Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
Most people book a photoshoot weeks and even months in advance so they have a deadline & target to train for. Me? 5 days beforehand I get a confirmation of a date and time! I never even knew ‘prep week’ for a photoshoot was a thing until I starting researching it the day AFTER I had it booked – rookie mistake!
Don’t get me wrong, I was already training hard and ‘in shape.’ I wasn’t relying on the tips and tricks I’ll explain below to make you look as lean as possible. I have been training consistently in the gym since 2014 and had really zoned in on my nutrition and training during lockdown. The hard work had essentially been done! Prep week gives you the last percent or two, the icing on the cake which prior to booking the photoshoot, I never knew anything about.
prep week explained
Ideally you have a week or more to implement these strategies. So my whole process was a bit rushed – I started prepping on the Friday before my photoshoot which was on the following Tuesday. Nonetheless, I was happy to be able to eat some carbs & more importantly, drink some water again when it was over. The process is as follows:
Drop carbs & Reduce Calories
My experience: My only carbohydrate sources leading up to the photoshoot were vegetables. I limited these to broccoli, cauliflower and spinach because they have a lower carbohydrate profile than other vegetables such as carrots. This was extremely challenging. Not necessarily because I couldn’t eat carbs, but more so because on top of depleting my carbohydrate stores, I still had to continue to train in the gym. These are known as ‘glycogen depleted workouts’ where you’re relying on fat as your only fuel source to keep you going (see more below). I was also eating less than 2000 calories a day, which is a deficit of more than 40% of my maintenance levels.
Low carbs and low calories - I can genuinely say, the last time I felt so exhausted exercising was during the last 3 miles of my marathon back in October 2018! I remember going for a walk after my glycogen depleted workout on the Sunday and every step felt like the bottom position of a reverse lunge! My legs were literally running on empty and burning up!
I’ve never tried keto before – a diet which emphasises high fat, moderate protein and little to no carbohydrate intake. The thought process behind the ketogenic diet is your body transitions from using carbohydrates as its main fuel source to fat. The transition period (known as being in a state of ketosis) is meant to be the hardest part of the entire process. Although I can’t be sure, after depleting my carb stores and running on empty for a few days, I would say I was either in a state of ketosis or almost there. I started getting headaches and my energy was completely gone.
load up on water & reduce sodium
My experience: As someone who loves using pink Himilayan salt to cook and flavour foods, I had to completely cut this out. I also had to be conscious of the foods I was eating and ensuring they were all low in sodium. This meant eating plain and bland chicken and broccoli (how exciting!) and not putting in any spices at all.
Regarding water intake, I drank about 2.5 gallons (around 9 litres) in the days leading up to the photoshoot! I usually drink about 5-6 litres a day but this was challenging and almost a chore! Needless to say I was in and out of the bathroom a lot!
reduce the water
My experience: The day before and the day of the photoshoot, I kept my water intake to a minimum (less than 500ml). This was probably the most challenging aspect! You only appreciate something when it’s gone and I desperately wanted nothing more than a cold glass of water with squeezed lemon! To help me stay somewhat hydrated, I used diuralyte. This certainly did help but it didn’t get rid of the headaches (and slight dizziness) I felt from such a low water intake. I still continued to train the day before and the day of the shoot despite my minimal water intake.
glycogen depleted workouts
My experience: As I mentioned above, the last time I felt this tired and energy sapped was running the last 3 miles of a marathon! I was failing at weights I could usually lift for 20 reps and upwards after 7-8 reps. I couldn’t help but laugh when I was doing a Flat DB Bench Press with a pair of 20’s and the 7th rep was smooth and the 8th rep suddenly just didn’t happen! I just did primarily upper body wokouts during these glycogen depleted sessions as there’s a higher risk of injury doing legs coupled with the low water intake.
