Get Shredded: How to Get to Single Digit Body Fat without Losing Your Sanity
Guest Post by Radu Antoniu of ThinkEatLift.com
Based on the CDC anthropometric data, guys age 30 to 39 have an average body mass index (BMI) of 29. That’s just one shy of the medical definition of obese.
If you transform this BMI to body fat percentage, it comes out about 25%.
So for the average young guy to get down to single digits, he needs to lose about 15% body fat. That means around 25 pounds.
As a reader of this site, you’re probably leaner than the average American. But you probably still have 10-15 pounds of fat to lose to get under 10%.
That was my case.
Last summer I started cutting at ~16% body fat (left). When I reached ~9% (right) I weighed about 15 pounds less. I think you’ll have a similar experience.
So let’s see how to do it.
The Cutting Pyramid of Importance
1. Set a Moderate Calorie Deficit
Here’s a good question: Do you actually NOT know what to do to lose fat?
I doubt it.
You know you need to eat less. We all knew that since we were kids and heard the first “Yo mama so fat” jokes.
Of course, this answer may be too boring for some people. The cooler and seemingly more advanced answer would be that carbs make us fat, or animal products, or sugar, or processed food, or something else.
But the truth is boring. Research has shown over and over again and eating fewer calories than our bodies burn results in weight loss. Every time. Regardless of everything else (seriously).
To lose weight we really only need to concern ourselves with staying in a calorie deficit.
This calculator shows you how to set your calories for cutting.
2. Get Sufficient Protein (and a good balance of fats and carbs)
When your goal is to get below 10%, your focus should not be just weight loss, it should be fat loss with muscle maintenance.
Losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean your body composition (the fat to muscle ratio in your body) is improving. That is because some of the lost weight may actually be muscle mass.
Crash dieters often experience this disappointment. They lose weight fast in an effort to lose fat fast but discover than they look just as soft and flabby as before even though they are 5-10lbs (2.5-4.5kg) lighter. Here’s what I mean:
The main reason this happens is because their calorie deficit is too large. But this can also be caused by not eating enough protein.
Protein plays a major role in preventing muscle loss during a cut (or supporting muscle growth in the case of beginners/intermediates). Studies show that the amount of protein you need is scaled upwards with the severity of caloric restriction and leanness. The higher the body fat percentage, the lower the protein intake can be compared to total bodyweight.
During a cut, it’s usually recommended to get 1-1.3g of protein per pound of bodyweight or 2.2-2.9g per kilogram. And that’s fine.
However I know you also care about increasing your testosterone levels. High protein diets have been shown to be detrimental for T levels because they indirectly cause a decrease in fat and carb intake.
For this reason, it’s best to eat enough protein to support muscle growth and maintenance but not more. The minimum amount of protein you can eat while not compromising your gains is 0.8-1g per pound of bodyweight.
What about fats and carbs?
Fats are important for basic health and play a huge role in maintaining hormonal balance. In groups of test subjects, those on a 20% fat diet had significantly lower testosterone levels than those on a 40% fat diet.
On the other hand, a high fat diet does not support muscle growth and strength (because it doesn’t leave much room for carbohydrates) and is also bad for satiety (fats are the most nutrient dense nutrient).
For this reason I recommend you set fat intake at 25-30% of total calories.
This moderate intake is enough to stimulate anabolic hormone release and also leaves plenty of room for carbs.
The rest of the calories will come from carbohydrates which will be the dominating macronutrient. This is mainly because carbohydrates support recovery and high intensity muscular work. Think of carbs as fuel for high intensity anaerobic workouts.
Carbs also support good hormonal balance. In one study that measured the effects of carbohydrate consumption on free testosterone:cortisol ratio over repeated days of training, researchers found that free testosterone decreased by 36% in the low carb group and cortisol increased by 15%.
High carbs will also promote relaxation and better quality of sleep (some people can’t sleep if they go low carb).
This calculator will set your calorie and macros for you. Just input your bodyweight in the field at the top.
Hitting those Macros = Getting Ripped
90% of getting ripped is hitting your macros. If you did that right and everything else wrong, you’d still get below 10% body fat and achieve great results.
But you’ll ask: If it’s so simple why aren’t more people ripped?
It’s because hitting your macros is a tedious job. If you have 10-15 lbs of fat to lose, you have to hit your macros for 6-12 weeks. This means that for 6-12 weeks you have to pay attention to food labels, weight food, use a calorie counting app, resist cravings, and push through hunger from time to time.
Most people have no problem sticking to an extreme plan for a few days. Feeling miserable for a week or two to get to their goal is a very attractive trade off. But 1-2 weeks is too little time. You need to cut for longer.
Working with clients has taught me this: Willpower runs out fat. The only way you can stay in a deficit enough time to get below 10% is if you make your cut enjoyable.
