By Chris Johnson
At 6’0” and 245 lbs, I was grossly overweight. I had tried “the salad diet”, Atkins, intermittent fasting, juicing...heck even one I invented on my own now infamously dubbed “the burrito diet” (don’t ask). In the end, each attempt to lose the weight had a very brief positive effect while my motivation was a peak, followed by a loss of motivation and subsequent weight gain. I was what you’d call a “YoYo dieter."
As I stepped on the scale in early December 2008 and read “245,” I realized something seriously needed to change. I needed something that would give me structure. I needed a target that would enable me to form habits rather than look up a quick fix on the internet.
Now was a better time than ever to pursue a lifelong goal I’d had of being a boxer. I’d always viewed boxers as the pinnacle of fitness, nutrition, skill and finesse. I admired the guts needed to get in the ring. Despite the skill and knowledge I lacked for the sport of boxing at the time, I recognized an even bigger fight was looming to get my weight under control.
I found a boxing gym nearby called Front Range Boxing Academy and spoke at length with the head trainer and coach Dave before joining. On our first call he outlined the boxer’s basic regimen needed to be ready for a fight:
Sprints (every single day), bag work (heavy bags, double end bags, speed bags), jumping rope and shadow boxing during each workout in the gym, daily calisthenics and sparring 2-3 times per week.
At the time, I could tell this was a routine he had run several people through over the years. I wasn’t the first guy who wanted to lose weight through boxing and then fight, despite having zero experience.
All things considered, I quickly dug in on the work outlined by my new coach. Every day started with running and sprinting at sunrise, capped by work in the gym on the bags and in the ring each night. All told I was surpassing 3 hours per day of training.
The weight came off with the hard work- 245 to 225 in the first 2 months. As 5 months passed I came down to 200 which was fantastic progress, but not yet where I needed to land. My goal was to reach 177 pounds so I could box in the light heavyweight division of the Golden Gloves the upcoming spring. My weight dropped to 200 and stayed there. I wasn’t concerned when it stayed there at first, but as two months passed and I hadn’t lost another pound I became concerned.
I sat down with my coach to talk about my concerns-- what was I doing wrong? I had followed the old school boxer’s workout regimen to the letter, and I had adhered to the boxer’s diet outlined in similar fashion. Since the old boxer’s workout routine had fueled such good early results, I hadn’t stopped to question my use of the diet method of old pro fighters. As I took a step back and looked at the “old school” boxer’s diet I’d been following the last 8 months, I realized there were some serious issues which were preventing me from losing more weight:
No Calorie Restrictions, big meals, especially before sparring or fights (Steak and potatoes were a traditional fighter’s favorite pre-workout/fight meal), high fat, high carb and eating big after night workouts before bed (Dinner was the biggest meal and with late night training it often came right before bed).
After researching how modern diet techniques were in stark contrast from these older diet “techniques” I made immediate changes to correct my diet:
Cut the calories from liquids/drinks such as soda, no more late night snacks, no late-night carbs or big meals before bed, my meals got smaller over the course of the day: dinner being the smallest, I added poly-unsaturated fats to help me with hunger (almonds, spoonful of peanut butter), no more steak and potatoes—especially before sparring sessions (my only meats were fish or chicken) and still no calorie counting, but tried to watch portion sizes.
After the changes were made, the weight loss picked up again almost immediately. As the weight dropped, new challenges emerged: I needed to learn how to move in the ring at a lower weight. Each time I sparred, the focus became taking advantage of the benefits of my lower weight. With two months leading up to my first fight, I focused exclusively on movement within the ring as it was quite awkward at 180 pounds compared to the near 200 I’d recently been stuck at.
Having tried both the old school and modern diet techniques it was easy to contrast their impact on not only my weight, but also my boxing; I found I had more energy in the ring, and the sluggishness I previously felt (likely from the overloaded steak and potato meals) had vanished. I also noticed improvements in my recovery time between sessions. In short, the difference was day and night; I was a different athlete.
In the years since, I’ve worked with numerous clients as a personal trainer and boxing instructor. They see the appeal of boxing as a great weight loss tool, which it certainly is. I caution my new clients with my story. Weight loss through boxing has to be equal measures of hard work in the gym AND in the kitchen. When pairing boxing with a proper diet you’re hard pressed to find a better combo to lose weight, but without both in concert with each other you’ll likely only make it halfway to your goal.
I was lucky enough to win my fight with weight loss and even luckier to win some great fights in the ring as well. Luckily, in the 9 years since I started, I never had to look down at the scale again thinking “something has to change." Both in the ring and outside of it, I keep fighting in hopes to never stop improving and to never return to where I started.
Chris Johnson is a Golden Gloves boxer, CPT and boxing instructor from Boulder, CO. After spending the last 8 years working with both professional and amateur athletes he started his business, Cerus Fitness. It's an online site for people who want to work out and lose weight at home.