Fat loss and body recomposition are largely matters of what and when you are eating. Once you get that part down, it’s that last 10-20% of mastering yourself so that you can get down to your ideal body fat percentage where your abs really show.
Whether you have just recently hit the wall of fairly lean and want to get to very lean, or you are just changing your diet and starting to exercise for the first time, this is for you.
Here’s what you need to know.
- If you want to get leaner you need to focus on weight training, and take a little step back from steady-state cardio.
- Arranging your workouts into metabolic circuits are going to help you keep your heart rate up and place a higher demand on your body for recovery.
- Cycling carbs or carb cutting and sugar removal is going to allow you to get down to your absolute leanest.
- You are going to have to eat real food at a calorie deficit in order to cut fat, and it is going to be uncomfortable.
- Using the right supplements is going to help you maintain lean muscle tissue while you are focusing on fat loss.
Why Fat Loss and Abs are So Appealing
Now this may seem like a loaded question, but why do we spend hours on Facebook and Instagram enviously drooling over the six, eight, and 12 pack abs that we see on people? Watching ridiculously lean, ripped, fit people doing wild, innovative, and sometimes outright outlandish exercises alluding that those moves are how they got that shredded.
Getting to all time low body fat percentages so that your abs and muscles pop is so attractive because it is so elusive.
Everyone wants them and very few have them. Why is that? Sure, you have some of the guys and gals out there that are genetic abdominal freaks that can eat pancakes with Nutella, cake, ice cream, and pizza. They are even more rare than the enthusiasts that work their butts off to get there
If getting six pack abs were easy, we’d all have them.
Before we get into this any further, there are a few things that you need to realize. Most of the fitness models, trainers, celebrities, and social media stars that post pictures year round of their six packs, don’t actually have six pack abs year round. They need time off just like you and I do!
There may be an elite handful that like to stay in the ab visibility range year round, but many of them get shredded prior to photo shoots, and refeed wisely afterward so that they can end their 2-3 month long blood-sugar crash.
Anything worth having requires hard work and sacrifice. So do great abs and physiques. There are ten or more ignorant fit people teaching others how to get “ripped” or injured for every one trainer or expert that is teaching fat loss correctly. You’ve probably heard of some of these diets and programs.
Falling for Fat Loss Myths
Here are some of the common dietary and training myths that you may have heard for maximal fat loss and getting ripped abs…
- Doing a ton of steady state cardio
- The HCG Diet
- Being able to plank for ____ minutes or do _____ sit-ups
- Fat-burner teas, foods, supplements, etc.
- Weird nutrient or food cycling challenges that you found on Pinterest
Not saying that these won’t work for you. Some of them might work well depending on your genetics, body type, activity, and the the periods of time that you are using them.
When it comes to real, sustainable fat loss though, you can really break it down into a few simple components. Instead of thinking of fat loss as some mythical dragon or unicorn that you may or may never get to, think of it more as a big, steep mountain you have to climb at least once, with a plateau at the top that’s just big enough for you to stand on. At least to enjoy it for a little while before you make a pleasant descent.
Now I will personally say that I regularly (once per year) use four out of the 5 of these steps. I haven’t yet tested the supplementation component, but after trying out BCAA’s while building muscle this past year, I’m really interested to use it to preserve mass while going through my next cutting phase.
Without further adieu, here is my 5 step fat loss plan.
1) Do Weight Training and Back Away From Steady-state Cardio
Weight training is going to help you preserve lean muscle tissue while you are working on cutting. Plus, cardio actually makes you hungrier than weight training, which is going to greatly play to your benefit while cutting.
Intuitively, most people start doing a ton of steady state cardio when they think they need to lose body fat. That’s taking a massive step in the wrong direction if you want to have any muscle tone or definition to show for it during this process.
Lift weights four or five days per week, and use compound exercises like…
- Bench press
- Barbell rows
- Shoulder press
- Planks and plank variations
- Ab Twists
If you are worried about not getting enough cardio in while you are lifting weights, do some high intensity interval training or run sprints for 10-15 minutes after your weight training sessions. If you hate running, interval training, or working out at high intensities, you can also walk for 30-60 minutes anytime during the day.
What’s interesting is that really high intensity cardio and really low intensity cardio won’t eat into your muscle tissue, but enough steady state cardio (running, jogging, cycling, rowing, etc.) can really deteriorate your muscle tissue.
2) Use Metabolic Circuits for Fat Loss and Heart Rate Variation
Worried about missing out on your cardio workouts while cutting? Why not save time and do your strength training and cardio in the same workout. Using metabolic circuits, you’ll get all of the heart rate variance and the muscular development that you need to retain strength and definition while using this fat loss program.
Furthermore, you don’t have to put your strength training workouts into metabolic circuits to maximize fat loss on this program. This is purely a suggestion if you are worried about slacking on cardio or if you are short on time when you go to the gym.
