Sustainable Life Cutting; How to get lean and reduce body fat in a healthy way
1) Start with your "Why"
Why do you want to get lean? Your reason might be obvious, but without a strong desire for change, the process of slowing changing your body composition will be excruciatingly more difficult.
- Experience what it takes to cut body fat.
- Look leaner, more defined.
- Start my bulking phase from a lower body fat % (post on "Sustainable Life Bulking" coming soon...)
2) Assess yourself
Determining where you are at the beginning of this journey will allow you to set reasonable goals, validate the effectiveness of your cutting methods, and quantify the progress you make. There are a few things you'll want to record at the beginning:
Body fat percentage: 14%
There are numerous methods that measure or estimate body fat percentage and they range from free to very expensive, and less accurate to more accurate. Generally, the more expensive methods are more accurate, so choose a method based on how important it is for you to have an accurate measurement.
I estimate my body fat % with multiple different methods, but I never assume any method is accurate. Each method has it's own range of error.
I recommend using a cloth/flexible tape to record girth measurements, here's the tape I use:
A) Navy girth body fat % estimate (easiest)
Click here to access the US Navy body fat calculator.
Neck girth: 14.5"
Waist girth: 32"
Enter values into calculator:
Click here to access the US Navy body fat calculator.
B) Skin fold estimate (more difficult)
Pics coming soon...
Body weight: 177 lbs
Step on a scale! Some tips to get a more reliable reading:
- Weigh yourself first thing in the morning before eating or drinking.
- Evacuate your bowels and bladder before weighing.
- Don't weigh yourself after strenuous physical activity (water loss through perspiration).
Here's the scale I use:
Although this might not be the most clinically accurate scale, it's a solid blend of effective, attractive, and affordable. I tuck the scale under the bathroom sink and pull it out once a week to weigh myself. A scale often conjures negative feelings, nevertheless, I believe that a scale, used prudently, is the best way to track fitness goals especially if you're into hitting measurable goals.
We see ourselves all of the time, so it's very difficult to see the visual transformation our bodies undergo. Snapping some photos to compare side-by-side at the end of your cut will provide amazing evidence of your success.
Pics coming soon...
- Choose clothing that reveals your waist
- Use a plain background, like a white wall.
- Make sure the lighting in the room is bright and even, shadows at different angles can make a huge difference.
3) Estimate your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate)
Resting metabolic rate is the energy (kcal) your body uses while resting. I could get really technical and include a lot of equations, but there is a great RMR calculator here and I use it below for a visual example, but forget that, we're going to use a mobile app to track our food that will also estimate our RMR for us using the same equation (MyFitness Pal).
***Download "MyFitness Pal" in your mobile device's app store, theres also a web app.
Here's a line from the blog of MFP:
"Equations have been developed to estimate BMR and RMR when testing is not practical. We use the Harris-Benedict equation for BMR, and the Mifflin equation for RMR."
Why is RMR important?
In order to lose body fat, we need to create a consistent calorie deficit (i.e. intake less calories than our body uses in a day or week). When our body is in a calorie deficit, it uses it's fat stores to supplement and make up for the difference, this is exactly the situation we want to induce, day after day.
Once we estimate our RMR, the idea is to account for additional calories on top of that for energy expenditure related to physical activity, remember, the RMR is a number that just accounts for "resting" so we need to add more to estimate the total energy we expend on a normal day. Here's what this looks like for me...
My own RMR + Activity Adjusted RMR
From the above calculator, assuming I'm moderately active, here are my numbers:
RMR (kcal) + physical activity (kcal) = Activity Adjusted RMR
2796-1804 kcal = 992 kcal (physical activity)
1804 kcal (RMR) + 992 kcal (physical activity) = 2796 kcal
So I have determined that my body uses roughly 2796 kcal per day. If I were to eat that many calories, I would maintain my weight, there is not a deficit nor a surplus. Now, I can use that number to set my daily calorie goal, depending on the fat-loss rate I want to shoot for.
