My Next Productivity Experiment: Gaining 10 pounds of muscle mass, dropping to 10% body fat

by | Aug 1, 2013 | Productivity Experiments

Takeaway: Over the next 7-9 months, I’m going to gain 10 pounds of muscle mass, while dropping my body fat from 17% to 10%. I’m doing so by eating impeccably to cut my body fat, and by hitting the gym to gain muscle.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 57s.

Mad props to Erin Murphy, a good friend of mine, for snapping the great photos for this article. And just as many mad props to Ryan Wang, another friend of mine, for his photoshop wizardry on the picture above, and for color correcting the rest of the images! (My friends are 10x more talented than I am.)


I’ve conducted a few crazy productivity experiments for A Year of Productivity so far, including spending 10 days in total reclusion, and meditating for 35 hours over seven days. But this experiment easily takes the cake for my biggest productivity experiment yet.

The experiment

For this experiment I’m going to lower my body fat percentage from 17%, which is average, to 10%, which is considered very athletic. This by itself would be very difficult, but while I’m reducing my body fat, I’m also going to gain 10 pounds of lean muscle. To put that in perspective, imagine 10 pounds of meat at the grocery store. I’m going to add that much muscle to my body, while almost halving the amount of fat in my body. This is easily the largest change I have ever made to my body.

Pretty much every person I know (including me) struggles with eating well and working out, and this is a struggle I’m going to explore over the coming months. I’ll be totally honest with where I succeed and fail, and the experiment will take about 7-9 months to complete. While it’s going to be a long, grueling, and exciting ride, the true purpose of this experiment is to learn as much as possible, and share everything I discover with you. 

I’m also very lucky to have a personal trainer and nutritionist on board for this experiment – more on them below!

Needless to say, I expect to learn a ton, and I think you will too. 


The productivity twist

There are literally hundreds of benefits to working out and eating well.

ball-1Here’s an example of just one study that illustrates the power of exercise. An experiment conducted by researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia enrolled a bunch of participants in a study on self-control. For the experiment, researchers only manipulated one variable to measure someone’s self-control: whether or not participants worked out.1 When the results came in, researchers were shocked by what they found. Participants who exercised more not only had greater self-control, but almost every other variable researchers measured also improved. Participants:

  • Showed improvements in attention and in their ability to ignore distractions
  • Reduced their smoking, drinking, and caffeine intake (even though no one asked them to)
  • Ate less junk food and ate more healthy food
  • Spent less time watching TV and more time studying
  • Saved more money and spent less on impulse buys
  • Procrastinated less
  • Were on time for their appointments much more often

And much more.

As my body composition changes, I’m going to be mindful of how my productivity changes, and in addition to variables like the ones above, I’m also going to observe how my changing body composition affects my:

  • Focus
  • Attention
  • Energy levels
  • Motivation
  • Self-confidence
  • Ego

And more.

Meet Helene and Rachel


Luckily I found two amazing human beings to help me reach these goals. In a perfect world, if I had to pick two people to help me with this experiment, I would pick a nutritionist, to nail down an incredible eating plan, and a personal trainer, to create a stellar workout plan. Luckily, I found both a nutritionist and a personal trainer who are generously donating their time to help me. I see Rachel and Helene as my body sculptors, and I’m absolutely pumped to get started with them.

Here’s a bit about them both.

Rachel Caven

Rachel Caven is a registered nutritionist who’s also a regular contributor to CTV Morning Live and Roger’s Daytime Ottawa. She has also written articles for fine publications such as Revive Magazine, Alive Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, and the Ottawa Sun. Rachel owns a private nutritional consulting business with two locations, in Ottawa and Kanata, and I couldn’t recommend her enough if you’re looking for someone to get your eating plan in tiptop shape.2 Rachel has also done corporate presentations for the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada’s Department of Justice, and the Running Room!

threeI will be sending Rachel a weekly food diary of everything I eat and drink, and every week she’s going to look over everything I put into my body to make I’m eating only the highest-octane foods. Once a month, she’s also going to hook me up to her fancy BIA machine, which, though bioelectrical impedance, will measure the amount of body fat and muscle in my body.

Note: I’ll be posting my body composition measurements as this experiment progresses!

Helene Nordstrom

Helene Nordstrom is a certified personal trainer of about 15 years, and she also resides in the great city of Ottawa! Since 1997, she has worked as a fitness instructor, Aquafitness instructor, and a personal trainer, and she has also taught everything from boot camp, to circuit training, to cardio kickboxing. Helene currently works as a funeral director in Ottawa, but that doesn’t keep her out of the gym, or from helping other people achieve their own fitness goals (that includes me!) In her spare time, Helene is passionate about running, swimming, and weight training. She also has a background in martial arts (including Karate and Taekwondo).

Every week I’ll be working with Helene to change and adapt my workout plan to gain as much muscle mass as possible. She has seen countless clients succeed and fail, and I’m pumped to be working with her.3

The plan

The crux of my plan is that I am going to:

  1. Transform my eating habits to reduce my body fat from 17% to 10%
  2. Use working out to gain 10 pounds of muscle mass. Most of my time at the gym will be spent building muscle, not burning fat.

This is a very, very simplified view of my plan, but it’s the overall direction I’m going in. It is a million times harder to burn off calories compared to not eating them in the first place, which is why I’m eating well to lose fat, and working out to gain muscle.

While the plan is a moving target, and will change week to week as my body also adapts and changes, the plan includes 3 main rules for the gym, and five main rules for my diet.

For the gym, I’m:

  1. Working out my chest and triceps on day one, back and biceps on day two, legs and shoulders on day three, and resting on day four. Wash, rinse, repeat.
  2. Only going to the gym outside working hours (9-5) to make the experiment more realistic, and something an average person can do, without devoting a year of their life to becoming more productive like I am.
  3. Starting with a higher number of workout reps for the first month or so (12-15 reps, 3 sets) to build up supporting muscles and ligaments, and then lowering the number of reps and increasing the weight.

For my diet, I’m:

  1. Eating absolutely no carbs, sugars, and fruit for the first month. After this time I will reevaluate my diet with Rachel and Helene to determine which adjustments I need to make.
  2. Consuming no unnatural supplements or foods, like fat burners, creatine, energy enhancers, or anything like that. I’m going to do this naturally, even though that will make the experiment more difficult.
  3. Taking a daily multivitamin and fish oil tablet.
  4. Consuming no alcohol. (This is going to be difficult, but so far, so good.)
  5. Drinking one liter of water right after I wake up.

And that’s all. For now, at least.

This is going to be a wild ride, and I can’t wait to share everything I learn with you.

  1. Source: The Willpower Instinct, page 42. 

  2. Here are a bunch of success stories

  3. Helene is also my girlfriend’s mom, and she grills a mean salmon. 

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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