So you’ve decided — this is the year you finally get ripped.
Not “sorta see your abs” lean or “in shape for your age” – we’re talking shredded, jacked, a walking anatomy chart. A real bodybuilder.
I believe every guy who works out hard and consistently should make it a goal to get to this level at least once in his lifetime.
Getting that lean teaches you so many things – discipline, work ethic, sacrifice, focus — all of which spill over into other areas of your life, making it fuller, richer, better.
Best of all, achieving the hard-as-nails “look” shows that you’ve finally arrived. You’ve graduated from “fit guy who works out” to bodybuilder. Arnold, Ronnie, Dorian… and you.
Granted, not the same level as those legends, but still members of the same exclusive fraternity. And membership has its privileges.
Problem is, 99% of guys will never get there.
They commit the Two Biggest Fat Loss Sins.
So let’s cut to the chase. The first cardinal sin guys make when trying to get super lean is failing to fully commit to getting lean.
You’ve heard it a million times. Guys say, “I really want to lose around 20 pounds of fat while gaining 10 pounds of muscle.”
Lofty goal! And the odds of them succeeding are slim to none!
Listen, building muscle is about the last thing your body wants to do because it’s “expensive.” It takes a lot of extra “cash” in the form of calories — more than a thousand calories a day above maintenance levels.
It also requires an ideal metabolic environment, one low in the catabolic (stress) hormones and high in the anabolic (muscle building) ones. That means very little cardio and plenty of rest to go with all those extra calories.
Now contrast that with losing fat.
To drop bodyfat, the body has to be in a caloric deficit, typically at least 500 calories a day BELOW maintenance. That’s a net calorie swing of 1500 calories a day from the muscle building numbers.
It also usually requires greater caloric expenditure in the form of more exercise (cardio), which elevates the presence of catabolic hormones while lessening the anabolic ones.
So building muscle and losing fat are two diametrically opposed acts. And if it’s starting to seem like trying to do the two simultaneously is an exercise in wheel spinning, you’re right.
The way to avoid this trap is to PICK ONE GOAL (build muscle OR lose fat) and commit to it 100%, and by commit I mean pull out all the stops.
So to lose fat, you need to structure everything in your training and nutrition program to encourage calorie expenditure while retaining (not building) lean mass.
“Got it,” you say! “I’m going to crank up my training volume to twice a day, five days a week, and cut my calories to 1000 below maintenance. I’ll have more shreds than a Detroit bus seat in no time!”
I admire your attitude, but you just committed the second sin in losing bodyfat: doing too much too soon.
When a plateau occurs — and fat loss plateaus always occur — you have a lot of cards you can “play” to get things rolling again. You can add a cardio session(s). And you can extend the duration and intensity of them.
You can also cut calories, say by 100-200 a day, either by eating less food or by switching to lower calorie/carb choices. So carbs at every meal goes to no carbs at breakfast, then no carbs breakfast and pre-workout, etc.
However, the trick is to only “play” the card necessary to keep progress continuing. More is not better and certainly not more effective. All it does is speed you along to the point of having no cards to play at altogether.
Say you’ve been losing a pound of fat a week eating 2600 calories per day while training 5 days a week for an hour and doing 20 minutes of cardio, 3 days a week, and you reach a plateau.
Your next “card” should be one that gently “coaxes” your body into continuing to burn fat at the same “pound a week” rate. This could something as subtle as dropping 200 calories to 2400 a day and/or adding a fourth cardio session per week.
That way, when another plateau occurs in a week or two, you’ll have plenty more cards to throw on the table (cut more calories, add another cardio session, add another weight training session, etc).
However, had you done the eager beaver thing and kicked things off with a severe 1000 calorie a day deficit and daily cardio, in a few weeks when your metabolism adjusts and fat loss slows, where do you go from there?
There’s only so much exercise you can do, only so little food you can eat. You’ve painted yourself into a fat loss corner, because you have no cards left to play.
Folks using the cyclical nutrition strategies below learn to avoid making these mistakes long before they happen, so you end the program as healthy and full of energy as when you started – just a whole lot leaner.
Don’t let the name fool you. This is designed to optimize body composition whether your current goal is maximum mass or ripped for the beach. It’s all about intelligently cycling your nutrition to control your hormones to ensure you never hit a plateau in your journey to the physique you deserve.