This week I caught up with an old school friend of mine and Healthy Selfier, Richard Blake (@genste). Richard is currently studying a Masters in Sports Nutrition. Now for most guys that are into the gym, whether they admit it or not, they’ve always dreamed of being a cover model on a big magazine like Men’s Health. Richard, however, turned this into reality when he entered a Men’s Health transformation competition and ended up winning! So in this interview we take a brief look into Richard’s non restrictive lifestyle, views on supplements, training and dieting. With so many different diets, programmes, opinions, fads and miracle products out there, it’s really good to hear an honest account on how he manages to stay on top of his physique all year round. Anyway, the guy is in incredible nick and for anyone looking for some advice, he has some awesome tried and tested tips that you can implement into your life!
Why did you start your transformation?
I first started when I was playing rugby at school. I wanted to get stronger to be more competitive. I lifted weights so that I could benefit outside the gym but now I just enjoy lifting for lifting’s sake. Lifting weights is one of the few things in life that you can really measure your progress. You can see that you managed 5kgs more on your squat from the previous week or you did 1 more rep on your pull ups.
How long did you transformation take?
I started when I was 18, I’m now 28. I wouldn’t say that the transformation was a linear process. I have had periods of being very bulky and periods of being very lean and periods of just not going to the gym at all. I even had to stop going to the gym for a year due to a neck injury. I lost a lot of muscle and gained fat. But the well-known benefits of ‘muscle memory’ allowed me to make good progress when I came back.
How did you do it? Any diets, training systems, websites, books etc. you can recommend?
I am currently following Layne Norton’s PHAT program and getting some really good results. PHAT stands for Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training and sees you mixing up both low-rep power lifting days with higher-rep bodybuilding style days. I really enjoy lifting as much weight as possible (and trying to impress everyone in the gym when I drop the weights as loudly as possible) and also getting the aesthetic gains that come from bodybuilding.
I have tried most diets out there, Paleo, Primal, Gluten-Free, Low-Carb, High-Carb but they are all too restrictive for me. I have found that IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) works really well for me. This is where you set yourself a caloric goal and then a macronutrient structure to aim for each day. So for me I would have 3,000 calories with 40% coming from carbs, 30% coming from protein and 30% fat. Like a child, if you say to me, you cant have cake now because it has gluten in it, I want it more than anything! I can resist it for a while but then I will have a bit and binge like it’s the last piece of cake I will ever have. And I believe that is how the psychology works. When you say to yourself, you can have a bit of cake today, but tomorrow you are back on the diet, you are going to try and get as much of that cake in your face while you can. This is where the real damage occurs. The devil is in the dose. I now allow myself to eat these foods regularly. Even when dieting down for my recent photoshoot I was eating chocolate or ice cream or cake every day. But of course, these were only little amounts and I made them fit in to my macro targets.
I like to go straight to the source for my information, I get the daily emails from Sciencedaily.com and will look on PubMed.com too. I really like Ben Coomber and his podcast. He seems like a really down to earth, smart guy who gives really sound, gimmick free advice. Plus he is English, which is quite rare in the fitness field. Layne Norton is also an excellent coach who doesn’t buy into the pervasive BS in the industry.
I’m a firm believer that you can achieve your goals by eating and training right, without stuffing 10kgs of supplements down your gullet. Do you take any supplements? And if so can you recommend any?
I do take quite a lot of supplements. You certainly don’t need them but I just enjoy trying out new things. There is a great website called Examine.com that summarises all the research on a product. I always check out their pages before I buy anything new.
I take a pre-workout mix of BCAAs, Creatine, Beta-Alanine and Citruline Malate (along with a black coffee).
For health purposes I take pro-biotics, fish oil, turmeric, spirulina and a greens powder.
Obviously diet and training are the two key components to any transformation. But which of the two do you contribute your success to the most?
If you are going to force me to pick one, I would go with nutrition. But the two are symbiotic. Without training you don’t get the benefits of nutrient partitioning and increased insulin sensitivity. Training also has so many psychological benefits to it. If I have a decent workout, I don’t want to waste my efforts by eating badly. The psychology of health and nutrition is such an undervalued aspect of the whole thing. I have heard from many nutritionists who will tell you that they spend most of their time acting as someone’s therapist rather than telling them what to eat.
You’ve featured in Men’s Health quite a few times. How was that? And how did you manage get yourself in that position?
That had been an ambition of mine from the day I started going to the gym, so I was really happy and proud to feature in the magazine. The best thing about it was when people would tell me that they were following my program or that I had inspired them to start going to the gym. I am studying a Masters in Sports Nutrition now and if I can inspire a few more people to take control of their health then I will be very happy.
Personally, I’m a serial yoyo dieter. I eat well 85% of the time, then diabolical the rest. Do you have any tips that you would recommend for people who want to keep a low body fat % all year round without becoming a full time recluse?
The painful truth is that diets don’t work. 80% of people who lose weight on a diet put that weight back on. And the majority of those people will then put on more weight than when they started. As I mentioned earlier, I think it is really important to allow yourself to eat ‘dirty’. Don’t swing from eating perfectly to eating terribly. You just need to control your portions. What really turned things around for me was tracking my macros with MyFitnessPal. I really learned how it felt to eat proper portion sizes.
What are your thoughts on Healthy Selfie? And how do you think it can help others achieve their goals?
I think it is a really great tool for people with health ambitions. I will have a flick through the fitfeed before a workout for motivation. When you can see people in great shape looking happy you almost have a tangible goal that you can reach for yourself. On a personal level if I never took those pictures in the first place, I never would have noticed the changes that I had had, that helped me to win the Men’s Health competition.
What would be your advice to someone starting out on their fitness journey?
My advice would be to find people in the industry who’s advice you can trust, like the three I mentioned earlier. Don’t follow training programs designed for people on steroids. Learn how it feels to eat proper portions by tracking your food for a couple of weeks.
Feeling inspired? Follow Richard on Healthy Selfie, @genste