significant effort to make health and fitness a major part of his life.

I generally eat well, avoiding sodas and most sugary/processed foods. I do enjoy cheat days, which find me enjoying some Ben & Jerry's or Talenti gelatto. If you haven't tried Talenti's Caramel Cookie Crunch, you owe it to yourself to do so.

I haven't smoked in over four years. And I've been completely nicotine-free for two. Yes, those who are proficient at math will recognize a small overlap there. I was on various nicotine-replacement-therapies for about two years. Mostly nicotine gum, sometimes the nicotine lozenge. I rationalized that it was better for me than smoking. And while it arguably was, I was still slave to an addiction. Finally walking away from nicotine and tobacco completely was one of the hardest things that I'd ever done, and remains to this day as one of my proudest accomplishments.

I also exercise regularly. At first, I used my Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit. To an overweight smoker programmer, that was exercise. It got me moving. But I knew that I'd need to do more than that. Fate brought me to Krav Maga. I didn't start with REACT, as I was living in California at the time. But it wasn't long before we moved back to Phoenix and I signed up with REACT.

REACT offers free fitness assessments and 90 Day Challenges to most members, depending on membership. They'll perform some measurements, such as weight, body fat, waist, chest, arms, etc. You agree to attend at least 2 of their strength training classes per week (A.L.E.E.T. or Core Board), and at least 2 of any other class (Bag, Krav Maga, Tactical Black). Based on the number of hours you plan on training, and your calculated basal metabolic rate (BMR), they determine your daily caloric intake, which for the sake of the program should be 40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fats. And the rest is up to you.

My numbers, taken at the beginning of my challenge, at the mid point, and the final results:

  Initial Meeting 45 Day Check-In Final Meeting
  28 Feb 2014 11 Apr 2014 28 May 2014
Weight (lbs) 206.6 203.2 193.8
Waist (inches) 40 1/4 40 1/2 39 3/4
Chest 43 1/4 42 3/4
Body Fat (%) 24.2 24.0 22.5
BMI 31.4 30.9 29.5
Lean Muscle Mass (lbs) 156.6 154.4 150.2

Overall, I couldn't be happier. Down almost 13 lbs and almost 2% body fat gone. It could've been better, yes, but notice not necessarily the difference between the initial meeting and the final meeting, but the initial meeting and the 45 Day Check-in. There was almost no difference over the first 45 days!

Over the first 45 days, I lost just over 3 lbs, but only 2/10 of percentage of body fat. This was a bit concerning, as I had been going to 6 classes per week (3 A.L.E.E.T, 1 bag, and 2 Tactical Black). This was a significant increase over what I'd been doing, as I admittedly had been slacking a bit this calendar year and only managing about 3 classes per week on a good week. Doubling the classes, and bearing in mind that I burn around 800 calories in any given one hour class, I thought the pounds should have just melted away.

So we turned and looked at my eating. As part of the Challenge, the instructors suggest that you log the foods you eat, using a tool like My Fitness Pal. I thought that I was already eating pretty well, so I didn't bother with that part. But I needed to now, if only to know where I was going wrong.

I bought a kitchen scale, I dusted off my My Fitness Pal account ("Welcome Back, Charlie! It has been 1834 days since your last login"), and got down to business. Because I felt that I had "lost" those first 45 days, I decided to go aggressive and target my calories at about 1700 for the day.

Two weeks later, I had an mini-check-in session, just to see how things were going now that I was tracking my food. Here's how that went:

  45 Day Check-In Two Weeks Later
  11 Apr 2014 25 Apr 2014
Weight 203.2 200.2
Body Fat 24.0 23.0
BMI 30.9 30.4
Lean Muscle Mass 154.4 154.1

In the two weeks that I had been monitoring and tracking my food intake, I had lost another 3 lbs, but also a full percentage of body fat. In two weeks, I had accomplished more than I had in the 45 days prior.

Monitoring and tracking the food really was the issue. I don't know exactly what I was doing wrong, but I imagine I was probably high on calories, and high on carbs. Keeping to 1700 calories, at a 40% protein, 30% carb, 30% fat ratio had definitely made a difference. But there was one small issue... the resulting lean muscle mass had gone down as well. That meant that some of the weight that I lost was muscle, and not fat. The issue there was likely that I had overcompensated by dropping the calories to 1700. My BMR is around 2100, and I was attending 6 one hour classes per week, burning in the neighborhood of 800 calories in an hour. I needed more calories.

With that in mind, I bumped the calories up to 2100, maintaining the same protein/carb/fat ratio. In fact, even though I was targeting 2100, on most days I tried to hit closer to 2300, still minding the protein/carb/fat ratio. I never minded going over on my protein, but made every effort to keep the carbs and fats at a reasonable number.

I think the end result speaks for itself. While there was almost no difference between the initial meeting and the 45 day check-in, the difference between the 45 day check-in and the final meeting was very encouraging to me. Almost 10 lbs dropped in the last 45 days, as compared to 3 lbs in the first 45. A percent and a half down in body fat in the second half, versus two-tenths of a percent in the first.

I could be disappointed in the first 45 days. But while the numbers weren't where I'd have liked them to have been, I clearly learned a lot. Now I know that, while I thought I generally ate well, I really wasn't eating well enough to see the changes I want to see. I still need to weigh out my portions and track what I eat. It's challenging at first, but now I sit down in the morning and pretty much plan out my meals for the day while I'm having my morning coffee. It's not a terribly sexy meal plan. Lots of chicken. Lots of salmon. Not much variety, but as far as filling a need, it works. I also recognize the importance of balancing the proteins/carbs/fats. Previously, I thought that staying away from sweets and processed foods was enough. For some people, it might be. But for my regimen and for my goals, I really need to stick to that 40/30/30 ratio.

Aside from the numbers, there's what I see in the mirror. I see noticeable improvements in my arms, chest, and shoulders. I see very definite noticeable improvements in my stomach. Monday night we were at a friend's house for barbecue. My nine year-old daughter noticed me getting out of the pool and exclaimed, "Daddy! You're getting abs!" While that was nice to hear, I'm still a long way from where I'd like my stomach to be. But yes, there are vertical lines showing definition, where there used to be only horizontal lines indicating rolls of flab. And a few weeks ago, the most telling result of all. I went to put on a pair of shorts that did fit me at one point in my life, but then, not so much. I couldn't even get them buttoned. I went to put on those shorts, hoping that I could button them, expecting a struggle. Not only did I not struggle, but I needed to find my belt. Numbers are nice to see, but results like these... what you see in the mirror, what you hear from other people, those are the results that really make you smile.

I plan to start another 90 Day Challenge with REACT around mid summer. I have a trip home to NJ planned before then, and there's little point to scheduling a new challenge when there's going to be a 10 day stretch where I won't be training and I'll likely be allowing myself some leeway in what I eat. Given what I now know and the things that I've learned, I'm sure it's going to be phenomenal.

As always, nothing but gratitude to the people at REACT. Mike Bolles, the head instructor at Glendale, was always accessible when I had questions about eating or strength training. All of the other instructors knew that I was participating in this challenge, and knew what my goals were. In class, when I felt like I was done, they were always there to motivate me to dig deeper and find the strength to continue. I have never known a group of individuals so dedicated to encouraging others and helping them to reach their goals. I am eternally grateful to have such people in my life.

Now if you'll excuse me... I may need to allow myself a cheat day to celebrate. There's a container of Talenti Caramel Cookie Crunch in the frozen food aisle at Safeway that's got my name on it.

Charlie Griefer

Charlie Griefer

Just another ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust.

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