Whereas my previous blog outlined ten general principles for healthy living, this article provides a comprehensive overview of the diet plans and workout routines I have used to stay in great shape at 40 years old.
Please understand that this article is long - twice as long as most pieces I have written. However, I am so convinced of the positive correlation between physical fitness and professional success that I felt compelled to empty my entire playbook.
“But what do you know?” you might be thinking. “You’re not a trained professional!”
You’re right. I’m not a trained professional. Nor do I claim to have everything figured out.
However, I have spent the better part of two decades reading, writing, listening, and learning about fitness. I enjoy experimenting with new ideas, tracking how my body responds, and adjusting for optimal performance.
Whereas I may not have the “personal trainer” title, very few people have given physical fitness as much attention as myself.
Given my profession, I decided a shirtless pic would not be wise.
Getting ripped begins - and ends - with a healthy diet. No matter how hard you work out, if your intensity toward dieting does not match your intensity toward exercise, it is impossible to get shredded.
"Dieting is so overwhelming," you may be thinking. "I don't even know where to start!"
I don't blame you.
Every time we look, a new fad diet is sweeping the country. Atkins, South Beach, Vegan, Keto, Paleo … there are too many to choose from! And now with Instagram "models" and TikTok "influencers" constantly shoving diet ideas down our throats, it's impossible to know who to believe.
Do not get suckered into buying these products and plans. Instead, understand that weight loss is simply calories consumed versus calories burned. In fact, every weight-loss study conducted over the past century has concluded if you consistently consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight.
Consuming fewer calories than are burned is commonly referred to as a calorie deficit diet. The first step in a calorie deficit diet is determining your daily calorie target - the number of calories you must stay under to lose weight. While there are several methods for calculating your daily calorie target, the most accurate is the Harris-Benedict Formula.
Several online calculators for the Harris-Benedict Formula exist. My current favorite can be found at inchcalculator.com/harris-benedict-calculator. When using this calculator, you will be asked to enter your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. Below were my numbers at 40 years old:
I want to highlight two things about this table: the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
BMR is the number of calories naturally burned each day based on age, gender, height, and weight. My BMR is 1,869 ... meaning if I never left the house and lived a sedentary lifestyle, I would need to consume less than 1,869 calories per day to lose weight. While this number is realistic, I would not recommend a life of inactivity (more on this later).
TDEE is the number of calories naturally burned (BMR) plus the calories that are burned as a result of physical activity throughout the day. My TDEE is 3,225 calories, meaning I can consume nearly 1,400 more calories per day and still maintain or lose weight thanks to having an active lifestyle.
When using the Harris-Benedict Formula, keep in mind the following:
Eat less calories than your TDEE = lose weight
Eat the same calories as your TDEE = maintain weight
Eat more calories than your TDEE = gain weight
One important rule of thumb to know is there are roughly 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. This means if you cut 3,500 calories from your diet (or burn 3,500 calories through exercise), you can expect to lose a pound of fat.
For example, say your TDEE is 3,000 calories and you only eat 2,000 calories a day. Given our rule (3,500 calories = 1 pound of fat), how much weight can you expect to lose in a week?
3,000 TDEE – 2,000 calories consumed = 1,000 daily calorie deficit
1,000 daily calorie deficit x 7 days = 7,000 calories “under” TDEE
7,000 calories / 3,500 (one pound of fat) = 2 pounds burned in one week
Once a daily calorie target has been determined, you must develop a system for tracking the number of calories consumed throughout the day.
“But Jared, isn’t calorie counting bad?"
I get it. The words “calorie deficit” and “calorie counting” have endured plenty of criticism, especially as the number of mental health issues related to dieting continues to climb. However, most people have no idea how many calories they consume during the day. In fact, most adults dramatically underestimate their calorie intake – often by as much as 2,000 calories per day.
So, how does one calorie count? One of the best places to start is the MyFitnessPal app. MyFitnessPal has a massive database containing the calorie and nutrient data for thousands of foods. Whenever you consume any food or drink, simply enter your items and the app does the math for you.
