A consensus has arisen within the bodybuilding world over the past twenty years regarding the exact modes and procedures needed to become lean as humanly possible while retaining muscle mass. Across the nation and the world, bodybuilders are lifting weights, hitting aerobics and eating with discipline in order to melt body fat. While they might quibble over the content of the workout or the food selections, perhaps they'd argue over what was the superior cardio mode, what they wouldn't argue about was the overall procedures.
The flat-out fact is that a radically lowered body fat percentage can be obtained by anyone who has maniacal discipline: they need to lift weights like a labor camp detainee and blast away at metabolism-elevating cardio with Big Ben regularity. They preplan every bite they eat. If you are that in control of self, environment and life-circumstance and can exert the requisite discipline and denial, you too can achieve a super-low body fat percentile. It requires that eating, exercise and rest are in perfect symmetrical proportion.
The procedures bodybuilders use to lose fat are the absolute best and most effective if the stated goal is to reduce body fat and retain or actually add muscle. To win at bodybuilding above all else, you must be lean. If you are not lean you are damned to nothingness and unless you posses less than a 10% body fat percentile (for a man) don't even consider entering a local meet ? you'd get blown into the weeds. In the bodybuilding world, it's assumed everyone will be lean ? otherwise they wouldn't be there ? the winners are determined by symmetry and muscle mass.
So how do all these bodybuilders routinely acquire 3-9% body fat percentiles ? a degree of condition unreachable for all but the elite 25-years ago? It was a confluence of events. The fall of the Iron Curtain allowed all that bottled up information about training to filter westward: this was the start of the information revolution that culminated with the advent to the internet. A leanness quantum leap occurred when bodybuilders began systematically including cardio in the training regimen. It had been assumed cardio would 'tear muscle down' but in fact cardio not only burned extra calories but improved endurance thereby allowing the athletes to train harder, longer, more often. Aerobics resulted in a huge across-the-board improvement as intense cardio burns calories and the metabolism remains elevated hours afterward. Cardio timing tricks improved results.
Bodybuilders began using powerlifter training tactics to grow larger. When the bodybuilders began increasing calories to support the intense training and newly added cardio, a funny thing occurred: they didn't get fat. They got larger. They got more muscular. Incongruously they also became leaner. They discovered that they could eat lots of calories as long as the calories were derived from approved food sources. The caloric consumption was spread over multiple meals eaten at even time intervals throughout the day. The top pros were eating 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day to support 270 to 320 pounds of "off-season" muscle mass. Dorian Yates told me he would whittle from 300-pounds to a contest ripped 260-pounds by imperceptibly reducing his calories from 6,000 a day to 3,500. He reduced gradually, taking 12-weeks to peak. If he dipped below 3,500 calories, hard-earned muscle would evaporate. At 290 Dorian could walk his twin Dobermans at top speed and achieve an 80% age-related heart rate. He was famous for lifting bar-bending poundage yet his food selections were surprisingly 'normal'
Typical daily meal schedule ? pre-competition phase
3,500 calories ? 50% - 55% carbs, 30% protein, 15% - 20% fat
Meal 1 500 grams oatmeal, 6 egg whites, 2 yolks, 2 slices whole wheat toast, banana
Meal 2 mid-morning 40-grams of protein (powder mixed with water), 300-grams potato
Meal 3 200 grams chicken breast, 100 grams rice, 100 grams mixed vegetables
Meal 4 40 grams of protein, banana
Meal 5 post-workout 70 grams of carbohydrate powder, 30 grams of protein powder
Meal 6 200 grams of extra lean beef, 300 grams baked potato, 200 grams broccoli
Meal 7 40 grams of protein powder, 50 grams oatmeal
This is Dorian's pre-competition cut diet (eating at his strictest) yet this menu seems hardly inhumane. The key is the type of foods, the timing of ingestion and the mixing of the various foods together. Everything within the diet is selected and prepared and placed for a specific reason.
For example; the first meal of the day is delayed until he completes his early morning cardio session. Glycogen, low coming off the sleep/fast cycle, exhausts itself and at that point body fat is mobilized to fuel the aerobic session. Once the cardio session is complete he replenishes depleted carb stores to curtail controlled catabolism. Throughout the day at equal time intervals he eats. Every two to three hours he refuels in some manner or fashion. He establishes and maintains continual anabolism. The meals are comprised of a protein portion, a fiber carb portion and a portion of starchy carbs. Fiber retards insulin released by starch carbs ? protein does also to a lesser degree.
Dorian kept his fat consumption to a realistic (for a pro bodybuilder) 15 to 20% of total calories. He would train in the afternoon and as soon as his brutal training session was over he would re-supply his body with exactly what it needed in the form of a protein/carb shake. He wanted to retain as much of his awesome muscle mass as possible and not consume a single calorie more than necessary to do that! By hovering at the caloric balance point and using the caloric cost of exercise to create a negative energy balance, fat was systematically burned to cover caloric shortfall. He would keep this methodical regimentation up for 12 straight weeks, every single day, without a single break. In order to have his body fat level down to 2-3% on the day of competition, he would maintain a decent number of calories in the face of dramatically increased physical activity: more cardio, more lifting, longer session with poundage designed to etch and shape final muscular detail ? the bulk building phase ended months ago.
This is all about melting the last vestiges of fat off the body without destroying mass. The razors edge. No room for error or momentary lapses in discipline ? at this levels those who lapse end up 17th. He fuels himself with food throughout the day: he still eats fruit and beef and potatoes. Hardly gulag fare?this approach works: as attested by bodybuilders everywhere who are obtaining sub-10% body fat percentiles on a widespread basis using a similar template to the one used be The Diesel.
If you have the circumstance and the discipline, a mild version of this rigid approach might work wonders.
Marty Gallagher is a former fitness columnist for washingtonpost.com. He is also a former national and world champion powerlifter. Marty's articles have been featured in Muscle Media, Muscle & Fitness, and Powerlifting USA magazines. His website is martygallagher.com
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