In this post I want to share the exact process I used to finally get shredded without being skinny fat. I feel like I’ve unlocked some sort of secret that everyone is looking for. There isn’t really a secret, but here’s what worked for me to finally get lean enough to see my abs and strong enough to lift more than I ever had before.
I struggled with my training and nutrition for years. I couldn’t figure out how much I needed to train or what I needed to eat to reach my goal of getting abs. I’d either train too much and lose muscle mass, or I’d eat too much and get puffier than I wanted. I’d do hundreds of sit ups, but still have a layer of fat over my abs, so they weren’t visible.
When it came to my nutrition, I couldn’t figure out what worked and what didn’t. This meant that I’d read a headline online about “avoid this” or “eat this” and then I’d derail my diet. I couldn’t stick to anything for too long because I didn’t know what I needed to eat!
There wasn’t one bit of information I read or one tip I found that finally made it click. It took me 7+ years of experimenting and doing the wrong thing to finally figure out what worked for me.
I wish I could go back and share this post with my younger self. When I was in college or recently graduated, I had a ton of time to dedicate to fitness but I still couldn’t achieve my goals. If you’re going through the same thing, then this post is for you.
Much of the information available online is tailored towards amateur bodybuilders or overweight adults. I was a pretty fit person already, and I just needed to strip off that last bit of fat and maintain my muscle. My goal wasn’t to compete as a bodybuilder or to lose 20+ pounds of fat, I just wanted to confidentially be able to take my shirt off and have people thing “Wow! That dude is ripped!”
Table of Contents:
- My Diet
- My Training
- My Lifestyle
- tl;dr: Do These Things To Get Shredded
Getting your diet absolutely dialed in is really hard. Especially as a younger person with a social life, it’s easy to get sucked in to eating garbage food. At work, people eat shitty, unhealthy lunches. When you go out to bars for pizza and beer, it’s easy to overeat and gain unwanted fat quickly.
Regardless of how much you train, it’s nearly impossible to out train a bad diet–unless you’re training like 4 hours a day. I never really stuck to a strict diet or nutrition framework and as soon as I did, I realized that 90 percent of the progress I made was due to getting my diet on point.
So here’s my basic framework for what I eat when I want to get shredded: Eat whatever you want as long as you maintain a slight caloric deficit and get 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
Here’s how I go about meeting those goals. I’ve found that the goals themselves are far more important than what you do to accomplish them.
I’ve found that it’s easier to stay in a calorie deficit when you fast for the first few hours of the day. Unlike many intermittent fasters, I don’t adhere to a strict eating window. Rather than eating for 8 hours per day and fasting for 16, I just don’t eat for the first 3-4 hours of the day. So if I wake up at 9am, I won’t eat until noon or 1 PM.
This “fasting” doesn’t inherently make you lose weight, but I find that it makes it easier for me to feel full and satisfied once I do start eating. Eating smaller meals every couple hours was just never satisfying for me. However, if I could eat one or two big feasts per day and feel satisfied and full.
Caloric Deficit & Protein Goal
Staying in a caloric deficit helps you lose weight (and ideally fat). Eating sufficient protein helps you maintain (or even build) muscle while in a deficit.
Most cutting programs aren’t sustainable because they suggest cutting to aggressively. If you’re 20+ pounds overweight, you can sustain these aggressive calorie deficits for longer, but if you’re like me (with less than 10 pounds of fat to lose) it can be very difficult to stick to larger deficits.
I settled on maintaining a daily caloric deficit of around 400 calories, which equates to a weekly calorie deficit of 2800 calories (400 calories x 7 days = 2800 calories per week). To lose one pound of fat, you need to burn 3500 more calories than you consume. So this deficit leads to a weekly fat loss of 0.8 pounds per week. That may seem like a low number, but because I’m looking to sustain my leanness without losing muscle I am totally happy with taking a longterm approach to achieving my goals.
How To Calculate Your Calorie Goal
Typically you can calculate your average daily caloric expenditure by taking your bodyweight times 15. So for a 180 pound male that would look like (180 x 15 = 2700). I used 400 as my caloric deficit goal and got great results. I never felt extremely hungry throughout the day, and I didn’t struggle with my weight loss stagnating at any point.
If you use a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch or FitBit, you can typically figure out how many calories you burn during the day on your device.
Here’s an example day from my Apple Watch. I can find my daily caloric expenditure in the health app on my iPhone.
How To Calculate Your Protein Goal
The optimal amount of protein is a highly debated topic. However, studies show that 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight is a sufficient amount, and consuming more than that doesn’t provide much benefit. So for a 180 pound male, that would be around 148 grams of protein per day.
Tracking Food Intake
Most people are absolutely terrible at estimating how much they eat. I tended to over-estimate the amount of protein I ate, and under-estimate my caloric intake.
