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. What I did not reveal was how I got stuck in a forever bulk cycle for a few years afterwards.
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 foods becomes such an enjoyable habit that these guys end up in a perpetual state of dirty bulking. They come to identify themselves with the bulky monsters they have become 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.
I used the IIFYM Calculator, and entered my stats into the calculator:
Current weight: 220 lbs
Goal weight: 170 lbs
Daily level of activity: Sedentary
Exercise output: 6 days/week @ 90 minutes per workout (including cardio)
Exercise intensity: Moderate
Goal: Lose weight at -20% caloric deficit
Using the info above, the calculator determined that my daily caloric intake would be 2233.
The next step was to calculate the macronutrient breakdown of these calories. I decided my macros would be:
Protein: 180 grams
Fat: 79 grams
Carbs: 200 grams
The macro breakdown is something you’ll have to experiment with yourself. I chose 180g of protein because I figured that was the most lean body mass I had (20% bodyfat at 220 lbs = lean body mass of 175-180 lbs), and an ideal amount of protein when cutting is 1 gram per pound of lean body mass; I also wanted to have as many carbs as I can so I would have enough energy to fuel my workouts.
After installing MyFitnessPal on my phone, I used its Goal feature to make sure my macros matched the number of calories I was planning on eating.
Now that I had an idea of what my macros were, I can now select what foods to eat.
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.
In order to do this, I used my macros to determine what foods I would need, and how much. This is how I did it:
Getting my carbs:
My carb goal for the day was 200 grams, so in order to meet that requirement, I decided to stick with rice. Rice is easy to measure on a scale, making it simple to prep my meals for the day.
A serving of rice is 45 grams (1/4 cup raw), which gives me 36 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein and 160 calories.
To reach my carb goal of 200 grams a day, I did the following calculations:
200 ÷ 36 = 5.5 servings of rice required per day
5.5 × 45 grams = 247.5 grams
So I would need to eat 247.5 grams (approximately 1.4 cups) of uncooked rice (I always measure out my food in its raw state before cooking).
200 grams of carbs from rice gives me 896 calories and 22 grams of protein.
Besides the starchy carbs from rice, I wanted to include some broccoli to add some fiber, helping me to delay digestion time to keep me fuller throughout the day and thus, preventing me from overeating. At costco, I got 500g bags of broccoli florets and ate half a bag per day which = 250 grams.
250 grams of broccoli gave me 74 calories, 12g carbs, and 6g protien.
Both rice and broccoli combined gave me a total of 970 calories, 214g carbs, and 28g protein. This exceeded my goal of 200g carbs, but it wasn’t a big enough difference to worry about.
Getting my fats and protein:
I needed approximately 180 grams of protein per day.
My meat of choice was red meat in the form of lean ground beef and sirloin steak. I chose red meat because the fat content delayed digestion time, keeping me fuller throughout the day. If I had chosen fish or chicken breast, I would have been hungry soon after eating my meals, causing me to overeat. I could always add some avocado to my white meat, but I wanted to keep my diet as simple as possible, so I leaned towards red meat because it already contained naturally-occuring fats, allowing me to minimize my shopping list. Also, red meat just tastes better and it’s good for you (yes that’s right, red meat is good for you… look it up!).
I decided I would consume 450 grams (1 lb) of lean ground beef, and 142 grams (5 oz) of sirloin steak per day, which totaled to 120g protein, 88g fat, and 1210 calories.
When combining the macros from the rice, broccoli, lean ground beef, and steak, I ended up with a total of 2180 calories, 214g carbs, 88g fat, and 148g protein. Having already reached my carb and fat intake, I still had 32 grams of protein left to add in.
I decided to fill in the rest of my protein requirements with supplements.
As scoop (30g) of New Zealand whey protein isolate gives me 27g of protein at 108 calories.
Putting it all together:
Putting all of the above food together, I totaled 2288 calories, 214g carbs, 88g fat, and 175g protein.
