How to get abs without giving up booze, by Instagram sensation Joe Wicks
We spoke to The Body Coach about clean eating, HIIT and how he gets his hair so shiny
Joe Wicks is everywhere. He’s grinning at you from the shelves of every supermarket, from the cover of books which have sold more copies than any diet books in history; he’s yelling at you on his own Channel 4 show or on his Instagram, where he has almost two million followers.
So what does Wicks have that the thousands of other fitness bloggers out there don’t? Well, his hair and his face helps – as does the cheeky Essex-boy charm which has gained him something of a cult of personality. Aesthetics aside, though, Wicks’ strongest asset is his relatability.
There’s no gimmicks, no “clean eating” bullshit – there’s just the promise that you, with a few minor changes to your lifestyle, can get just as “lean” as the man himself.
We got a chance to chat with Joe ahead of the release of his new book, so we thought we’d ask him the questions you want to know. Namely, how many nights a week can you go out and still have a six-pack.
And, obviously, how does he get his hair so shiny?
Hi Joe. You’re mostly known for your quickfire Instagram videos – how has social media helped with your popularity?
Starting to share recipe videos on Instagram was a massive, massive pivotal moment for me. I capitalise on all the platforms, though: Instagram Stories now, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook Live.
I think you have to nowadays. They’re great ways to communicate with people, and they’ve definitely helped me grow my audience and keep them engaged and inspired.
So why do you think the Lean In 15 concept has been so popular?
Well, I’m giving people time. I’m telling them they don’t need to spend an hour in the gym or 45 minutes in the kitchen. People want that; we’re impatient, we want results fast and we want everything to be done quickly.
So many people have bought the book and invested in that lifestyle because I’m making people believe that no matter how busy they are, what they do for a living or how stressed out they are, you can get lean.
Do you think it’s a myth then, that you can’t be healthy around a busy schedule?
People think they don’t have time, that they can’t afford it, that it’s just too much effort. Conveniently, eating out every day is also not cheap – and that adds up if you’re doing a tenner or 15 quid a day on coffees and sandwiches and meals and so on.
It’s a misconception, and once you get into the habit of preparing your lunch and carrying your breakfast to work, it’s not as expensive as you think.
It can be affordable; you might have to sacrifice one night out boozing a week but you can easily find that extra 50 quid somewhere and be able to eat well.
Speaking of boozing, do you think it’s possible to go out drinking a few nights a week and still be healthy?
There’s definitely a balance. When you go out boozing, it’s not so much the booze but the fact that you might booze on a Monday, then eat crap when you get home that night – the next morning you’re feeling pretty run down so you don’t want to work out. It has a knock-on effect to your whole week.
So by all means, have a couple of nights out, but you’ve still got to be willing to get yourself up in the morning and say: “Alright, I’ve had a boozy session, but I’m gonna do a workout and have a healthy meal.”
You can’t be that guy who parties every night, eats food out every single night and then expects to be lean at the end of it. Two nights a week is good. If you’re drinking three or four nights a week, you’re going to struggle to get lean.
Are there certain things you can drink to limit the damage to your body?
Certain things are more calorific. I drink gin and tonics, vodka and soda is obviously good, but to be honest it doesn’t make much difference.
Your hangover is the real problem. Your body can’t store alcohol, so when you consume it you have to metabolise it and get it out of your system. What that means is that you don’t burn any fat or carbohydrates, you just burn alcohol.
It’s all the food around the alcohol too: it’s the kebab on the way home, it’s chips in the morning. It’s a cumulative effect, and if you’re drinking a bit and overeating a bit every day it’s easy to gain body fat and before you know it you’re feeling really shit about yourself.
If you’re feeling lazy, what’s the best way to find the motivation to get to the gym?
I’m not really a gym-goer; I’m all about a quick and easy home workout. I know that no matter what I’ve done the night before and what I’ve eaten the night before, if I just do a little 10 minute HIIT session I’ll always feel better and I’ll always have more energy.