To make sure you’re sticking to your calorie and protein goal, you’ll need to track your food intake closely. There are a number of ways you can do this, but here are a few tips to make this as simple as possible: eat the same thing every day, cook your own food, and weigh your food.
Carb Manager App
I use an app on my phone to track my food intake. I’ve tried both MyFitnessPal and Carb Manager to keep track of what I’m eating, and I prefer Carb Manager. You can find common foods on the app, which makes it easy to enter your meals and keep track of how many calories you’ve consumed and how much protein you’re getting.
The most overlooked part of tracking your food intake is a food scale. Without weighing your food, it’s easy to drastically overestimate or underestimate what you’re eating. For example, when you eyeball your intake, “one large chicken breast” could easily vary by more than a few ounces.
Using a food scale makes tracking effortless and then you’ll know for sure what you’re actually eating. I use this OXO Good Grips Food Scale. It’s a more expensive option, but I absolutely love it.
The pull out screen makes it easier to read the weight even with larger dishes that would otherwise cover up the numbers.
My Typical Day of Eating
Here’s what a normal day of eating looks like for me. There is no secret to what I eat, so take this day of eating with a grain of salt. If your caloric needs are less than mine, you’ll need to eat less to get the same results. If I have plans to go out to dinner, I may cut out my snack and late night chocolate just to give myself a buffer with calories.
- Meal 1: (Around Noon or 1pm)
- 3 Fried Eggs
- 8 oz. Greek Yogurt or Cottage Cheese with Fruit
- Snack: (Between 3 and 4 pm)
- 1 Apple or Chobani Greek Yogurt
- Dinner: (Around 7pm)
- 1 pound of Roasted Gold Potatoes -or- ~400 calories of rice
- 10-16 ounces of meat (usually steak, ground bison, or chicken thighs)
- Nighttime Snack: (After dinner, maybe 8:30ish)
- A Big ol’ Chocolate Bar
- (I may substitute cottage cheese/yogurt with fruit if I need to get a little bit more protein for the day)
Vitamins and Supplements
To fully optimize your health and athletic performance, I recommend getting a blood panel done so your doctor can identify any vitamin deficiencies you may have in your diet.
I got my first comprehensive blood panel done a few years ago, and it found that my vitamin D levels were low. Once I started supplementing with Vitamin D, I found that my energy levels improved, my muscle mass increased, and I just felt better. Had I not gotten the blood panel done, I would have had no idea at all that my vitamin D levels were low.
Here are the supplements I take regularly:
I have always loved training, whether that was endurance training or lifting. As a result, going to the gym, going for a bike ride, or going for a run has always been part of my routine.
When I first started training, I could easily get gains. I hadn’t done much weight training so my body responded really quickly to the new stimulus. However, that progress eventually stopped coming and I hit a plateau.
So I continually ramped up my training volume until I was trying to lift heavy 5 or 6 days per week. This just wasn’t sustainable. My body couldn’t recover from the training so I was no longer getting stronger and I felt sluggish most of the time.
At some point in early 2021, I found out about Greg O’Gallagher’s Kinobody. I heard someone on a podcast talking about how he subscribed to Greg’s philosophies about training and diet. So I watched just about every YouTube video on the Kinobody channel, and shortly after things started to click for me.
I was overtraining my body, wasn’t sticking to a nutrition plan, and wasn’t training in a way that aligned with my physique goals. I bought the Kinobody Movie Star Body training plan and stuck to it with near 100 percent adherence.
Here are some of the training principles from the Movie Star Body program that really set it apart:
Lift 3 Days Per Week
I used to be under the impression that with working out, more was always better. I always assumed that the reason I wasn’t jacked was just because I needed to work out more.
However, I actually had the opposite problem. I needed to focus more on getting the “minimum effective dose” versus trying to get the maximum amount of training.
When I dialed back my training volume I got tremendous results. I hadn’t really made consistent gains in forever. But once I started lifting just 3 days per week, I added a bunch of strength in just a few months. I went from a 125 pound one rep max on standing shoulder press to knocking out 5 reps of 135 pounds.
Here is the training split I have used for the past year or so:
- Monday: Shoulders & Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Friday: Chest & Arms
Embrace Progressive Overload
I would say that one of the biggest drivers of the progress I made was tracking my lifts. Prior to finding a program that I stuck to, I would just go to the gym and lift whatever wasn’t too sore. I didn’t know what I had done the week before so I’d do a couple of warm up sets and then just do a weight that felt “heavy”.
Here’s my tip for you, to get stronger and build muscle you need to progressively overload your muscles with more and more weight or more and more reps.
