Just after Thanksgiving, I started a 12-week cut on the Renaissance Periodization diet. I previously wrote about it here, and some RP “hacks” for vegetarians are here. In this post, I will mainly let my results speak for themselves, but I will also answer a few questions about RP. If you have specific questions, let me know — I am happy to share about my experience!
First, what were my results?
I lost about 4 lbs over 12 weeks doing RP. My goal was 10 lbs, which would have been a huge mental and physical boost for the Phoenix Marathon. I think that 10 lbs of weight loss might have been possible if I had followed the plan perfectly (see below). But it didn’t happen. However, I’m happy with 4 lbs., and there are some other #nonscalevictories. For example, I lost a full 2 inches around my belly, and I fit into a couple of items that, for months, haven’t been fitting well (e.g., too tight to lie flat against my hips). After 12 weeks, I forget what it feels like to squeeze into my jeans or feel like I am bursting out of my clothes — a bloatedness and fullness that I had become used to before RP.
But I wanted some hard science — I wanted to quantify these changes that can’t be measured on the scale. So I headed back to Composition ID in downtown DC for a DEXA body composition scan. (Previous scan results are here and here.) So how did these results compare to my scan in April 2016?
In April 2016, I had 42.3 lbs of fat and my total body fat percentage was 28.9%. And today, I have 35.7 lbs of fat and a total body fat percentage of 25.3%. Importantly, it looks like I was successful at not withering all my muscle away: my lean mass went up 1.1 lbs compared to my April scan, and I did not lose bone mineral content. So to recap: I lost 5.5 total pounds since my April scan (about 4 lbs of that was during the 12 weeks on RP), I lost 6.6 lbs of fat (large majority of which was in my trunk region), I gained 1.1 lbs of muscle, and I decreased by body fat percentage by 3.6%. Yeah, I’m happy with that.
Did I follow the plan perfectly?
No. Not by a long shot. I made compromises, even when I knew those compromises might sacrifice some of my results. I can’t state enough how this diet did not come easy to me, how the weight wasn’t falling off like I wanted to, how I felt like I might not be making progress and at times was “failing,” and how I struggled to balance adherence to the plan with other considerations (family events, travel, my stress level). Here’s a quick summary of my “phases” of this diet.
Weeks 1-4: Getting Started, and Then Not
I started off sticking with the plan pretty well. It took a few weeks to get the hang of the timing and approximate portions (I wasn’t carefully measuring most my foods because I was traveling), but I immediately felt less bloated and fairly satisfied. Then I had the Kiawah Island Marathon and took a few days off from the plan (with permission from my coach). That clouded my results for the first few weeks, but the total weight loss over this time was about 2 lbs on average. Even though it was just a little weight loss, I could start to see some changes in my body — looking a little more toned. Or I was hallucinating. One or the other.
Weeks 4-5: Christmas. Enough Said.
Then the holidays rolled around and somehow lasted about 10 days. I adhered to the plan when it made sense, but there were definite deviations! Luckily, my weight stayed pretty even.
Weeks 6-7: Appearance of The Food Scale
At the halfway point, I mentioned to my coach that I wasn’t measuring everything, and he said that not measuring and weighing properly could definitely slow my progress. Especially because I was eating peanuts by the handful. So I started measuring. I lost about another pound. I was feeling strong at this point, and I could tell my body had some changes, despite the scale not moving too much.
Week 8: European Food
I traveled to Europe for Week 8 and did not weight myself. I incorporated elements of the program into my eating schedule. For instance, I had some dinners of Italian pasta and a protein shake. I had protein before bed. Otherwise, I tried to stay active and not over-do the portion sizes. I came back from vacation around the same weight as when I left.
Week 9: Near Perfection
For week 9, the goal was to have a full week of consistent adherence to the plan. I did well. I lost about another pound, pound and a half. I could definitely see some changes in my body and felt good.
Weeks 10-12: The Limp to the Finish
This was by far the hardest set of weeks. At the end of week 9, I weighed in five pounds lower than my starting weight. This was the lowest I had weighed during the program, and as it turns out, the lowest I would weigh for the rest of the program. My coach decided that after losing only modest weight during week 9, we should step it up. He took away some of my carbs and fats. This happened to coincide with a particularly stressful week at work and in life, and just as my pre-Phoenix anxieties were setting in. Needless to say, the restriction backfired. Badly. I felt like the plan was not realistic in my current state so I started deviating from the plan, mainly with peanut butter filled pretzels and Special K I could buy at work. Once these “cheats” became part of the norm, it was very hard for me to get back on track, and I skipped some “weigh ins.” Honestly, during weeks 10 and 11, I was angry (hangry?) at my coach for switching things up on me just when I was getting the hang of it all and falling into a groove. I know that instead of panicking, I could have paused, hit reset, and gone back to the original templates my coach had given me. After all, I was seeing decent results on them! Instead I just kind of freaked out. After 11 days, I finally had the nerve to email my coach and report what had happened. I really didn’t want to self-flagellate, so I just said “Here’s the short version. Here’s what I weigh. I am hoping to finish out on a good note.” My last week was by no means perfect, but it was decent. Interestingly, there was some variability in my weight over this period, but I never had a weigh in that was higher than 2 lbs below my starting weight (i.e., it never creeped all the back up). I had moments that felt super out of control, but I really wasn’t that far off track most of the time. I finished up the 12-week program around the same weight as my week 9 average.
