Looking to get shredded out of your mind as fast as possible?

I’ve written a bit about how to change your body composition in general, the concept of Energy Balance certainly applies to everyone and should be taken into consideration in every case. That said, there is a significant difference between going from overweight to fit and from fit to shredded.

What I discuss here applies mostly to those who are natural (Not taking performance enhancing drugs, steroids, growth hormones, cutting drugs, etc..)

When I say “shredded” What I am really referring to is a look that is typically achieved by reaching a very low body fat percentage (guys:single digits, Gals: teens). I’m not just talking abs. I’m speaking of a high level of definition everywhere. So for abdominals, this would mean deep cuts both vertically and horizontally, obliques that pop, and that V taper that goes below the waistline.

Are You in a Position to Get Shredded?

Anyone can reach low body fat levels. Some people even stay very lean naturally, but you can’t get the shredded look unless you’ve put in the time (and food) necessary to built a reasonable amount of muscle. Without the muscle mass you often just look skinny, or even sickly with your shirt off, and not much of anything can be seen when you are clothed. Teenagers and young men who are relatively untrained usually fall into this category. This obviously excludes individuals who are inherently predisposed with large amounts of muscle mass, this is typically a genetic factor and people in this category usually know who they are.

The Calorie Deficit gets Harder

Energy balance dictates weight loss whether you count calories or not. Most can make progress to a certain degree by just cleaning up their diet. Cut out the restaurant/fast food and eat more lean meats, fruits, and vegetables and it’s not abnormal for calorie intake to go down. Things really have to tighten up to get lean enough for the shredded look. The calorie deficit has to be consistent or progress becomes difficult. When fat loss stalls you need to know where calorie intake is currently in order to make adjustments moving forward. A food diary is a simple solution here, so if you aren’t counting calories and macronutrients already, and you are looking to get shredded, now is the time to start.

Macronutrients (Macros) Become a Big Deal.

I am an advocate for counting macros regardless of the goal. When you are pursuing very low body fat percentages, though, there are two reasons counting macros is essential.

The thermic effect of Protein directly affects the amount of “net calories” received from food.
Net calories refer to how much energy you receive from food after food composition and digestion has been accounted for. If protein intake is all over the place, this can mess with your calorie deficit more than any other macro.

Muscle loss becomes an issue at this level of calorie restriction.
Adequate protein helps keep protein degradation rates low, which is important. If you lose a bunch of muscle tissue in the pursuit of fat loss, you won’t get the same look you otherwise would. You want to show off muscles, not burn them up.

Other macros are important too, if fat intake is taken too low it can have negative impacts on your health, and you want to be eating as many carbs as possible to fuel your workouts. You will do well by choosing a macronutrient ratio that suits your goal and hitting it daily.

Choosing the Dietary Approach that Fits

There are several ways to go about dieting, some better than others, but none that are superior across every individually. The single biggest factor in dietary success is adherence. No matter how perfect the diet if you can’t stick to it, It won’t work. Two of the most common and successful approaches I’ve seen are:

Flexible Dieting (IIFYM)  VS  Meal Planning (strictly eating certain foods)
Some people go all in on one or the other, But for most a combination of the two works best when you consider preference and lifestyle. Someone with a busy schedule or hectic lifestyle often benefits from a portion of their calorie intake coming from the flexible approach or on the fly eating, simply because they don’t have the ability to eat only the items in their meal plan. I have spent many years in this circumstance while working a job in the retail industry. Inconsistent hours and days off make flexible dieting a glorious tool for this. I found an 80/20 split to work best:

  • 80 percent of intake comes from planned/prepared foods.
    This allows you control over the macros and satiety of the bulk of your foods, making it easier to hit macro goals, especially protein.
  •   20 percent of intake comes from other sources on the fly.
    Freedom comes with this 20 percent. You can eat at social events and enjoys some indulgences within reason (or macros) without the fear of it killing your progress. It also keeps you from being overly strict with your attitude about food to others, and most important, since this only represents the minority of intake, any hit you take on accuracy has a smaller impact.

Don’t Lose Momentum in the Gym.

