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Bodybuilding is a learning process, and I must say that I learn something new all the time. My most recent epiphany came after years of believing that I had to be chunky in the off-season. Bulking up, I thought, was not just easier in terms of diet, it would also lead to greater gains in the long run. After dieting down to 180 from 230 for the third time, however, I realized that gains don't come from carrying around 50 extra pounds of fat. Not only that, but losing it was pure hell. I had to do 12 hours of cardiovascular work a week for the final 10 weeks of my diet to get shredded.

The clincher came when I observed David Hopkins, a private trainer based in Pasadena, California. He's never more than a month or so from a contest, so he looks great all year. I compared his condition to my own bloated off- season appearance and decided it was time to get leaner and stay leaner. Who's going to notice big muscles if they're covered with a smooth blanket of fat? I started losing fat, and at the same time the weights I used on my squats, bench presses and dead lifts all went up because I continued to work hard.

Until then, I'd honestly thought it was impossible to lose fat and get stronger-without drugs, that is, While I still don't advocate staying very close to contest condition year-round, having your abs clearly visible is a realistic and easily achievable goal. Here's how.

BUT YOUR CARBOHYDRATES

I, like many other beginning bodybuilders, was told that I had to consume enormous quantities of carbohydrates to fuel hard workouts and assist in recovery. It's a lie. I used to force myself to eat huge potatoes and bowls of rice, only to feel bloated, tired-and fat. Even after cutting down the amount I was eating, I realized that I was still taking in too much. It's true that most carbs are fat-free, but whatever your body doesn't use for energy or store as muscle glycogen will be converted to fat and stored.

Here's an easy way to find out how many carbohydrates you really need. Use a little food scale to measure the food you normally eat in a day. Then cut the amount by one-fourth for a week and keep a journal of your energy levels and workouts. My guess is that you won't get any weaker or lose any energy. The next week cut down by another fourth. As long as you feel energetic and stay strong, keep cutting carbs until you find the minimum your body needs. Stick with that amount. Just by cutting the carbs-nothing else-you'll quickly lose a few pounds of fat.

SAVE FATTY FOODS AND SWEETS FOR TREATS ONLY

You don't have to be on a contest diet all of the time. You can eat junk food but only once in a while. A lot of people go out with friends or family on Sundays, so you might make that your day to have one or two desserts, slices of pizza or hamburgers. As long as 95 percent of your meals are clean, you don't have to worry about eating what you want once a week.

EAT CLEAN BUT BE SURE TO SPICE IT UP

Foods like skinless chicken breasts, fish and rice have the reputation of being incredibly bland. No wonder people hate contest diets. You can make your clean food taste as good as junk food, however, if you're willing to go to a little trouble. Try cooking with spices, herbs, peppers and onions. John Romano, of ESPN's "Muscle Meals," is a master of this style of cooking. If your food tastes good, you won't crave the fat and sugar that get most people in dietary trouble.

DO YOUR CARDIO WORK

I admit that I hate cardio. Lifting weights is fun, and cardio work is boring. Still, when you want to get shredded for a contest, you have to do your aerobics first thing in the morning and again at night. To just get leaner, though, all you need is three weekly sessions of 30 minutes each. You can do them after training so you I don't have to make any extra trips to the gym. If you're in a hurry to lose that fat, do a half hour on the days you don't lift too. To make sure you lose fat, not muscle, here are some guidelines:

CONSUME PLENTY OF PROTEINS

Divide your food for the day into six or seven meals, and be sure that each meal contains at least 45 grams of protein. Protein powders can help you reach that imposing figure quite easily. lust read the label and make sure that you're not getting alot of fat and sugar too. I use Parrillo Performance high-protein powder, and there are other good products around.

TRAIN HEAVY

In an effort to cut up, many people mistakenly start doing high reps with lighter weights. Don't do it. Keep using heavy weights and basic exercises or you'll get lean-and small.

KEEP A CURRENT AND UPDATED JOURNAL

By keeping track of your food intake and activities, you'll be able to see how everything affects your physique. If you find yourself losing strength, you can increase your carbs and cut back on your cardio work. As you can see, staying lean is something anyone can do. If you're a recreational bodybuilder, your reward will be your appearance. You'll look good all year, and you'll actually be able to wear tank tops and shorts without feeling like a slob. If you're a competitive bodybuilder, you'll discover that it's a lot easier to diet for your next contest.

As an added bonus, the muscle you build will be that much more apparent. Give it an honest effort, and look awesome all year.




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