What were some of the best things about RP?
- It is designed for athletes, which means an emphasis on fueling workouts and retaining muscle while losing fat. I never felt like I was getting softer or weaker on RP.
- It is anti-chronic dieting. Enough said.
- No food groups are demonized or eliminated. My template gave me fewer carbs than I would normally eat, but it definitely did not eliminate them. Same with fats. Instead, the plan suggests “good” carbs, such as oatmeal, rice, or fruit instead of processed carbs or sugary treats, and “healthy” fats, such as peanut butter or avocados instead of fried foods.
- It fostered a decreased reliance on oil. I basically cooked oil free for my entire cut and found it to be really easy. I used almost all of my fats on peanuts and peanut butter. A little cheese in there too.
- It is designed with respect for vegetables. I firmly believe that any successful diet plan should include a good amount of vegetables. They help prevent me from feeling bloated, keep me full, and provide lots of nutrients. Luckily, RP prescribed veggies at almost every meal. (Note that starchy vegetables like corn, peas, carrots, and squash don’t count as veggies — those are carbs).
- It encourages frequent meals. My plan had me eating 5 or 6 times a day, which reduced the need for me to snack. It even encourages a nighttime snack of casein protein!
- It broke the run-reward cycle. My plan did not give me any extra food on days when I went running, except for my long run days. And even on the long run days, I wasn’t given many extra carbs — mainly extra protein. So there wasn’t an opportunity for post-run binging or telling myself “I earned this today.” It was a refreshing bit of sanity, even if I did really, really want a big BGR veggie burger on a few long run days! (I may have gotten one… but only once! And it was worth every decadent carb.)
What were some of the worst things about RP?
- By far my biggest challenge was getting the prescribed protein as a vegetarian without going over my carb and fat allotments. Well that, and not eating all the cookies and cakes and cereal available to me. But really, protein. I initially relied very heavily on shakes (but note that a lot of vegan protein powders have a good number of carbs, so I couldn’t use those!), but I eventually moved to heavier reliance on tofu and egg whites. Given the restrictions on carbs and fats, it could be tough to figure out what to do with tofu and egg whites. I ended up with a few staple recipes, but good lord I could not live on these two protein sources for the rest of my life. Because I wasn’t allotted many carbs, getting protein from beans and legumes wasn’t really an option. For instance, I might be able to get 10 or 15 grams of protein from beans without going over on my carbs, but I’d need to find another 5 or 10 grams of protein from another source for that meal. Also, it was basically impossible to get enough protein at restaurants without going over in either carbs or fat. It was a challenge even at health-focused restaurants like Sweetgreen. So when we went out, I usually had a shake or tofu before or after dinner, and I just tried to eat veggies and reasonably carb portions at restaurants. I imagine it would have been a bit easier if I could have ordered chicken or fish. But obviously I didn’t want to do that.
- The RP Clients FB group has some great insight about how to get the most out of the program. It also has some people asking questions that have been answered 110234 times. But WAY worse, in my opinion was the posts like these (this is a real example): “Down 7.2 lbs on base diet for loss in 2 weeks and no loss of strength, energy or power …” Look, good for you to be down 7.2 lbs on “base,” which is the starting point for the fat loss templates. But a lot of people gain on base as they adjust to the diet, or don’t lose 7.2 lbs over the course of their entire cut. And it is incredibly irritating to be struggling, or not seeing the same results, and to have what is supposed to be the mindless escape of FB infiltrated by these posts! I might suggest that others unfollow the FB group and just search it for whatever questions you have, instead of getting the posts in your Newsfeed.
Would I do it again and recommend it to others?
- I would consider doing another “cut” sometime in the future. However, now that I have the templates, I would probably just use the same ones for myself on another cut, rather than continuing to pay for 1:1 coaching.
- I would also recommend RP to others, for all the reasons above.
- For me, the biggest benefit of having the coach vs. just the plan was the accountability to created. Note that, at least in my experience, the coaches don’t email to check in and don’t offer up information that you didn’t ask for — the process is very driven by the participant, and it was my option to use my coach as a resource. Many of the responses I received from my coach were very short words of encouragement. Some people will probably want a more hands-on approach given the price tag. Some people will appreciate that they aren’t being overwhelmed with information or pestering.
What do you think? Have you heard about or considered doing RP? Have you doing Renaissance Periodization as a vegetarian or vegan? Have you tried to cut weight for a race?