At first, I didn’t think I needed to count calories. "This is a waste of time," I thought as I reluctantly tracked calories using MyFitnessPal for the first time. However – at the end of the first day – I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had consumed well over 4,000 calories! No wonder I wasn’t losing weight.
From that that day forward, I used the MyFitnessPal app to track every meal, snack, drink, and dessert for several months. At first, it was hard to take 1,000-plus calories out of my daily diet. "What do you mean I can't have a bowl of ice cream after dinner?" I pouted. However - over time - my appetite got used to the new normal.
After several months of tracking hundreds of meals and individual food items, I no longer needed the MyFitnessPal app because I had memorized the calories for the handful of foods I ate regularly. And for the foods I didn't eat regularly, I developed a ballpark idea of their calorie amounts.
This brings me to a key idea for this chapter: having a general understanding of the calorie counts for most common foods is a valuable skill to learn. Those who follow a calorie deficit diet don’t always have the time to track calories. Therefore, it is important to learn how to do quick mental math to ensure your daily calorie target is not exceeded.
One common calorie-counting question has to do with food quality: Does nutrition matter? Or, is it all about the calories?
Mixed opinions exist on this topic. Some people maintain that calories are all that matter. This means you could eat 13 S’mores Pop Tarts (2,405 calories) or 4 Big Macs and a medium Coke (2,462 calories) and still lose weight assuming the daily calorie target is preserved.
While I haven’t tried living off of Pop Tarts or Big Macs, I have read enough to know that people who want optimal results should eat a well-balanced diet full of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
This is where a personal rule of thumb comes into play called The 80% rule.
The 80% rule suggests people who are serious about weight control should eat “clean” foods 80% of the time. Eating clean means choosing foods that are close to their natural state and not overly processed. Clean foods are typically found around the perimeter of a grocery store and include fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and dairy products.
For the other 20% of the time, people are allowed to eat “non-clean” food. Non-clean foods are typically found in the center of the grocery store and include heavily processed and pre-packaged foods such as chips, cookies, cereals, breads, frozen dinners, soda, and alcohol.
In a moment I will propose that unhealthy eating is limited to one “cheat” day per week. People who follow this model eat clean six out of seven days a week – or 86% of the time. No matter if you use the “cheat day” approach or a different system, eating clean 80% of the time is a great rule of thumb to follow.
Are you ready for a sample meal plan?
Recall my numbers from earlier in the chapter: 40 years old, male, 75 inches tall, 180 pounds and a TDEE of roughly 3,200 calories per day. Given that I am still trying to lose that last bit of fat - plus I have a built-in cheat day (more on this later) - my current daily calorie target is 2,500 calories.
The following is the meal plan I have used for the last couple years. I usually follow this meal plan Monday through Friday, with a “Cheat Day” on Saturday, and a slightly modified - yet healthy - day on Sunday.
Please note that these measurements and nutritional facts are simply estimates. I encourage you to adjust the amounts based on personal preference:
1 packet Super Orange Emergen-C
1 scoop Fruit Punch No-Xplode
1 cup ice
**Mix with 10 ounces water**
Total = 65 Calories
Breakfast: Dr. J’s “Famous” Breakfast Smoothie
½ cup of frozen vanilla Greek yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup spinach
1 ½ cup original, unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop Cinnamon Crunch Quest Protein Powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup rolled oats
**Blend in Ninja Blender for 60 seconds**
Breakfast Total = 500 calories & 30g Protein
Lunch: Dr. J’s “Power-Lunch” Omelet
3 egg whites & 1 egg (cooked omelet style)
½ cup mushrooms
1 cup spinach
½ cup peppers
½ cup onions
4 thin slices of deli turkey
4 thin slices of deli ham
Side: one large handful of almonds
Side: ½ cup 2% cottage cheese
Drink: 20 oz water
Lunch Total = 700 calories & 35g Protein
Afternoon “Wake-Me-Up” Drink
1 packet Raspberry Emergen-C
1 scoop Fruit Punch No-Xplode
1 cup ice
**Mix with 10 ounces water**
Total = 65 Calories
Dinner: Dr. J’s “Incredible” Egg Sandwich
½ Bagel (sliced & toasted)
3 eggs (cooked omelet style)
3 thin slices of deli turkey
3 thin slices of deli ham
½ ounce shredded cheese
Side: one large handful of almonds
Drink: 20 oz water
Dinner Total = 725 calories & 35g Protein
Dessert: Dr. J’s “Soooo Good” Protein Smoothie
1 scoop of Cookies & Cream Quest Protein Powder
2 tbsp. PB2 powdered peanut butter
¾ cup original, unsweetened almond milk
1 cup ice
**Blend in Ninja Blender for 60 seconds**
Dessert Total = 175 calories & 30g Protein
Daily Total = 2230 calories & 130g Protein
The "incredible" egg sandwich; I've eaten this dinner hundreds of times the past few years!
