I recently received a question from Richard over facebook that I wanted to address publicly (hopefully someone reading will gain value from this). The issue is going from 10-11% body fat down to 7-8% body fat over the next 35 days. Going below 10% body fat without losing muscle can be difficult. Your body doesn’t really want you below 10% because it is seen as a potential threat to your survival. The following is my response where I address the issues at hand and provide a plan of attack.
I’m writing to you because you have much more knowledge on the subject than I do! Anyway, I am right around 10-11% body fat right now, and have a decent amount of muscle. It’s “off-season” right now, so I have not been too worried about being “cut” for the beach or anything. But, I am going to Peru to be with my wife in a little over a month (it’s summer there). Just wondering if you have any advice on dropping to maybe 7%-8% within a month.
I weigh 205 and am 6’4″ I guess that means my body fat is right around 20 lbs, so I’d need to lose around 5 lbs or so which I know is doable in 35 days. Trouble is, I feel that when I significantly cut carbs from my diet and increase protein to make the ratio 40/40/20 (I am normally around 50/30/20) I end up too tired to work out well. I take 2-3 minutes between sets and don’t feel the burn at the end like I do when I have the energy of some complex carbs. Maybe I just need to do more HIIT or cardio and keep my current diet?
Wondering if you have any advice, thanks man!
You’re at the point where it begins to get difficult to lose bodyfat. The issue is that your body doesn’t want you to go below where you currently are (it’s a survival thing). Don’t fret, it can be done. But it starts to get alot more complicated. It’s going to take the right program. In other words, it’s no longer going to be as simple as “exercise more, and eat less” unfortunately.
Obviously the issue is losing the right weight. If you just ate very little over the next few weeks you could easily lose 5 lbs. However, just losing 5 lbs won’t make you look any better, or get your abs glimmering in the sun. It’s about losing body fat (as you already know). Getting your body to lose fat, without losing muscle in other words. Like I said, it gets progressively harder to achieve this the lower bf% you have. I’m going to be real with you: you’re probably not going to be able to lose 5 lbs of 100% body fat without losing at least some muscle mass as well (assuming you’re doing this all-natural, without steroids, like I would highly suggest. Don’t do steroids ladies and gentleman).
So to sum it up, you have a 2 fold mission:
Goal #1: Lose Fat
Goal #2: Don’t Lose Muscle
I’m going to address both goals below and then give you a potential day-to-day program along the way.
A Quick Note
I tried to write this as if I were in Richard’s shoes. This is what I would personally do. I’m not a doctor, and I’m 100% positive that there are many people that have differing opinions. With that said, I’ve studied this stuff relentlessly and I’ve been able to personally achieve results from these same techniques so I’m confident in what I have to say.
Goal #1: Lose Fat
With your body fat being around 10-11%, there are dieting 2 main issues that must be managed to effectively lose body fat. If your body fat were at 20% the answer would be much more simple: eat less food and exercise more. Again, this is an evolutionary/survival thing. Your body wants you to have the proper reserves of energy (aka body fat) in case of a shortage/famine. Yet simultaneously, lugging around 20, 30, or 40% body fat is a liability as well. The point is, losing body fat when you’re at those higher percentages is relatively easy. Your body doesn’t mind getting rid of it in other words. BUT, going below 10% can get difficult (obviously genetic variability comes into play too, for some people it’s easier than for others…I’m one that had to really struggle to get my body fat below 10%).
So there are the 2 ways to lose body fat:
1. Calorie Restriction aka “eat less food:”
This is the basis. You gotta simply eat less food. I could be wrong, but with your size I would image that to maintain your weight you’d need around 2500 calories/day or more. 2000 calories/day would be a good starting point for calorie restriction. Pay attention to the scale and if you’re losing weight rapidly you might need to bump it a bit. If you’re not losing weight, you might need to lower it some. One of the best ways to achieve ‘eating less food’ is intermittent fasting. I don’t know what your daily work/school schedule looks like, but intermittent fasting may be a terrific option.
