So you’ve spent the past few years lifting heavy and stuffing your face with cheeseburgers and pizza. You’ve gained a good amount of muscle and strength, but you also look like shit. Now that it’s time to lean out, how do you do it?
If you have read my guide to dirty bulking, you will see how I successfully bloated up from a scrawny 165 lbs to a bulky 220 lbs.
A lot of trainees start dirty bulking with the intention of doing it for a short period of time to gain weight quickly, following it with a cutting phase that involves eating clean in order to lean out. Unfortunately, enjoying dirty food becomes such an enjoyable habit that these guys end up in a perpetual state of dirty bulking and the thought of getting ripped no longer appeals to them. I was one of these guys.
After I reached the peak of my dirty bulk, I decided I didn’t want to lean out because not only did that mean I would get smaller and possibly weaker, but it also meant I would have to watch my diet. After a few years of being stuck at 220 lbs with a bodyfat percentage of over 20%, I finally decided to lean out just so I can see how much muscle I really had.
In under 12 months, I managed to lose 50 lbs, weighing in at 170 lbs at around 10% bodyfat.
Here are a few things I changed in my training and diet that help me get ripped:
Counting My Macros and Tracking Calories
Prior to cutting, I must have been consuming over 3000-4000 cals a day in the form of cookies, burgers, nachos and pizza. The only macro I counted was protein, and that was only when I had a scoop of whey. In order to lose weight, I knew I had to have a clear idea of how many calories I would need to consume, and what the macronutrient breakdown would have to be.
The first thing I did was calculate how many calories I would need to consume in order to lose weight. To do this, I first needed to calculate my basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy the body burns on a daily basis at rest (not including exercise).
Here is the formula I used:
- Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) — (6.8 x age)
- Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.7 x height in cm) — (4.7 x age)
In my example, as a 29-year-old male at a height of 5’7″ (170 cm) and a bodyweight of 220 pounds (99 kg), I used the BMR formula as follows:
- BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 99) + (5 x 170) — (6.8 x 29)
- BMR = 66 + 1356 + 850 — 197
- BMR = 2075 calories
This means I would be burning 2075 calories in a day while doing nothing.
The next step was to calculate how many calories I actually burned including exercise. This is known as Daily Energy Expenditure (DEE). This is calculated by multiplying your BMR by an “activity” factor:
- 1.2 = Sedentary (Desk job, and Little Formal Exercise)
- 1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (Light daily activity AND light exercise 1-3 days a week)
- 1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (Moderately daily Activity & Moderate exercise 3-5 days a week)
- 1.7-1.8 = Very Active (Physically demanding lifestyle & Hard exercise 6-7 days a week)
- 1.9-2.2 = Extremely Active (Athlete in ENDURANCE training or VERY HARD physical job)
In my example, I was training around 5 days a week, so I multiplied my BMR by an activity factor of 1.6.
DEE: 2075 x 1.6 = 3320 calories
So this means in order for me to maintain my current bodyweight, I would need to consume 3320 calories. Since my goal was to lose weight, I needed to be in a caloric deficit. The recommended deficit is 10-20%, so I subtracted 20% from my maintenance calories.
3320-20% = 2656 calories
So in order for me to lose weight at a 20% caloric deficit, I would need to consume 2656 calories.
The next step was to calculate the macronutrient breakdown of these calories. To do this, I first determined how much protein and fat I would need, and then I filled in the rest of my calories with carbs.
To determine my daily protein requirements, I used the following formula:
- Moderate bodyfat, Moderate training load, moderate calorie = 2.0-2.5g per lean kg weight (about 0.9-1.2g per pound)
- Low bodyfat or Very Low Calorie, Low Carb, High training load = 2.2-3g per lean kg weight (1.0-1.3g per pound)
- High bodyfat, high calorie, Low training load = 1.6 to 2.2g per lean kg weight (.75-1g per pound)
In my example, I was a at a high bodyfat percentage, so I multiplied my bodyweight (220 lbs) by 0.8
Protein: 220 x 0.8 = 176 grams
This means I would need to consume 176 grams of protein per day.
The next step was to calculate my fat intake by using the following formula:
- Average or low bodyfat: 1-1.5g fat/ kg body weight [between 0.4-0.7g total weight/ pounds]. But up to 2g/kg might be needed.
- High bodyfat: 1-1.5g fat/ Kg LEAN weight [between 0.4-0.7g LEAN weight/ pounds]. But up to 2g/ kg lean might be needed.
- Low cal dieting: You can decrease further, but as a minimum, I would not suggest LESS than about 0.30g/ pound.
In my example, at a high bodyfat percentage of around 20%, my estimated lean body mass was 176 lbs (220 – 20%). Using the above formula, my fat intake would be:
176 x 0.5 = 88 grams
So this means I would need 88 grams of fat per day.
The final step was to fill in the rest of my calories with carbs. In order to do this, I first needed to calculate how many calories I was getting from protein and fat:
Protein = 4 calories per gram (4 x 176 = 704 calories)
Fat = 9 calories per gram (9 x 88 = 792 calories)
Adding up the calories from protein and fat: 704 + 792 = 1496 calories
So to determine how many calories I had left to fill in, I subtracted my caloric need (2656 calories) by the sum of protein + fat (1496 calories):
2656 – 1496 = 1160 calories worth of carbs to fill in.
