Good sleep and a healthy gut: key ingredients behind this body

Fitness First Willoughy personal trainer Michael Nuchanatanon. Photo: Claudine MacDonald.

Sydney personal trainer Michael Nuchanatanon leaves no stone unturned when it comes to his client’s body transformations. So, practising what he preaches, he undertook this 14-week personal transformation in which he prioritised good sleep patterns and a healthy gut flora alongside his muscle building and fat cutting regime. 

I wanted to get into the best shape of my life. So, I set the goal of pushing my body to the absolute limit, working to a photo shoot to add some accountability to my goals.

To be successful in transforming your body you need to first get the basics right. There were two things that stood out for me; the first was to improve and maintain good sleeping patterns, and the second was to ensure I had a healthy gut flora.

Getting sleep right

For many years I would wake up throughout the night, sometimes two to three times. It had been occurring for so long that I began to think it was normal. To overcome this, I created a routine before I went to sleep in which I would get all the thoughts of the day out of my mind, dim the lights and relax. I made sure that I ate some carbohydrates at dinner and supplemented with magnesium. The carbohydrates release serotonin which lowers cortisol and allowed me to fall asleep. The magnesium helped me stay asleep all night.

Gut health was also critical

When trying to improve my gut health, the first place I started was to eliminate gluten and dairy products. Gluten travels through the intestine and damages the villi which absorb the nutrients of the food that passes through. Once they are damaged you absorb less nutrients so you’re not getting the maximum nutritional value out of the food you consume. Food particles can go through the damaged villi into the blood stream and travel around the body causing inflammation all over the body. Inflamed bodies are less efficient at building muscle and burning fat.

Phase 1: Calorie surplus & building muscle

In the first eight weeks of the program, I put on two kilograms of lean mass and maintained the same body fat level. To achieve this, I was eating 20% to 30% more energy than was required to maintain my body weight.

Michael Nuchanatanon during the muscle-building calorie surplus stage.

My training program needed to have a high amount of volume to account for the high amount of energy and to challenge my body enough, so that it would rebuild bigger and stronger. Your body is an adaptive mechanism, so if you don’t continuously change your training program it’s not going to change at all.

I found it most effective to change the training stimulus every four to six weeks.

The optimal TUT or time under tension for muscle growth is 30-70 seconds which generally falls within the 6 – 12 rep range. Each program/session I completed had  either a volume or intensity focus. If the focus was intensity I would aim to lift more weight and if the program had a priority on volume I would add more sets, repetitions or slow the tempo down.

The main priority for me was upper body so placing majority of the exercises on the correct muscle needed to be taken into account. For example, my chest and back are naturally more developed than my shoulders and arms so I made sure that the shoulders and arms were being activated three times per week. I found good muscle growth when targeting different muscle fibres each session; day one had an emphasis on heavy weights, day three was a typical hypertrophy focus and day five was a higher rep range on the muscle endurance end.

Phase 2: Cutting

The challenge now was to maintain as much lean body mass as possible while cutting fat, for the photo shoot. For the next six weeks I ate with a 10% – 30 % calorie deficit and trained five times per week for approximately one hour each session. Having the goal set made it very real and I was extremely motivated, which kept me on track without binging or having any cheat meals.

The main thing that contributed to staying within my diet guidelines was having a high fat and protein meal for breakfast that really helped satisfy hunger cravings. Typically, I am lazy when it comes to meal prepping so my meals had very little flavouring except for pink rock salt, herbs and chilli sauce. I found that less flavouring results in lower cravings.

I cracked the 10% body fat mark without doing any cardio and still had four weeks to go. I incorporated low intensity cardio starting at one hour each week and gradually increased the volume until I was doing five hours on top on my resistance training.

To measure progression, I got my body fat tested each week with the skin fold calipers. With less than a week to go I was around 2%. Although this is not a true indication because it does not incorporate internal fat, I had started with around 15% body fat using the same tool, which is a loss of 13% body fat with increased muscle mass.

See the results below.

Photo: Claudine MacDonald

Michael Nuchanatanon is a personal trainer at Fitness First Willoughby Platinum, in Sydney, Australia. Find him on Instagram, at @Michal_nuch