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The fat loss process is for many an exercise in frustration, an endless quest for superior shredding that so often ends with the acceptance of mediocrity rather than results. This need not be the case. The ripped and chiseled look you’ve always wanted can be yours. And you need not traverse the depths of hell to get there. It’s all a matter of consistently putting all the right pieces together over a long enough period of time and staying true to your mission for as long as you wish to look great naked (or near-naked on the beach or on the stage).
I’ve covered the best training approaches to getting lean and staying that way. Now I’ll turn my attention to what many consider an even more crucial piece of the fat loss puzzle: nutrition and supplementation. I’ll also add some bonus tips that have helped many of my clients achieve the best conditioning of their lives. Combine the advice given below with the insights from part one and you will never again have to wear an extra-large shirt to hide that billowing waistline.
Before we tackle the when and why of what to eat and which supplements to take I’d like to clear up a misconception that has held many an aspiring shredder back from optimizing their fat burning potential: the assigning of values.
You will hear it often when it comes to bodybuilding success: diet is 70%-80% of the battle, while training is 20%-30% (what about recovery, mental attitude, and multiple other important fat loss factors?). It’s important to realize that everything we do for shredding success must be approached with 100% effort (though it’s difficult to truly achieve 100% in anything we do). There can be no assigning of values for individual shredding factors. Whenever we put a percentage value on anything we unwittingly or otherwise tend to prioritize the areas that have been given the higher value. While it is reasonable to suggest that the best nutritional approach combined with a mediocre training plan will give greater results than a poor nutrient intake coupled with a perfectly periodized training regimen, such comparisons are irrelevant for the purposes of this article. For sustained shredding success, it’s imperative that you, in turn, give every area your full focus. You must be unwavering in your commitment to addressing every essential aspect of the shredding process. To paraphrase the great six-time Olympia champ Dorian Yates: everything in bodybuilding must be given 100% percent effort.
Anabolic Advancement Means Faster Fat Loss
Probably the single biggest barrier to ultimate shredding progress is periodic body fat increases in excess of what may be deemed conducive to muscle-building. Such increases are often due to misguided notions of ‘offseason bulking’ or, in many cases, simple-minded laziness. As discussed in part one, a major key to dialing in one’s physique is the progressive development of quality muscle. In adding excess body fat, we not only make the shredding process a great deal more difficult when it’s time to cut, but we also stifle quality muscle gains. The more quality muscle we have, the more calories we burn at rest and the easier it is to maintain the lean physique we’ve spent months cultivating. Bad calories consistently consumed will inevitably result in a physique that reflects such dietary indiscretions. Here’s how it works. The cellular structure of the body is continually being remodeled. For quality gains, a big part of this remodeling process requires an optimal intake of quality nutrients spread across several daily feedings. Indeed, what we eat on a daily basis will ultimately manifest in the way our physique looks and performs. For example, by eating processed foods and high fat/high sugar fare (a big part of the typical Western diet), we cannot hope to lay down quality muscle during the remodeling process. Our training energy will also be insufficient for the intensity and volume needed to stimulate maximum muscle hypertrophy. We’ll invariably gain more fat than muscle. And we’ll likely falter when it comes to cranking out those final 2-3 growth-inducing reps. In fact, if you speak to most top-level bodybuilders, those known for their startling transformations despite many years in the training game, they’ll likely attribute their impressive progress to nutritional improvements. Not drugs. Not transcendental meditation. Quality nutrition! If you’re going to give training 100%, then, as mentioned before, you must also give nutrition 100%.
Poor eating forces the body to invest massive amounts of energy on detoxification rather than creating the anabolic conditions needed to advance muscle protein synthesis. Crucially, such deleterious fare will also make getting lean an uphill battle. When it comes to truly shaping up, the more stored fat we have, the longer we must spend losing the excess adipose. Think of all the time and energy that is wasted having to shed useless, energy-depleting fat. Time and energy that could be better spent building quality mass and putting the finishing touches on the shredding process. As well, excess fat significantly drives down testosterone levels. For example, aging men are more likely to experience increased levels of an enzyme called aromatase which converts free testosterone to estrogen.12 Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, is especially catabolic when abundantly accumulated as it further suppresses free testosterone levels in males. The problem is, the more body fat we have, the more aromatase we store in the extra adipose. More stored aromatase means less testosterone and ultimately less metabolically-active muscle tissue. This is one reason why aging men tend to accumulate more fat around the midsection compared to their more youthful counterparts. Bottom line: the leaner you are going into a shredding phase, the more energy you’ll be able to devote to building a quality physique, the more testosterone you’ll have and the more anabolic you will be.
