Getting lean isn’t easy. It’s a daily grind that will test your willpower like few other challenges.
Starting your diet off right will be the difference for many who achieve success or failure. Not getting a return on your investment will deter even the most committed person.
I found results to come pretty easy until I began closing in on the 10% body fat mark.. the most challenging time for many who have a goal to see a shredded six-pack. Fat loss, while retaining muscle mass, requires strict attention to detail and a firm understanding of the basics will go a long way.
After a long lull, I’ve recently been seeing results again. If you’re getting frustrated, here’s some tips that have helped me and might help to see you through your most recent plateau.
Everything starts with diet. Rather you’re 100 lbs overweight or trying to lose the last 10 pounds, exercise means little without a complete focus on nutrition.
10 Steps to Creating a Successful Diet
1) Monitor your calories for two weeks before you ever start cutting calories. If you’re just starting a new diet, eat normal.. just as you have been, but start counting total calories in everything that you eat. Weigh yourself daily and see if you’re managing to maintain the same weight.
This will serve as a guide to how many calories you need for maintenance, and for losing fat. The higher this number, the better.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is drastically cutting calories immediately on deciding to finally start dieting.
2) Eat all you can to lose weight. By starting your diet out with a higher number of calories, you have a lot more room to cut calories as your diet progresses.
Crash diets achieve the opposite effect. By severely cutting calories, you completely eliminate the possibility of cutting calories further when you reach a plateau, which is an inevitable part of dieting and getting lean.
Crash dieting also leads to a reduced metabolism and is almost certain to cause your results to stall. There’s not a more frustrating feeling than eating very little every day, constantly feeling hungry and not seeing any fat loss.
Focus on losing two pounds a week, at the most. The leaner you get, the less weight you will lose, so if you’re at 9% body fat and lose a pound, celebrate your success and keep moving forward.
3) Track your macro-nutrient ratios, set specific goals for them and be strict about hitting them. While overall calories (creating a weekly calorie deficit) is the most important aspect of losing fat, learning how your body responds to protein, carbohydrates and fat will allow you to manipulate the effects of fat loss even further.
Use an Excel spreadsheet to track everything you eat or use a calorie tracking website but don’t leave calorie control to chance. Getting lean requires a strong focus on overall calories and macro-nutrient manipulation.
While counting calories may seem difficult at first, most people find that only after a couple weeks, it becomes a very easy process that requires very little time at all.
4) Eat more when you lift weights and eat less when you don’t. This has been one of the best changes I’ve made to my personal success. Carbohydrates should be eaten when you hit the weights. This is when you need the most energy and that’s what carbs do better than anything else.
Be sure to lower fats on high-carb days.
Eat less on rest days. These are your “fat burning days” and limiting calories and carbohydrates will yield great results. Eat more healthy fats on your rest days. If you hit a plateau, consider getting all your “rest day” carbs from vegetable sources.
Keep protein at a somewhat constant rate of 1 – 1.5 gram p/ pound of body weight on all days.
5) Enjoy any food by fitting it into your daily macros. This was a hard lesson to learn but believe it! Don’t try to fill your daily allotment of carbs with nothing but Frosted Flakes and ice-cream, but do feel free to throw these foods in the mix.
In the quest for being lean, it’s easy to get stalled and believe that being stricter with the diet is the obvious solution.
Fact: When I started allowing a portion of my daily carbs to come from a favorite sugary cereal, I started seeing results again and actually busted through a plateau.
The body needs high-glycemic carbs as much as it needs low-glycemic carbs. Get a mix of both to fill your daily carbohydrate intake and delight in the fact that you can have some rather enjoyable foods while still leaning out.
Adding variety to your overall diet is also beneficial from the perspective of adding more nutrients.
6) Eat lots of vegetables. The argument can be made that you can’t eat too many vegetables, even if it’s over your daily caloric intake. Play with this variable and see how your body responds but personal experience is showing me that I can eat a lot of extra veggies, to fill those hours when I start getting cravings, and still see positive results of losing weight.
If you’re still someone who thinks that veggies are not tasty then you’re not making them right!
A personal favorite is simply heating a tablespoon of organic virgin coconut oil, and cooking broccoli with green beans (flavor with salt, pepper and onions) in it for 15 minutes on medium heat. Wait until they’re golden brown and enjoy.
Steaming broccoli in a steamer, adding chicken breast meat, almonds and Udo’s Oil is also another favorite of mine.
7) Quit drinking. This is an easy one for me as I’ve never much cared about alcohol but I consistently hear of people who are trying to cut and refuse to give up liquor because of social events. Nothing will deter your efforts like the empty calories liquor provides.
How bad do you want to be lean?
8) Consider adding cardio only after results plateau. Again, it’s better to leave room in your diet for busting through a plateau that occurs later on. Don’t start off with cardio. Wait until you need to get more results and then slowly introduce it.
Cardio is great because it provides oxygen to your entire body and helps to move nutrients through your system. Another great benefit is that you can eat a few more calories that day.
What type of cardio is best? You’ll see arguments on every health and fitness site but my personal results have shown me that moderate walking at a speed of 3.3 mph on an incline of about 8 is enough to burn 500 calories in only 50 minutes. That adds up to a huge caloric deficit every week with only four or five cardio workouts that you will barely break a sweat on.
Is fasted cardio better? It’s yet another highly debated topic but I try to do cardio in the mornings before eating anything else. If I can’t fit a morning cardio session in, I simply do it in the evening. Energy expenditure and oxygenation for sustained aerobic cellular metabolism throughout the body are great benefits any time of the day.
9) Think long term and don’t commit to a diet that you can’t sustain. A diet that can’t be sustained is almost certainly destined to fail. Don’t fall into the fad diet traps and diets that are overly restrictive with calories.
You need to be committed to your goals year round and establishing a proper diet is key to achieving success. Get plenty of calories, make the majority of your food choices good ones and keep looking at the big picture.
Remember, the guy that can put in 90% effort for ten years will always beat the guy who puts in 110% effort for three years, burns out, and then quits. – IFBB Professional Bodybuilder, Shelby Starnes
Getting lean is seldom a three month journey. It’s the result of continued work ethic and devotion to working hard, both in the gym and in your diet.
10) Calories expended must be greater than calories consumed. Perhaps I should have listed this first as it’s the most important rule but let’s list it last so you remember it the most.
By eating too many calories, you simply can’t lose fat and the scale will not drop. Calories are units of energy and nothing more. To remove weight (stored calories or stored energy), we have to expend more energy than we consume. There’s no getting around this law of thermodynamics.
Making the Difference
In the end, your level of commitment is what will determine your success. Getting lean and ripped is not easy but few things will bring as much self-satisfaction.
I’ve often considered how much greater the motivation factor would be if it was possible to show an end result picture to someone who was just starting the journey. Imagine being able to see the potential that is within each one of us displayed in picture form right before our eyes. It would certainly be enough to motivate some who will never take the first step of losing weight, due to a lack of confidence or fear of failure (and that’s unfortunate).
Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from reaching your highest goals. Forget the critics. Visualize the body that you’ve always dreamed of, formulate your plan, start today… and make it happen!