It may seem hard to believe, but the incredible body transformation you see in the photos below, by lieutenant commander Ian Brown, took place in only 49 days, while he was serving in Iraq in the US Navy, in the middle of the desert heat, miles from civilization as we know it, under constant threat of danger,  limited in his food availability (yet surrounded with junk food temptations), without creature comforts, and yet he was voted the #1 top body male 49-day body transformation for the 98-day Burn the Fat Challenge. What was his secret for pulling off that feat under those living conditions? Read the interview and find out…
Tom: Ian congratulations on your win in the first half of the 2011 Burn The Fat Summer challenge. The competition was tough this year! How does it feel to be named “the best 49-day body transformation” in that entire field of guys?
Ian: It feels great and is a little unreal and overwhelming. There were some amazing transformations and I knew it would be a close competition.
Tom: Ok, let me see if I have this right: you made the amazing transformation we see in your pictures, in only 49 days, while you were serving in Iraq in the US Navy, in the middle of the desert heat, miles from civilization as we know it, surrounded by danger – even rocket attacks – limited in your food availability, without creature comforts, and yet you were voted the #1 top body transformation. What was your secret for pulling that off under those living conditions, and what’s your advice for other people who have less than ideal conditions and they think it’s holding them back?
Ian: Yes, that is correct. I think keeping focused on the goal and having a written plan was the key for me. It made for a nice distraction from what was going on around me. I could spend part of my day or night planning meals, workouts and reading articles on the IC instead of worrying about the chaos around me. The gym is a great stress reliever for me also! I have the entire 14 week challenge, day by day, planned out. How many calories I will eat, how many I will burn, what my daily deficit will be, what my weekly deficit will be and then I just execute the plan. If something changes than I adjust as necessary but I never start a day not knowing what I intend to eat and what my workouts will be.
For people in similar situations I think it is a matter of determination to achieve your goal. You have to learn to use the tools you do have at hand and not let yourself be limited by what you don’t have. The only thing that ever holds someone back from achieving their goals is themselves.
Tom: We all know how important nutrition is for losing fat and gaining muscle but it seems like you were stuck mostly with the dining hall at your base, not to mention you said in your journal that you were surrounded by temptations. I have a few questions about this: How much choice did you actually have in your meal plan; how did you avoid the temptations and make the best choices; how did you manage your calories, protein and other macronutrients; and how did you adjust your nutrition over the weeks to keep getting more results?
Ian: There are very few healthy choices available here. It is basically like eating at a restaurant for every meal and you get what they are serving. Luckily besides the main dish being served that day they tend to have some better choices available that aren’t part of the main meal. Those alternative choices are generally available everyday but that also means you eat the same thing over and over again.
For example at the grill they are serving hotdogs and cheeseburgers for lunch and dinner you can also get boneless, skinless chicken breasts. In the morning instead of waffles, pancakes or french toast you can get an egg white omelet. If you look past the sausage and bacon you can find oatmeal. There is also a salad bar, if you can manage to get past the mexican bar or wing bar. And fresh fruit in the mornings if you can get past the donut and pastry bar.
The temptations are everywhere and for me the dessert bar is the biggest temptation. At lunch and dinner there is a buffet of cakes, cookies, cobblers, ice cream and my favorite cheesecake. It is just out there, you are looking at it during your entire meal and everyone around you seems to have something from it.
What worked for me to stay on track was I quickly learned what the healthy staples were. Then I planned my meals out for the week using I would set my total calories for each day, the macro breakdowns as close as possible and plan the whole week. I then printed each day’s meal plans and kept them in my pocket for reference.
As I walked in for each meal I would pull my plan out and go get what was on it. Lots of times they didn’t have something I had planned for so I started listing alternatives on the plan. Tuna instead of chicken, green beans instead of broccoli, a bagel instead of oatmeal, etc, etc.
To help avoid the temptations I worked a couple cheat meals into my plan each week. I would plan a pancake day, steak on steak night, a dessert one time a week, but it was always planned and I could remind myself during the week that ok, two more days and I get my cheat meal. That seemed to work for me.
To keep my progress going I planned my workouts and meals so that I had the deficit I was looking for each day. I wanted to lose 2lbs a week so I set my deficit to a 1,000 calories under my TDEE for each day. I preferred to calculate my TDEE daily instead of averaging it for the week. I think it is more accurate that way and it allowed me to adjust my calories daily if something came up. For example if I was to miss a cardio session I could on the fly, just for that day, adjust my calorie intake and it doesn’t affect the rest of my week.