Most successful shredders begin eating sensibly 3-4 months before committing to a specific shredding plan. The smartest will semi-diet all year round (when not in a cutting phase). Thus the first nutritional rule when it comes to effective shredding is: stay relatively lean year round (no more than 12% body fat for men and 15-16% for women). The first rule, successfully applied, negates the application of the second rule: no crash dieting. In other words, the less fat we have, the less stringently we’ll need to curtail our calories. By eating healthy year round we eliminate the requirement to drastically cut calories at any stage in the shredding process. This allows us to retain and ideally build more lean muscle when cutting.
High protein diets are synonymous with bodybuilding excellence. Upping the protein is also crucial for shredding success. In short, protein induces greater thermogenesis and is more satiating (appetite suppressing) than carbohydrates or fats.13,14 Protein also enhances muscle protein synthesis, a process that in itself burns fat calories while the end result, more muscle tissue, depletes fat stores around the clock. Protein also increases gluconeogenesis, a process that generates glucose from non-carbohydrate carbon substrates and which uses stored fat to do so. Protein also helps to lower insulin levels to keep blood sugar levels stable.3 Diets lower in proteins and higher in carbs encourage the release of insulin which, when produced in excess, encourages fat storage. In addition, merely by ingesting protein we induce caloric burn-off by 20-30% (the burn-off rate for carbs and fats is 10% and 0.3% respectively).8 In other words, by consuming 200 protein calories we will burn 40-50 stored calories via normal digestive processes.
For bodybuilders, more protein is always better than less protein. However, many trainees have taken to limiting total calories in an effort to carve muscular definition. This means curtailing protein along with the fats and carbs. Experienced bodybuilders will tell you that this is a big mistake as, when shredding, proteins may be leached from muscle in the absence of sufficient dietary proteins and total calories. Studies have shown that protein consumed at higher levels, even in excess of what would be deemed ideal for muscle maintenance, are not likely to be stored as fat and, crucially for shredders, can also significantly boost both 24 hour energy expenditure (24EE) and Sleeping Energy Expenditure (SleepEE) compared to both fats and carbs.2 Another study found that high protein subjects (4.4g/kg per day) lost significantly more fat compared to low protein subjects (1.8g/kg per day) despite consuming 400 more calories per day.1 The protein group consumed an average of 307g of protein per day, most of it in the form of whey protein, the gold standard in protein supplementation. In short, aside from its role as a muscle building mandatory, protein is essential when it comes to fat burning success. When looking to achieve your ideal shape, consume 30-40% of your daily calories in the form of high-quality proteins (whey protein being number one, and eggs, chicken and fish also being excellent sources).
Carbs have received a bad rap in recent years due to their association with various metabolic disorders, most notably diabetes and obesity. Many have taken to substituting fats for a certain percentage of their regular carb intake. Some people have even opted to go full ketogenic: fats and proteins with minimal to zero carbs. Bodybuilders and otherwise devoted trainees do not comprise the general population and thus need more proteins, carbs and fats. Such populations, with their greater energy demands and recuperative requirements, needs more stored energy and raw materials for growth than the average couch potato. Indeed, in my experience and in the experience of countless other expert trainers and seasoned bodybuilders, it’s a big mistake to completely eliminate carbs.
Carbs remain the body’s most efficient fuel source. Carb-containing foods also provide valuable micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) while boosting fiber intake to optimize digestion and general health (a frequently overlooked piece of the shredding puzzle). Carbs are also the most efficient way to increase muscle glycogen stores to enhance training output while keeping the muscles full and round as opposed to soft and flat (for each stored gram of muscle glycogen we store approximately 2.7 grams of water, and muscle is mostly water). To stay pumped when shredding it’s therefore imperative that most people keep their carbohydrate intake at around 40-50% of total daily calories. The best carb sources when stripping bodyfat remain the less rapidly assimilated complex variety, which includes, among others, oats, sweet potato, whole grains, green vegetables and brown rice.
