Individual Results May Vary
I know what you’re thinking, ‘He’s just a Magician, why is he writing about fitness?’.
Well, there are two simple answers to this question:
1) Since becoming an institution in homes across the world, television has become the most influential form of media that has ever existed. I firmly believe that anybody who appears on television, be it for 10 minutes or 10 episodes, has a social responsibility to look their best and present a healthy demeanor. (There are of course exceptions to this rule!). In my case, the TV series Draíocht Rua is aimed at young people, young adults and family audiences – so basically, I wanted to ensure that I was projecting a fit and healthy image so that it might, in some small way, encourage viewers to do the same.
2) I learnt a LOT whilst training for the series, and I plan on learning a hell of a lot more in the coming months too – sometimes people want to get in shape, but don’t know where to start! They’re either confused by training methods, or by the vast selection of nutritional supplements – we’ve all been there! So hopefully through short blog posts like this I can share what I’ve learnt with you, as well as the successes and failures of the various supplements that I’ve tried.
So, if you knew that in two months time you would be attempting to escape from some of the most impossibly dangerous scenarios imaginable, what would you do to prepare?
I’ve always been crazy about fitness, athletics and most of all weight-lifting, but I always felt as though I was doing something wrong, because I was putting the work in at the gym, but I wasn’t getting the results that I truly wanted. I needed some help, because if I showed up on set without being 100% physically fit, 1 of three things could happen -
(1) I could die / get seriously injured,
(2) I could panic on the day and cancel the Escape – which would translate to a massive waste of time & money, not to mention letting the entire team down!
(3) the insurance company could take one look at me, lose faith and call the entire series off. Dream over.
Elite Training & Nutrition
Because none of the three variables above were an option to me, I decided to enlist the help of expert Personal Trainer and Strength Conditioning coach, James Cummins, who kindly invited me to train at his incredible facility ‘Elite Training & Nutrition’ in Glenageary, South Dublin (www.elitetraining.ie).
When I first walked in, I was a bit taken aback by how small the facility is compared to the big commercial gyms I had been to. Where were all the fancy machines? The rows of cross-trainers and treadmills? Little did I know that it had everything I could possibly need to achieve my fitness goals. James is an absolute expert in his field, which he approaches with a humble, down-to-earth, hard as nails, ‘shut-up and train’ attitude. He has surrounded himself with an equally knowledgeable team – David O’Hara & Andrew Kidd, who are always on hand to help out as well.
We took what’s called a ‘Bio-Signature Modulation’, which basically gives the trainer a blue-print, or a map of your body and where it’s weak points are with regard to body-fat and any issues in its hormonal profile, and this blue-print was our starting point. Unluckily for me I had also just had shoulder surgery a month prior to this, where pieces of my left rotator cuff and left bicep were removed, so I was a bit restricted in terms of what I could do in the beginning.
Firstly we decided to build up a small amount of muscle mass to ensure that I’d be strong enough to pull these escapes off, and also so that I’d have a bit of size & presence on the screen. This required a grueling program of what’s called ‘Undulated Training’, where we kept changing the number of reps, sets and rest times to keep my body guessing as we worked through supersets and anti-catabolic workouts. What shocked me most was that there was nothing complicated about the workouts – you often read of weird and awkward movements to stimulate growth, but this was simple and to the point. James explained that combining these workouts with the right supplementation and a tough diet of Paleo style meals would get the results we needed, as long as I gave it three things; effort, discipline and intensity. The next two months consisted of early mornings & late evenings filled with sessions of weight-lifting, pull-ups, tyre-flipping, rope pulling and sprints. All of this had to be worked around a crazy busy schedule of Scuba Dive training, escapology training, screen – writing, creating, Irish lessons, gigging and all of the various meetings in between. So where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way, if you want it badly enough.
Ultimate Sports Nutrition
I then approached a sports nutrition company called ‘Ultimate Sports Nutrition‘ (USN http://www.usnireland.ie/) about sponsoring me throughout the training and actual filming of the series, to which they agreed. This was a huge huge help because we now had cutting edge supplements at our fingertips, from which we could hand pick exactly what we needed, when we needed! Though the training and diet were key, the right supplementation really took my goals to another level.
Before all of this, I would have definitely been a ‘Supplement Junkie’, I tried everything under the sun from crazy pre-workout formulas ‘guaranteed to make your arms explode!’ to dodgy tasting Protein shakes! I wasn’t paying any attention to what I was putting into my body – I was just waiting around for it to start working…which it never did! I was lucky that USN were genuinely on hand every step of the way – they outlined the ingredients of all their products so James knew exactly what I was taking and could direct me on how to take it and most importantly, when. Here are a few of the key supplements that helped me prepare for the TV Series:
Multi – Vitamin – Any good fitness program will require a great multi-vitamin! Your body needs certain minerals and vitamins just to survive, so it needs even more when training. Bodybuilders, athletes and people who lead generally active lifestyles need more vitamins and nutrients than the average person. Whether you’re in serious training or not, a good multi-vitamin should be the first thing on your supplement menu! I took these with breakfast every morning.
BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) – BCAA’s are commonly referred to as the ‘building blocks of protein‘, and they were vital for me in gaining lean muscle mass and definitely helped my performance during training too. Though you can get them in capsule form, I prefer the powder because I can sip it whilst training and it can be a bit refreshing. The BCAA’s Valine, leucine and isoleucine make up almost 1/3 of muscle proteins – so they reduced muscle fatigue, helped speed up my recovery times after big sessions and helped my body to absorb protein.
Whey Protein – Protein is the foundation of muscle building and is a certified requirement to make your muscles grow, drop body fat and enhance general health and wellbeing. I had found that some of the Protein Powders I had used previously were loaded with unnecessary ‘filler’ – probably my own fault for looking for a cheap fix. USN have an amazing filtering process which ensures that the Protein you’re getting is the purest possible – so when we combined it strategically with my training and the rest of my diet, we reaped fantastic results! A lot of people like to mix the protein powder with milk, but for some reason milk gives me bad skin, so I just mixed it with water and it was just as good. When you’re on an insanely strict diet, you actually start looking forward to these shakes because they taste fantastic! One of my weaknesses is coffee flavored ice-cream, and I was able to beat the cravings by drinking USN’s Cappuccino flavored protein! It’s great to have with you when you’re on the go as well – I found that when we were on the road, or working in the studio that a quick shake did me wonders and kept me going that extra bit longer.
Glutamine – Glutamine was one supplement which I hadn’t taken prior to training for the series, simply because I didn’t know / understand how important it is. Exhaustive exercise depletes your body’s Glutamine stores, which regulate protein synthesis and breakdown. For this reason, it’s extremely important to replenish those stores to prevent loss of muscle. James had me on 30grams of Glutamine per day, and I quickly felt the benefits of combining this with the BCAA’s in building lean mass. Again, sometimes it’s hard to spread 30 grams out over a hectic day, so I often took 10 grams straight after breakfast before training, 10 grams during training mixed into my BCAA’s, and then the last 10 grams mixed in with my Protein Shake (which already has Glutamine added! So we really took advantage of the anabolic window and loaded up on Protein, Glutamine and Glycine immediately after training.)
ZMA – It stands for Zinc and Magnesium, which aids in muscle recovery and strength – it’s actually clinically proven to significantly increase both anabolic hormone levels and muscle strength in athletes. It also really helped me with sleep – one of the most important factors in recovery and maintaining healthy levels of testosterone. As well as that, I get extremely vivid and ‘real’ dreams when I take it! For the last few weeks of training before I began shooting, James had me in the gym training twice a day – once in the morning and later that evening. I often found it hard to unwind and sleep after a tough session, and taking ZMA really helped that. It sent me straight to sleep, and when I woke up I felt really rested and ready to train again straight away.
Green Tea – Again towards the end of the training, James was cutting down my body-fat to make sure I didn’t show up on set with a belly – which wouldn’t exactly inspire confidence in my abilities! A lot of people know that Green Tea is a really powerful antioxidant and it helps to tone your body when you combine it with the right training and diet. To be honest, I can’t stand the taste of Green Tea…it just tastes like dirt to me! As well as that, you really need to keep drinking it to reap any benefits from it, but I was too busy to be hanging around making cups of green tea! So to say that discovering them in capsule form was a god-send, would be an understatement! We combined these with a really high protein diet to great effect, and I started to lean out on my midsection. One tip I picked up from the guys at Elite was that putting a stick of cinnamon into your coffee or even your green tea (if you like dirt!) can also help in lowering body fat (as long as you’re training!)
These supplements were the foundations of my training, and let’s face it, you can’t build a house without good foundations! As well as these, we supplemented with Psyllium Husk fibers (Morning and night), Vitamin D3 (loading period and then recommended amount daily) and a ton of Fish Oils (20 caps per day).
Now that the series is 95% shot, I’m embarking on a new training challenge with David O’Hara, another one of Elite’s experts in the field of Fitness and Strength Conditioning. In preparation for the next number of big projects, I’m trying to put on a few more pounds of lean muscle mass, while lowering my body-fat as much as I can. Throughout this 20 – week training program, I’ll be training under techniques which are completely new to me, and sticking to an extremely strict and regimented diet all the way through Christmas, New Years and January.
I started the journey this week with a method called ‘German Volume Training’, and through this, Dave gave me a small taster of what’s to come training wise. We were so happy with the results we got from the USN Supplements that we’ll be using them again and counting on them for more support through the coming weeks. Dave also has a few supplement tricks up his sleeve which he keeps close to his chest and hopefully I’ll be able to share snippets of these secrets with you as I move forward.
In terms of dieting at the moment, I’m hitting close to 800 grams of Red Meat per day, 1 kilo of Vegetables, and one meal with carbs like Brown Rice or Sweet Potato. This is a diet aimed at growth, which I’ll be doing for the next 3 weeks, before adjusting to a new diet. I’m also still sticking to the same supplements listed above, to which I might add one or two of USN’s Testosterone Boosters like HMB or Gaktec to really take things to the next level.
Throughout the 20 weeks, we’ll be doing regular Bio Signatures to track everything that’s happening inside of me, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens and to keep you guys updated with my progress – the training methods I’m using, the supplements I’m taking and what kind of food I’m eating too. Maybe you have an event coming up that you want to get in shape for, so hopefully the results I’ll get will be enough to inspire you to start a fitness journey of your own.
Individual results may vary, depending on how much effort you’re willing to put in to achieve your goals!