Question: What is the best way to get super lean while holding on to as much muscle as possible?
Answer: Brilliant genetics.
The above Q&A doesn’t exactly possess the gravitas of a WikiLeaks information dump, but it does bear examination. Those who are born into a pack of Adonises will find it much easier to build muscular, striated physiques. But that doesn’t mean that anyone not so genetically gifted can’t do more to enrich his own genetic stock. Because for as long as the physically blessed have strutted through gyms, they have been surrounded by those who possess another unique gene — the one responsible for the ambition to do whatever it takes to reach one’s fitness goals. Of course, said drive still requires a sound, methodical plan to yield success, and that’s where we come in.
In the following pages, we’ve made plain the most reliable and researched ways to torch body fat. Here, you’ll find everything you need — from the gym to the kitchen — to start nudging your way into the company of the aesthetically blessed. And we promise that if you push yourself hard within the parameters laid out here, people are going to start to speculate on the majesty that is your double helix.
FOOD AND SUPPLEMENTS: THE EQUALIZERS
A smarter approach to nutrition is arguably the greatest determining factor in how you will look. Luckily, this is a skill that can be learned. Learning to make better choices more often is the “broad strokes” tactic for altering your body composition. In other words, eat for the way you want to look. And even though your goal is getting lean, your diet should never be about deprivation or always teetering on the brink of the extreme. It is much more effective — and sustainable — to apply a few of the most fundamental nutritional guidelines for burning body fat.
>> Calories. It’s not that “calories in and calories out” is inaccurate — you will burn more fat when your body is operating in a caloric deficit — it’s just that it’s shortsighted and ignores the needs of the hard-training crowd (that’s you). Extreme caloric deficits will eventually lead your body to seek fuel from aminos stored in your muscles, which can lead to substandard strength training and a lagging metabolism. As with all things fat loss, the better approach may be to implement a moderate reduction and adjust from there. As a starting point, aim to consume about 13 calories per pound of your current bodyweight per day. If after a few weeks you find that your body is not responding, cut back to 12, then 11 and so forth.
>> Carbs. The Atkins crowd is sold on the idea that bacon and cheese can lead to a slimmer, trimmer populous. But you know better. To train in the way that you need to for lasting change to your physique, you need carbohydrates for fuel. It’s not to say that a lower-carb diet isn’t effective for fat loss. On the contrary, 30 percent of your diet should come from carbohydrates, even on a fat-loss diet. You should, however, make it a point to consume slow-digesting, fibrous carbs such as whole-grain products, oatmeal, vegetables and fruit at nearly every meal. The only times when faster-digesting sources are desirable are first thing in the morning and postworkout, when your body has a glycogen (stored blood sugar) deficit.
>> Fats. At 9 calories per gram, fats are the most calorie dense of the macronutrient family. They are also crucial for digestion, organ function, joint health and tons of other stuff that are pertinent to getting as lean as humanly possible. Here again, it’s all about choices. Deep-fried, trans-fat-soaked foods offer you no benefits whatsoever. But the heart-healthy fats in flaxseed, red meat, nuts, seeds, avocadoes and olive oil are all great in moderation. In all, 25 to 30 percent of your calories, or 0.4 to 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day, should come from these healthy fats.
>> Protein. There is no overstating the importance of protein for losing body fat. If you’re training the way you should be, the rule should be 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per day. For a 180-pound guy, that’s 180 to 270 grams of the stuff per day. That number may seem ambitious, but if you consume 30 to 40 grams of protein from food and or shakes at each of your six to seven meals and snacks per day, it is quite easy to reach. Be sure to take 30 to 40 grams upon waking, 20 to 30 grams preworkout and 40 to 60 grams or more postworkout to keep strength levels high and to retain and grow as much muscle as possible.
EATING YOUR GUT AWAY
5 key lifestyle factors for getting lean.
1 Taper | As the day progresses, your metabolism slows, so limit your carbohydrate intake at your last few meals and eliminate carbs near bedtime.
2 Be frequent | Keeping portion sizes smaller over six to seven meals and snacks each day ensures that your body gets to use all the ingested nutrients for fuel instead of storing excess as fat.
3 Pair well | Make sure that you always consume protein with your carbohydrates. This slows the uptake of the carbs and keeps blood sugar levels in check.
4 Prepare | Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Nowhere is this more applicable than with the get-lean crowd. Cook a full array of physique-friendly foods, such as chicken breasts and sweet potatoes, at the start of the week and carry meals and protein powder with you whenever possible.
