Picture this: You’re roaming around in a cab, scrolling through your phone with your headphones plugged in, and you see your Instagram feed flooded with buff dudes flaunting their six packs. Suddenly, you have one of those moments of existential crisis and you decide to turn your life around. You know, by getting those rock-hard abs.
You zero in on a nutrition plan and a workout regime, put your nose to the grindstone and BAM! Three months of cutting later, you see a hint of your abdominal muscles.
But something is missing.
You’re still looking a bit flat and soft. Your midsection is not sharp enough and your abs appear only when you flex them real hard under dim lighting that’s hanging over your head. This is hardly the image you had in your mind. So you grind some more and manipulate your calories but alas! Nothing seems to be working. Those cut out ‘biscuits’ you’d aimed for now seem like an impossible dream.
What did you not get right? Is it not meant to be? Do you think you can’t achieve that body without “roids”? Are you losing both your mind and your will to stick to the diet?
Well, it’s time to chuck out all of these worries because “This is totally achievable.” Yes! It is. So many people have done it and you can too. You just have to know the right approach. If you have come this far, you deserve to know how to reach your final destination. After all, you’ve earned it by the sweat of your brow. For the final leg of your six pack journey, we’re going to delve into every aspect of what it takes to look shredded and peeled.
For this, we must look into certain physical parameters that we can totally control from our end.
For most people, achieving 10-11 % body fat levels is a matter of dieting and exercising for a sustained period of time. But cutting to 8% body fat isn’t so easy. That will take a lot of nutritional discipline. You will have to treat food purely as fuel and be precise about every grain that you consume. You will have to make sure that you are getting the right amount macronutrients too.
When you are cutting down calories, it’s important that you maintain your muscles. Else, your appearance will be flat and not muscular.
For that, your protein intake should be optimum. 2-2.5 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day is an optimum amount if you have reached around 10-11 % body fat. Protein also has a good thermic effect, so it contributes to that extra fat loss that is required to get that ripped look. For example, if you weigh 70 kilos, you can keep 140 grams of protein as your daily intake. 1 gram of protein is 4 calories. So, 140 grams of protein is 560 calories.
Fats are essential for survival. Your brain would stop functioning if you eliminate fats from your diet for a long period of time. In addition, a diet devoid of fats could lead to vitamin deficiencies, essential fatty acid deficiency, and hormonal imbalances. You have to keep at least 20-25 % of your total calorie intake as fats. 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. For example, if you eat around 2000 calories, your daily fat intake should be 500 calories or 50 grams.
After protein and fats, whatever calories are remaining should come from carbs. A good time to consume your carbs is just before your workout as this would improve your performance in the gym. It is hard to maintain intensity on a calorie deficit diet, especially when you are trying to go below 10% body fat since your daily calorie intake is really low. That’s why you should try to consume carbs around your workout so that it makes up for the glycogen depletion.
A Note On Food Choices
It is critical to make wise food choices when you are pushing yourself for this goal. The foods you eat should be satiating and also rich in the macronutrients that we are targeting.
For example, your protein sources should be extra lean like meat, chicken, fish beef, egg whites or whey.
Your carbs should be starchy such as potatoes, rice or sweet potatoes. Potatoes are so filling that they can help keep cravings at bay, unlike other carb sources.
Your fat intake should primarily come from by-products of protein-containing foods such as whole eggs. Else, it should come from healthy unsaturated fat sources such as avocados, coconut oil or olive oil.
Pre-workouts can play an important role when you’re shredding to single-digit fat levels.
This is probably the most popular pre-workout around the world. Caffeine is a good stimulant for your central nervous system. It improves alertness and also triggers the much-required adrenaline for the workout. It can surely improve your performance in the gym. But, if you have been using caffeine for long, you might develop an immunity to its effects. To avoid this situation, keep regulating the dosage of caffeine.
L-Carnitine: When you are at 10% body fat and still aiming for single digit fat percentage, you can consider this supplement. L-carnitine is a naturally occurring amino acid in the body. However, muscle carnitine can deplete rapidly during exercise making this an essential supplement to consume. L-Carnitine transports fatty acids from blood to the mitochondria for use as a fuel source. L-carnitine also inhibits the build-up of lactic acid (a major cause of fatigue) to some extent and helps develop endurance. It also reduces metabolic waste during the workout and thus, also helps in recovery.
Well, this one is simple. Work hard in the gym, every day. Every workout session should feel like a personal victory. Your workout regime should be high on volume as well as intensity. That old gym-rat adage, “Go hard or go home!” should be your mantra.
Increase your cardio and NEAT every week:
When you feel stuck in this journey, try to burn stubborn fat by adding more activity. Introduce a bit of cardio at the end of your weight training routine. It could be steady state or interval training. You are just focusing on increasing your activity levels to burn those extra calories.