If you are looking to get shredded, you’ve likely got some experience training. Weightlifting is especially relevant to muscular development. You don’t want to stop progressing in your lifts just because calories are reduced. You have to fight for progress every session, and when that progress stalls maintaining the current level of strength becomes the main priority in lifting. This means to keep up with the weight and reps that you’ve previously performed. No one should be overzealous as that can lead to injury, but don’t be quick to take weight off the bar just because you are feeling a little less energetic. Effort on this front will pay off in helping you retain muscle mass as you get leaner.

Cardio is a Good Idea. To an Extent…

“Eat less and move more” has been stated in the fitness space incessantly. It’s the simplest way to advise someone on what to change in order to burn more calories through activity than you consume through food. This is sound in the sense of how it relates to energy balance. Cardio is a useful way to “move more” when calories are already restricted significantly, and often makes a big impact on the journey to single digit body fat.

Steady state cardio (SS) vs high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is hotly debated, but many fail to realize that both are good options. More suited for beginners, SS offers a simple solution that can be engaged in daily. On the other hand, HIIT gives more bang for your buck in terms of time, as it burns more calories when compared to equal time spent. This is particularly advantageous for the individual with a busy schedule, and it has served me well for this reason. When you only have 20-30 minutes to allocate to cardio training, HIIT is a no-brainer, and I’d rather spend time doing more pleasant things anyway.

Alternating on/off days is a good idea with HIIT cardio which adds to its attractiveness when time is a major concern. I wouldn’t advise taking cardio volume (especially HIIT) too high as stress can become an issue quickly. I personally like to do all HIIT cardio, limiting it to 3-4 sessions lasting 20-30 minutes in duration.

Consider Fasted Training

This one is not for everyone. I encourage you to try it, and if you do well it can become a valuable tool to speed up fat loss and make a difference in losing fat in stubborn areas (For me this is regions like my lower abs/back).

What I mean by this is working out on an empty stomach. Particularly when it’s been long enough since your last meal for all food to have been digested. The time frame varies to reach a fasted state, but it generally translates to 6-16 hours from your last meal depending on what/how much was eaten. That may sound like a long time to go without food, but when you consider the time spent sleeping, it’s not that hard to achieve. Finish up your last meal a couple hours before bed, sleep, and then workout before breakfast and you can easily hit a 12 hour fast.

Fasted training by itself does have a downside. The energy to workout has to come from your body since there is none from food. This is a good thing in terms of fat loss but can be bad in terms of retaining muscle mass. There are a couple things you can do to maximize the former and prevent the latter when training fasted. Both are optional but I’ve found them to be very beneficial.

  • Take amino acids (BCAA’s) 15-20 mins prior to training.

This reduces the rate of protein degradation, preventing significant amounts of muscle loss during the workout.

  • Consume caffeine 15-20 mins prior to training.

This gives helps reverse low energy that some people experience when fasted and supports fat loss by increasing blood circulation and fat mobilization.

There are a lot of supplements out there for this. You don’t have to get fancy with either one. There are many BCAA products that are inexpensive, and there’s no reason to pay a lot for these. You can even go for leucine or HMB (ß-Hydroxy ß-Methylbutyrate) since that’s what is contained within the BCAA’s that we need. I tried each and there’s no difference other than how much powder you end up mixing up. These days I opt for convenience and just take a pre-workout fat burner that contains it. As for caffeine, the choices are endless. Coffee and tea are the age old loves, and all us gym-goers have our favorite pre-workout. Any source will do so long as it does not have calories.

Sum and Substance

Getting shredded is an experience worthwhile in many ways. There are many things you reveal about your body when you get this lean. For one, you will be able to see where you actually stand in terms of muscle development. It’s very hard to see how defined a muscle group is or tell if you’ve really got the size you are after when your body fat is higher. Reducing the subcutaneous layers (fat under the skin) reveals definition, and reducing intramuscular triglycerides (fat in the muscles) shows your true size. So you really can’t know if you’ve built the body you want until you’ve gotten shredded. For example, I really like the look of well developed, symmetrical abdominals, and it took a while to get enough size and then get lean enough to even see if mine are symmetrical or not! (most of them are but it’s not perfect. Haha)

Maybe you want to get shredded to reveal things about your body like me, or maybe you just want to look as good as possible for spring break. Either way, Choose the methods that fit your lifestyle and combine the tactics I’ve outlined above with some determination and you won’t be disappointed.

If you like my take on this, have questions or something to add to it, comment below or feel free to email or reach out to me on social media. I’ll always do my best to help 🙂
Shred on!