This diet plan often raises questions. Here are a few of the most common:
“You eat the same meals Monday through Friday? That is way too scripted for me!”
I realize that most people do not want to eat the same foods every day. However, consider the foods you currently eat on a daily basis. I’m willing to bet you eat a lot of the same foods regularly - especially for breakfast and lunch. Fact is, most people tend to rotate through a number of “staple” meals throughout the week. Once you find meals that are tasty and healthy, I would suggest that you rotate through those meals for the sake of convenience and to prevent overeating.
“My spouse will never go for this!”
I agree, most spouses will not appreciate the rigidity of this plan. When I was married, my wife loved to cook for us. Of course, I knew better than to turn down her homemade meals! To compromise, I would eat my “typical” breakfast (500 calories) and lunch (700 calories), but then at dinner I would eat whatever my wife had made. Knowing that I had roughly 1,000 calories to play with gave me plenty of options, yet helped prevent overeating (and resist dessert!).
“Wait, you make omelets for lunch? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
When I moved into my first superintendent role, I bought a house within walking distance of my office. While initially hesitant about the location, I loved being so close because I could go home for lunch. I’ll be honest … my head is spinning by the time the noon hour rolls around. Rather than continue to scramble my mind by eating lunch at my desk, I run home to decompress and eat a healthy meal. Any time lost by taking a lunch break is more than made up for thanks to increased afternoon productivity. School leaders wanting to perform at the highest levels would be wise to schedule daily mental health breaks.
“How did you choose those foods?”
I have spent years researching the best foods to eat. Depending on the study, you can make a case that any food is good for you (“Drink red wine and eat dark chocolate and you’ll live to be 110!”). Most foods on my meal plan are selected not only because I like the taste, but also because they are proven to burn fat.
Consider the following:
Why Almonds? While nuts contain more calories per gram than most foods, they are natural dietary fats that also boost metabolism. Studies indicate that participants who eat almonds with meals lose more body fat and more stomach fat compared to groups who don't eat almonds.
Why Blueberries? Blueberries have been shown to speed up the fat burning process and are protective against weight gain. Furthermore, eating three servings of blueberries per week has proven to reduce heart attacks by as much as 34%.
Why Eggs? Few foods contain proper nutrients while also managing hunger like eggs. Regardless of how you like yours cooked (I’ll take mine over hard, please), eggs have been proven to speed up fat loss and reduce food cravings throughout the day.
Why Mushrooms? Mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber, which enhances weight loss. Other nutrients like potassium, copper, and B vitamins support cognitive functioning. Adding two to four servings of mushrooms per week helps improve memory and reduce cognitive impairment by nearly 50%.
Why Spinach? Just like Popeye the Sailor Man, humans gain incredible powers from this low-calorie, leafy vegetable loaded with nutrients. Not only is spinach great for weight loss, this superfood also strengthens bones, improves eyesight, and improves skin quality.
Why Water? Drinking large amounts of water increases metabolism and triggers the release of stored body fat. Drinking 20 ounces of water within a couple minutes temporarily boosts metabolism rates by 30% and burns around 25 calories. While 25 calories may not seem significant - when done three times a day over the course of a year – 27,000 calories (more than seven pounds of fat) are burned.
