Mike Harrison is the king of eating at TEAM BOX. I’ve never seen someone eat so much food before. It’s actually insane. That being said he also loves being shredded. Not exactly mutually exclusive goals. So today we are going into the mind of the man who lost 26kg in one prep and got to an insane 4% body fat. All while eating his favourite foods and probably about 8 meals a day regularly.
Q: So Mike, it’s fair to say your most recent prep was your most successful as you were the leanest I’ve ever seen anyone in the flesh. What did you learn about yourself during that prep that maybe you hadn’t learnt in your other preps?
A: Haha, why thank you Dan!! It’s fair to say that I enjoy my fair share of calories, I like to think of eating as one of my main strengths. I have the appetite of a rhino, which has unfortunately in the past resulted in a physique resembling a bag of soup. However, the pig inside me, has learned that when the calories come down, the volume of food goes up, it was actually 11 meals/snacks per day at sub 2000 calories.
Well first and foremost the main thing I learned during prep is that I am able to push myself to an extreme and just keep going. I knew I could dig deep before, during other hard preps, but losing 26kg in 22 weeks to achieve a body fat of 4% was pretty extreme. In fact, I pushed myself so hard that at one point I over-trained, swelled with water, added 3kg of bodyweight in a matter of days, not a good place to be.
The next thing I learned, is that I rely heavily on the support and feedback of those I trust around me. Stephen who coached me was instrumental in my success, but also the other coaches, yourself, Chris and Laura were pivotal for me. Because, it’s hard sometimes for people to be objective about themselves and their own progress, because of such a strong emotional attachment and the desire to keep pushing a bit harder. Without the support and advice along the way, I wouldn’t have been in a good place come the end of prep and would likely have ran myself into the ground.
Q: You love your food as much as anyone and can easily put away family platters for fun. But you’re not overweight and can keep things in check. What do you think is the biggest problem people face with their nutrition on a daily basis? Is it not being aware of the calorie content of food? The amount of times we hear “yeah I don’t eat that much”. The fact is, no they don’t, but it comes down to calories in food and not volume of food right?
At the end of the day, I can put away a family banquet in seconds flat and go back for 3 desserts, but its all to be done in moderation with awareness of weekly energy balance, coupled with hard work in the gym.
This is something I hear all the time and you’re exactly right, it comes much less down to the volume of food but more the caloric content of food and knowing the difference between the two can be vital.
During prep, I had a few comments from several people saying:
“If I ate that amount, I would just get fat”
But in all honesty, these individuals, will no doubt have been consuming more calories on a daily basis than myself at this point. They are looking at the volume or the “amount” of food as if it had some relevance to weight gain, rather than the energy content.
For example, you could eat a huge plate of chicken and broccoli or even two or three plates, for less calories than your 1 meal at lunch of coffee, panini and crisps.
A big issue I see is people eating small volumes of larger caloric meals or snacks, that they perhaps aren’t even aware of, therefore, due to the low volume, feel less satiety and then have a subsequent tendency to overeat. Because if there’s no accounting for calories, it is obviously much easier to eat to a surplus with calorically dense foods.
Ultimately this stems from a lack of education, sometimes poor and misleading media advice which leads to a lack of understanding about caloric content of foods and in essence all it boils down to is the net energy balance between caloric intake and expenditure.
Q: What has being a competitive bodybuilder taught you that makes you a better coach? We have all learnt so much over the last few months during our preps but I want to know what has been specific to your own journey that has informed your coaching practice?
A: Being a bodybuilder has improved my coaching practice to no end.
Having an appreciation of the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve the levels of condition and body composition is something that cannot be described fully until you have been through it! The things I have learned have been an invaluable tool in my application of coaching with any client of any goal.
Pushing to a real extreme of body composition, taught me what real hunger is, it taught me what real fatigue is, it taught me how to juggle my life and social occasions, it taught me how to maintain healthy relationships with those around me. It also taught me how to manage stress, it taught me that sometimes it’s ok to dread the gym, that sometimes motivation will waver and that having a supportive network, a good attitude and willingness to work will eventually see you through to your goals.
All these things are apparent in any quest to make changes to your physique, regardless of being a competitor or not. So, I find having the empathy with a client in terms of the inevitable struggles that persist on a daily basis, the peer pressure, the social life, the bumps in the road, the ups and downs in motivation and mood, the need for support and guidance, particularly help me to navigate any situation that arises with any client.
Q: In terms of dieting for a photoshoot or a comp, what is the one thing that you see people struggle with and need the most help with? Experience has taught me that it’s as much a mental game as it is a physical one? How much of coaching is reading a situation and knowing how to address a client when they appear to be struggling?
A: I would say firstly, that the fact that I see most competitors undertaking diets that are too restrictive, enforcing poor habits and relationships with food, following regimes that are too demanding is the most common issue. These problems often become exacerbated after the show or shoot has been and gone, with said individual often being put in a position through no fault of their own, which isn’t healthy from a physical or psychological perspective and ultimately unable to settle back into a normal healthy lifestyle.
