Who said you can’t build muscle and get lean on a vegan diet?
Nathaniel is proof of what you can really achieve with a plant-based diet after making an impressive 12-week transformation at Ultimate Performance.
The 39-year-old says he had been in the worst shape of his life before starting at U.P. following a serious candida gut bacteria imbalance which left him suffering from aching joints, anxiety, fatigue, and muscle loss.
But now Nathaniel, who switched from a pescatarian, to fully plant-based diet last New Year, has built an incredible new physique.
Optimising his vegan diet and following a bespoke personal training plan at U.P. has helped him get stronger, fitter and leaner than ever in the year he turns 40.
“I think the figures speak for themselves my body fat is down from 17% to just below 10% and that’s only the start of how far I intend to take things now.
“Weight loss is only around 2-3kg, but actual body composition is much better and lean mass is up even though the weight on the scales is down.
“I was really in a bad place with training and motivation in the first half of this year, and the guys at U.P. have totally restored my confidence in training and that I’ve got a few good years of training left in me yet, even at the ripe age of 39 turning 40 this year.”
Nathaniel explains how he was able to lose fat and build this muscular physique while following a plant-based diet below.
What was your health and lifestyle like before you came to U.P.?
Overall fitness and training had taken a back seat with the business being so busy the last 18 months plus mentally I wasn’t in the right place with things at all; in fact, I was probably in the worst shape I’d ever been in in the first six months of 2017.
I’ve always played sport at a high level and trained since being a teenager with weight training playing a big part in my routine from the age of 18.
With being incredibly active, I needed to be strong but agile, and being tall, hitting the gym was pivotal to maintaining the right balance of overall fitness.
What was your diet like before U.P.?
I made the transition from being pescatarian at the end of December 2016 to being fully plant-based in January 2017.
The main reason behind this was that I had spent three weeks in Thailand over Christmas and New Year and decided that was the route I wanted to take in the New Year.
In addition to that, on returning from Thailand I suffered from quite a bad gut bacteria imbalance, which had started to cause some real issues like aching joints, muscle fatigue and anxiety. I was not in a great place mentally and had some dark days which is something I’ve never experienced before.
However, through an anti-fungal and parasitic protocol, I started to improve, but it did take nearly six months.
The condition also caused pretty significant muscle loss and a massive drop in strength, which was really difficult to come to terms with.
It was at this point that I decided to contact Ultimate Performance as I needed a serious kick start and being accountable to the guys at U.P. would provide exactly that.
I had gotten in touch 12 months earlier not long after the Manchester gym had opened, but it wasn’t the right time for me to take the leap into a program.
My diet was clean before I started with U.P. in September, but my protein intake was lower than what I had previously used to build muscle. I had become a bit lazy with my meals and stopped monitoring my calorie and macronutrient intake, so it was more of a finger-in-the-air approach.
Even though I was eating more than enough calories, I was too highly geared on carbs for the condition I was in.
My strength had dropped massively with the gut issues in the gym, and my body composition was nowhere near where it had been.
However, my trainer talked me through some strategies and goals and we set some nutrition baselines.
For me to continue losing body fat and drop below 10% I need roughly 2000 calories. This is pretty low for me, but I’m still able to maintain a great level of strength and have dropped no lean muscle which is hard for me to get my head around. The magic formula seems to be working!
What happened with your gut bacteria imbalance?
Test results showed some high amounts of some nasty bacteria plus a higher than expected presence of different types of candida.
I think I’d had underlying issues for some time as I hadn’t felt right for ages but for whatever reason when I came back from a holiday in Thailand in the Jan of 2017 something just really kicked off.
I could have picked up a parasite or bacteria while away but I’m not sure it may have just been dormant for a while and then something tipped the balance.
I started suffering from chronic fatigue, incredibly sore joints and a big drop in body weight, muscle and strength.
I’ve never experienced anything like it before and whatever was affecting me physically was also having an impact mentally. I started to suffer from anxiety, self-doubt, a whole host of things – it was really bizarre.
I started to read everything I could about gut health and the gut biome and it’s incredible how having any sort of dysbiosis can throw the whole chi of the body out.
After more research and speaking to several gut condition experts, I started on an anti-fungal protocol to attempt to rebalance the imbalance followed by a course of high strength probiotics to then replace the good guys back in the gut.
Going through this process was not easy. It took time, plus there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and not a lot of people experienced in gut biome. It was really difficult to know what approach to take.