It’s a choice: you can choose to wake up in the morning and be lethargic, have a Red Bull and eat crap food, or you can get up, do a fasted HIIT session and have a healthy breakfast, and feel like a different person.
Did you go to uni yourself?
I studied at St Mary’s in Twickenham. I liked it at the time, but I sort of wish I’d worked harder. If I had that opportunity now I wouldn’t have taken the easy route – I got a 2:1, but I know if I’d put more effort into it I could have got a first.
In the real world, the business world, you can take so much more from university if you actually just screw your nut down and get on with it.
Were you healthy while you were there?
Not really – I didn’t really get into nutrition until after uni. I was a personal trainer after I finished, but I’d still eat junk food: ice creams and chocolate bars and cans of Coke. I was always tired, never really that lean.
It was only when I started to properly understand the importance of what good food made me feel like that I started to realise I was onto something. From there I got super lean, well energetic and started getting all my clients really fit and lean.
Then the online plan was born, which became a huge thing, and the book followed after that.
So do you have to subscribe to a completely healthy lifestyle to be fit, or can you have a cheat meal every so often?
Cutting everything out is really just depressing. I’m by no means a “clean eater” or a saint every day of the week, but it’s all relative. I won’t go to McDonald’s, but I’ll go to GBK or Flat Iron Steak and have a big old burger and chips every now and then.
But if I did that every night of the week, I wouldn’t have the body I have. I wouldn’t be lean, you wouldn’t see my abs, I’d have a little bit of a belly on me. Same if I drank every single weekend. I don’t believe in “cheat meals,” I think it’s just life. If you want to go for a burger with your mates, go and do it.
You just have to be disciplined. I can have a really shit weekend and eat crap, and then on Monday just be like: “Alright, I’m switching back now.” Some people really struggle with that, and can give it a month or six weeks of bad eating before they realise they’re really not feeling good and start wanting to change.
You mentioned ‘clean eating,’ which has got a lot of stick in the press recently. Do you think it’s a fad?
I just don’t know what it means, you know? If I eat a bowl of oats is that clean, but if I put a bit of honey on it am I dirty? I just don’t know what it means in terms of what foods are clean and dirty.
I joke around with it in my videos; I’ll say “guilty!” if I put chocolate on my oats, but I don’t think you should really feel guilty for anything. You’ve got to have balance, you’ve got to have treats, and if you’re someone who likes a bit of chocolate then go for it.
I’d rather make people feel relaxed and not worry too much. I don’t want anyone to feel bad.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about being healthy?
The biggest misconception in the fitness and diet industry is the fact that people who are trying to lose weight are programmed to cut everything out: going really low-calorie, replacing food with shakes and powders and pills.
You don’t need to do that. You can still eat quite a lot of food and still be healthy and feel good. A 500-calorie diet, especially with cardio, is so unsustainable and so unenjoyable that there’s no point.
People are programmed into thinking that the only way to burn fat is to cut fat and cut carbs from their diets, only eating chicken and broccoli and brown rice every day and never doing anything fun or eating any nice foods.
For those who aren’t very well-versed in fitness, what’s the best change someone can make to their lifestyle to be healthier?
It sounds boring, but honestly it’s just meal prep. It’s all about being in control: take a couple of hours out on a Sunday to make your overnight oats, your chicken salads or your avocado whatever for lunch.
By doing that, whether you’re at your desk at work or in the library at uni, you won’t be tempted to eat shit – you’ll have good food with you there and then, which is the quickest way to burning fat.
What’s your favourite quick meal to make on a budget?
Overnight oats. You soak your oats in almond milk with banana, whey protein and some cocoa powder, and you soak them so they swell up and become all nice and creamy, then you put some nice berries on them.
Either that or a quick and easy omelette in the morning – just because it’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s got all you need.
Thanks Joe. One last question: how do you get your hair so shiny?
Everyone always wonders if I put product in it, but I don’t. I just wash it with some shampoo and conditioner and it curls like this naturally. Honestly!
Joe’s new book, Cooking For Family & Friends, is out now (Bluebird, RRP £20).
Photos by Connor McDonnell.