When in reality, these preps have been devised with relatively little knowledge of nutrition and training and even worse; a lack of care for the client to put them through something which can lead to a hugely negative impact on their life when it’s ultimately unnecessary.
Knowing who to trust for valuable information can be tricky, especially with so much contradiction out there in the media and social media. Sourcing of a sound science based yet applicable approach, guided by an ethical and caring individual would be the main thing I think could help a competitor.
But you’re right, the mental aspect of prep is something that I have to deal with myself more so than the physical side, because I know I will execute whatever is thrown at me, but it’s the psychological aspect of not feeling ready, not being objective about my condition which I find hardest to deal with.
During my weekly updates I have clients record a short video of how their week has gone. Within this I am looking for signs of tiredness, fatigue and general mood, constantly assessing how far I can perhaps push them before backing off when things need to.
Being able to have a flux like this; where we go through wave-like periods of pushing and backing off, makes the whole process much easier for the competitor rather than running them into the ground by simply saying “grind harder” accompanied by a reduction of food and increase in cardio. Stress management plays probably the biggest role in a successful prep, being able to control that for a client is the biggest service you can do them as a coach.
Q: Now you’re heading into an off-season what is your plan? What does training look like at the moment for you and have you made a plan for the next 12 months to work on any specific body parts? What strategies are you looking to implement in order to make progress?
A: The next 12-18 months actually will see me focus on improving the weaker areas of my physique. My main goal is to surpass my achievements from this year and place in the UKBFF Nationals. This year I qualified for finals by placing 3rd at the qualifier, but took the personal decision to not compete.
Particularly, I need to address my chest development and my abdominals, at the moment I feel I am strong from the back but my front is lacking.
As I transitioned from prep, I had what I would qualify as a successful recovery diet, with me beginning to enjoy a social life, a wider variety of more “decadent” food, but maintaining a healthy relationship with food amongst the odd “family platter for one”. It’s certainly been my most successful post show period both physically and mentally, I have maintained good condition but more importantly my head isn’t caught between goals. I am balanced, I am not food focused, I feel good and ready to progress.
Training wise, I will be of course focusing on progressive tension overload over time. Making sure I track volume and logging all my lifts..Focusing on the quality of tension and the intensity of the exercise and the room to begin to add volume in a periodised fashion.
Nutrition wise, for the next “pre season” shall we call it, will see me spend cycles of time eating to a surplus, which is of course necessary for ensuring we are optimising our hypertrophy. Before transitioning into periodic “mini cuts” which will be a short, sharp amount of time spent in a caloric deficit with the sole aim of body fat reduction as quick as possible. This will ensure that I can get straight back into a caloric surplus, without dragging out an extended period of a deficit, cumulatively ensuring that over the year I spend substantially more time eating to a surplus than a deficit.
This is in stark contrast to what I have done previously, where I have spent all the season in a surplus, ultimately gaining too much body fat. Which has a detrimental effect to not only muscle gain, muscle retention during a harder and longer prep, but you also look dreadful.
Q: Mentally it can be a hard time during the off-season as you’re not shredded, you want to be lean and you are always tempted to diet again to see your abs. I think we both have been there recently, and it is without doubt a tough time in bodybuilding, the recovery diet. Just how important is it to surround yourself with the right people who can help guide you through your journey when times get tough?
A: This for me is just as important as the contest prep diet itself. I know personally, that on a contest prep, yes I may freak out that I may not be ready, but ultimately deep down it’s very, very easy for me to stay on track in terms of training and nutrition. The goal is there, motivation is high, you are seeing weekly improvements which again in itself is another motivation, so adherence is actually far easier for me on a lower calorie amount.
Coming out of the other side, now the goal is gone, nobody is going to be staring at you tanned and oiled up with your top off. You have a lot less to ensure adherence.
So, it can be quite daunting when being confronted with foods you haven’t eaten for so long, social events, alcohol and basically just dis-ordered routine from what you have just been used to for the last however many months.
It becomes imperative to try to be as objective as possible, which as we discussed is usually pretty hard. So surrounding yourself with the right support and advice is going to help massively in many, many ways.
Realizing that the level of conditioning on stage isn’t possible year round is really important, learning to set goals and embrace the fact that yes you may be a little softer. But, you are progressing again in the gym, you are adding that bit of muscle you wanted to add when you were lean, you are keeping your relationships happy, you are enjoying food and social events, you are enjoying training, you aren’t as miserable and you are finally sleeping well again.
All these things are positives right? Therefore, trying to hold onto a state which is potentially an unhealthy place to remain for the long term shouldn’t be your goal, because sooner or later it will come crashing down anyway, lead to guilty feelings, poor habits, binge eating, which unfortunately becomes all too common.