“I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach.”
“Ok, so tell me about your cheat days."
Before we discuss my cheat day, let’s be clear that eating disorders are nothing to mess with. Many people who participate in strict diets have problems with bulimia and anorexia. If you experience mental health issues related to dieting, please contact a health professional.
To combat potential mental health issues, it is important to build in diet breaks. A cheat day is when you have one opportunity each week to splurge on all your favorite foods. By giving yourself permission to eat pizza, French fries, donuts, cookies, ice cream, and all of your guilty pleasures, bottled-up cravings are removed from your system so you can focus on eating healthy for the remainder of the week.
Psychologists and nutritionists agree that cheat meals allow individuals to eat better throughout the week. This planned calorie splurge allows people to forgo other unplanned and binge-inducing meals – meals that take much longer to recover from and could throw you off the wagon altogether. Furthermore, research shows cheat meals increase metabolism, causing you to burn calories faster.
“But I gain five pounds on cheat days! Aren't I ruining my diet?”
Many people worry they've "blown" their diets after a single instance of overeating. What they don't realize is any weight gained is mostly water weight. In fact, the most fat anyone can gain from a single meal or day - no matter how much they've eaten - ranges from a few ounces (after a cheat meal) to one pound (after a cheat day).
I’ve discovered that any added weight after Saturday’s cheat day is normally gone midweek. And if I have two or three cheat days in a row (such as with a holiday or vacation), the weight is usually gone in seven to ten days. Of course, this assumes you return to your diet after the cheat day (or days) are done.
“So how do you approach your cheat day?”
Saturdays are the perfect cheat day due to the countless temptations pulling you from your diet. Whether you are out of town with family, at a football game with friends, or at the farmers’ market with your spouse … choosing Saturday as a cheat day allows you to eat (and drink) whatever you want without hesitation.
Below is a pretty standard cheat day: For simplicity, this meal plan assumes I'm at home on a Saturday. In most cases, my cheat days are split into Morning (cheat day lite) and Evening (cheat day heavy):
Breakfast (Cheat Day Lite)
One packet Maple Pancakes Oats Overnight
One packet Strawberries & Cream Oats Overnight
Mix 1/2 cup original, unsweetened almond milk per packet
**Warm in microwave for 2 minutes**
Breakfast Total: 600 Calories & 50g Protein
Lunch (Cheat Day Lite)
1 box Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
1 can tuna
1 large handful of almonds
**Mix tuna into fully prepared macaroni**
Lunch Total: 1700 Calories & 80g Protein
Dinner (Cheat Day Heavy)
4 cups Dot’s Pretzels
2 cups Peanut M&M’s
4 slices Casey’s Supreme Pizza
1 pint Ben & Jerry’s “The Tonight Dough” ice cream
2 20 oz bottles of Diet Pepsi
**There is no correct order for eating these items**
Cheat Dinner Total: 4,000 Calories & 60g Protein
Cheat Day Total: 6,300 Calories & 190g Protein
Four thousand calories of amazingness.
Now that you have the diet down, let's discuss working out.
In the following paragraphs, I detail my overarching workout philosophies, along with a sample workout plan to follow.
Please understand that these ideas are meant for individuals who have a baseline knowledge of exercise. Rather than spend time explaining each lift in detail, you are encouraged to perform a quick Google or YouTube search for help.
Recall that exercise is the single, greatest key to keeping our bodies from completely falling apart as we grow older. Despite having more workout and gym options than ever before, only one in four adults exercise regularly.
Around age 32, the default signal in our body flips over to decay. Every year—for the rest of our life—we get weaker, our metabolism slows, and our body becomes less coordinated. As depressing as it sounds, there is nothing we can do to reverse the effects of aging. But what we can do is significantly slow down the aging process . . . by staying physically active.
“But Jared, I’m a busy school leader! And I have a family. I just don’t have the time to work out.”
I get it. Most people don't think they have enough time to exercise. When you look at all of the things school leaders are expected to do, working out often falls low on the list of the priorities.