Fats, whatever the source, have over double the amount of calories of proteins and carbs (9g compared to 4g respectively). Thus their intake should be closely monitored when shredding. However, this is not to say that fats are persona non grata for devoted shreddees. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, fat intake is crucial for both fat loss and muscle building success. First of all, polyunsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature: avocados, nuts, and olive oil for example) and omega three fatty acids (which include fish oils, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds) are essential for the general wellbeing of every cell of the body and, when used judiciously, can also lead to sustained fat loss. Saturated fats, though more readily stored as body fat and previously associated with cardiovascular disease, are also important, in smaller amounts. In fact, by having saturated fats comprise 25% of your daily fat intake, testosterone output can be boosted and immune health and digestion can also be improved.4, 5, 6, 7, 9 For shredding purposes, have fats comprise no more than 25% of your total daily caloric intake.
The most successful shredders know that by combining whole foods with targeted supplementation, greater fat loss success can be assured. The reasons why we should include certain supplements in our cutting plan are numerous. Key among them is to do with the hidden fats and carbs, harmful substances and caloric overload associated with an exclusively whole foods diet. Indeed, supplements allow us to get the nutrients we need in more precisely apportioned amounts and without the excess calories and harmful pollutants (preservatives, added hormones etc) that typically comprise many of today’s popular whole foods. Supplements, particularly protein, carb and amino products, are also extremely nutrient dense; you know what you are getting with the best of these providing only what is on the label.
Among the most popular of the shredding supplements is protein, both whey, and casein. As we learned earlier, more protein means more muscle and the more muscle we have the more effectively we can strip fat to minuscule levels. The biggest dilemma facing dieters is in retaining muscle when slashing calories. However, by pumping up the protein, muscle catabolism is significantly reduced while fat continues to be burned at a steady rate. Indeed, aside from building more muscle, extra protein can, in and of itself, boost the metabolic rate to keep fat burning consistently.
The effectiveness of a high protein intake when shredding has been measured in numerous studies. One important study assessed two groups of 20 bodybuilders.10 One group received 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day (145g per day for a 200lb person) while the other group received 2.3g per kg of bodyweight (207g per day for a 200lb person). Both groups ate 40% fewer daily calories than they would normally consume. It was found that the higher protein group lost virtually no muscle with the majority of weight reduction being fat mass. The lower protein group, on the other hand, lost equal amounts of muscle and fat. Strength is usually one of the first casualties of lower-calorie dieting. The higher protein group was however found to be stronger than the lower protein group. Dieting is also heavily associated with testosterone depletion. In this study, the high protein group experienced only a 7% drop in free testosterone while free test plummeted by a staggering 26% in the low protein group. Other studies have shown similar results. The key takeaway here (and no surprise to bodybuilders the world over) is that it’s better to err on the side of caution and include more protein than less when dieting (1.5g per pound of bodyweight per day will work well for most shredders).
Since it’s largely impractical and ill-advised from a caloric standpoint to get all of one’s protein from whole foods alone, it’s best to do what smart shredders have been doing for decades: take several protein shakes per day – one first thing in the morning, one directly after training, one mid-afternoon and, for muscle preservation while sleeping, one directly before bedtime. The best protein for shredding remains Labrada Lean Pro 8. With its blend of rapidly absorbed proteins, it provides a sustained release of muscle building aminos to support growth when trying to get as lean as humanly possible. The best bedtime protein remains micellar casein. More slowly absorbed than whey, it provides a continuous supply of aminos during one of our key growth periods. Labrada 100% Casein is ideal at such times as it also provides 5.5g of BCAA’s and 4g of glutamine along with 24g of pure protein. Use it and when others are wasting away during the fasting period otherwise known as sleep, you’ll be growing at a rapid rate.
Since upping my protein intake via protein shakes I’ve personally gained 6kgs of solid muscle and have found it much easier to stick to my diet. Along with the supplemental proteins, I’ve also experienced great success when using a reputable fat burner, especially when it’s time to put the finishing touches on the shredding process. The longer we diet, the slower out metabolic rate typically becomes. However slight the decrease it’ll make losing those final few pounds a nightmare. Labrada Lean Body Fat loss Support helps keep the metabolic fires burning while providing a full complement of key fat loss ingredients to keep the pounds coming off.
