I’ve spent the last 16 weeks dieting from 82.5kg to 74kg, to drop a weight category for powerlifting. I hired Eric Helms from 3DMJ who handled my macros and training plan. This is easily the leanest I’ve been when compared with my initial transformation. I did zero cardio and mostly retained strength throughout, improving my Wilks coefficient.
Below is my progress, some lessons learned, and tips on how you can diet into single digits without losing your sanity.
1) You’re probably fatter than you think
I had visible abs at the beginning of the diet at 82kg, thinking I was only a couple of kilos off being shredded.
I was wrong – it took 8-9kg weight loss to go from ‘quite lean’ to ‘shredded’. To get stage-ready would be another couple of kilos, but would have involved strength & libido loss in addition to dehydration.
Here’s a time-lapse video of 5 years of weekly photos including this diet.
Lesson: Expect that you’ll need to lose more weight than anticipated.
2) Avoid going gung-ho on the calorie deficit and cardio.
My average daily intake was 2200kcal = maintenance minus 500kcal. This equates to a 3500kcal deficit per week and approximately 400g/week weight loss
A more extreme deficit than this is
a) more likely to cause a blowout,
b) more likely to cause a cascade of catabolic hormonal changes
c) less likely to preserve muscle and strength.
Lesson: Aim for a maximum 500g weight loss per week. Even less if you’re in no rush.
3) You’re in for the long haul. What’s the rush?
So you want to get ripped in 4 weeks.. but you’ve survived this far.
Look back over the last 6 months of your life. Has your body composition changed drastically? If it has, then you’ll have an appreciation for the fact that progress is about the aggregate of small weekly increments.
If you’ve looked much the same over the last 6 months, then what’s the rush to suddenly get lean in 30 days?
4) Train 3x/week, high intensity, low-moderate volume
If you’ve read the Propane Protocol, you’ll be doing this anyway. The reason here is that your calorie deficit will take care of the fat loss. The purpose of your training is purely to maintain (or gain) strength. You’ll need every bit of your limited recovery capacity to ensure this. A good training (and nutritional) approach would be the Propane Protocol.
A proponent of this approach is Martin Berkhan, whose clients commonly gain or maintain strength well into single digit bodyfat.
The higher bodyfat you are, the more training volume and cardio you can tolerate without harming performance.
I did a 5/3/1 template, which is simple and doesn’t require too much thinking, so it can blend into the background.
5) It’s not complicated
Sorry fitness industry.. but getting lean is not complicated:
– Set sensible inputs (500kcal calorie deficit, moderate volume, low frequency training program, sufficient protein)
– Stick to the program for as long as necessary
– Reap the outputs
6) Track your macros, strength, and daily morning bodyweight.
Tracking is incredibly useful – you’re building a database to enable you to effectively manipulate variables observe the feedback. If you don’t do this, you’re farting around in the dark. If you think you can wing it, and that tracking is too much effort, consider taking up knitting.
7) Hire someone: Objectivity is paramount
Eric is a great coach – not because he gave me the secret magical mystical macros, but for accountability. Outsource the objective decision making so you’re not second guessing yourself and making stupid decisions when progress appears to stall in a given week. HUGE shout out to him and the guys from 3DMJ, they really put your best interests at heart and have a wealth of experience. They taught me to put aside you want in the short term and direct your resources to what is best for you long-term.
Lesson: Hire someone for objectivity and peace of mind. It doesn’t have to be us, but we’re pretty good!
8) Eat high volume, low calorie density meals
Check this article for a comprehensive list of high volume meals that are low in calories.
Recent favourites have been silverhydra’s meat slop, frozen angel delight with quark and whey, mushroom soup, cauliflower rice. These will be lifesavers when the real hunger sets in. I’m currently eating almost 1kg cauliflower per day just because I can.
Prioritise hitting your macros above all else. Forget meal frequency, food choices etc. – just whatever fits your lifestyle. Intermittent fasting, backloading, ADF, standing on your head and counting sheep? Whatever floats your boat – just remember what really matters.
It’s useful to always have rice cakes, whey and cheese/dark chocolate lying around so you can make up your remaining macros at the end of the day.
Hey, it’s just advice y’all. Despite what I’ve written, I know some people will read the above and think ‘pffft, lose 500g/week? fuck that, I’ll just cut out carbs, eat 1000kcal per day and I’ll be shredded in no time”. Good luck with that..