I also underwent a course of colonics to attempt to flush from the other end, and this did help too. That took me up to August, so over six months to start to feel half normal again, it was then that I started to think about getting back into shape.
I had kept training but I was just turning up without purpose and that needed to change.
What motivated you to start your transformation?
The only way forward from the condition I was in was to hit training hard and have that contact and constant feedback loop that U.P. offer.
I can’t say I had a specific goal in mind other than to get back in shape. I’d always fixated on weight rather than body composition so coming away from that mindset was the biggest challenge.
We established that I should start by aiming for below 10% body fat, then reassess and look to reverse the diet back up to 3,000 calories-plus.
After some deliberation, it looks like we could potentially be aiming to undergo prep for a shoot around March time.
What changed when you started at U.P.?
I went back to counting calories, being completely strict again with meal prep and ensuring that I was back in the gym five times minimum per week. Focus and determination switched back on and so did the fire for training.
How quickly did you start to see results?
I saw results very quickly and probably within the first 2-4 weeks of starting. This really gave me a boost and fired my drive and motivation back up from rock bottom.
What changes did you make to your diet as part of your transformation?
The main change was that of the macro split. I changed from being too high on the carbs and too low on protein intake plus I hadn’t really taken any supplements for over six months.
I ate a lot of rice and oats which I don’t think agreed with me too well and left me bloated a lot of the time. I’ve pretty much cut both out at the moment and will eat more starchy carbs now when I need to.
These small changes made an impact on my training almost straight away.
How did changing your nutrition impact your performance and energy levels?
It’s made all the difference even though recently I’ve only been on 2,000 calories a day. It’s been challenging but I’ve gained muscle mass and dropped body fat which I still can’t believe!
Energy levels have really gone through the roof now in the new year with some tweaks on the supplements, but I always attempt to get my nutrients from whole foods and top up with supplementation.
What would you say to people who believe vegans can’t build muscle and get ‘shredded’?
It’s bullsh*t! If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything, but you have to be prepared. Otherwise, you are not going to be able to get the results.
I work anywhere from 12 to 14 hour days and travel all over the UK but still find the time to meal prep, prepare supplements and pack a gym bag every single day.
If you want the results this is the way it has to be; you also need to make sure you have an understanding girlfriend, family and friends!
What advice would you give to other people following a plant-based diet who want to get in shape?
You have to plan your macros ahead of time like a military operation. Have a few staple meals that you can prep easily and make you have some good supplements in the arsenal in case you’re ever caught short. Otherwise, you’ll have to make do with what’s available or to hand nearby.
A lot of places have vegan options now whether it be a coffee shop or restaurant so just be aware of where you are going.
What training or fitness had you done in the past? How did this compare to U.P.?
I have trained weights since the age of 18 and have been a bulky 105kg at my heaviest in my mid-20s, but that wasn’t any real shape of sorts, just pure mass.
Up until university, I played a lot of sport to a reasonably high level, but from the age of 25 weights took over as I became increasingly busier with work commitments.
The training at UP has been a lot more focused for me and some of the volume training, exercises and superset combinations are not something I’ve done for a long time, but we do everything with purpose and with a goal in mind.
How has your transformation changed your life outside the gym – at work, at home, in general life?
People have noticed that I’m back in the groove and a lot of guys at the gym have commented on my condition which is great as it’s been a while since I felt like I’m in good shape.
Are you proud of what you accomplished with your last New Year’s resolution and what’s this year’s aim?
I am proud of breaking through what was a dark time last year and getting back in great shape was an amazing feeling as there were times before I started with U.P. that I thought I would never get back to where I wanted to be.
The short-term goals now are to train for a photoshoot in March with the guys at U.P.
Next on the list is to start a blog for other entrepreneurs who are struggling with fitness and maybe looking at adopting a plant-based lifestyle as it so difficult to find the right information.
I’ve got some really exciting things going on with my business EcoSurv this year too so its pedal to the metal and no looking back now.
What are the biggest things you’ve learned about going plant-based and getting in shape?
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got an absolute ton more information to learn, and I’m only just really at the start of this plant-based journey.
The difficulty is getting the right macro split and doing that while in a (calorie) deficit.
To get the protein, you need to eat quite calorie-dense food such and beans, legumes and pulses along with nuts, tofu and tempeh all of which carry quite big numbers.
So long as you know your macros and keep on top then your good to go.
Going forward now, I’m pretty confident that over the next eight weeks I’ve got the right knowledge and have learned enough over the last 12 months to really knock it out of the park and get some really impressive results.
Exciting times ahead.