How To Get Lean 101
Everybody wants to know how to get lean. The amount of information and theories out there can be overwhelming. Should you cut carbs or fat? Should you try sprinting or Olympic lifting? Is it all just genetic?
Every magazine cover seems to have its own conflicting ideas about what it takes to get that lean body we all want.
Well, it turns out there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that getting lean does take dedication and work. The good news, though, is that it’s actually a straightforward process. With a well-designed and scientifically backed nutritional regime and workout routine, anybody can achieve their body goals and get as lean as they want to. So if you want to learn how to get lean, here’s what you need to do.
Let’s get lean – here we go
In theory, shedding body fat is very simple. It’s the basic formula of calories in versus calories out. As long as your caloric intake is less than your caloric output, you’ll lose weight. It’s scientifically sound and physiologically foolproof as long as you can stick with a steady caloric deficit.
Keeping it as simple as calories in and calories out works very well for people who are overweight or obese and simply need to lose weight.
For those who are already at a relatively healthy weight and wish to attain that lean, mean beach body, though, it can be a little more complex. How do you make sure that the weight you’re losing is fat rather than muscle so that you don’t end up scrawny or skinny-fat?
That’s where you need to break it down to make sure both your diet and your workout routine are targeted toward getting lean rather than simply losing weight as fast as possible.
How to get lean: Diet Fundamentals
Even for those seeking leanness, calories are still a vital point. If you’re keeping everything else the same, the only thing that determines if you’re bulking or cutting is whether you’re on a calorie surplus or deficit. So how do you make sure you’re cutting body fat?
It’s basic math.
Finding Your TDEE
For reliably losing body fat, knowing your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE is key. This tells you how many calories your body needs each day in order to maintain its current weight.
To find it, you start by calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, which is a measure of how many calories your body would burn if you were comatose. Then you multiply that by an activity multiplier to account for normal daily activities and exercise.
This is easiest to do by simply doing a web search for a TDEE calculator and taking an average of several results. Your TDEE will vary based on your age, weight, height, and gender, with young men requiring the most calories on average and older women the fewest.
Once you’ve got your TDEE, you’ll need to eat below it. This can be a matter of trial and error since no calculator can precisely know your activity level, but most people should start at about 500 calories below their TDEE each day in order to cut a pound of fat per week. To avoid muscle loss, though, try not to cut more than 20% off of your TDEE each day.
For example, an active man who needs 3000 calories per day to maintain can safely eat at a deficit of 600 per day while a sedentary woman who maintains at 1600 should probably not go more than 320 calories below that.
People with more body fat to lose can lose safely at slightly higher deficits.
What About Macros?
While maintaining a calorie deficit is key to achieving fat loss, it’s not the only thing you should keep an eye on. Your macronutrients matter too.
While the verdict goes back and forth on the exact quantities of fat and carbohydrates you should aim for, the science is pretty clear on the third macro, protein. When your emphasis is on maintaining lean muscle, protein intake is absolutely crucial. The exact amount you need will depend on both your size and your activity level.
In general, you should shoot for as little as half a gram of protein per pound of body weight if you’re fairly sedentary and as much as one gram per pound of body weight if you’re very active.
Some people find additional benefits in terms of body composition and controlling hunger at protein intakes as high as 1.5 or 2 grams per pound of body weight per day.
Do I Need to Stick to Chicken and Broccoli?
Fortunately, most experts agree now that it’s not necessary to eat super clean to get lean. The modern fitness catchphrase is “If It Fits Your Macros,” or IIFYM.
Basically, anything you want to eat is fair game as long as it will fit into your calorie needs and allow you to meet your protein goal. Supplements to help meet those goals are also fine sources of nutrition.
How to get lean: Exercise
While diet creates weight loss, exercise is vital for creating and keeping the muscle that will make you look lean when you reach your goal. Resistance training is especially key since the muscle built will keep you from developing that skinny-fat look.
How to Lift While Getting Lean
In most cases, 3-5 weight sessions per week are ideal. It’s fine to do a full-body workout each time if you feel up to it, but many people prefer to split up their workout into upper and lower body days or specific body part days while cutting since the calorie deficit will make your body take longer to recover between workouts.
Stick to 3 or 4 sets of 6-12 reps for the best benefits. Lower reps with higher weights will be too difficult to recover from, and higher reps at low weights won’t provide the lean muscle maintenance that you’re looking for here.
What About Cardio?
Cardio isn’t absolutely necessary for getting lean, but it can be useful.
Not only is it healthy, but it can also provide a little extra calorie burn to speed up your results and allow you to eat a bit more during your cut. While this isn’t a big deal for men, an extra 2-300 calories per day can be a big quality of life improvement for smaller women who might otherwise need to subsist on 1200 calories for months at a time while getting lean.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, will generally give the biggest bang for your buck in terms of burning calories quickly, but any type of cardio is fine since the goal is simply to get your heart rate up and burn some calories.
How to get lean: Supplements
Since it can be difficult to reach protein goals with just your normal diet while cutting calories, protein supplements that pack 20-30 grams of protein into just a couple hundred calories can be a life-saver.
Whey protein is the most common, since it’s a relatively inexpensive protein that is highly usable by your body, and it comes in the widest range of flavors. For vegetarians, soy protein is the standard and is just as good as whey.
For those who like to experiment, there are also more niche types of protein such as casein, which thickens into a pudding when mixed, and pea/rice protein, which can be very good for those with allergies. Proteins made from beef and egg are also available but can be more expensive.
In terms of other supplements, most are unnecessary.
Once your diet is under control, most pills marketed for dieting are fairly useless, although some people find caffeine or other supplements to be useful for appetite control or maintaining energy during a cut. Many people also find creatine to be very useful while getting lean since it improves recovery time considerably.
This can allow you to lift weights more frequently and with more intensity, resulting in greater lean mass retention.
Learning how to get lean can seem overwhelming, especially when you first decide to give it a try.
It can be hard, but it’s not rocket science.
Get your calories under control, keep your protein high, and lift heavy. You’ll be amazed at your results.