On top of this, I avoided doing big compound lifts and focused on doing exercises sitting or lying on a bench. Why? Compound lifts leave a higher risk of injury. My lack of hydration left me feeling dizzy at times so I felt it would be safer to do all exercises seated or lying down. These workouts were rough. Its amazing the impact carbs (and a lack of them) can have on your performance and energy levels. It also highlighted for me why low carb diets are not a good idea for athletes or people who regularly exercise. I can see why endurance athletes who run ultra marathons and ironmen opt for higher fat diets. But, if your sport requires sprinting ability or power work, don’t be afraid of eating carbs.
(dry) carb load
My experience: Eating carbs again never felt so good! After my fasted morning workout the day before the shoot, I started to load up on carbs. However, I had to ensure the carbs I ate were ‘dry carbs’ with minimal water content. So while eating carbs again was great, it wasn’t long before I got fed up of having dry rice cakes and oven roasted sweet and baked potatoes with no olive oil (because you must minimise fat intake) and no seasoning (as most seasoning has lots of sodium/salt). On top of this, I had to eat all of these dry carbs without sipping on any (or very little water!). I would’ve killed for any drink at all on the day before and day of the shoot.
All of that being said, loading up on carbs again was a pleasant welcome to my aching muscles and low energy levels. As the hours and day went on, I could literally feel the increase in definition in my muscles.
Credit to Éanna McNamara for doing the photoshoot
Finally came the photoshoot! I warmed up, got a small bit of a pump and got on with it. I brought some jelly babies with me which are a fast digesting carbohydrate to give me that final energy kick. While this photohoot wasn’t something I had planned on doing, it was an enjoyable experience. I thought photoshoots were just for body builders only but this was just a limiting belief I had. In reality, preparing for a photoshoot is a goal with a deadline on it. Implementing these ‘peak week’ techniques helps put the icing on the cake.
Note: While cutting my carbs and reducing my water intake did help me lose 5lbs in 5 days, these methods are for short term results and are not sustainable. Limiting water intake is not healthy nor safe. Not ever eating carbs again for most people is not sustainable. Focus on long term goals rather than short term progress.
post photoshoot treats!
Let’s just say I enjoyed myself after the shoot. Restricting my calories to less than 2,000 a day in the lead up to the shoot left me well below my maintenance levels! While I didn’t over-do it like I did during my 75 Hard Binge, I didn’t hold back on the carbs and sweet stuff. In fact, the first thing I had was some much needed water before moving onto the treats. My foods of choice included chocolate milk, bars of chocolate, cereal (coco pops, cornflakes and crunchy nut) and a lot of super seeded bread (which my sister brought down from Fallon & Byrne in Dublin at the weekend which I couldn’t have – it tastes amazing). This ‘binge’ was something I planned on doing so the emotions and guilt I felt after my two binges during the 75 Hard program weren’t there. I saw it more as a reward for my hard work and I felt good (and energised) after it!
Funnily enough, I went from 81.4Kg before the photoshoot to 85Kg the day after the photoshoot. Does that mean I put on 3.6Kg of fat? No – most of this was just water and carbohydrate weight. For every 1g of carbohydrate your body stores, it retains 3g of water. I weighed myself again at the weekend and I went back down to around 82Kg. It’s completely natural for your weight to fluctuate (think of MMA fighters cutting weight). It’s not a sign that you’ve gotten fat overnight.
While I’m not a bodybuilder (not that I have anything against body builders), I was pleased overall with how the photos turned out. My style of training is more performance based – I enjoy doing jumps, med ball throws, dynamic effort lifts, working on my mobility and even some Olympic lifting. It highlighted for me that’s it’s 100% possible to train like an athlete but still get the aesthetics and look to go with it. And that this can be done without negatively impacting your performance.
That is why I created my aesthetic athlete program. It teaches people how this can be done. Checkout some of the results my clients have gotten while following this program.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you want some more information of my methods of training, join my free facebook group.
P.P.S. If you’re interested in looking good & performing even better by working with me directly, then contact me today and I’d be happy to help you.
Adrian McDonnell -
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