Six weeks from my fitness photo shoot, I was 178.5 lbs., around 12% body fat, and in decent shape, although not camera ready. By following a few steps outlined below, I was able to get those numbers down to 169.5 lbs. and 7.5% body fat in time for my shoot. If you are looking for some tips on how to do the same, read on.
Before & After Photos
There is a 2-week span between each picture on the left and right. In the photos on the right, I am down from 10.5% to 8.5% body fat, lost 3.5 lbs. of fat, and gained 2.5 lbs. of lean muscle. These were taken 5 days from the photo shoot.
Hire A Fitness Coach
Even if you are an experienced fitness coach, like myself, I highly recommend you consider hiring another coach or trainer with experience in fitness modeling or fitness photo shoots to help you train and prepare if this is your first time. I consider myself to be a pretty well versed coach, but I’ve never done a photo shoot. I recognized that this was not my area of expertise, so I hired someone that I knew had extensive knowledge with this to help me. I read as much as I could about how to prepare, and I asked other coaches and trainers that I knew had done photo shoots to give me whatever tips or advice they had. So if you're a coach or trainer, set your ego aside and get the right help, it’s well worth it. If you're not, that's even more reason to hire a coach.
Cut Out Alcohol
If you are serious about getting into the best shape possible, cut out alcohol. There is really no benefit of any kind you will get from consuming these empty calories and carbs in the weeks leading up to the shoot. Plus, hangovers equal bad food choices and crappy workouts or none at all.
Make The Necessary Changes To Your Diet
Aside from cutting out alcohol, there are probably some big changes that will need to be made to your diet. This will be different for everyone so I can't layout a specific diet plan here. Generally speaking, you will want to eat a diet high in lean meats and vegetables, have a certain amount of healthy fats and carbs at specific times of the day, while keeping sugar, starches, and sodium low. Eat your carbs for breakfast, pre and post-workout only. Eat your healthy fats such as nuts and avocado, sugars such as fruits, and starches if any, during the day, not in the evening. Do not eat carbs and fats in the same meal as you risk storing body fat. Keep them separate. The constant throughout should be protein and vegetables. Dinner should be lean meat or fish and lots of high fiber vegetables. Use Mrs. Dash and natural spices to flavor up your meats and vegetables to avoid sodium. Prepare food ahead of time and keep it in Tupperware and Ziplock bags for easy access throughout the day and when at work.
Train With Intensity
While this seems obvious, it is so important. A lot of times, we get complacent with our workout routines, even us coaches and trainers. Your body is smart and it will learn how to adapt and adjust to whatever stresses you put on it frequently. If you do the same exercises, same weights, and the same amount of reps all the time, then you can expect the same mediocre results. It’s cliché but most of you know that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. You need to get out of your comfort zone, change it up, and challenge yourself. Stop taking 5-minute breaks between sets to flip through your phone. This is one of the reason's why I hired a great fitness coach. I knew that no matter how tired I was that day, I was going to get my butt kicked, he was going to make me uncomfortable, not let me rest, and push me beyond what I am capable of doing alone. The intensity with which you train will make all of the difference. I recommend in addition to your strength training days, you incorporate two days a week of HIIT (high intensity interval training) such as treadmill sprints and Strongman workouts (sled push, box jumps, battle rope, medicine ball slams, jump rope, kettlebells, jug carries, etc.) into your routine for fat burning. Do this in the morning in a fasted state for maximum results.
If you're not assessing, you're just guessing. You will need a starting point in order to know whether or not you are moving in the right direction. Record your starting weight, body fat percentage, and measurements. Come back to these frequently. Your fitness coach should have the tools and equipment to track these things for you. I know it is tedious, but if you can, keep a food log or record your meals with an app or a device like Fitbit. If you can't do this, you should know generally how much of each macro you are consuming daily just by eyeballing your portions.
Drink Plenty Of Water
You’ve heard it a million times. Here is a million and one. Drink water! Drink a lot of it throughout the day. Keep your muscles hydrated. They are made up of approximately 75% water.
Get Proper Rest & Recovery
You do not get stronger during your workout, you get stronger as your muscles recover. If you are constantly in overdrive, breaking down the same muscle groups day after day, you are wasting your time. This is counterproductive. Get enough sleep and take the necessary days off to let your muscles recuperate.
Consider These Vitamins & Supplements
There are a few vitamins and supplements that I highly recommend. A multivitamin with your first meal of the day, 6000 to 9000 mg of fish oil daily, a BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) supplement first thing in the morning and pre-workout, whey protein post-workout, and in the 4 to 5 days leading up to the shoot, I recommend green tea extract. The caffeine contained within green tea extract increases the amount of urine your body expels, acting as a diuretic, making you produce more urine, and helping you to shed excess water weight. It also helps to give you more energy for your workouts, it boosts your metabolism, and it helps to burn body fat. I personally take and recommend Poliquin Group supplements to all of my clients.
If you are fair-skinned, I don't recommend tanning beds for health reasons but I do recommend spray tanning or using some sort of bronzer to give your skin a darker appearance. It is no secret that tanned skin photographs better than pale skin under brighter lighting conditions and will provide more definition. Also, depending on what kind of look you are going for, consider rubbing on a little baby oil prior to the shoot for a shinier appearance.
48 hours before the shoot, start to cut way down on carbs and water. 24 hours before the shoot, cut carbs and water out completely. Only drink water very minimally if needed. If your mouth gets dry, swish some water around, sip a tiny bit and spit the rest out. The goal is to shed all excess water weight so that your skin is tight and your muscles are well defined under the lights. The night before the shoot you will want to carb up as your muscles will be looking for carbs and most of what you consume will go straight to them. People vary here on what they carb up with. I chose 100% brown rice and quinoa. For breakfast, which should be your only meal until after the shoot is over, have some protein such as chicken or steak along with a small amount of complex carbs such as 100% brown rice or baked sweet potato. Do not eat to more then 80% full and do this at least 90 minutes before the shoot. You do not want to be bloated or have a full stomach once the cameras are on. Complete a final high rep, low weight workout 30 minutes before the shoot. Pre-workout, drink a glass of water with either sugar or honey in it. Do this again post workout. This will raise your glycogen levels and have your muscles filled out for the start of the shoot.
During The Photo Shoot
If the shoot is a long one, keeping a few light weight dumbbells or resistance bands and some 100% brown rice cakes on the side is a good idea so that you can pump up between breaks if you are feeling flat. No water, no fiber, no fat.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own, and these are the methods that have worked for me. Everyone's body is different and your body may respond differently than mine to different things. For example, some people prefer to carb up the night before with something like a cheeseburger or cheesecake. I chose not to on my first shoot, but maybe I'll try it the next time. There is no one right way so try different methods and techniques. Find what works best for you.
I hope this article has been helpful to some of you prepping for your own fitness photo shoots. If you found this article useful or know someone who would, please share it!
Coach Brian Donovan
My Photographer: Ali Engin, Owner Of Ali Engin Photography ©
My Fitness Coach: Mike Thomson, Owner Of Fast & Fit Coaching LLC
My Vitamins & Supplements: Poliquin Group