It's summer time and you’ve booked up the usual all inclusive for a long week’s holiday. This year the chosen destination is exceptionally hot, in fact it’s about forty degrees centigrade and there literally is not one cloud in the sky. Perfect! Activities around your hotel are minimal and as a result the main objective is to simply frazzle yourself in the sun, eat as much of anything as you desire and generally lounge around by the pool drinking beer. Achieving the main objective isn’t going to be a problem as you effortlessly commence the lounging and drinking however... you’re not entirely at ease and your attention is drawn to something else completely.
Your attention is drawn to a young man splashing around in the pool with his lady friend whilst boasting what is probably around 10% body fat on a relatively well balanced and muscular physique. You’re not the only one turning attention to this young man with all of the poolside males suddenly feeling inadequate and quite simply, out of shape. Additionally, it isn’t just the guys who are paying attention, there are of course a noticeable amount of wives and girlfriends who are no longer interested in their trashy magazines and long island iced teas. To be honest, it’s all eyes on the muscles in the pool. Guys want to be him or make throw-away remarks about steroids and obsession whilst the girls are possibly thinking about something else entirely. Just like a peacock with the brightest and most attractive plumage, all the other birds may as well be black and white. You’ve always been proud of your muscular physique and occasionally turned the odd head when wearing a tight fitting t-shirt or when pumped in the gym giving you that leaner than you actually are illusion, but at this point in time all you want to do is cover yourself up and get on a treadmill.
What the young man in question clearly understands is that muscle is brilliant and everybody wants to be big and strong although, big, strong and fat is not a good look. Imagine having the engine of a Lamborghini hidden inside the body of a rusted old Robin Reliant, it’s great that your Reliant can practically break the sound barrier but nobody cares because it looks like scrap. Like most young men, you’ve been living in denial and potentially a victim of body dysmorphia surrounding yourself with the fantasy that every time you ate 5000 calories in one meal it was ‘#gainz’, constantly chasing size whilst blissfully ignorant to the ever rising body fat percentages. So what can you do? What are your options? Unfortunately for you, you’re going to have to accept that for the remainder of the holiday all eyes are on the beautiful plumage in the pool whilst you have to come to terms with the cold hard truth, for all your gains you’ve made over the years you are not shredded and you look like a Robin Reliant.
Being big and strong is great and everyone sure does love a big guy but with a rubbish diet it is all for nothing. If you are gaining mass to simply be the biggest you can be with no worry for aesthetics then that’s fine but just so you know, you don’t have to get fat in your so called ‘off season’ and let’s be honest, do you ever intend to have an on season? The story above is truthfully about me and following my holiday I realised that it was time to pay attention to the details and 3 years later I am now 3 days away from competing in yet another bodybuilding competition. The fat guy sat in shame on the side of the pool in Cyprus (yeah, that was me) is long gone and I am happier than ever with my leanest ever physique. Everything I have achieved has been through knowledge and understanding and what I intend to do in this article is deliver that knowledge to you in the simplest terms I can.
You really are what you eat, you can never out-train a bad diet, getting bigger and stronger whilst eating clean and staying lean is completely possible (I’m doing it right now), clean food is still tasty and awesome and you don’t have to give up fun to look amazing naked.
I promised you that I would deliver my knowledge in the simplest terms possible so here goes.
When you eat food you are consuming proteins, fats or carbohydrates. These three wonders are known as macros whereas vitamins and minerals are known as micros. All macros yield energy in the form of calories and quite simply when you hear people talk about counting macros they are referring to counting their calories. Still with me? Good.
In the little table below you can see exactly how many calories are in each macronutrient. This is exactly how people work out how many calories they are consuming!
4 calories per gram
4 calories per gram
9 calories per gram
So, if you consume 5 grams of protein such as egg whites (pure protein) then you have just put 20 calories down the hatch. Easy peasy. We live in a culture where people refer to so called clean and dirty foods where unfortunately for them it would seem that they don’t really know what they are talking about and just fill in the blanks with what they read in a magazine or what their pal Dave told them. The reason that foods such as chocolate or good old McDonalds are branded as dirty foods is because they are simply very high in energy (very calorie dense) with very little micro nutritional benefit, however if all you ate was chocolate and McDonalds yet you were still burning more calories than you were consuming then you would still lose weight regardless of your poor nutritional choices whilst if you were to consume 5000 calories worth of tuna salads every day and only burn 4000 you would eventually gain weight. This is the very simplest way that I can explain energy in vs. energy out! There is no requirement to deviate any further, all you need to know is that everything you eat is calories in and movement is calories out. When there is more coming in than there is going out you will get fat and visa versa. I’m certainly not telling you that you can live off chocolate and McDonalds as long as you are training hard enough as I have already mentioned that you can never out-train a bad diet. The point that I am trying to get across is that there is no magic trick to getting lean. You simply have to consume less calories than you have going out or burn more than you have coming in but getting lean isn’t enough on its own, what we’re after is getting ripped and preserving our muscle in the process. We want to be that peacock in the pool. To become the peacock in the pool you need to be making smart decisions with the food that you are eating.
You need to be consuming enough protein to encourage preservation of muscle whilst still remaining in a calorie deficit to be burning fat.
