I am a socializer; it’s part of the reason I moved to New York City last year. I love coffee dates, dinners out with friends and making plans.
So when my editor asked me to go on one of the most restrictive diet and exercise regimes in Hollywood, with a 3.30am wake-up call, my heart sank — and my bustling social life went with it.
For a month — four long weeks — I followed Mark Wahlberg‘s new ‘dialed-down’ daily diet and exercise program, which involves an 18-hour fast, 90 minutes of exercise five days a week, a calorie-dense ‘clean’ diet and, worst of all, waking up in the middle of the night to get to the gym.
To get eight hours of sleep a night — a non-negotiable for Wahlberg — he has to be in bed with lights out by 7.30pm.
Wahlberg is an investor in health and wellness — he pumped $110 million into the gym chain F45 Training and is co-founder of the athleisure company Municipal. Exercise is a huge part of his brand. It was not a huge part of mine.
Luke Andrews before and after a month of following the Mark Wahlberg fitness plan, alongside the timeline of what he did each day
The ‘toned down’ Marky Mark Plan: Awake at 3.30am, 5am gym sessions, lights out at 7.30pm – and EIGHTEEN hours of fasting
Wahlberg’s day begins at 3.30am sharp with up to half an hour of prayer. He then takes his daily supplements, downs an espresso and fires off some emails before heading to the gym for 5am.
After a 90-minute workout, he pops to the golf course for a few rounds, then does a bit of work before breaking his 18-hour fast at 12pm.
His last meal is just before 6pm, with bedtime set for 7.30pm every weeknight.
‘I always get eight hours [of sleep],’ he says.
Who wouldn’t love eight solid hours of sleep? I could definitely do with that.
He does this seven days a week, with occasional lapses on weekends and breaks from his rigorous workout regime on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The artist formerly known as Marky Mark — he of the ripped bod who shot to fame in his tighty whities in THAT Calvin Klein commercial — is coy about his diet, except to say that he ‘eats well’ and steers clear of sugar-laden foods. Soda, chocolate bars and candies are off-limits.
He doesn’t provide many details about his actual exercise plan, although he shares video snippets from the gym on his social media. It looks really hard.
Mark Wahlberg in THAT Calvin Klein in 1992. He’d found some fame in the rap group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch before this famous shoot and then went on to launch a film career. Clearly, his love of working out continued. But would I ever be able to replicate this kind of bod?
Believe it or not, this plan is actually ‘toned down’ from his routine barely two years ago.
In 2018, he said he was getting up at 2.30am and hitting the gym at 3.40am, when most of us are tucked up in bed.
He was eating about seven times a day, with four meals and three snack times.
Thank goodness I wasn’t asked to take that one on!
He is no stranger to punishing diet regimes.
Wahlberg consumed 7,000 calories a day to gain 30lbs in six weeks for his role in Father Stu. For the movie Pain and Gain, he ate 10 to 12 meals a day and worked out like a machine to put on some 40lbs of muscle in seven weeks.
All in a day’s work for an actor. But not for a reporter.
Early morning wake-up call! My month-long challenge meant setting my alarm for 3.30am every day
After waking up I meditated for 15 to 20 minutes, Wahlberg uses the time to pray. Then it was time to take supplements – one multivitamin, one turmeric pill, three collagen pills and two BCAA pills. It was a lot
5am to 6.30am: Time to hit the gym, Mark Wahlberg style. I began with stretching and a brief bit of cardio, before moving to weight lifting. Amazingly, there were other people present at this ungodly hour
I work normal office hours so I couldn’t follow his pared-back regimen to the letter. My untapped potential as the next Tiger Woods had to be shelved so I could go to the office after my 5am gym session, but I adamantly stuck to almost all of it — even though the six-hour window to consume 3,000 calories often needed an extension.
Wahlberg spends his days running his burger chain Wahlburgers, which has 50 restaurants and filming for his HBO Max series Wahl Street. He also manages his seemingly endless investments in brands.
Wahlberg’s ‘toned down’ plan Vs Luke’s VERY amped up plan
3.30am: Wake up and pray
4am: Take supplements like turmeric and vitamin D.
Have an espresso.
4.30am: Start work
5.00am: Head to the gym for 90-minute workout session
7.30am to 9.30am: Golf
12pm: Eating window begins
6pm: Eating window ends
7.30pm: Bed and lights out
3.30am: Wake up and meditate
4am: Take supplements like turmeric and vitamin D
4.30am: Read the news, catch up on emails
5am: Hit the gym for a 90-min session
7.30am: Arrive at the office
12pm: Eating window begins
5pm: Leave office
7pm: Actual end of eating window
7.30pm: Lights out and bed
Pictured above is me at the gym at 5am. I was stretching before starting a workout
Why did I put myself through this?
I was in the best shape of my life in March 2020… just in time for Covid to strike. My hard-won beach body went unseen while everyone isolated at home for months. Hardly a huge concern at the time given what was going on in the world but disappointing nonetheless.
