By Tom Venuto Iron Magazine
Getting a ripped body with extremely low body fat – lean enough that you can see all your abs – remains not only mysterious and elusive to most people, it also seems complicated.
If you’ve ever read a science-based article or book on the subject of extreme fat loss, you may have seen references to…
…catecholamines, alpha-2 adrenoreceptors, hormone-sensitive lipase, cyclical adenosine monophospate, leptin and enough technical jargon to make you feel like you were back in college physiology class.
I know there’s a small group of fitness nerds who love reading research, and there are a quite a few people who want to know the why behind the how of body fat reduction.
But if you’re like most people, you either can’t wrap your head around all the scientific stuff or it just bores you to death.
The question I rarely hear: “Hey Tom, send me some scientific papers to read!”
The plea I’ve heard tens of thousands of times: “Just tell me what to eat!”
You can count me as one of those science geeks, and I like to back my practical advice with research, but having heard this plea so often, I wondered if I could do more good for more people if for once, I intentionally left out all the details and indulged my readers in their simple request – tell them what to eat to get ripped without any science at all.
The more I thought about putting together a “get ripped diet cheat sheet” (aka “getting ripped made simple), the more I started realizing how simple it really is to get ripped. Easy? No! Simple? Yes! Bloody simple!
The complicated part is the physiology behind why the diet works. Your endocrine system and the dynamic and adaptive nature of energy balance in the human body are so complex, they could each become the subject of a person’s entire life’s academic work.
But if you have a “cheat sheet,” you don’t have to study all that stuff if you don’t want to.
Here’s something really interesting: The leanest muscular men and women in the world are bodybuilders, figure competitors and other physique athletes. Many of them achieve the lowest body fat percentages and have the most ripped bodies in the world, yet they have no idea how they did it.
Let me clarify…
Of course they could tell you what they ate every day. What I mean is if you asked them to explain HOW their diet worked to get them so ripped, most of them couldn’t give you the scientific explanation. They might not know what leptin is. “Catechola-WHAT???” Maybe they never heard of lipoprotein lipase. And you know what? It didn’t stop them from getting ripped.
All they had to do was follow a handful of simple steps and just like you know the lights are going on when you flip the switch, the body fat is coming off when you flip these “get ripped switches.”
There is certainly more than one approach that can work and each individual will have personal preferences. But what I can tell you is that the 10 get ripped tips below explain precisely how the vast majority of bodybuilders and physique athletes have been getting ripped for decades and how they are still doing it today in 2011.
It’s not easy to follow this type of very strict diet plan for a prolonged period of time, but if you stick it out for 6, 8 or 12 weeks (depending on how much fat you have to lose), you’ll be shocked at the results – just look at the success stories at the end for some idea of what this could do for you!
The Get Ripped Cheat Sheet: 10 Steps To Ultimate Leanness
1. Accurately calculate your calorie needs, use a conservative deficit and track your caloric intake
Some people lose weight without ever counting calories. But let’s call a spade a spade – that approach is called guessing. Ripped people are meticulous about calculating and tracking calories. With serious goals, especially ones with deadlines, there is no time to waste with guesswork and ballpark estimations.
I recommend the Katch McArdle or Harris Benedict calorie equations to find your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and daily caloric maintenance level. These can be found in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle and are widely available online. FYI: Most men have a maintenance level around 2700 to 2900 and most women maintain at 2000-2100 per day but this can vary widely so crunch your own numbers.
Set your starting calories at a conservative deficit – only 15-20% below maintenance or a deficit to drop about a pound a week. When you’re already lean and aiming to be ripped, your risk of muscle loss is higher than an overweight person with a high body fat percentage. A small deficit and slow weight loss will help preserve lean tissue, as does a high protein intake.
Reference male: 190 lbs = 2300 calories
Reference female: 140 lbs = 1600 calories
2. Set your protein level… high
At the simplest level, a diet to get ripped is a high protein diet. You may be expecting to hear the tried and true 1 gram per pound rule. To get ripped like a bodybuilder or fitness model, go higher. People can debate the necessity of this on weight loss forums until they’re blue in the face, but here’s a fact: bodybuilders and physique athletes use very high protein intakes on pre contest cutting diets. Typically it’s 1.25 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Some go even higher.
Reference male: 190 lbs = 237 to 285 grams
Reference female: 140 lbs = 175 to 210 grams
When calculating meal plans with macronutrient ratios this is usually at least 40% of total calories and often as high as 50% of total calories. This is much higher than a normal nutrition plan for long term maintenance, but remember, this is a serious contest-level diet to get ripped – not yer grandma’s meal plan!
3. Choose the best lean sources of complete protein
Since a diet to get ripped is a high protein diet and a hypocaloric diet, you must become familiar with the staple proteins in the bodybuilding and physique athlete repertoire. Although you’re not limited to these proteins and plant based protein counts too, these are the complete proteins most frequently used by the most ripped people in the world:
Chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, shellfish, lean red meat (example: top round), lean game meats (examples: venison, bison, ostrich, etc), egg whites and whole eggs. Many bodybuilders go with the leanest proteins possible (egg whites, chicken breast and white fish), in order to control calories. However fatty fish provides valuable omega 3 fatty acids and whole eggs have valuable nutrients. If you do not include food sources of healthy fats, fish oil is a supplement worth adding.
There’s no reason to exclude milk, cheese, cottage cheese and other dairy products, but traditionally, physique athletes avoid or minimize them prior to competition (dairy based protein powders such as whey or casein or both are very popular on diets to get ripped and a good tasting protein shake is often a welcome relief after eating so much lean meat).