However, take a close look at how your time is spent. Please understand there is a huge difference between being busy and being productive. Whereas many people believe they have no room in their daily schedule for exercise, upon closer examination they spend a lot of time on frivolous activities such as scrolling through social media and watching television.
Listen: We're not talking about spending hours at the gym. Instead, we're talking about 30 to 45 minutes a day. When you consider those minutes make up roughly three percent of a 24-hour day ... this hardly seems like an absurd ask considering exercise's countless benefits.
"Ok, so what do you do in those 30-45 minutes?"
I'm glad you asked. The following is a quick overview of how I structure my workouts which include a combination of walking, lifting, rowing, and stretching:
Monday: 20 min walk/20 min lift
Tuesday: 20 min walk/20 min lift
Wednesday: 20 min walk/15 min row
Thursday: 20 min walk/20 min lift
Friday: 20 min walk/20 min stretch
Saturday: 20 min walk/20 min lift
Sunday: 30-45 min walk
You probably noticed that every day begins with a walk. “Walking, that’s not much of a workout!” you may be thinking.
A few years ago, I would have agreed with you. I have always assumed “cardio” meant crushing an intense run, pounding out a fast-paced elliptical session, or beasting the stair step machine.
However, I now realize the toll those activities take on my body. And even more importantly, those activities are hard on me mentally. This brings me to one of my biggest realizations about working out: the key to consistency is finding activities that your body can handle and that your mind enjoys.
Which brings us back to walking.
In the past, I used to run a lot. I mean like 19-minute 5k's and 90-minute half-marathons lot.
I would run three hard miles before lifting weights. While I was burning calories like crazy, I wasn't building muscle. Then I realized that all of that running was counterproductive against my real goal, which was to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
Over time, I began to realize the power of walking. Walking is ideal because calories are burned without stifling the process of growing muscle. Walking is also proven to get people in the fat-burning zone, a place where fat is burned but muscle is preserved.
Equally as important, walking is great for mental health. Walking gives me an opportunity to disconnect from the stresses and pressure of work and shift my focus on thoughts that are that are positive and uplifting. It's not just me; studies show that people who walk regularly experience elevated moods of happiness.
To help maintain a positive mindset, I have one rule of thumb for walking: Do not scroll through social media. Have you ever looked around at a busy gym to see what others are doing while on cardio machines? That's right - they're aimlessly browsing through social media feeds. Do not fall into this trap. Rather than get jealous of others (how did he land that girlfriend?) and experience FOMO (how was I not invited on this trip?), use your walk as a time to focus on yourself.
Nothing like a 20-minute walk to get the mind right and the blood flowing.
One of my best tricks for productive walks is to watch inspiring YouTube videos. Most recently, I’ve been watching concerts and live music of my favorite artists. There is something hugely motivating about seeing musicians at the top of their game, putting on a show for thousands of people. These videos pump me up and give me the chills!
Another thing I like to do is bring a book to read. I’m not a Kindle person (see page…), so this typically involves bringing a physical book with me. While I haven’t quite figured out the best system for reading and walking … it feels great knowing that I am doing something productive with my body and my mind.
Finally, while walking I try to go at a page of 3.0 to 4.0 miles per hour with a slight incline of 1 to 3 percent. These settings help get my heart rate up so I’m ready for my lift, without beating up my body.
Once the 20-minute walk is done, it’s time to start lifting. Similar to walking, my thoughts on lifting have shifted dramatically over the years. Growing up in the 90s, I was taught the following:
Focus on one muscle group per day
Complete three sets of ten “reps” per lift
Take 60 seconds of rest between sets
However, my views towards lifting changed when I took a “boot camp” class in my early 30’s. In that class, we lifted heavy weights and were always supersetting - performing multiple exercises back-to-back with short rests in between - while also hitting many muscle groups (chest, arms, legs, shoulders, etc.) throughout the session.
This boot camp approach was a turning point in my lifting philosophy for three reasons. First, I realized it was okay to hit multiple muscle groups per day. Second, I realized you could get a great full body workout in less than 30 minutes. Third, I realized “cardio” could be accomplished while lifting by simply taking less rest time between exercises.
