Bodies by Design Pro-Trainer Nicolas shares his Secrets on how to prepare for a Photo Shoot including a plan for diet, exercise, supplements and more!
What inspired you to want to do this photoshoot?
The main inspiration for this shoot was simply a personal challenge for myself. I had made attempts to get lean in past years but had never tried to get ‘photoshoot ready’ per se. I felt like my training was getting stagnant, and I needed a new challenge to get me to push myself further than I had before. Before I started my fitness journey years ago, the idea of being in good enough physical shape to have shirtless pictures taken of me was so far out of reach that it did not seem even remotely achievable. I had always looked at the models in Men’s Health Magazines, or on Instagram and thought, I would never have a physique worthy of a photo shoot. But as I continued to make progress over the years, that goal seemed more and more possible.
So I finally decided to contact a photographer and set a goal date for this shoot and get to work.
How many years had you been training before you did this shoot?
I started going to the gym towards the beginning of 2016, which would be about three and a half years ago. But I wasn’t very consistent with my workouts. I would make up workouts when I would get to the gym and wouldn’t focus too much on form, or making progress with specific exercises/weights/reps/sets, etc. So I didn’t make a lot of progress in those first six months or so. As I started to learn more about following a proper training protocol, my progress started to speed up. I believe that there is always something new to be learned in this field, and I am still continually refining my approach to try to get better.
Can you tell us a little bit about your nutrition program?
I had to make constant adjustments to my nutrition program throughout the process of prepping for the photo shoot. The key that helped me in the overall process of dieting was that I started my cut on relatively high calories (around 3000). My metabolism was running very high, and I could easily maintain my weight at 3000 calories/day. So this gave me a lot of room to drop my calories incrementally throughout the 8-week prep, to avoid hitting plateaus. The dieting portion of the photoshoot prep didn’t get difficult until the last three weeks. This was when my calories were around 2000/day, and I was feeling the effects of the low calories daily. The muscle soreness started to get a lot more prominent, and I was feeling hungry most of the day.
The last week during the carb depletion, I also experienced headaches, irritability, muscle cramps, very low energy, and night sweats. These were all elements of a photoshoot prep that I had anticipated but never experienced first-hand before. The last week of sticking to my nutrition protocol was definitely the most challenging aspect of the photoshoot prep.
So how strict was your diet? Did you have cheat days, for example?
My diet was structured so that I didn’t have to be too strict until the last 3 weeks of the prep. For the first five weeks, I would focus on hitting my calorie goal and my protein goal for the day. I would eat a different combo of fats and carbs to fill in the rest of my calories just based on what foods I wanted to eat each day. The last three weeks were much more strict; I was focussing on depleting carbs slowly over the three weeks and only used one cheat meal, timed one week away from the shoot, to help keep my sanity. The last 3-4 days of the prep were strictly no carbs at all. The night before/morning of the shoot was when I was focussing on eating nothing but carbs to help my muscles fill out properly.
What kind of supplements did you take?
The only supplements that I took throughout the photoshoot prep were the same supplements that I take year-round for health purposes. Daily I take a men’s multivitamin, 5g of creatine, Vitamin D, and Magnesium.
The multivitamin helps compensate for the lack of food. Making sure I was still getting proper vitamins and minerals.
The creatine helped with my energy levels for my workouts, especially when I was depleting carbs.
Workouts become very strenuous when your glycogen stores are depleted, and the creatine would help give me some quick energy to use towards my workouts. Vitamin D seems to help my energy levels, especially when I’m not getting a lot of sun. The Magnesium is great to assist with going to sleep and staying asleep. What about training? What type of weight training, cardio training did you do to prepare over these eight weeks? For the first five weeks of the prep, I kept my training volume similar to what I was doing before I had started to cut down. This was because I was still eating a good amount of calories and even had the energy to complete high volume weight lifting workouts. I also was doing about 30 mins of steady-state cardio post-workout for the first five weeks. The final three weeks were when I had to make a switch in my training protocol because I no longer had the energy to continue the high volume workouts I was doing before. Instead, I opted for much less volume but at a high intensity.
So instead of doing four sets of 12-15 reps at 70% of my max weight for an exercise, I would do two sets of 4-6 reps at 90-95% of my max weight. This switch helped me conserve my energy and not develop excessive amounts of muscle soreness. Keeping the intensity high also forces your body to hold on to the muscle mass that you already have, which is critical when you’re cutting calories this extremely. The final three weeks also involved me adding an extra 30 mins of fasted steady-state cardio on top of the 30 I was doing post-workout, to burn off that last bit of fat.
What’s next for you?
I want to spend some time letting my metabolism recover from the process of dieting down and make sure that I can put on some more muscle size before I try and cut again. Getting this lean showed a lot of my weak points and things I need to work on with my physique. This process has motivated me to continue to push myself both physically and mentally. One day I will do another photoshoot or possibly a bodybuilding competition, but I am in no rush. I want to continue to make steady progress with my own goals and get better as a trainer for my clients.
I am very thankful for the people around me who helped me through this process. Special mention to Dan Moncada (a fellow BBD trainer) who helped immensely by guiding me through the final carb depletion and carb up for the shoot. And of course my photographer Kaela Leone, who did an amazing job with the shoot and the editing of the photos.