4. Load up on green vegetables and other fibrous carbs
Once you’ve chosen your protein for each meal, then add a fibrous carb or vegetable to your meal. Physique athletes sort carbohydrates into different categories than traditional nutritionists. Two of the primary categories are starchy and fibrous carbs.
Fibrous carbs include non-starchy vegetables, green vegetables and salad vegetables. Popular examples: broccoli, asparagus, green beans, spinach, cauliflower, red/green peppers, onions, mushrooms, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and other leafy greens.
It’s almost impossible to gain fat eating green veggies and other fibrous carbs because the caloric density is too low. A diet that consists primarily of lean protein and fibrous carbs is the foundation of all serious fat loss diets. Read that again and remember it – because lean protein + fibrous carbs is the world’s most no-brainer diet to get ripped.
5. Use natural starchy carbs wisely in small to moderate amounts
A fat loss diet for a hard-training physique athlete is a low to moderate carb diet, but not a zero carb or extreme low carb diet. If you only eat fish, lean meat, eggs and fibrous carbs, you automatically have a very low carb diet. That’s highly effective but highly restrictive.
To keep your metabolism and training energy at peak levels, (and keep yourself from going insane), it’s better to learn how to use small to moderate amounts of starchy carbs (fruit too) rather than eliminate them all, or god forbid, demonize them (“The carbz are evil, muahahahaha!”)
Staple starchy carbs include: oatmeal (unsweetened old fashioned rolled or steel cut), brown rice, sweet potatoes, yams, and white potatoes. Some physique athletes also like beans, lentils, black eye peas and other legumes. Add starchy carbs to your first meal (breakfast) and to your pre-and post workout meals. Always save some of your carbs for the post workout meal.
Reference male: 190 lbs = 150 – 190 grams of carbs
Reference female: 140 lbs = 100 – 140 grams of carbs
6. Use the carb cycling method: Refeed every 4 to 7 days
Once every 4 to 7 days, spike your carbs all the way up to maintenance level calories or even slightly above. If you’re just starting your cutting diet, once a week is sufficient. If you’ve been dieting a long time and you’re already very lean, take the high carb reefed day every 4th day. Carb cycling is optional, but the leaner you are, the more helpful the technique will be. NO! I’m not talking about leptin. I said no science! Just do it, dammit!
7. Eat 4-6 protein-containing meals per day
In the last several years, there’s been some interesting debate on the optimal meal frequency for fat loss and necessity of following a bodybuilding diet at 5-6 meals per day versus a traditional meal plan at 3 meals per day. No doubt, one can lose weight on any number of daily meals, provided the caloric deficit is there and daily macro needs are met. But the fact remains: virtually all bodybuilders and physique athletes prefer smaller more frequent meals, each containing protein, and they report ideal results with this approach. This has not changed in all the years I’ve been bodybuilding. Keep in mind that meal frequency can be customized like all other diet variables. Lower activity people, women and smaller men may be fine with fewer (4-5) feedings per day, while most men, esp larger men fare better with more meals (5-6 recommended).
8. Eat mostly the same thing every day
This may be counter-intuitive because traditional nutrition advice almost always recommends “eating a wide variety of foods.” Why? Because limiting your variety can produce excesses of certain nutrients or macronutrients while leaving you short on others. Eating the same foods every day may also cause boredom and boredom causes some people to fall off the wagon.
But with that said, here’s another interesting factoid about diets for getting ripped:
Most physique athletes eat more or less the same thing every day. Why? That makes it incredibly easy to prep the food, follow the diet and to troubleshoot plateaus. Diets that are random or inconsistent are nearly impossible to troubleshoot because no baseline is ever established. Also, when presented with a wide variety of food choices, most people eat more (stay away from the buffet!) A somewhat repetitive (aka bland and boring) diet is not a necessity, but it can make calorie control significantly easier.
9. Work off a written meal plan
Do not wing it, guess or estimate anything. Create a meal plan on paper including the food name, serving size or weight, calories, protein, carbs and fat. You can and probably will need to tweak the meal plan over time (see #10), and when you do, make the changes on your written plan and print it out. This is your eating goal for the day. By the way, if you work off a written meal plan, you don’t have to count calories every day – you simply have to weigh and measure your food and follow the meal plan – you already did the counting on paper.
10. Get into a “cybernetic feedback loop” system
I’ve seen people nail all 9 of the first 10 steps and still fall short of getting all the way to a ripped body purely because they screwed up this last step: they failed to pay attention to results, measure results and properly tweak and adjust along the way. They thought the diet they started with would keep working forever.
Every meal plan and training program you create is only a starting point. You must follow it, measure the results every week and then adjust your approach according to your results. This is a feedback loop system, also known as a cybernetic system. Just like a guidance system in a missile or torpedo auto-corrects its course, you must do the same thing to zero-in on “target ripped.”
Your body can adapt to calorie restriction. The leaner you get, the more your body adapts. Energy balance in your body is dynamic. The amount of calories you need may change over time. You may need to eat less three months from now to keep losing fat at the same rate you are today.
Your body adapts to workout programs as well and they become progressively less effective. If you want to keep the progress coming you must have high levels of sensory acuity (pay attention!), measure your results at frequent intervals (weight, body fat, measurements, appearance; measure everything you want to improve), apply progressive overload and change tactics when necessary.
I wish more people would master this step. Some of the smartest people I have ever met – strikingly often, they are engineers or math types – have read my fat burning “bible” Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle and out of ALL the gems and nuggets of information in that fat loss manual, they told me they thought the information on the feedback loop system in chapter 4 was the most valuable info they had ever read about fat loss. (applies to success everywhere else in life too). Like I said, smart people.
Train hard and good luck on your quest to get ripped!