Lessons from my attempt to get leaner

About 4 or 5 months ago, not exactly sure when, I decided that come January this year I’d see how I’d get on getting lean. I’m not talking 5% body fat, ready to step on stage lean, but 8 or 9% whilst maintaining as much mass as I could. Why? Well, for 2 reasons:

1. A colleague was going to start prepping for his first fitness competition of the year and I thought it would be fun to see what I could do, and more importantly,

2. 90% of my clients are trying to not only get stronger, but also trying to lose weight and drop body fat.

The second of these reasons is the big one for me, my own strength and fitness goals are ongoing and I have no issue with motivating and challenging myself to chase them down. But I have never really had to think about my own diet and nutritional strategies. My typical thought process on food goes something along the lines of:

  • want food,
  • find food,
  • eat food,
  • repeat as necessary.

A fortunate combination of genetics, lifestyle and having an active job means I get away with a lot more food freedom than a lot of people. Yeah, I know, sucks to be me…

Over the course of the last few months I’ve learned a few things, I want to share those with you guys and give you my 5 factors I’ve found to be most important in getting leaner.

Generally, I sit around 12% bodyfat most of the time. my weight stays relatively steady at around 100kg. ( I wasn’t always like this, imagine if you will, a 6’4″ guy carrying about 65-70kg…)

My goal was 8 or 9% maintaining as much weight as I could, this is way more challenging than I thought!

1. It takes time, consistency and a few failures to figure out calorie numbers.

I can comfortably eat 3500cals a day and maintain body weight and bf%. cutting those cals down takes time and consistently hitting macro targets and adjusting to what’s happening. That means you can’t just starve yourself for a few days then go back to eating “normally” and expect to see results, unless the results you are happy with are muscle loss and still having a crappy bf%.

2. Hitting your protein and fat targets each day is vital.

Carbs, make up the rest, but you have to be within your cals for the day. If you want to maintain, and indeed build, muscle, protein is a must. If that means topping up with a protein shake or 2, so be it, but you need to get it done. Since your carbs will be lower, getting adequate fat in your diet is necessary, not only for nutritional and health purposes, but to keep you from going nuts. On lower carb days, if I didn’t hit my fat target, I wanted to throw the nearest person to me through a wall. I got grumpy, not many people realised this, since I look generally grumpy anyway. Always smiling on the inside though! When I hit the fat target, everything was golden, and, more importantly, everyone around me was safe!

3. With a calorie and macro target, I had to think about my food choices more.

I’d rather eat my calories than drink them in a shake, so I needed to think more and prepare accordingly. When I didn’t, my numbers were way off. Once in a while, thats fine, long term is a disaster. Making sure I had enough good protein sources such as chicken, beef, eggs, greek yoghurt and salmon, as well as plenty of fresh veggies, available was huge.

Half an hour shopping each week is all that takes.

4. A cheat day, once a week, keeps me sane.

I plan it for whatever day we are going out, or maybe getting a takeaway meal in. Thats right, you can lose bodyfat and still indulge every now and again. I am happy to spend a whole day eating whatever I want, often doubling my normal 3500cal intake for the day. And I enjoy every minute of it. For some people, a single, indulgent meal can be all thats required, some find an increase in carbs for the day whilst still hitting protein and fat intake is good. Whatever it is, trial and error is necessary and not going completely nuts is important.

If a whole day makes it tough getting back on track the day after, try a single meal. If thats not quite enough, increase carbs throughout the day.

Be honest, and adjust as needed.

5. Exercise is important.

You’ll notice at this point, that it’s all been diet related. That’s because your diet is the key to body comp success. Exercise does come into play though, building or maintaining muscle mass helps drive your metabolism and obviously burns calories. Simple advice for this is train hard, work up a sweat and beat last weeks total on something. In a slight calorie deficit, you aren’t going to set any powerlifting records, but you can maintain your muscle mass and most of your strength.

Squat, deadlift, bench and pull ups, some accessory work to address the weaknesses, and some short, high intensity conditioning at the end of each session is on the cards.

Work hard, rest adequately, repeat consistently.

Stay strong




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