4) Set goals
Everyone's goals will be different, but I know that my goal is to get very, but not extremely lean. I know that as a general rule of thumb, 6-pack abs are visible at 10% body fat in men, so my goal is to aim for a BF% below that to ensure aesthetic lean effect.
A. My Body Fat Goal: 8% BF
When I assessed my body composition in step 2, the estimates was 14%. My body fat percentage goal is 8%, which is a difference of 6%. So to reach my goal, I need to lose 6% of the fat on my body. Since I know my body weight (177 lbs), all I need to do is determine how many pounds 6% of my weight is...
177 lbs * 0.06 = 10.62 lbs
So according to that simple equation, if I lose 10.62 lbs of fat, my body fat percentage will go from 14% to 8%.
However, there is a chance that in a consistent calorie deficit, my body will eat (catabolize) some of my lean muscle tissue. To be safe, I'll assume that a bit of that weight lost will be muscle, so I'll aim for my total weight loss goal to be a bit higher (~1 lb) to compensate:
B. My Weight Loss Goal: 11.5 lbs
To summarize, I need to lose 11.5 pounds to reach my body fat % goal, once I lose 11.5 pounds, I'm ready to end my cutting phase and transition to a bulking phase:
Start: 177 lbs @ ~14% BF
End: 165.5 lbs @ ~8% BF
C. My Weight Loss Rate Goal: 1 lb per week
I just determined how many pounds I want to lose, now I need to set a timeline for that weight loss.
Weight loss rates will vary depending on your starting weight and body composition, but I recommend a weight loss rate between 0.5 and 2 lbs per week, this "modest" rate will preserve muscle and make it easier to achieve week after week.
A contentious rule in the fitness world is that 1 lb of fat = 3,500 calories. According to this figure, one could lose 1 lb of fat by creating a calorie deficit of 500 kcal per day for one week, 500 kcal * 7 = 3,500 kcal. However, the body is a dynamic system and this figure rarely applies in reality, but that doesn't matter for me, here's why....
As long as I doing my best to estimate calorie intake and take consistent measurements of my body weight and composition, I can make adjustments to my daily calorie goal in order to create the appropriate deficit to attain my desired weight loss rate.
For example: if I create a 500 kcal deficit per day for an entire week, but I only lose 0.5 lbs of fat after that week, I can experiment by increasing my calorie deficit to 1,000 kcal per day, then measure again the following week. Maybe for me, it takes that type of deficit to lose 1 lb per week.
Assuming the actual calorie deficit I need to create is 1,000 kcal per day to lose 1 pound per week, that means my daily goal is to hit 1,796 calories.
2796 kcal (Activity Adjusted RMR) - 1,000 kcal deficit = 1,796 k cal
At a rate of 1 lb lost per week, I can assume that my weight loss goal will be reached after 11.5 weeks, or just under 3 months. Since I started on 9/24/16, I should be ready to start the bulking phase around Christmas time!
D. My Daily Calorie Goal: 1,796 kcal
Remember, I can hit this goal in a variety of ways, here are some examples:
- 3,200 kcal from food - 1404 kcal from exercise = 1796 kcal
- 1,900 kcal from food - 104 kcal from exercise = 1796 kcal
- 1796 k cal from food - 0 kcal from exercise = 1796 kcal
5) Track Progress
There is no way to know if I've reached my goal unless I take "before" and "after" measurements. I plant to take weekly measurements so that I can make sure my current diet and exercise are effective, adjusting my daily calorie goal as necessary.
Before the cut:
- Body pics
- Body fat % estimates
- Track all of my food intake to hit my calorie goal with MyFitness Pal.
- Enter endurance exercise (running, swimming, biking) to determine "extra" calories from exercise.
- NOTE: I do not enter calories from my normal daily activity or from resistance training.
Every week, Friday morning:
- Body weight measurement + waist & neck circumference