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Sunday
Feb142010

How do I get lean? Part 1

"How do I get lean?" 

"How do I get abs?"

"How do I get a six-pack?"

There's a dozen variations on this question, but "answers" to the above can be found all over the internet, usually followed  closely by an attempt to sell you something.

Well I'm not about to sell any product or supplement or workout book, but I do want to share what I've learned through trial and error (mostly error) that finally helped me locate my long-lost six-pack that had been hiding since I stopped playing football in 2001.

In Part I of this series - I'm going to focus on what I believe to be the MOST important part of "getting lean", and that's your diet.  As I've said before, I hate the term "diet" but I'll use it here just to keep things simple and uniform.  This is definitely going to be a simplistic approach to nutrition and subsequent fat loss, as there is a ton of more scientific research and context available online.  My hope is to make a complex process simple and easy to digest.

One of the best quotes I've ever read on this topic was in Runner's World magazine -

 "Great abs are made in the kitchen"

To this day, it's the best advice I've ever received with respect to shedding body fat and "getting lean".  Fitness experts Brad Pilon and Craig Ballantyne would say, you can't out-train a bad diet and they are correct.  Most bodybuilders or fitness pros or figure models would agree that the only difference in training for "muscle gain" vs "fat loss" is the way you eat.

Most "fat loss" eating plans are going to be structured with either low carbs, or carb cycling during the course of a week.  It's my opinion that it is nearly impossible to "get lean" while on a high carbohydrate diet.  Carb-cycling is essentially 2-3 days of low carbs (anywhere from 0.3-1g carb per pound of body weight). Followed by 1-2 days of higher carbs (1.5-2g per pound of body weight).

This does drift into the more complex habit of counting macronutrients, which isn't for everyone.  An easier way of ensuring that those carbs don't become "fat" is to make sure they are from complex sources (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and LOTS of vegetables with moderate fruit).  Higher GI (glycemic index) carbs like white breads, pastas, and white potatoes make for a messy carb load and you will rarely find any one with a desirable level of "leanness" that uses high GI/simple carb sources in their diet.

Another simple approach if one doesn't wish to go through the science of carb cycling (but still has a level of self-discipline) would be to adopt a Paleo approach to eating.  To stick with my goal of maintaining simplicity, a Paleo diet is built upon the approach that we stick to foods that were around during the Paleolithic age or the "Caveman" era.  This eating approach is built around lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Grains and breads have no place on this diet.  Here's a tremendously simplistic but funny video that helps bottom line it all:

Mark Sisson is one of the proponents of this sort of high protein/moderate (healthy) fat/low carb approach.

There is plenty more to discuss on the topic of "eating to get lean", but I'll pause for now.  Next time I hope to delve into the way to structure workouts with an eye towards dropping winter body fat to get ready for the warm weather beach season.  Here's a quick preview and hint - if you're putting hours and hours on the treadmill at a slow pace, there's a reason you're probably not where you want to be.

More to come...