I calculated my TDEE by starting with my BMR and adding in my NEAT which was an estimated 1.2 multiplier. I then would plan my workouts for the week and figure how many calories I burned in a weight session and in a cardio session. So when I started the week I always had a plan for how many calories I would both eat each day and burn each day for that whole week. Then I would adjust if needed as the week progressed but I never started the week without a plan on paper in my hand.
Tom: Everyone in the Burn the Fat Inner Circle who read your journal could see that you trained hard, because you logged in your workouts. In fact, you trained beyond hard – you trained like an animal! Do you think you have a greater physical capacity than most men or do you feel you’re just a regular guy who constantly drives himself? How do you stay so intense? What’s your mental approach to attacking your workouts so hard?
Ian: I am just a regular guy who gives 110% when I set my mind on something I want. I know those weight sessions are a huge part of getting the results I want so I approach them knowing that I am only going to get what I am willing to give. I give everything I have each and every workout and in return I got great results. I am also very goal driven. Seeing the progress I was making each week kept me motivated to keep hitting the weights hard. My workouts were also very planned. I spent a lot of time reading though the site picking up tips and ideas for how to get the most out of my workouts.
Tom: Dude, your arms are crazy! Your whole physique is impressive, but you have biceps and triceps that even competitive bodybuilders would envy and the size growth you can see in the pics for 49 days is insane! You did a lot of sets – do you credit the muscle hypertrophy with doing more bicep and tricep exercise volume or do you have some other arm building secrets you want to let us in on?
Ian: Wow! Thank you. I don’t have any secrets. My arm workouts were the same as any other muscle group. I hit them hard and heavy. I stuck with the simple mass builders and pushed as hard as I could. Barbell Curls and Dumbbell Curls, Weighted Dips and Overhead Tricep Extensions. No concentration curls or tricep kickbacks here, only the exercises that I could put the most amount of weight onto the muscle. I did use a lot of volume. Lots of supersets and dropsets. I have lifted for years and years without much progress so I knew I was going to have to approach this challenge with something new, something I have never done before. I think the supersets and dropsets were a big piece of my success. I had never used them before and my muscles seemed to respond well grow with the additional volume.
Tom: You’re a cardio machine too! Can you tell our readers what your cardio regimen was like for those first 49 days of the challenge?
Ian: The original plan was to do fasted cardio every morning and create my main calorie deficit that way. I was hoping to mainly run. I started running several years ago and it has become my cardio of choice. Unfortunately I really do not like treadmill running and because of the conditions here it is even worse to run outside. It is already near 100 degrees by 6am, the dust and sand in the air is horrible and there is an additional threat associated with it.
So I ended up on the elliptical about as much as the treadmill. Also my morning schedule can change depending on what is going on for the day so my cardio would sometimes have to shift to post weight training or in the evening.
Like I mentioned I used the cardio sessions to create my main calorie deficit for the day. I also feel that it actually burns the fat off my body during the cardio so then if I stay in a deficit I know I am burning fat and not re-depositing it.
Tom: This was the first time we ran our Burn the Fat summer body transformation contest with a special award at the half-way point – which you won – the best 49 day transformation. But the contest isn’t over yet. What’s your goal for the rest of the 98 day summer challenge and what’s your strategy to keep making more progress after you’ve already come so far, so fast? You’ve pushed hard – do you think there’s any chance that you’ve burned out already?
Ian: The goal is to win the trip to Maui!! I could really use a nice vacation after this tour is over. To do that I plan to just keep doing what I have been doing so far. I feel that I have some more fat to burn still and I would like to add some more muscle mass. I am going to just keep lifting hard and heavy and keep my calories in check. My calorie deficit is about the only thing changing. It will get smaller and smaller so I can try to get some more growth and slowly lose these last few pounds.
For day 98 I would like to look like I could be walking onto a stage for a bodybuilding contest. That is the real goal! And I have definitely not burned out. Lots of drive and motivation left and winning the half way contest has added even more determination now!
Tom: Alright Ian. Thanks for sharing! There will be a lot of eyes on you for sure for the 2nd half of the Burn the Fat challenge – your mid-way victory already makes you a favorite top contender for the overall title — but I can tell you, it was a close decision and there are a lot of guys right on your tail who want to win that Maui trip too, so keep training hard, thanks from all of us for serving our country and before we sign off, is there anything else you want to leave us with?
Ian: I want to say thank you to everyone out there in the Burn The Fat IC. The comments and support have been overwhelming. This community is really great!  I also want to give a special thanks to you Tom. I have tried for years to figure out how to achieve these kinds of results and could have never done it without Burn the Fat, Feed the muscle (BFFM), so thank you for sharing that knowledge with us and the support you continue to give along the way.
Tom: Ok. Thanks again Ian – We’ll see you at the Inner Circle.
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle – Official Program of the Burn the Fat Challenge:
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