Like so many others, I fell into a rut — and stayed there.
I made a loose stab at some at-home exercises, a brief return to weight lifting and then joined a rowing team when lockdown was lifted — but remained woefully short of the gym-honed body I had aimed for.
When I moved to New York City there was always something better to do than stay in, eat healthy and go to the gym.
The Wahlberg Challenge, I thought, might force me back into a disciplined workout routine. It’s so extreme — and it was for work — how could it fail?
I didn’t expect a Calvin Klein model body transformation but hoped it would build strong foundation blocks to get there.
RIP to my social life – and the idea I’d save money by not going out
I’ve never been a wild party animal. I’m not the person who bar hops, tequila bottle in hand and stays up ’til dawn. I am very sociable, but that usually means coffee with friends, and visiting museums or gardens. I go to clubs and bars — I’m a 20-something living in Manhattan — but rarely more than twice a month.
I love dinners out so switching to a 3,000-calorie protein-heavy clean diet, not to mention a 7.30pm bedtime, meant an end to restaurants (except one occasion when I convinced a date to meet me for a 5pm seating. We were the only people in the restaurant. And, yes, it did go well, thank you for asking).
On another early evening date I started to realize that I’d spent so long talking about Mark Wahlberg — literally the only thing going on in my life — that they had left thinking I was actually in love with him.
I thought that the death of my social life might breathe life into my savings plan… but with a weekly grocery bill of $100, I wasn’t exactly rolling in spare cash.
The above image shows Mark Wahlberg lifting weights in one of his Instagram videos
The above image shows Mark Wahlberg doing cycling on a cardio-bike
Mark Wahlberg is shown in a video from a gym above, talking through a work out
Most of my money went on protein. I don’t eat chicken (they’re my favorite animals) so I stuck to fish, turkey and beef. I could’ve opted for tofu to keep costs down but why make this more miserable than it needed to be?
A month of supplements — multivitamins, turmeric, collagen and BCAA — cost $61.95.
Gym membership proved more challenging. I couldn’t go to my regular gym (where they saw me two days a week, max) any more because they didn’t open until 7am. Cheaper options like Blink ($39 a month) only open at 5am on certain weekdays.
That left me with Crunch — $74 a month plus a $63 joining fee and $79 in so-called annual fees. Equinox? Far too expensive for my tastes.
The meditation app Headspace was $12.99 a month. A drop in the ocean compared to the other expenses.
By far the hardest part was evenings after work when I would race home, cook, shovel down as many calories as I could before 7pm — bending Wahlberg’s fasting rule — then leap into bed to try to be asleep with a stuffed stomach by 7.30pm. For a month. It was a long month.
The above shows my back when I started the Mark Wahlberg body transformation plan, and me four weeks later
This shows my front at the start of the plan, and after four weeks
This shows my side at the start of the plan, and then also after four weeks
Premature Dry January: Quitting booze for a month in December
Weekends followed a similar pattern. I didn’t have to turn down invites to events — brunch, anyone? — but I still tried to be in bed earlier than usual and definitely tried not to overdo it while I was out.
What created a few more obstacles, however, was quitting alcohol. Wahlberg quit booze for a time in 2017, although he was photographed with a drink in hand in Ireland last year. He part-owns tequila brand Flecha Azul.
It sparked awkward silences, especially when I confessed that my lemon-topped highball was, in fact, a water.
At a friend’s birthday party — where I barely knew two of 20 guests, an environment that would’ve previously called for some ‘dutch courage’ — an audible gasp went around the table when my Coca-Cola arrived in a glass bottle, on display for all, instead of the mandated margaritas.
The sober life isn’t for me and since my month-long experiment I’m drinking again — and enjoying it — but I’ve definitely cut back. No more binge drinking for me.
One thing I appreciated was the regular sleep routine and my body adapted quickly. Eight hours of sleep a night is glorious and no doubt cutting out alcohol boosted my rest.
Dear God, no more turkey: What it’s really like eating 3,000 calories of ‘clean’ food in six hours
The 2,000-3,000 calorie a day diet involved in this plan was so hard. I felt stuffed to the gills every night and it was always a race to cook and eat before bedtime. What I wouldn’t have given for a private chef…
After finding out I could not pre-prep meals and guarantee they would remain edible, I had to opt for cooking every evening.
I quite enjoyed the cooking, but trying to shove down enough calories to sustain the ‘muscle-gain’ part of the plan was incredibly tough, especially when I was supposed to be fasting for 18 hours.
If I’d been eating pizza and take-out, hitting that many calories would’ve been easy — but 3,000 calories of lean protein, rice and broccoli really starts to take a toll and it wasn’t long before I just didn’t want to eat dinner at all.
This sounds fine, but processing 2,000 to 3,000 calories through your kitchen within a two-hour window is difficult — let alone eating them.
Part of Wahlberg’s fasting regimen is open to interpretation. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wahlberg he said that while he fasts until noon, he also said he’d have ‘a shake pre-workout’ in the morning.