5 Watch | Use the mirror, rather than the scale, as a gauge on how much progress you’re making. If things are slower than you’d like, make adjustments — cutting back carbs, adding cardio sessions, etc. — until you see some progress.
Don’t settle for “steady” progress. Here’s how to speed your results along with a few key products.
There’s no dishonor in taking supplements to make the road ahead of you easier. In fact, if you’re going to use these six weeks to see just how lean you can get, it makes more sense to take advantage of a handful of proven, effective supps like these.
Caffeine | This wonder supplement has been shown to boost strength, decrease pain, prolong time to fatigue and aid in the release of fat into the bloodstream.
>> Take 200 to 400 milligrams upon waking and 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Green-Tea Extract | Green-tea extract’s key ingredient — epigallocatechin gallate — works to burn fat by breaking down norepinephrine, allowing fat-fighting epinephrine to run rampant in your body.
>> Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams upon waking and 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Capsaicin | Found in chili peppers, capsaicin wages war on fat cells by boosting metabolism — hence your characteristic glow following a spicy meal.
>> Take 40,000 to 80,000 Scoville thermal units 30 to 60 minutes before meals and 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Yohimbine | By taking this supplement, you can blunt certain receptors in the body that usually inhibit the burning of body fat.
>> Take 2 to 10 milligrams upon waking and 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Fish Oil | Newer studies on this healthy fat, which is touted for its overall health benefits, have demonstrated its ability to increase your ability to burn fat at a genetic level.
>> Take 1 to 2 grams three times daily with meals and once before bed.
BCAAs | Branched-chain amino acids help to blunt appetite and preserve muscle, but numerous studies also have shown that they help to drastically reduce body fat.
>> Take 5 to 10 grams with breakfast, 30 to 60 minutes before workouts, immediately postworkout and before bedtime.
Xanthigen | This seaweed derivative boosts fat burning by causing body fat to act more like brown fat, a type of fat found in infants that’s responsible for heating the body.
>> Take 200 milligrams three times daily with food.
TRAINING: CAST IRON
No matter what your yoga instructor or aerobics guru may have told you in the past, weight training is the absolute best way to exact drastic and lasting change to your physique. Put simply, the stronger you become, the more muscle you build, which helps your body’s metabolism burn hotter. Still, within that minimalist assertion, there lie countless other methods by which you can hasten your progress. Over the course of these six weeks, you’ll employ a careful blend of the most efficient approaches to weight training for fat burning available.
Weeks 1 to 3: Lift Heavy, Rest Less
Since the big bang of exercise in the ’70s and ’80s, most people have held that higher reps with lighter weight is the best way to use barbells and dumbbells for fat loss. But newer research is proving otherwise. A study conducted at Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education in Oslo found that lifting in the six-rep range boosted resting metabolic rate higher and for longer after the workout than 12-rep sets. And again, stoking that metabolic furnace is critical to sustained fat loss. Of course, keeping rest periods lower only augments the benefits of heavy lifting. Another study from the College of New Jersey found that men who rested just 30 seconds between sets burned more than 50 percent more calories during the workout than those who rested the far-too-customary three minutes.
>> Lean Mandate: For your first three weeks, you will work your way up to a heavy six reps on most major exercises such as the bench press, squat and deadlift while keeping rest periods to 30 to 45 seconds, stimulating your body’s ability to burn more calories during and after your workouts. This also provides a solid base of strength for the coming weeks of work.
Weeks 4 to 6: Supersets and Tabata Intervals
Once you’ve boosted your body’s ability to handle more iron, it’s time to start ratcheting up the intensity. To do that, you’ll get your hands dirty with two of the most effective ways to burn fat in the weight room: supersets and Tabata intervals.
Supersets are simply two exercises done in succession with little to no rest in between. This ups your calorie burn by increasing the intensity of your workouts and by piling more reps together in a single bout of work. For this phase, you’ll adhere to the opposing-bodypart style of supersetting, which has been shown to temporarily boost strength in the muscle group that is worked second, allowing you to train as heavy as possible within the prescribed rep ranges.
It is in Tabata interval training, however, that your body will feel the most sudden jolt. The protocol’s namesake, Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata, found that athletes increased aerobic capacity and anaerobic output by training in eight 20-second-long high-intensity bouts interspersed with 10-second recovery periods. What does that mean? Greater endurance, more power — two things that work synergistically to help you burn more fat with the weights. If you’ve never trained this way, prepare for a new kind of sore in the morning.
