In this article I’m going to give you a quick and easy nutrition plan you can use to whip yourself into photoshoot shape in just 8 short weeks.
This is a high protein, moderate fat nutrition plan which uses the classic carb cycling technique to chisel away fat and leave you with a body you’ll want to show off at every opportunity.
See nutritional targets below:
|1||1 & 2||1.2g||0.4g||1.5g|
|2||3, 4 & 5||1.2g||0.4g||1g|
|3||6, 7 & 8||1.2g||0.4g||0.6g|
Phase 1 Explained (Weeks 1 & 2)
You’ll begin your nutrition plan with some pretty easy targets to hit each day.
This will give you an idea where you are right now in terms of energy output. Some of you will begin losing weight immediately, while others will not – either way it’s fine, because the real action of this nutrition plan takes place during the upcoming phases when we make cuts to these figures.
The first thing you must do is establish what your target body weight is in lbs. So if my target body weight is 180lbs, that’s the number I’d use when building my macronutrient targets for this phase of the diet plan. Don’t worry about hitting the number on the head, by the way, this is just something to get you moving in the right direction.
You’ll consume 1.2 grams of protein per lb (of target body weight), 0.4 grams of fat per lb (tbw) and 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per lb (tbw) during phase 1. If your target body weight is 180lbs, that would give you daily targets of 216g protein, 72g fat and 270g carbohydrates.
I also want you to get into the habit of drinking 3-4 litres of water per day.
In terms of food choices I always prefer to have people gravitating towards lean meat, vegetables, and fruit (basically the stuff you already know is good for you), but to be honest this is a numbers game, which means you can populate your diet with the foods you personally enjoy – just focus on smashing your targets each day. (1)
Phase 2 Explained (Weeks 3, 4 & 5)
Now it’s time to tighten things up.
During phase 2 you’ll be eating 1.2g protein per lb (tbw), 0.4g fat per lb (tbw), and 1g carbohydrates per lb (tbw). If your target body weight is 180lbs, this gives you daily targets of 216g protein, 72g fat, and 180g carbohydrates. I want you to continue drinking 3-4 litres of water per day, too.
By doing it this way you’ll keep protein and fat high enough to support your hard training in the gym and help the body to maximize the muscle building process after each workout, and the reduction in carbs creates a fresh calorie deficit which will contribute to more fat loss. (2, 3)
This is the phase of the nutrition plan where you’ll really get into the swing of tracking your nutrition, hitting your numbers and beginning to see your new physique take shape.
Phase 3 Explained (Weeks 6, 7 & 8)
The final three weeks have one final carbohydrate reduction.
You’ll be eating 1.2g protein per lb (tbw), 0.4g fat per lb (tbw), and 0.6g carbohydrates per lb (tbw). If your target body weight is 180lbs that means you’ve got daily targets of 216g protein, 72g fat, and 108g carbohydrates. I want you to continue drinking 3-4 litres of water per day, too.
Even though it’s only been eight short weeks, I expect you to unlock excellent results from this nutritional phase and really drive your body to new heights, unlocking results you can’t wait to show off.
Peak Week Tips
Despite the fact that the title of this nutrition plan references getting in shape for a photoshoot, I know that many of you will just be following it to get in great shape.
And that’s perfectly fine!
Heck, I’ve used these are guidelines myself, sometimes when I didn’t have anything planned at the end of it, so you’re good to go by following the eight-week structure shown above.
However, if you do have a photoshoot planned, or something else that you really want to look your best for, which you have been training towards throughout this entire diet then I want to give you some extra tips to make you look even better on your big day.
The first is to play with our water and sodium intake to flush out unnecessary extracellular water to make you look even leaner, and the second is to play with our carbohydrate intake to enhance our intracellular water, which will make you look bigger and more shredded than ever. Here’s how it’s done.
- Increase Sodium At The Start Of Week 7
The goal here is to help you shed as much water weight as possible in the final days before your photoshoot, and to do this we must increase sodium intake about two weeks beforehand.
You see, the amount of water your body holds is largely connected to how much sodium (salt) is stored. It’s a balancing act which the body is constantly adapting to, like a waiter spinning plates in a restaurant, and we can manipulate this balance to look as shredded as possible for a short period of time.
There is no complex formula here; just follow your regular week 7 diet plan and choose foods which are higher in sodium (also add salt to meals if you like). Aim for about 4000mg sodium per day during this time. The body will respond initially by storing a little more water than usual, before levelling out to pre-increase water levels at the 5-6 day mark, and that’s where the magic happens… by decreasing your sodium at the right time (see the next step) you’ll temporarily take your body below its water storage threshold point, and look extra lean and hard for your photoshoot!
