Matt Manning made the national news a month or so ago, when he won $50,000 in a bodybuilding.com contest. I contacted him because I wanted to learn more about his incredible transformation and how he did it. He agreed to do an interview for the blog. I thought his story could inspire others who think they can't get in shape because of age, work or other issues. Matt proves that with hard work and determination, you can transform your body and improve your health.
Matt's story inspires me on a personal level as I'm trying to tighten my skin with the strength training. He didn't have as much weight to lose as I did, and I know my skin was stretched out for many more years than his. But still, it gives me hope that maybe I too will have tighter abs after all this weight loss.
1. What was your starting weight and what is your weight now?
My starting weight was 213 lbs and my body fat was ~26%. My after weight was 173 lbs and my body fat was ~5%. I have lifted weights on and off since I was 17 and I have been very active my whole life, so I never had a fat issue before I was about 39 years old. But over the last 6 years I have struggled with unwanted fat.
2. Was this your first attempt at losing weight?
I have tried to lose weight two times before. The first was 5 1/2 years ago. I actually succeeded in losing 25 lbs the first time, but it was a very poor approach that I took. I starved myself and did not do any weightlifting during that diet. At the end of that diet, I weighed less than I do now. However, my waist was about 4 inches bigger than it is now, which tells me I lost a lot of muscle and not as much fat as I should have.
The second time I tried to lose weight was 3 years ago. My focus on the second attempt was fat loss instead of weight loss. My plan was to lift weights, add cardio exercise, and eat healthier. Unfortunately, I never got very far because we decided to sell our house and move, so I had lots of projects to do to get ready and my diet and workouts fizzled. That is the story of my exercise life. I could be really focused and consistent for 4 months, 6 months, maybe even 8 months, but then something in life comes along and I let it derail me. It could be a home renovation, an illness, an important project at work, etc... Then even when I could start exercising again I didn't, and I end up being out of the gym for 6 or 7 months before I finally start over again.
3. What was your typical diet before you got in shape this time around?
Before my transformation, I ate anything and everything. I have always loved food. The lethal combination of food and TV are my favorite way to unwind and de-stress. Ever since I was a child, food has been associated with comfort for me. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are food related. When I was sick, my Mom made me melted cheese sandwiches and let me drink as much soda pop as I wanted. As a boy, I loved to watch a show on Saturday mornings called Creature Double Feature, which was a double feature of monster movies. I can still remember going to the grocery with my Mom during the week and my main focus was getting the nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, or some mixed nuts) that I would eat on Saturday while watching my show. I would sit and crack nuts while I watched, and to this day watching TV while cracking nuts is still one of my favorite things to do. It was also in childhood that I discovered my special gift of being able to eat surprisingly large amounts of food for my size. As a teenager it was a source of pride, and if I'm honest it still is, that I could eat more than anyone I knew, including guys much bigger than me. One of the downsides of my 'special gift' is that it is very hard for me to feel full once I start eating. So the point is, food is comfort for me. Food is associated with good emotions and fond memories, and getting in good shape has not fundamentally changed that. I know I'm rambling, but I would imagine many people can relate to what I'm saying.
4. Were there foods you eliminated from your diet?
The first foods I eliminated from my diet were soda pop, any sweets (candy, ice cream, cake, etc...), and any processed snacks (chips, pretzels, crackers, etc...). For the first two weeks or so, I still ate some pasta and wheat bread, but those went away as well once I learned how many calories were in a pound of fat. It is 3500, which you probably knew, but I didn't when I started my transformation. It was shocking and disheartening to discover there were so many calories in a pound of fat. My cardio sessions were burning maybe 100 or so calories at a time, so the realization that it would take almost 35 of these same miserable cardio sessions to burn one pound of fat was very jarring and depressing. If I was really going to transform in 12 weeks, I needed a new approach. The obvious choice was to reduce my caloric intake. After that, the only 'foods' I ate were oatmeal (whole oats) and salads with meat (fish, chicken, or beef). The rest of my calories came from supplements, like whey protein powder and amino acids. Every 7 to 10 days or so, I would have a cheat meal or day, in which I would eat things like chips and salsa, peanuts, or bread. But even on cheat days, my total calories probably never exceeded 1900 or so.
5. What is your typical diet now?
My typical diet now is still a work in progress. I tend to be all or nothing in my approach to things, so learning how to maintain a balance is proving to be difficult for me. But most days, my diet is similar to what is was during the contest: oatmeal, supplements, salads with meat, but now I get to add in about 1000 calories of whatever I like, usually some combination of peanuts, cheerios, or chips and salsa.
6. How much protein do you eat each day?
I have tried a few different protein intake levels. There are many conflicting recommendations out there and it is hard to know what is really best. I like doing about 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily, so for me that is about 180g of protein. Some people recommend 2g per pound. That seems high to me, but I'm no expert. I have done as low as 0.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight, but I wouldn't go below that for someone who is lifting weights regularly.
7. When you started losing the body fat, was it more of an incentive to win the money or did other things motivate you?
Getting healthy for my wife and kids was my motivation to transform, but the contest was my motivation to do it quickly. Without the contest, I would have taken a more gradual approach to getting healthy. The possibility of winning the contest was a huge motivator for me. It helped me through many cardio sessions and many hunger pangs. But I think I wanted to win more for the pleasure of winning than the money itself. Don't get me wrong, the money is nice, but we've had it six weeks and we haven't done anything with it yet (my wife is very frugal, which is one of the many reasons she's so awesome). When I imagined winning the contest, I would visualize my after picture being on the BodyBuilding.com website, so I think I wanted to win more just because of my competitive nature than the monetary prize.