TESTOSTERONE & GH SUPPORT
Even with the best proteins, the perfect nutrition plan and a winning training regimen there can no muscle growth and little in the way of fat loss without the assistance of two of the most anabolic of hormones: testosterone and human growth hormone (GH). What I’ve discussed so far will optimize both test and GH production when aiming to reveal your hard-won muscularity. However, even under the best conditions, our hormonal milieu can be disrupted when dieting for maximum definition. Thus I believe it’s essential that a good growth factor formula is taken during the shredding phase. There are few such formulas around nowadays. However, there is one that really does deliver. By boosting both testosterone and GH while combating oxidative stress, improving immunity, reducing the catabolic cortisol, building more muscle and stripping fat Labrada Humano Growth is great when looking to stay anabolic when in shred mode.
As with protein intake, vitamin and mineral supplementation can mean the difference between getting a perfect ratio of quality nutrients or a nutrient source that delivers only a small fraction of what we expect from it. For example, the protein contained in the humble chicken breast can vary from breast-to-breast while red meat proteins can be minimal when eating the wrong cut of beef. The same holds true for other macros. While it’s always good practice to eat a healthful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can never be entirely sure of what you’re getting in the way of quality nutrients. Soil erosion, harmful pesticides, processing methods and food preparation methods may render the product we end up with far from conducive to good health and wellbeing. A good multivitamin provides optimum micronutrient support without any filler substances and questionable ingredients. It’ll not be of dubious efficacy. Instead, it’ll provide a full complement of high potency ingredients and will have high bioavailability. Labrada Men’s Multi-Vitamin and Lean Body for Her Multi-Vitamins provide exactly that.
BONUS SHREDDING TIPS
There appear to be as many approaches to successful shredding as there are those wanting to reveal the deep separation between their quad muscles while determining whether they have a four, six or eight-pack. While one approach may work well for one person, the same approach may be ineffective for another. The shredding methods outlined in this article series will give you a solid framework upon which to construct a plan of attack that works perfectly for you. You’ll also find many good shredding tips on this site so be sure to read all the featured articles and soak up the valuable information. While I have enough shredding tips to write another ten articles, here are three that I feel will work well for anyone.
Without going overboard and analyzing every facet of your life, all day every day, to determine whether you are achieving your shredding mission, it’s nevertheless important to keep track of how you look, feel and perform to ascertain whether any necessary adjustments are needed. I monitor my strength levels during each training session and check myself in the mirror every day (at the same time and in the same lighting conditions etc) when shredding. Don’t get caught up in using the scale to gauge fat loss as bodyweight can fluctuate on a daily basis and, in addition, the scale does not take into account lean muscle gains (all we see are weight increases which may lead us to assume that body fat has remained stable or increased). Also, do not mistake subcutaneous water retention for body fat. Water retention can enormously affect scale weight and the way we look, conveying an illusion that we are struggling to lose body fat. The best way to assess whether fat is coming off is to self-monitor and have knowledgeable people objectively critique your physique on a regular basis.
Subtle changes can make a big difference when shredding. For example, reducing carbs by as little as 50g per day can significantly flatten out the physique causing us to believe that we are losing muscle. Panic and despondency may result, which may only serve to sidetrack us further from our mission. Add the carbs back in and the muscles may again take on a fuller, more vascular appearance. Many keep meticulous training/nutrition records. From such records, we can often trace mistakes that have been holding us back from losing the pounds. For example, the addition of extra carbs and fats, however minor, can be determined by looking back on a week’s worth of eating. If we’ve struggled to lose weight that week we may have the answer (or at least one clue as to where we are going wrong). Whether you opt to record all shredding factors or not, it’s important to observe all that you do and learn from any mistakes you may have made along the way. Each new shredding phase should be a little easier than the last.
Psychological stress can, on multiple levels, seriously derail shredding success. Due to myriad complex biological factors, including the release of the stress (fight or flight) hormone cortisol, stress can disrupt sleep, decrease testosterone and GH production, impede focus, cause digestion problems and poor nutrient assimilation, and dilute the amount of effort we may expend burning body fat and building quality muscle.
Acute periods of stress are not necessarily a bad thing. It’s when we experience chronic, long-lasting stress that we may learn firsthand of its devastating impact. Left unabated, stress can gradually break the body down and create mental instability (ultimately leading to injury or a nervous breakdown). Left untreated, chronic stress may even kill you (the ultimate catabolic response).
