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.

Video version:

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.

9kg weight loss, Oct 2013-Feb 2014
9kg weight loss, 12 weeks


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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 14.53.04
74kg… do I even lift

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 12.47.25
Banana angel delight and quark. Per tub = 25C 19P 2F. can add whey to boost the prote, or zero calorie jelly for volume

Recent favourites have been silverhydra’s meat slop, frozen angel delight with quark and whey, mushroom soup, cauliflower rice. . I’m currently eating almost 1kg cauliflower per day just because I can.

Meat slop. Versatile, low calorie, high protein, and better than it sounds!
Meat slop. Versatile, low calorie, high protein, and better than it sounds!


9) Hit your macros

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.

If you’ve read this site for a while, you’ll be aware of the trap of eating uncontrolled calories of ‘clean’ foods, so we’re preaching to the converted.
If you’ve read this site for a while, you’ll be aware of the trap of eating uncontrolled calories of ‘clean’ foods.

Caveat lector

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..

“PropaneFitness don’t know what they’re on about. I’ll just stop eating carbs and do 2 hours of cardio per day”. Good luck with that..

16 replies on “How to diet to single-digit bodyfat”

Awesome results, Yusef! Did you still follow the nutrition laid out in the propane protocol? For example, did you keep fat and carbs separated, cycle carbs, and stick to 2-3 meals a day? How much of a difference do you think this makes?

It seems 3DMJ is more into flexible dieting and doesn’t seem to care too much about meal frequency and timing.


Cheers Zach :)

I followed a similar layout to the Protocol in principle, but not the specific macros. The Protocol would produce similar results with a little customisation as things progress. 3 meals per day was ideal in terms of adherence for me, otherwise the hunger would become a bit excessive. Separating fat and carbs is likely to make the least difference out of meal frequency, macronutrients and total energy balance.

Did you cycle carbs and/or calories throughout the week? Did you practice any fasting? Last question I promise:) Did you only consume carbs in the post-workout period as laid out in the propane protocol.

Thanks again!

Really sound advice.
I struggled with shifting timber for cycling for about 2 years, falling into the trap of cutting carbs and eating f-a Cal’s, and surprise surprise it never worked.
A moderate cal defecit and eating cleaner macros to fuel the workout and managed to lose 5kg.
Well done on the cut… Looking great!

[…] There has to be a degree of pain and frustration here. The more comfortable you are with your current state, the more able you are to rationalise away the fact you haven’t hit the goal. You convince yourself it was never really that important anyway, and you’re just fine the way you are. Self-acceptance is great, but it’s not going to help me pass my exam. And it won’t help you hit single digit bodyfat. […]

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