Carbs = 4 calories per gram (1160 ÷ 4 = 290 grams)
According to my calculations, I would need 290 grams of carbs to reach my daily caloric goal of 2656 calories.
Putting It All Together
To sum it up, in order to lose weight, my calories and macros were to be as follows:
Now that I had an idea of what my macros were, it was now time to determine what foods to use.
Cooking and Prepping My Own Meals
Living off fast food for the past few years had left me clueless on how to cook my own meals. I figured that prepping my own meals would give me greater control over my caloric and macronutrient intake; so after investing in a food scale, I began cooking my own meals, measuring all of my food, and logging it all into MyFitnessPal to make sure my diet stayed consistent.
I wanted to keep my diet as simple as possible. Simplicity is key to a sustainable diet, so I stuck to a short grocery list to ensure that meal prep would be easy.
This is how I did it:
Getting my carbs:
My carb goal for the day was 290 grams, so in order to meet that requirement, I decided to use rice. Rice is easy to measure on a scale, making it simple to prep my meals for the day. I chose basmati rice because I prefer its texture over the other rices.
For vegetables, I included 250 grams of kale salad mix for the day.
The rice and kale totals to 281 grams of carbs, leaving me with 10 grams of carbs left for the day, which would be filled in later on with the protein/fat food sources.
Getting My Protein and Fat
I chose a pound of lean ground beef as my main source of protein for the day along with 250 grams of liquid egg whites and a scoop of protein powder. I used ground beef because it contains enough naturally-occurring fats to help me reach my daily fat intake. It also tastes great.
The beef, eggs, and whey totaled to 139 grams of protein + the 34 grams of protein from the carb sources added up to 173 grams, which was close enough to my daily goal of 176 grams.
Putting It All Together
My carbs and protein/fat sources for the day looked like this:
You can see that although I didn’t hit my exact numbers, it came close enough.
From there, I split the food into several meals depending on my schedule for the day. There were days where I split all the food into two large meals, and days where I would split it into 3-4 meals. Meal frequency wasn’t a big deal for me as long as I ate all of my food by the end of the day.
A typical meal split looked like this:
Of course, there were times where I craved junk foods. Whenever I included junk into the diet, I simply replaced the calories from rice with whatever junk food I wanted to have.
For example, if I wanted to have 9 oreo cookies (480 calories), I would take 480 calories out from the rice.
After adjusting my rice intake to make space for the oreos, I was still able to stay within my caloric budget. Making room for fun foods like cookies, chips and ice cream made the diet a lot more sustainable because I didn’t have to fight any cravings. I was still able to enjoy my junk food throughout the fat loss process.
I continued to lift weights just as I did before, but with my priority now being conditioning rather than strength and hypertrophy, my lifts suffered. I eventually gave up on focusing on my numbers and transitioned to more of a traditional bodybuilding split. Prior to this, I was following 5×5 programs and 5/3/1.
I occasionally worked up to a challenging set of 5 reps on the main lifts, but the goal was no longer about making PR’s–but rather, maintaining a reasonable amount of strength throughout the weight loss.
As long as I was able to maintain the following benchmarks, I was happy:
Squat: 315 lbs
Bench: 225 lbs
Deadlift: 405 lbs
Press: 135 lbs
Throughout my weight loss phase, I was able to maintain these numbers, performing them for reps, which was good enough for me.
Besides the occasional 5RM attempt, the bulk of my training consisted of higher reps (15-20) and chasing the pump. I increased my lifting frequency to 6-7 days a week while adjusting the volume and intensity accordingly. I was essentially doing a push/pull/arms/legs split, but taking more of an intuitive approach.
Throughout my entire life, I always avoided cardio like the plague. Luckily for fat dirty bulkers like us who never stepped foot on a treadmill before, any amount of cardio will elicit enough of a response to accelerate fat loss during a cutting phase. I started off with a minimum amount of cardio and increased it gradually as my body adapted to the activity. I still hated cardio, but I knew it was a necessary evil in my quest for six pack abs.
Immediately after I finished lifting, I stepped onto the treadmill and walked on an incline while maintaining a challenging pace for 20 minutes. I did this twice a week until my weight loss hit a plateau. As my body became more efficient at the activity, I would increase the incline and the pace. As my body got in better shape, I eventually had to increase the frequency.
I worked my way up to doing treadmill waking 3-5 times a week. To my surprise, doing this not only helped me get leaner faster, but I was also recovering from my workouts quicker. Even though I was just walking, the increased performance on the treadmill improved my conditioning. After a few more weeks, I was in such better shape that I was actually able to start incorporating some jogging and sprinting into my cardio.
Putting It All Together
My methods for getting lean are nothing new. Some lifters may have different experiences regarding the training and diet, but it pretty much comes down to these three points:
- Eat well
- Lift hard
- Walk often
There are also other things that contribute to weight loss success–factors such as sleep and stress management are very important when improving body composition, so to be sure to watch out for those too!