2. Macro-nutrient composition (carbs, protein, fat ratios and amounts) aka “eat less carbs:”
The second piece to the puzzle is carbs. Carb restriction is critical from my experience. I would highly recommend getting less than 100-150 grams of carbs/day. I’ve found that I still have plenty of energy around this range. Going below 50 grams per day on the other hand, I feel like crap. This translates to cutting out sugars, pastas, and breads and getting your carbs from vegetables, fruits, milk products, and maybe some beans (personally, I’m in love with black beans). Check out my article on nutrition principles for a bit more information on this.
Goal #2: Don’t Lose Muscle
There are going to be 3 issues to mange with this: 1. Nutritional timing (post/pre workout) 2. Macro-nutrient composition 3. Exercising correctly. I can’t stress this enough so let me repeat; with your bodyfat being around 10-11% things are much more difficult and complicated. Essentially you have to manipulate the hell out of your body, sending it the right signals, and providing it with the right sustenance to get to the next level (aka 7-8%).
1. Nutritional timing (post/pre workout):
You need to eat the a large percentage of your daily calories (up to 50% of your established restricted amount) around your workout time (particularly after). Study after study shows that nutritional timing is HUGE in building and maintaining muscle. Again, a great way to achieve this is a 16 hour intermittent fasting program where you do your workout on an empty stomach (supplementing with 5-10 grams of BCAA’s beforehand, here is a good cheap option) and eat a big meal post workout.
2. Macro-nutrient composition (carbs, protein, fat ratios and amounts) aka “eat MORE PROTEIN:”
Adequate protein consumption is going to be critical for not losing muscle. You need to be getting at least 200 grams of protein/day. Egg whites, whey protein, casein protein will help you achieve this without the fat (excess calories are the issue with consuming too much fat). Also, make sure your post workout meal has alot of protein in it (at least 50 grams if not more).
3. Exercising correctly:
A. Lift HEAVY Weights:
This goes against what alot of conventional wisdom would say. You need to be lifting heavy at least 3 times per week to get to the next level. Lifting heavy sends a signal to your body to build muscle and if there isn’t enough nutrients available (aka calorie restriction) to at least hold onto muscle. Forget the ‘more reps to tone and lose fat’ garbage. Your goal is maintain your muscle while you are calorie and carb restricting to lose fat. Lifting heavy is the answer. What I mean by heavy is pushing yourself to failure with heavy weight and compound exercise. Deadlifts, squats, benchpress, shoulder press; aka the basics. Try to be at failure before 8 reps.
Day 1 Pulls: Deadlifts, Pull Ups/Lat Pull Downs, Rows
Day 2 Presses: Bench Presses (barbell, dumbell, incline, flat), Military Presses (standing, seated, barbell, dumb bell), Flys.
Day 3 Legs: Squats, Lunges, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls.
REMEMBER: Use heavy weight that puts you at failure before 8 reps. This is critical.
I would do a little steady state cardio (getting your heart rate over 130 or so) as a warm up for your lifting. Ride the bike, or run for 10-20 minutes. However, I would focus on HIIT type stuff at least once per week. Sprints are my favorite for this. Go to the park (it’s cold this time of the year I know) and sprint for 30 seconds as hard as you can (I like to pretend there is a mountain lion chasing me, or pretend I’m reliving my football glory days of breaking a long run for a touchdown). Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat. After 10-20 minutes you will be spent. I can promise you that. Again, the goal is to not lose muscle while you restrict calories and carbs. Along the same lines as lifting heavy, doing sprints also sends a signal to your body that you need to build, or at least maintain your muscle (once again, this is a survival evolutionary programming thing). In fact, studies show that sprinting can increase your naturally produced HGH levels up to 534%. If I were white trash I’d say that is TITS!
Going from 10-11% down to 7-8% body fat can be difficult and requires a somewhat intense, disciplined program. Your goal is to use techniques that will manipulate your body into losing fat without losing muscle. To effectively lose fat you need to 1. restrict calories and 2. restrict carbs. To not lose muscle you need to focus on 1. nutritional timing 2. protein consumption and 3. exercising correctly