- Decrease Sodium At The Start Of Week 8
Aiming for below 1000mg per day would be an excellent starting point, and then progressively lower with each subsequent day. This is where a classic old school bodybuilding diet (chicken, fish, and green vegetables) comes in super handy, as it’s very low in sodium. This is going to force your body to flush away any unnecessary extracellular water which was still hanging on in there, and temporarily take you below your body’s normal water storage threshold, which will make you look super lean.
- Increase Your Water (Even More) In Week 8
Drinking more water is one of the best ways to deplete the body of excess sodium which will, in turn, also deplete the body of excess water – and I realize that sounds nuts, but it works like a charm!
So when you begin cutting your sodium intake at the start of week 8 I also want you to double your usual water intake. That means instead of drinking 3-4 litres per day you’ll shoot for 6-8 litres per day. An often overlooked benefit of this is that water’s a great appetite suppressor, which will feel very handy during the final few days of a fat loss phase.
- Decrease Carbs (Even More) For The First 5 Days Of Week 8
While playing with the water/sodium balance to remove extracellular water, we can also make some minor adjustments to your nutrition plan.
Everyone who is following the regular week 8 diet will be eating 1.2g protein per lb (tbw), 0.4g fat per lb (tbw), and 0.6g carbohydrates per lb (tbw), but I want you to play it differently. During the first five days of this week I’d like you to focus on hitting your targets for both protein and fat, but reduce your carbohydrates as low as you can comfortably take them. The lower the better.
I still want you to train during this time, too, but you’ll definitely not be feeling as strong as usual so I recommend switching to a full body workout like this and avoiding any max lifts.
There are two reasons why we’re decreasing carbs at this stage.
First of all, glycogen (carbohydrates) pulls water into the muscle cells, so this reduction in carbs will help you to temporarily shed some additional water. (4)
(Ever noticed how people tend to lose lots of weight during the first 2-3 weeks of a low carb diet? Now you know why!)
But the second reason is the real ace up your sleeve. You see, research shows that if you deplete the body’s glycogen stores and then suddenly increase your carbohydrate intake (see the next step) this kicks glycogen storage into overdrive. Your body will force as much water into your muscle cells as possible, going temporarily above it’s usual glycogen storage threshold, and making you look absolutely diced. (5)
(Ever wondered why some bodybuilders look even better the day after a show? This is why!)
- Decrease Water & Increase Carbs For The Last 2 Days Of Week 8
With just two days to go before the big day, we implement the final step of the battle plan.
Reduce your water intake to 1.5-2 litres per day for these two days. NOTE: Reducing water is always a risky move, and even though you’re not going below what I would consider challenging it’s still worth being careful, so if you feel dizzy or get headaches just drink some more water!
We also bump our carbohydrate intake to 3g per lb (tbw). That means a 180lb person will aim for 540g carbohydrates. This increase in carbohydrates two days out will signal your body to begin restocking glycogen, and it’ll pull most of the available water into your muscle cells, which makes you appear bigger and more shredded than ever! (6)
This is not a cue to binge eat, of course, as hitting your targets is still highly important. Your food options are going to be somewhat restricted because you’re still trying to keep sodium limited, plus you’ll want to avoid water-absorbing carb-sources like pasta and rice because you don’t have a lot of water to go around. Keep it simple; my favourite choice at this point is snacking on Haribo Gold Bears, and loading meal plates with white potatoes and/or sweet potato.
- On The Big Day (If Necessary)
You can expect to wake up looking your best, feeling awesome, and being ready to absolutely crush your photoshoot.
But I like to play devil’s advocate, so let’s say you don’t…
Let’s say you wake up feeling flat, and not as defined as you were the previous evening. Some people would claim it’s too late to do anything about it now, but they’re dead wrong. The most common cause of this is that you’ve just lost too much water, so your muscles were unable to fill up as much as expected from that carbohydrate bump.
That’s okay, it happens to the best of us sometimes.
A person’s natural instinct would be to reach for some water, but this isn’t what you want, because it would encourage the body to begin storing water and worsen the situation. Instead of doing that, keep your water intake reduced (same as the last two days) and try to increase your sodium to tip that water/sodium balance back in your favour, then monitor your body’s response as the day progresses.