This is the spreadsheet I use to track my lifts every time I go to the gym. Writing down the reps and weight that I use doesn’t guarantee that I’ll make gains every week, but it allows me to know what to shoot for from week to week.
Focus on Shoulders and Upper Chest
I’ve worked through plenty of weight training plans since I started lifting. Many of these programs focus heavily on adding muscle throughout your body. I found that I’d bulk up in a way that didn’t help me get closer to my dream physique. I’d pack on tons of mass in my upper legs, but my shoulders and arms would be stay the same size.
The reason my recent training program has paid off for me is due to its focus on shoulders and upper chest. Developing your shoulders will help create the V-shaped body that people strive for.
Adding weight to your bench press and shoulder press will help make your shoulders wider which will give the illusion of a slimmer waist, even if your waist doesn’t change much.
10k+ Steps Per Day
The biggest factor in getting lean or “shredded” is maintaining a caloric deficit. So your diet needs to be dialed in if you want to continuously lose fat. However, there is another path to creating a caloric deficit – your activity levels throughout the day. The more active you are, the more calories you burn and the bigger deficit you create.
I walk at least 10,000 steps every day. This comes though my daily activities like going to the store or running errands, and then through a longer walk or two. I enjoy going for walks and listening to audiobooks or podcasts.
10,000 steps typically works out to be about 5 miles for me. I find that I can walk almost endlessly without getting spikes in my hunger. I can’t say the same thing about running. I find that if I do cardio like running or HIIT training, my appetite will spike later in the day.
Track Your Progress
The first thing I do in the mornings is use the bathroom and then weigh myself. I just got a Withings Body+ Smart Scale that gives me my weight, my body fat percentage, my lean body mass, and my hydration level. I love being able to track my weight and body composition on my phone.
I weigh myself at the same time every day. I don’t pay much attention to my weight changes on a day-to-day basis, but I will look at trends over weeks and months. If I notice that my weight or body fat percentage is trending in the wrong direction, I’ll reduce my calories or focus on improving my tracking until things start going in the right direction.
Prioritize High-Quality Sleep
Sleep has the power to completely transform your wellbeing and athletic performance.
I covered the importance of sleep in my recent post about The 5 Pillars of Health. When you’re well-rested, it’s much easier to stick to your caloric deficit and your muscle growth will come more quickly.
I’ve slept with a sleep mask for a couple of years now. It helps block out outside light, if my curtains aren’t doing the trick or if I’m sleeping in a hotel room that won’t get dark enough.
I have this sleep mask by MZOO. It’s nicely padded and doesn’t get too hot or sweaty like some of the other sleep masks I’ve tried.
White Noise Machine
I was on a vacation in New York recently and my hotel room had a white noise machine to help drown out the sound of the city.
I recently purchased this SNOOZ white noise sound machine. It’s synced to my phone so it turns on automatically at night when I go to bed. This white noise machine also uses an actual fan rather than a recorded noise, which helps prevent any annoying repetitive loops.
Limit Alcohol Intake
One thing that holds a lot of people back is our culture around drinking. It can seem normal to go out a couple nights per week to get beers with your friends, or to have a couple glasses of wine at night to wind down. And while a couple drinks every so often isn’t a huge deal, if you want to get absolutely shredded alcohol isn’t helping you.
I’ve found that when I avoid drinking my sleep quality is much better, I have more energy throughout the day, and I’m less likely to get drunk and eat shitty food.
One of the strategies I used to minimize my drinking was to replace alcoholic drinks with sparkling water. It gives you something to sip on while your friends are drinking, and can help make you feel fuller even while in a deficit.
Avoid Wasting Time Watching TV
I work in marketing, so my work day is spent sitting at a desk, staring at a screen. After I’m done with my work for the day, the last thing I want to do is stare at more screens. Also, watching television is inherently sedentary. If your goal is to maintain a caloric deficit, you’ll have an easier time if you find more ways to move throughout your day.
Rather than plopping down on the couch to binge watch half a season of a Netflix show, I’ve started listening to podcasts or audiobooks. I’ll put in my AirPods, queue up some podcasts and keep moving. For example, I can cook while listening or just go for walks (which I now love).
Here’s another tip for burning calories and getting active: Put on some of your favorite music and dance. It will make you smile, and if you’re in your own house no one is looking so you can bust out your weirdest, goofiest dance moves.
tl;dr: Do These Things To Get Shredded
To get shredded, you need to:
- Maintain a caloric deficit over an extended period of time. (start with 15x your bodyweight in pounds minus a 400 calorie deficit)
- Hit your daily protein goal. (Aim for 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight per day)
- Lift heavy a few days per week. (If your goal is a killer physique, focus on upper chest and shoulders)
- Track your progress. (Get a scale to track your weight. Use a spreadsheet to track your lifts.)
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