It's like the turning of the seasons: You bulk up by building muscle, then lean down to let those muscles shine through. It seems like a simple cycle, but if you do it wrong, you can lose a big chunk of those hard-earned gains while leaning out.
Getting ripped involves much more than cutting calories like a maniac and adding a few hours of cardio to your week. Lots of people take that approach, only to lose mass in the process.
So let's do it the smart way. Here are eight tips to help you get ripped and stay muscular.
1. Supplement With L-Carnitine
Regularly consuming L-carnitine can increase your body's use of fat, instead of glucose, for fuel when you exercise. It can also improve your exercise performance. And, according to studies out of the University of Connecticut, 2 grams per day of L-carnitine can reduce muscle soreness and other biological markers of recovery, as well as increase the amount of androgen receptors present within muscle cells.
2. Dump the Junk for Real
Whenever you want to cut body fat, look for ways to eliminate or cut way back on processed food items, which are usually loaded with refined sugars and other unhealthy ingredients. Don't do this by abstaining from protein, fat, or carbohydrates. Instead, choose healthy, whole-food sources, most of which include healthy combinations of the three macronutrients.
Focus on lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables that are saturated in color, both on the outside and inside, like sweet potatoes, purple yams, black rice, and avocados. Limiting your food choices to naturally occurring items such as these can create a greater feeling of fullness, making it easier to refrain from snacking.
It's much easier to meet your body's needs when you choose unprocessed foods because they're so rich in vitamins and minerals. When you're dieting, you're consuming fewer calories, so you have fewer opportunities to meet those nutritional needs. Focus on high-quality foods during this time to make sure you take in all the nutrients you need.
3. Plan Ahead or Fall Behind
Successful weight loss requires a game plan, one that includes stress management. If you're worrying all day about losing weight, you're probably also experiencing elevated levels of cortisol. When chronically elevated, this hormone can wreak havoc on muscle tissue and your immune system.
You can eat all the right foods, take all the right supplements, and have killer workouts, but if you're stressed out the whole time, you're undercutting your gains—and perhaps losing hard-earned muscle.
Effective meal planning starts with knowing how many calories to consume, and how much of each macronutrient group you need. A TDEE calculator can help you figure out how many calories you typically burn each day. You can also use calculators to determine your lean body mass, fat mass, basal metabolic rate, and resting metabolic rate.
4. Good Sleep Is The Key
Many people think that fat burning takes place in the gym, but that's only part of the equation. If you're chronically sleep deprived, you can end up with a reduced metabolic rate and poor insulin sensitivity, and become prone to obesity.
When you sleep well, you have better control over your food choices and are less likely to binge eat at night. You also have more energy to devote to your workouts.
5. Consume More, Not Less, Protein
If there is one macronutrient you'll want to eat more of to get leaner, it's protein. Adding more protein to your diet plan can help reduce hunger, stabilize blood glucose levels, and rev your metabolism. All of those things are important for fat loss.
Protein-rich foods require more energy to break down and digest compared to carbohydrates or dietary fats. So each time you eat a protein-rich meal, you'll want to give yourself time to digest it and drink enough extra water to facilitate the increase in metabolic demand.
Many people make the mistake of thinking their protein needs will decrease during a diet. On the contrary; you might even want to consume a little more protein when you're shredding. Deprived of other sources of energy, your body may use more protein for fuel, leaving less protein available for muscle maintenance.
6. Squeeze Intervals Into Your Work
If you haven't tried interval training, what are you waiting for? As noted in a study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, interval training is superior to steady-state training when it comes to fat loss, even when total calories burned between both types of training is the same.
This doesn't mean you have to perform interval sprint sessions on the treadmill or bike four days a week. Integrate interval training into your workout routine by doing timed sets for a major compound lift, or by performing a few sets of burpees between your major weightlifting sets.
Get creative and see how you can add some high-intensity moves to your usual workout routine.
7. Don't Overdo the Liquid Calories—Even Protein Shakes
Drinking a protein shake after a workout is perfectly fine. Hell, we highly recommend it! But drinking calorie-containing beverages at other times during the day is not.
The problem with liquid calories is that they don't fill you up like solid food calories do, so they won't do much to reduce your appetite between meals. If you down 300-400 liquid calories a day and don't account for this with your food intake, it won't be long before those pounds start to come back.
Ideally, you should only drink water, black coffee, green or herbal tea, sugar-free sparkling water, and your pre-workout while trying to get ripped.
8. Shredding Can Be A Bumpy Ride: Hang On
Finally, the last tip to getting ripped is to be realistic with your expected results. Remember that fat loss will slow down the leaner you get. If you have 20 pounds to lose right now, the first 5 pounds should come off without too much of an issue if you've been training for a while. If you're brand new to exercise and dieting, your body will try to work against you as you retrain it to release the stored-up fat it became accustomed to hoarding away. Be patient and stay consistent. After your body learns that you're going to continue using more calories that you consume, it'll become more efficient at using fat for fuel.
After those first 5, the next 5 pounds may take a bit more grunt work, but you'll still manage to shed them without too much trouble. But the final 10 pounds? That's going to take some work. Be realistic when thinking about how much effort it'll take to reach your goal.
Fat loss is never linear; some weeks will be better than others. As you experience these fluctuations, keep pushing onward and know you're still winning—even when you're not seeing the results you're looking for. Eventually, you'll get there!
- Wall, B. T., Stephens, F. B., Constantin‐Teodosiu, D., Marimuthu, K., Macdonald, I. A., & Greenhaff, P. L. (2011). Chronic oral ingestion of l‐carnitine and carbohydrate increases muscle carnitine content and alters muscle fuel metabolism during exercise in humans. The Journal of Physiology, 589(4), 963-973.
- Ho, J. Y., Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., Fragala, M. S., Thomas, G. A., Dunn-Lewis, C., ... & Maresh, C. M. (2010). l-Carnitine l-tartrate supplementation favorably affects biochemical markers of recovery from physical exertion in middle-aged men and women. Metabolism, 59(8), 1190-1199.
- Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2007). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(3), 163-178.
- Higgins, S., Fedewa, M. V., Hathaway, E. D., Schmidt, M. D., & Evans, E. M. (2016). Sprint interval and moderate-intensity cycling training differentially affect adiposity and aerobic capacity in overweight young-adult women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(11), 1177-1183.