>> Lean Mandate: During this final phase, you’ll train opposing bodyparts, superset style, with weights that prevent you from doing more than 10 to 12 reps. Rest periods will be kept to 60 seconds — your body will need more time to recover than in Week 1 — between supersets, keeping the pace higher but more sustainable. Adjust (lower) your weight loads as sets progress, if needed, to hit the prescribed rep ranges.
You’ll finish off each bodypart with a muscle-swelling set of Tabata intervals, which call for eight 20-second segments of work for a single exercise, each followed by 10 seconds of rest. For each exercise, you’ll select a weight that allows you to complete no more than 15 reps in your first 20-second segment of work. (Note: This number will naturally diminish as the set progresses.) Each week, you should track the total number of reps you are able to complete for that exercise and weight load. For accurate timekeeping, you can watch a nearby clock or stopwatch, or pick up a Tabata timer for about $20 from gymboss.com.
A great many people hate cardio, but almost everyone hates people who get lean without ever doing it. Having said that, regular cardiovascular activity is absolutely essential for most mere mortals hoping to realize their full aesthetic potential. But this program is a far cry from your dad’s steady-state, happy-face jaunts of yesteryear.
Weeks 1 to 3: High-Intensity Interval Training
Study after study shows that by performing cardio at higher intensities, you are forcing your body to burn more fat around the clock, all while — get this — retaining or even gaining muscle. Of course, calorie burn during a steady-state run may be higher, but remember that our goal is to extend that burn — to turn your body into a machine that is increasingly more efficient at staying lean. That is why HIIT is the method of choice. Interval training simply entails moving at near max intensity (90 to 100 percent) for short bouts, then taking your foot off the accelerator for a short time — think slow jog or speed walk — before the next sprint.
>> Lean Mandate: Using the treadmill, stair stepper or exercise bike is fine, but the required intensities are most easily achieved with track or outdoor running because you don’t need to wait for the machine to come up to speed. You’ll work on incrementally progressive ratios in minute-long time frames. Week 1, you’ll sprint 10 seconds and “recover” for 50 seconds, a 1:5 ratio. Each week, this ratio will get tougher. Week 2, you’ll sprint for 15 seconds and jog for 45. Week 3, sprints are 20 wind-sucking seconds long with recovery at 40 seconds.
Weeks 4 to 6: Weight-Room Cardio
Because we know how tedious running can be, we are substituting traditional cardio with a short, weight-based routine during the second phase of this program. But it’s not just about forestalling boredom. This combines the best of both worlds in that you get to handle that with which you are most familiar — weights — in a way that mimics the fat-burning effects of cardio. High-octane exercises such as dumbbell swings, thrusters, shadowboxing and jumping-jack presses complement more explosive bodyweight exercises, such as jumping lunges and plyometric push-ups, that target your fast-twitch musculature to send your heart rate and metabolism through the roof.
>> Lean Mandate: You’ll perform the exercises listed in circuit fashion twice per week in Weeks 4 to 6, doing each exercise for one minute straight. For the plyometric exercises, it’s likely that your ability to produce power will fall off fairly quickly. If this happens, rest no longer than 10 seconds and dive back in. Each week, you’ll add one additional go-through on the six-exercise circuit so that in Week 6 you are completing 30 minutes of total weight-based cardio.
LEANER IN 42 DAYS
Power your way through this six-week program to drastically improve your body composition.
ABS MADE EASY
Perform each of these workouts once per week on nonlifting days to carve out a six-pack worth showing off in six weeks.
Perform these workouts in straight-set fashion, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets. For all ab exercises besides the plank, keep your pace slower to maximize difficulty. Take one to two seconds on the positive, hold for one to two seconds at the top, and take one to two seconds on the negative with each rep.
RUNNING OUT OF FAT Boosting your body’s postworkout burn is what high-intensity interval training does best. Use this twice-weekly workout for your first three weeks of cardio to train your body to nuke more fat around the clock. Each workout will be preceded and followed by a two-minute warm-up, such as a walk or a slow jog (not listed). All sprints should be performed at near-max intensity.
Week 1: 12 10-second sprints interspersed with 50 seconds of recovery (walk or slow jog)
Week 2: 12 15-second sprints interspersed with 45 seconds of recovery (walk or slow jog)
Week 3: 12 20-second sprints interspersed with 40 seconds of recovery (walk or slow jog)
WEIGHT-ROOM CARDIO Supercharge your cardio starting in Week 4 with this twice-weekly, power-focused routine. Perform each exercise listed for one minute straight and move to the next with no more than 30 seconds of rest between moves. Each week, you’ll add one more trip through the fast-paced circuit. Week 4: 3 times through Week 5: 4 times through Week 6: 5 times through