That is the purpose of the next points:
3. Eat Filling and Delicious Foods
The average person only thinks about how much food they’re eating and not about the calories or macronutrients obtained from that quantity. For this reason a lot of people report not losing weight even though they’re eating very little.
The current research shows that the source of macronutrients does not influence body composition (or if it does it’s only a miniscule effect). That means as long as you hit your macros you can eat more or less whatever you want and achieve your physique goals.
However, eating only processed foods can lead to micronutrient deficiencies and health problems in the long run. In addition to that, our food choices greatly affect how filling our meals are and how sustainable our diet is. Low calorie foods such as lean meats, starchy tubers, vegetables, and fruits would allow us to eat a large quantity of food for relatively little calories. This helps stave off hunger and cravings which makes it much easier for us to remain in a caloric deficit.
When making food choices you should have in mind the following criteria:
- Satiety – Satiety is triggered by two things: how much your stomach expands (the bulk of the meal you just had) and how many calories you consumed in that meal. By eating mostly whole foods you can eat a large quantity of food for a low number of calories.
- Cravings – To truly enjoy your diet, you also need to address cravings. For this reason I recommend you make high calorie, dirty foods part of your daily fat loss plan. This way you no longer wait for cravings to come, you prevent them by eating tasty foods every day.
- Micronutrients and Fiber – Vitamins and minerals are essential for health, hormonal balance, and sometimes play a big role in performance, well-being and energy levels. For these reasons it’s important to regularly eat fresh foods which are rich in micronutrients. You’ll see that whole foods are also the ones which contain the most micronutrients.
- Eat 2-3 Big Meals per Day – As long you control the total calories and macronutrients you’re eating, food distribution is irrelevant. Research has shown that small meals do not ramp up the metabolism neither are they better for appetite control, eating in the evening doesn’t make you fat and you don’t need to eat protein every three hours to maintain your muscle mass. With that said, the way you distribute food makes a HUGE difference for satiety and adherence. What I recommend for fat loss is Intermittent Fasting. It’s a pattern of eating where you skip breakfast and have your first meal 4-6 hours after waking up.
- Don’t eat for 4-6 hours after waking up. By skipping breakfast we take advantage of the fact that most people are not hungry in the morning and can save more calories for the second part of the day. Ironically, short-term fasting actually blunts appetite and you can easily go a few hours without food in the morning.
- Drink a few tall glasses of water and a cup of coffee during the fast. Studies suggest that thirst is most of the time confused with hunger. Most people living in developed countries are actually chronically dehydrated but they don’t realize it. We end up consuming food when in fact we need water. By getting into the habit of drinking water as soon as you wake up, you eliminate that false sensation of hunger we have in the morning. Sparkling water works great during the fast because it fills you up a little. Whatever hunger you had will be completely eliminated. Then about 2 hours after waking up have a cup of black coffee. Coffee without sugar or milk is a powerful appetite suppressant. The combination sparkling water and black coffee makes fasting 4-6 hours completely effortless (I’d even say enjoyable!)
- Have 2-3 meals in the second part of the day. Most people are genetically and socially inclined to eat more in the evening. You never hear of someone saying they binged like crazy in the morning or afternoon. No. Binge eating happens at night. Moreover, almost every social event we attend (weddings, parties, dinner with the family or friends, going to movies, etc) happens in the evening. That is why it makes sense to save a good portion of our calorie budget for the evening meal. I recommend using any one of the 3 templates below to get started. Personally, I use template 1 the most.
- Template 1: 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (30% of daily calories)
- 4-6 PM – Second meal (30% of calories)
- 8-9 PM – Final meal (40% of calories)
- Template 2: 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (15% of daily calories)
- 4-6 PM – Second meal (60% of calories)
- 8-9 PM – Final meal (25% of calories)
- Template 3: 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (40% of daily calories)
- 6-9 PM – Final meal (60% of calories)
- Template 1: 12-2 PM – First meal of the day (30% of daily calories)
- Experiment and see how you like to split your macros for each meal.Enjoying your fat loss diet almost guarantees that you’ll get as lean as you want. I spent 2 years experimenting to see what meal pattern satisfies me the most in a deficit.
- What I discovered I enjoy most is this…
- In my first meal I have lean protein and veggies – medium protein, medium fiber, low carb, low fat
- In my second meal I get high fat foods or desserts – low protein, high fat, medium carb
- And in my last meal I get most of my protein and carbs – high protein, high carb, low fat, low fiber
- This way every meal has something special. You can do this too, but also experiment and see what you like most.
- What I discovered I enjoy most is this…
Getting to single digit body fat is a numbers game. You have to maintain a calorie deficit for as long as it takes to get the fat off.
The problem is that most guys need to cut for 2-3 months. Their motivation and willpower doesn’t last that long unless their diet is easy to follow.
By getting your macros from filling foods while also including the foods you crave you eliminate most of the stress created by dieting. In addition to that, by doing Intermittent Fasting you can significantly reduce hunger and make your meals much satisfying.