Although I no longer attend these classes, I have adopted a boot-camp mentality with my workouts. Whenever possible, I superset full body lifts with heavier weights while limiting the rest time between sets.
Before we look at a sample workout plan using these principles, let's address a few questions:
“You say “full body lifts” - what do you mean?”
My workouts center around these four core lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and power clean & press. They are called “full body” lifts for a reason; when you do these lifts you are hitting dozens - if not hundreds - of different muscles all over the body. Not only is this an efficient way to lift weights, these lifts also provide a great foundation of strength for your body. In addition, I always look to blend two great bodyweight exercises - push ups and chin ups - into my workouts. Eighty to ninety percent of my lifts focus on these six exercises, or a variation of these exercises.
“How many reps do you go for?”
One of my favorite fitness books is Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews. Matthews contends to build muscle, you should shoot for six repetitions (reps) of each movement per set. If you can do six or more reps, you should go up in weight. If you can do four or five reps, you’re at the correct weight. If you can only do three reps or less, you should go down in weight. This approach encourages the use of heavier weights and pushes lifters to increase weights when possible. This has proven to be a simple – yet effect – rule of thumb for lifting.
“How do you choose your lifts? Do you have a rotation?”
First, I avoid doing the same exercises two days in a row. Endless research suggests muscles must be given at least a 48-hour break for recovery. Beyond that one tip, I don’t have a weekly rotation. Thanks to years of lifting, I am able to select from a menu of exercises at a moment’s notice. Rather than follow a specific rotation, my lifting choices usually depend on how my body is feeling (skipping body groups that are sore) and what equipment is available (some dudes love to hog squat racks).
“What about ab exercises? I want my six-pack to show!”
Listen folks: ab-specific exercises are not necessary. Rather than waste your time doing thousands of crunches, get in a habit of constantly squeezing or “flexing” your abdominal and lower back muscles while doing full-body workouts. Furthermore, abs don’t show until body-fat percentages reach certain points (12% for men and 18% for women) … meaning six-pack abs are the result of a healthy diet and regular exercise, not side planks and flutter kicks.
“But what about arms? I want killer biceps!”
Go to any gym and you’ll see people standing in front of the mirror doing endless bicep curls. Similar to abdominals, I have found the secret to defined arms (both biceps and triceps) is focusing on full-body lifts. Sure, you can spend hours working on your arms and probably get similar results … but you are a busy school leader! Instead, save yourself time and get the sculpted arms you want by using the boot camp approach outlined earlier in this chapter.
Below is a sample daily workout plan. However, recall that my days are fluid and driven more by how my body feels and what equipment is available as opposed to any one routine.
Prior to completing the following workouts, start with a 20-minute walk at a rate of 3.0 to 4.0 miles per hour with a slight incline. Exercises should be completed consecutively for a total of five to six supersets. Take 20 to 30 seconds of rest between each exercise (and set). Shoot for six reps unless otherwise noted.
Monday Lift (20 Minutes)
Dumbbell Curl into Shoulder Press
Push Ups (15-20)
Tuesday Lift (20 Minutes)
Dips (10-15) or Skull Crushers
Myotatic Crunch (15-20)
Wednesday Row (15 Minutes)
Find any rowing machine
Alternate one minute easy/one minute hard
Thursday Lift (20 Minutes)
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Squat into Military Press
Friday Stretch (20 Minutes)
YouTube has hundreds of videos to choose from
Saturday Lift (20 Minutes)
Barbell Power Clean and Press
Dumbbell Lunge with Bicep Curl
Pushups with feet on Exercise Ball (15-20)
Sunday Walk (30-45 Minutes)
Walk off that cheat meal!
As Napoleon Hill once said, "No person may enjoy outstanding success without good health."
It should be no coincidence that many of the most successful people of our generation have discovered the undeniable connection between personal fitness and sustained success.
Whether you want to become a more influential leader, compound your prosperity, build a lasting legacy, or refine your craft, make sure a healthy diet and physical exercise are part of your daily routine.
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