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It stands for the energy expended doing daily everyday things such as walking, cleaning, fidgeting or even typing. If you engage in such activities, that actually helps in the last stages of your fat cutting journey. Brisk walking is really beneficial. It will aid in burning that last pound.
Carb Cycling For Metabolic Adaptations
If you have reached a stage where your midsection is visible but you aren’t able to cut more due to metabolic adaptations, you can cycle your carbs intake. In this case, your metabolism needs an extra kick for continued fat loss. You can shake up macros by keep 3 days low in carbs and rest 4 days in high carbs, keeping the same average overall calories for the week. Due to this, the work that digestive systems have to work more, resulting in an increased metabolic rate. Also, the ingestion of carbs will make your muscles fuller and tighter.
Sodium Manipulation And Diuretics
These manipulations may be needed when you have achieved the single digit fat percentage and are ready to appear for a show or a photo shoot.
Traditional bodybuilding consensus suggests that you have to keep your sodium intake low and flush out ‘extracellular’ water (water outside the cell membrane) in order to look extra ripped. Scientifically, this is not entirely true.
The body maintains 70/30 intracellular to extracellular water ratio. Even if you use a diuretic to flush out extracellular water, due to homeostasis your body uses intracellular water again to maintain that ratio tightly. The ratio remains unchanged and you end up looking flat.
If you cut sodium, it directly affects the blood volume and the fluid dynamics of the body which could be disastrous. The kidneys also stop excreting sodium altogether in such cases. Sodium depletion causes a rise in aldosterone which is a hormone whose job is to retain water and sodium. Due to elevated aldosterone, you absorb more water back in circulation. Depletion of sodium inhibits the activity of the protein and limits your ability to absorb glucose. Undigested glucose pulls water and makes you look flat due to water retention.
That’s why many competitors say that they looked much better after having a cheat meal post the show, as compared to when they were onstage.
Contrary to popular belief, you can keep your water and sodium intake the same. For example, if you drink 6 liters a day, keep the intake same up till an hour or two before a show or a photo shoot.
In fact, Dr. Layne Norton suggests that eating a meal rich in sodium, carbs, and fats 2 hours before the show work wonders. It can make you look full and really vascular.
These are the few boxes you need to tick to achieve the shredded look you yearned for. But these are the physical aspects of achieving this milestone.
The psychological aspects also play a huge role in this journey. This process can definitely take a toll on somebody’s mindset as it asks too much of a person.
You need to address your mental standpoint in order to maintain your sanity throughout the whole process.
After achieving 10-11% of body fat, the questions that haunt most people are ” Is it worth it? Why go leaner? Haven’t I been through enough?”
Mind you, these are fair questions. It took months of discipline and heavy gym sessions to reach here. You are stretching out of your comfort zone and it is making you afraid of the process. Also, the rapid changes are not happening in terms of fat loss, as it happened in the beginning. It is making you less motivated and forcing you to think that may it is not for you. You become moody, anxious and really annoying to other people.
Well, you are entitled to feel that way. But the word that you are looking for amidst all this chaos is ‘Patience’. From here on, it requires a good amount of patience to reach the single digit. As you all know, patience does not have a good market for itself. In today’s times of instant gratification, patience sells the least.
You have to realize that the last few steps of any journey are the hardest. It’s your persistence, that will make you reach there.
Here are a few things that you can practice for keeping your sanity:
Rest Properly And Drink LOTS Of Water
Make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep on a daily basis. Cortisol levels are regulated well if you rest properly. Besides, recovery is of paramount importance if you are looking to perform in the gym on a daily basis.
Stay Out Of Heated Discussions
You are going to be moody and annoyed when you are cutting on calories. You might end up getting into verbal spats and spoil your own peace. Your job is to take care of your own mindset. So, try to remove yourself from any kind of negativity surrounding you. You are likely to lose your cool often, so it is better that you keep a good distance from it.
Meditation will make you aware of your thoughts. Such awareness can help you choose happy and relaxing thoughts on a conscious basis. Practice this daily and you will realize that stress has no power over you. You can actually see yourself winning this entire inner battle just by practicing meditation.
Practice these methods and you are surely going to hit the sweet spot of single digit fat percentage without losing your mind. Persistence is the key factor for sure. Also, you have to make sure that you have built a good amount of muscle mass before embarking on this quest so that when you cut on body fat, you look muscular.
Everything is achievable unless you know the right approach. Pictures on social media never tell you the amount of work it has taken to achieve a certain physique. But, when you get down to grind, you come to know about a lot of factors which are to be considered. If you have signed up for it, you should not give up till you achieve it.
You must never be afraid to make the effort to go that extra mile. It’s only when you reach there that you’ll be able to look back and register the confidence of the journey taken. That feeling is priceless and you will thank yourself because this is one of those victories that changes you as a person in every possible way.
Author: Kshitij Roy