Most believe that around 80% of physique is diet and personally I’m inclined to agree as I’ve seen the majority of magic occur when I’ve paid attention to what I’m eating. Training without paying attention to what you are eating will make it difficult to reveal your abdominal muscles however, even if your diet is perfect and calculated this alone won't do it all either, it’s about finding that sustainable balance.
It can get very confusing when you are trying to stay in a calorie deficit to be losing weight yet you need to keep your protein high in order to maintain that well earned muscle and of course the end result is to show it all off with your ripped physique. Don’t get confused and certainly don’t starve yourself. Below is a list of the types of foods you’ll want to eat and foods that you’ll want to avoid/limit in order to start to peel off that fat.
Proteins such as fish, chicken, turkey, egg whites. These will get you your basic protein without too much fat however there is nothing wrong with a little fat so feel free to enjoy your red meat too.
Fibrous green vegetables such as mixed greens, green beans, spinach, broccoli and asparagus are awesome at filling the space on your plate whilst they will provide a nice slow drip feed of energy along with micronutrients.
Complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, oats and grains are your starch compliment to your diet and although you may wish to limit these food groups you certainly don’t want to cut them off entirely. If you are training hard you need carbohydrates to provide that glycogen store, just be mindful of how much!
Omega fats such as avocado, olives and almonds are great fats and contain essential fatty acids. These will support your fitness and health goals whilst replacing bad fats you no longer consume (that’s the McDonalds).
Limit sugars, fruits, juices, breads and pastas which you should only save for cheat meals. On the days that it gets a little tough and you really fancy that doughnut or pizza just ask yourself the question, “can I really eat this or am I just talking myself into it?”
For some, this sort of diet focus may not be so tough as they may have slightly better genetics toward staying leaner or perhaps have a higher metabolism however if you are still looking like a Robin Reliant and there is no sign of that six-pack then you know you need to abide by the above a little more than others. Ultimately allot of applying the above is about common sense. In my opinion I feel that the best thing you can do is get a goal. Arrange for some photos to be taken in 3 months time, get ripped for the holiday so you can be the peacock in the pool, book yourself into a low level bodybuilding competition (not as scary as it seems!) or just pick a goal worth shredding down for. The chances are that if you are going to get shredded for nothing then you will end up spinning your wheels, convince yourself you’ve lost all of your mass and start ‘bulking’ again or simply just waste your time.
If perhaps you are still a little lost and unsure where to start then the last thing I want you to do is head to the supermarket only to wander aimlessly and eventually end up in tears hugging the empty trolley. To avoid this, the next section will show you how I eat on a typical day during a cutting period to prove that clean and lean is not boring and certainly not depressing.
How the author eats when cutting
Small/medium bowl of porridge oats cooked in semi skimmed milk with sprinkling of almonds, walnuts and blueberries. Stir in a table spoon of sugar free peanut butter to create an awesome breakfast.
Mid morning snack
One can of drained tuna mixed with a little light mayo and served with a small garden salad.
A couple of grilled chicken breasts served with a Mediterranean salad including beetroot, sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumber, spinach and rocket salad. Salads are as boring as you make them. You can make salads absolutely awesome.
Mid afternoon snack
A handful of nuts with a protein shake or a little chicken or fish depending on how lazy I feel at that time of day.
Grilled sirloin steak served with sweet potato mash and asparagus. Yum, yum.
Pre bed time snack
Cottage cheese and a table spoon of peanut butter.
The above meal plan shows how I tend to eat when dropping weight although this sort of diet could be used to gain lean body mass by simply upping the portions of each meal. This is where you have to use your common sense and accept that when cutting you won’t always feel satisfied after each meal especially if you are used to eating like a horse. The days of gorging on a massive meal each time you feel hungry have gone but as I have mentioned before you will need to keep those goals at the front of your mind and remain focused. You will have some days that are tougher than most. On the days when I find myself feeling starving hungry I will often just grab a table spoon of peanut butter of a handful of nuts!
The type of training you are doing needs to support your goals at this point too. There is no point lifting super heavy weights in lower rep ranges in an attempt to gain any strength and there is even less point attempting to build further muscle through hypertrophy training. If you are in a calorie deficit and looking to get ripped you will not achieve either of the above two goals. Training with weights at this stage needs to be higher volume with slightly less weight whilst cardio should be focused around steady state fat burning plods. Higher intensity cardiovascular work certainly has its place but whilst you are looking to preserve muscle the last thing you want to do is use it as fuel! Keep things simple and minimise the amount of high intensity training you are doing whilst you are looking to get ripped.
Around this point I imagine that you have either lost interest entirely and you are currently watching YouTube videos of a dog laughing or you are completely lost and have no idea what you’ve just read. The point to take away is that we are all different. We each live very different lives and have very different commitments that take priority over all. I am an exercise professional therefore I truly understand that my ability to train and eat the way that I do is perhaps a little easier than the stay at home dad or the busy London office worker. Perhaps your boss won’t understand that you are looking to get shredded for a competition when at 10:30 during a meeting you start crunching away on a handful of Brazil nuts. It’s all about taking the small guidance and outlines that I have given you and applying these things into your life. Keep things simple and keep things sustainable. It will be difficult and it will leave you wondering if you’re doing the right thing but trust me when I say this; Stick with it, nothing worth having came easy. Be the Peacock in the pool.