This’ll sound weird, but I actually recommend grabbing a McDonald’s meal early in the day – seriously! – because fast food is loaded with sodium and this is precisely what you’re looking for! Don’t worry about the other nutrients contained in the meal, because your carbohydrates should remain high on peak day therefore you have definitely got room to fit this meal in anyway. The trickiest part is actually keeping your water intake down while eating this type of food, because anything salty instinctively makes us want to drink more. You’ll have to resist that urge, because if you were to drink lots of water at this stage the body would respond by storing more water, which isn’t what you want.
Apply these tips and you’ll quickly see a noticeable difference in the mirror!
Commonly Asked Questions
Q. Can I really eat any foods or does it need to be only healthy stuff?
Yes, you can. Your nutrition plan is numbers based, meaning you are free to populate your meals with whatever foods you enjoy eating, as long as you aim for your target numbers for protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Read this article.
Q. What should I do at the end of this diet?
Two choices here. If you’ve been training for a photoshoot or a big day such as a wedding, feel free to give yourself some time off to recharge. When you’re ready for a fresh challenge just head to your RussHowePTI.com members area and select a new workout program. Now that you have the confidence of knowing what you can do, you’ll be amazed how far your can go!
On the other side of things, many of you will have used this diet plan without a big day at the end of it, and your main goal may simply be to retain the results you’ve earned. It’s unrealistic to expect someone to continue living their life on their phase 3 nutrition targets forever – that’s why phase 3 is just three weeks! – so in this situation all you’d do is reverse back through this nutrition plan until you strike a sweet spot which allows you to continue training hard while also looking your best. For most people that’s going to be phase 2, but some lucky individuals will be able to push all the way back to their phase 1 targets without losing results.
Q. What should I do if I’m already seeing good results and the next cut is imminent?
Remember this 8 week diet plan is only a template, so if you are already seeing good results and are happy with your current nutrition targets you can take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach and continue using them if you like, and go into the next phase when you feel like your body has stopped responding. Most people will find that this adaptation happens roundabout the timeframes which I’ve scheduled (2 weeks, 3 weeks, and 3 weeks), but there’s always exceptions to the rule.
Q. What’s the point of phase 1 if weight loss peaks during phase 2 & 3?
I love this question! Seeing as phases 2 & 3 are where the majority of weight loss success will be seen (thanks to the micro cuts we make) it could be tempting to jump straight in there and forego the first phase entirely. I don’t recommend this. You see, the #1 reason most people who start a diet plan fail to reach their desired result is not a lack of determination, or willpower, or knowledge, it’s going too hard, too fast.
In phase 1 your calorie target is deliberately set high enough to allow you to focus on building the healthy habits you’ll need later in the journey, as opposed to trying to do everything at once and feeling overwhelmed (and f**king hungry!). By the time you arrive at phase 2 you will already be a God at the day in, day out routine of eating enough protein to build muscle, and tracking your nutrition. These are things which most people never take the time to master (even after years of trying every quick fix diet they hear about!) and it’s these basic healthy habits which set the stage for your success in the later phases! (7)
Q. Am I okay to eat the same things every day or is it better to change it up?
If a set meal plan works for you, you’re good to go.
Q. Which supplements would you recommend taking?
Your diet is going to be doing most of the work here, so you can keep your supplements really simple. A good whey protein will make it easier for you to hit your daily protein target, a multivitamin will plug any gaps in your micronutrient intake, creatine monohydrate will give you more explosive power, and a good pre workout will help you power through your gym sessions.
Q. Could I stretch this diet plan over a longer timeframe like six months or a year?
This one makes a great short-term nutrition plan but if you’ve got longer to play with I recommend using a more comprehensive plan like The Shred System. That’ll chunk down your journey by allowing you to make smaller carbohydrate cuts, stretching the process over as long as you need it to be.
- Smith C. F., et al. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite (1999).
- Morton R. W., et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med (2018).
- Whittaker J., et al. Low-fat diets and testosterone in men: Systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2021).
- Kreitzman S. N., et al. Glycogen storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition. Am J Clin Nutr (1992).
- Jensen J., et al. The role of skeletal muscle glycogen breakdown for regulation of insulin sensitivity by exercise. Front Physiol (2011).
- Acheson K. J., et al. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. Am J Clin Nutr (1988).
- Ingels J. S., et al. The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. J Diabetes Res (2017).
Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
Featured in Men’s Fitness magazine and voted in the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost, Russ is among the UK’s most subscribed personal trainers with 104,357 people getting his free weekly fitness tips e-mail.
In the gym, clients range from busy parents, to models, to athletes and actresses. Russ also worked alongside the UK government for 8 years in a venture combating childhood obesity in England.
Outside of the gym, he’s a proud Dad to three young boys.
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