The numbers don’t exactly match my pre-determined goals, but it’s close enough. If I were to get too fat too fast, I would reduce my calories accordingly.
For meal prep, I would spread the food out evenly throughout the day, so my meals would look like this:
To my surprise, eating 2233-2288 calories from these foods kept me quite full throughout the the day–fuller than when I was eating 3000-4000 calories from fast food. I could also still enjoy my cookies as long as I could fit it under my macros.
Training Like A Bodybuilder
Throughout my years of lifting and dirty bulking, I had followed basic strength training programs like Starting Strength, Madcow 5×5 and 5/3/1. These programs focused on building strength, while keeping reps around the 5-10 range. Living off a surplus of calories from fast food and junk allowed me to thrive off of these training programs, helping me to build a decent foundation of strength and muscle.
While in my new caloric deficit, I thought I could continue training for strength as long as I started light again and worked my way back up to new personal records. I always heard of people getting stronger on a deficit and I thought I would be one of them, but I was wrong. Eating 2233-2288 cals a day was not enough for me to get stronger. I now knew why most bodybuilders did not train like powerlifters when prepping for a show. There simply isn’t enough energy to make strength gains from.
I had even heard of powerbuilders–people who trained like powerlifters, but were as shredded as bodybuilders. I tried the whole powerbuilding thing myself, and realized that I could not prioritize both strength and aesthetics at the same time. If I wanted to be strong, I would have to stay big, and if I wanted to be lean, I would have to sacrifice some strength.
After months of struggling to maintain my 5RM’s while losing weight, I finally decided to stop messing around and focus solely on getting ripped with no regard to how it would affect my strength. I figured my numbers weren’t that impressive anyway so struggling for another 5 pounds on the bar was a waste of my time and effort. Instead of focusing on my 5RM, I started training in the 10-15 rep range and sometimes even 15-20 depending on the exercise. I would occasionally go heavy in the 5-8 rep range if I was feeling particularly strong that day, but the bulk of my training at this point involved higher reps. I was essentially training for the pump, which I always thought was silly as a strength training enthusiast.
I no longer followed a strict powerlifting program based on percentages, specific rep/set protocols and exercises. Instead, I followed a flexible training schedule that resembles a bodybuilding split. I would have a general idea of what muscle groups I was going to train throughout the week, but my choice in exercise and weight would vary depending on how creative and strong I was feeling that day.
Unlike my dirty bulking days when I would train exclusively with barbells, most of my training now consisted of dumbbells, cables and machines, allowing me to train my muscles from different angles, and with varying forms of tension and ranges of motion. I still focused on compound movements, but I performed many variations of them instead of sticking to their traditional forms. I also incorporated super sets, giant sets, drop sets, and all different kinds of sets.
Of course, I still aimed for some form of progression–whether it be getting stronger in the higher rep ranges, or having less rest between sets, I always tried to improve my performance in one way or another that didn’t involve attempting 1-5 rep maxes. Once in a while I would work up to a challenging set of 5 reps, but the majority of my workout involved high reps. Doing this allowed me to have some performance-based goals while still having fun in the weight room.
Throughout my entire life, I always avoided cardio like the plague. I tried to trick myself into it a few times by doing some strongman training and by even doing some metcons, but traditional cardio was something I never wanted to consider.
After a few months of tracking my macros and lifting hard, I finally hit a plateau in my weight loss. I didn’t like the idea of eating less food, so I decided that burning extra calories via the “c” word would keep progress going. Still, I didn’t want to do traditional cardio. Jogging sounded like the most boring and tiring thing in the world and I would have tried any other alternative.
I thought I could throw in a few interval training workouts after my lifting sessions, but being at a caloric deficit left me with no energy left to do so. By the end of my lifting sessions, I was so tired I couldn’t even go for a jog, let alone do interval training. So instead, I began walking on an incline treadmill, maintaining a challenging pace for 20-30 minutes. I did this twice a week after lifting and I continued to lose weight at a steady rate.
As my body became more efficient at the activity, I would increase the incline and the pace. I also increased the frequency to 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!