Desperation led me to read over this statement a number of times. Could I have a shake in the morning or would I really have to fast until 12pm when I was waking up at 3.30pm? I ended up reaching out to Wahlberg’s PR for an answer and got the reply ‘Sorry, he’s busy’ — so I did what anyone would do and decided that meant I could also have shakes in the morning.
The aim was to eat 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day – while fasting for 18 hours. That’s a lot of food in a short space of time. Part of Wahlberg’s fasting regimen is open to interpretation. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wahlberg he said that while he fasts until noon, he also said he’d have ‘a shake pre-workout’ in the morning. I decided that meant I could have a protein shake too.
So every morning after taking supplements, I had a protein shake made with two bananas, about 500ml of oat milk and two scoops of chocolate flavored protein powder.
Honestly, this drink may have single-handedly saved my entire body.
To quench hunger pangs during the day I opted for water mixed with a vitamin tablet, having about four or five cups of this a day.
Amazingly it worked. Friends told me that often when we feel hungry we are actually thirsty but our body struggles to signal this (maybe an old wives tale).
Lunch was a light meal, to ensure that I could keep focus at work — grilled turkey salad or a homemade poke bowl was top of the list.
Dinner, however, was where the six-hour eating window ended up getting stretched.
My effort to prep vegetables was a disaster – they turned mushy and revolting. Rice took on an unappetizing stodginess. So I cooked every evening.
Most evenings it was turkey breast, rice and green beans on repeat. The occasional swap to tuna and steak were a beacon of hope.
My primary source of protein was turkey. After a while it became horribly monotonous
Meditating at 3.35am really is just an extra nap
I am new to consistent meditation. I had tried it only a few times before via Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app — although that was largely so I could lie on the floor and listen to Chris telling me to pretend I was looking at stars with him.
So after a few days of using YouTube to try to meditate and getting interrupted by ads, I downloaded Headspace. Overall, it was fine but doing it so early in the morning I found myself nodding off.
90 minutes of exercise a day was surprisingly enjoyable
Aside from sharing plenty of videos of his buff bod on social media, there isn’t much guidance on how Wahlberg works out. I’d guess that his investment in F45 Training means it’s a mix of intensive bursts of cardio and strength training, so I bought a 12-week body transformation book and formulated my own plan.
I vowed to embrace (as much as possible) exercises I hate, like pec dips.
I gradually cranked up the weight throughout the week, taking it from a paltry 40lbs on the bench press up to a 65lbs!
But some exercises, I have to say, were really quite boring and the repetition became mind-numbing. I started to think I should’ve forked out on a personal trainer.
When did the plan feel like it was starting to work?
Within the first week of starting the plan, everyone began referring to me as ‘Marky Mark’ which was nice, if not a little mocking.
It took three weeks before friends commented on my firmer body. By this point I thought my face started to look a bit slimmed and less ruddy, my skin definitely improved, which was an unexpected bonus.
Consuming a lot of sugar leads to inflammation in the skin, some studies suggest, and when you have a higher body fat percentage it also collects on the face — something that I hadn’t noticed until doing the plan.
When all others around me were being felled by the winter cold, I didn’t get sick at all — which was a huge boon.
I felt much healthier overall, even if I was desperately bored for a month.
The results: My body fat dropped to 14% but according to BMI I’m overweight
When I started the plan, scans of my body told me I was 16.4 percent body fat — approaching the ‘acceptable’ range for men — and had about 84.9lbs of muscle.
After four weeks, my body fat dropped to 14 percent, pushing closer to the athletic range of 13 percent and under. At the same time, my muscle mass went up in all groups — but particularly the chest.
My weight barely changed during the plan, sticking at about 177lbs (80.3kgs), as my body went through a ‘recomposition’ swapping out fat for muscle.
My body mass index (BMI) also remained solidly at 25.5. This makes me technically overweight. This, I think, underlines the flaws in this measure as scans show my fat levels are within acceptable limits.
I was shocked to see such a drop in body fat, but I wasn’t thrilled with the muscle gain. I worked hard on my chest, so I saw most muscle gain there but it wasn’t as much as I hoped.
Me in the gym at 5am, also doing some stretches before beginning my work out (This was generally the best time to take photos)
Back to reality
As I breathed life back into my social life, I fell off the wagon in spectacular style.
By far the biggest shock was my utter intolerance to sugar. I had one sip of a cocktail and had to abandon it. I just couldn’t bear the taste, the sugar high and the cracking headache that followed.
I’ve tried to put my newly learned good habits back into action since the inevitable binge and there are definitely parts of the plan I intend to continue with.
I’ll keep exercising consistently, though probably not five days a week, and I’ll carry on taking supplements. Surprisingly, after the initial shock of early wake-up calls, I started to enjoy how productive I felt after getting up early.
I’ve completely dumped caffeine from my life, which I’m now almost evangelical about telling everyone about.
But one thing I definitely won’t be doing is fasting for 18 hours a day and stuffing myself with turkey.