Use the same compound exercises listed in the previous section. Put two to five different exercises together to make your own superset or circuit.
Here’s how I usually organize my full-body metabolic circuits.
Complete 4-5 rounds of…
- 8-12 reps Lower body exercise (squatting movement or deadlifting)
- 8-12 reps Upper body exercise (pushing movement)
- 8-12 reps Core Exercise
- 8-12 reps Lower body exercise (Lunging or single leg movement)
- 8-12 reps Upper body exercise (pulling movement)
Rest 1-2 minutes after each round is complete.
3) Fat Loss = Eating a Calorie Deficit
Unfortunately, you can’t just do 1,000 sit-ups or plank for 20 minutes per day to get great abs. If you pay attention to one thing in this article, let it be this…
In order to deplete your fat stores and get as lean as possible, you need to deprive them of calories.
When you give your body a surplus of calories (eating more than you are burning) you are inevitably going to gain some fat, even if you are working out consistently. By eating a calorie deficit and balancing your macronutrients properly, you are going to be able to starve your fat stores and whittle them down.
How much of a deficit?
This where I don’t think the demand is that high. There’s a fine line between not cutting enough calories, and cutting too many. You don’t want to cut so many calories that your body starts clinging to fat for survival, just enough so that you can start chopping away at a little at a time.
To get to my leanest, I have been using this simple formula by Dr. John Berrardi. In my humble opinion, he’s one of the most knowledgeable guys when it comes to modifying your diet to get the best results.
Here’s how you can figure out how many calories you should be eating to optimize fat loss.
Take your weight in pounds x 10 = About how many calories you should be eating per day. Berrardi recommends that you eat within 10% on either side of this number to see the best results.
So for example, let’s use my current weight.
190 pounds x 10 = 1,900 calories
1,900 x .10 = 190 calories
1,900 + or – 190 = between 1,710 and 2,090
4) Cycle or Cut Carbs and Sugars as much as you can
I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but if you really want to get as lean as possible, you are going to have to considerably cut your carbs.
How much carb cutting you ask? How lean do you want to get?
Now, you may be more or less carb tolerant depending on your genetics and body type, but if you are reading this article, you probably fall within the less carb tolerant side of the spectrum.
Now, remember what I said about making sacrifices?
When my primary goal is fat loss and I’m trying to get as lean as possible, I’ll usually cut my carbs to around 10% of my total intake, leaving approximately 40% for protein, and 50% for fats.
Example: So from my current weight at 190 pounds, here’s what my macronutrient breakdown would look like.
1,900 calories per day x .10 = 190 calories
190/4 (number of calories in a gram of carbohydrates) = 47.5 grams
1,900 calories per day x .40 = 760 calories
760/4 (number of calories in a gram of protein) = 190 grams
1,900 calories per day x .5 = 950 calories
950/9 (number of calories in a gram of fat) = 105 grams
Personally, I’ve gotten my leanest on eating less than 40 grams of carbs per day at a bodyweight of 160-165 pounds. Everyone’s body is different, so this part is going to take a little testing and experimentation on your part to find the best combination for you.
Eating frequency and Meal Balance
Most people do better eating more frequently throughout the day while on a fat loss program like this. Feel free to divide up your daily calorie allotment over four or five meals throughout the day.
Eat proteins and vegetables at every meal and snack. That will help keep your protein intake and fat high, and your carbohydrates low.
I personally have seen the best results using intermittent fasting to get down to 8% body fat. I usually keep it simple by fasting 16-20 hours per day and leave an 4-8 hour window to eat my daily calorie goal.
5) Use Supplements to Dial in Your Fat Loss
Personally, I’ve never really gone down the supplement track beyond vitamin D, fish oil, and whey protein. I have been reading and seeing plenty of affirmative evidence from guys that I trust who use branched chain amino acids to preserve muscle while they are losing fat.
Since your opportunity to build muscle and strength are going to be more or less nonexistent, you need to take whatever ground you can to preserve the lean mass you have or are trying to cultivate while losing fat.
Dr. Jim Stoppani recommends that you take 5-10 grams of BCAAs is before and after your workout. I’ve seen a lot of people sip on them during their weight training sessions, and I’ve had friends take them first thing in the morning to give you a little boost in focus to start the day.
Putting your Fat Loss Plan Together
Using this program, you will be able to get down into your ideal body fat percentage range to make your abs pop out. For guys that is below 10% and girls that’s below 20%.
- Lift weights
- Do metabolic conditioning circuits when you can
- Eat a caloric deficit, in the calorie range outlined in this article
- Cut carbs to the appropriate range, and experiment with your carb tolerance
- Use BCAA’s to minimize muscle decay while losing fat.
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