8. Describe your typical workout routine. How much cardio do you do and for how long do you do cardio?
During my transformation, my workout schedule was to lift weights 6 days a week and do cardio 2 to 3 times every day. I like to separate my cardio workouts from my weightlifting workouts, but I know many people cannot do that. I was fortunate to have a stationary exercise bike at home, so I could do cardio workouts several times throughout the day. Spreading out my cardio had two major benefits. It made each cardio session less awful since they were shorter and it allowed me to use the cardio exercise as an appetite suppressant when I needed it most, which was in the late afternoon and evening. I mixed up my cardio depending on how I was feeling. Sometimes I would do a 45 to 60 minute low intensity session, and other times I might do a high intensity session anywhere from 5 minutes to 35 minutes.
9. How did you get your body fat percentage to 5%? What was the percentage before you started? Do you plan to keep it around 5%?
The key to getting lean is nutrition. I wish it weren't so, because I love food, but the unpleasant truth is that what you put in your mouth trumps what you do in the gym. I had to live with a somewhat extreme caloric deficit for 12 weeks to lose so much fat so quickly. I lost 46 lbs of fat and gained a few pounds of lean mass. On average, I ate about 1250 calories a day over the 12 weeks and did enough daily activities to burn about 3100 calories. During the last 3 weeks of my transformation, I also tried something new to me, which I had just discovered, called Intermittent Fasting. The basic idea behind Intermittent Fasting is that all the calories for the day are consumed during an 8 hour period and the other 16 hours are spent fasting. I ate from 8 AM to 4 PM and then fasted until 8 AM the next morning. I believe it helped me get so lean. During the last 3 weeks my body fat went from 10% to 5%.
I would like to stay lean, but not as lean as I was at the end of my transformation. My wife likes more meat on me and I would like to gain some strength and muscle size. So I plan to bulk up while still keeping my body fat under 10%.
10. What advice do you have for others wanting to lose weight and get toned?
The advice question is difficult because each person is so unique and we all respond differently to stimulus. Some people like the in-your-face trainer and some people are internally driven. I would say that starting the transformation process is the most important thing, and even if you fail, just keep trying and never give up. I think you have to embrace the process and really want it for yourself. It needs to come from within. You cannot be a passive participant. Even if you have a personal trainer, you need to own your transformation. You should read and learn about nutrition and fitness. You should try different things to see what you like and what works for you. I think personal trainers are great, but you can't just hire one and think all you have to do is show up for each session. You should take charge of your transformation. Your health is the most important asset you have in this world, and it is worth your full attention.
Here are a few practical tips. Planning meals ahead of time is extremely helpful. One of the many ways my wife helped me was to have a large salad ready every day when I got home from work. That way, I didn't have to even think about what to eat. It really helped me avoid temptation since it was already made and all I had to do was sit down and eat it. My breakfast and lunch were planned ahead as well. I kept oatmeal and protein powder at work for breakfast and lunch. Dealing with hunger is one of the hardest parts of losing fat. I found it helpful to drink lots of water, coffee, or tea to help with the hunger. Cardio exercise is also a good appetite suppressant. Those late night hunger pangs are really bad, so getting to bed early is also helpful. Doing cardio is the other awful part of losing fat. I like to mix up my cardio routines. Sometimes I would do low intensity cardio, where I would just pedal at a moderate pace for 50 minutes or so. I often watched something on Netflix during this kind of cardio to pass the time. I also liked to do HIIT cardio as well, but with HIIT you need to watch the time constantly because you have to alternate high intensity pedaling with moderate pedaling, so Netflix doesn't work. To get through the HIIT cardio, I would often lie to myself at the beginning about how many minutes I was going to do. I would tell myself, 'I just have to do 10 minutes,' and then when 10 minutes was up I usually felt good enough to do 5 more, so I would just keep adding 5 more minutes. I would often make it to 25, 30, or 35 minutes.
11. Did you have a problem with loose skin after losing the weight? I'm guessing not as you didn't have as much weight to lose as I did. Plus you were doing the strength training while losing weight, but thought I would ask anyway.
I was lucky not to have any problem with loose skin after my transformation. I lost 13 inches on my waist, which sounds like a lot to me, but I know many others have had much more than that to lose. It would be very frustrating to put in all the discipline and hard work necessary to lose the fat and then have to deal with loose skin near the end of the transformation. There was another contestant in the BodyBuilding.com Transformation Challenge who was getting laser treatments to deal with stretch marks he had from before his transformation. One of the requirements to enter the Transformation Challenge was to have a BodySpace account on BodyBuilding.com. It was extremely helpful to interact online with people who had the same goal as me. We encouraged each other daily, shared advice, and celebrated each other's victories along the way. Being online friends with people from all different starting points gave me a better understanding of some of the things, like loose skin and stretch marks, that others had to deal with on their journeys.
12. How did you learn about the bodybuilding.com contest?
I heard about the BodyBuilding.com Transformation Challenge through an email from them. I have lifted weights on and off over the years, and at times had used various supplements. I had been a customer of BodyBuilding.com in the past, so I was still on their mailing list. I'm sure glad I was.
I'd like to thank Matt Manning for taking the time to interview for the blog. He has such an awesome story and hopefully, his story will inspire others to get into better shape. I agree with what he said regarding advise for those looking to lose weight. Everyone is different and what works for him might not work for you. Personally, I couldn't imagine having such a caloric deficit as Matt did, but you can't argue with the results and it worked for him.