For shredders, chronic stress means excessive cortisol production. Cortisol released in excess of what we need for everyday energy and the proper functioning of the body may negatively affect receptors for both insulin and the hunger hormone leptin which may respectively lead to fat storage and persistent hunger. Excess cortisol is a major reason why constantly stressed people often accumulate fat around the waistline (the so-called visceral fat).11
As well, stress is known to inhibit one’s ability to make rational food choices (stressed people tend to comfort eat to restore a sense of tranquility via increased serotonin production). Conversely, relaxed people tend to be more calculating and methodical in what they do. Such people are not so easily tempted by culinary treats and are less likely to make the kinds of choices that may lead to a disordered mental state (and more stress). There are multiple ways to defeat stress. I’ve found that by simply slowing down wherever possible and taking more time to assess all situations, I’m better able to make logical decisions and less likely to make errors that lead to a stress response.
ENJOY THE PROCESS
Above all else, enjoy your shredding journey. Spending 12 or more weeks living miserably will not inspire you to give each shredding factor your full attention. Rather, you’ll look for ways to become distracted and may resort to comfort eating, excessive procrastination, and mindless activities that sidetrack you from your mission. To be successful in anything you must enjoy the process. Know that what you are doing is worthwhile and savor the feeling of being at the top of your game. Also, keep in mind that you are one of the very few to have followed through on your commitment to achieving your best shape ever. All of this will give you feelings of accomplishment and gratitude that’ll sustain you when difficult times inevitably arise.
CONSISTENT CUTTING FOR PERMANENT RESULTS
You’ve spent months following the sound advice given above and now have the body to show for your dedicated efforts. You look great and feel great. Best of all you have not sacrificed any muscle, metabolically you are at your very best and your health is better than ever. Is there any reason to return to your previous level of conditioning? Adding an extra layer of fat may only prevent you from performing at your best. And the health risks associated with typical offseason conditioning are far from conducive to developing more lean muscle.
By continuing to follow the approach outlined in this article series, while adding a few more clean calories to support your burgeoning gains (this will vary from individual to individual), you’ll not only continue to improve the impressiveness of your physique, you’ll also optimize your physical and mental performance. You may choose to live your life and enjoy the full array of tantalizing treats on offer. But, ultimately, you’d be wise to do what the real champs do, stay true to your plan, and continue to adopt a lean body approach to sensible shredding.
- Antonio, J., et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4kg/kg/d) on body composition in resistance trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2014. 11 (19).
- Bray, G., et al. Effect on protein overfeeding on energy expenditure measured in a metabolic chamber. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015. 101, 496-505.
- Franz, J., Protein: metabolism and effect on blood glucose levels. Diabetes Educ. 1997 Nov-Dec;23(6):643-6, 648, 650-1
- Hart, M. the Other Side of Saturated Fats: Health Benefits of a Fat Rich Diet. HuffPost [Online] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/dr-mike-hart/saturated-fats_b_3641895.html Retrieved on 111111.10.17
- Hamalainen E. K., et al. Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet. J Steroid Biochem 1983; 18 (3):369-70
- Hamalainen E. et al. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men. J Steroid Biochem 1984; 20 (1): 459-64.
- Howie B. B. J., et al. Dietary and hormonal interrelationships among vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists and nonvegetarian men. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 1985;42:127-34.
- Kollias, H., A Calorie Isn’t a Calorie. [Online] http://www.precisionnutrition.com/digesting-whole-vs-processed-foods – retrieved on 27.7.17
- Melcola, D. seven reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat. [Online] https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/22/7-reasons-to-eat-more-saturated-fat.aspx Retrieved on 11.10.17
- Mettler, S., et al. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb;42(2):326-37.
- Moyer, A. E., et al. Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obes Res. 1994 May;2(3):255-62.
- Vermeulen, A. et al. Estradiol in elderly men. Aging Male. 2002 Jun;5(2):98-102.
- Westerterp-Plantenga M. S., et al. Satiety related to 24 h diet-induced thermogenesis during high protein/carbohydrate vs high fat diets measured in a respiration chamber. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999; 53:495–502.
- Westerterp, K. R., Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004; 1: 5.
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