In my experience, understanding how to get ripped means understanding how to lose fat and not muscle. The way that I lost fat was by creating a deficit of 300-600 calories each day. This point is so simple, but so critical that it’s worth spending another minute on.
Well known and respected exercise physiologist Lyle McDonald wrote a great article on this. I think it’s definitely worth the 10 minute read on his website. Try paying special attention to the section titled “Muscle and Fat are not Identical”:
If you’re opposed to reading it, here’s the crux of his lesson:
Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores
It means that if you eat 2,000 calories (corrected for a handful of calories you poop out as the result of fiber intake) and you burn 2,000 calories between your resting metabolic rate + the number of calories required for digesting food + calories used during deliberate exercise + calories burned as the result of spontaneous movement (i.e. fidgeting) + change in tissue energy mass, you will maintain your weight.
Simplified even further, fat loss all still boils down to energy in vs. energy out.
In recent years there has been a groundswell of ideas and studies conducted by researchers relating to why we get fat. Many of these studies have spawned their own diets and eating styles e.g. Atkins, Paleo, Primal, Keto, NutriSystem, intermittent fasting, the more general “eating clean”, etc.
As a matter of personal choice, I have modified the Primal style of eating and LeanGains intermittent fasting protocol to my own preferences. But my takeaway after experimenting with many eating programs is that at their core, they are simply tools that can help an individual achieve caloric targets. Read that again. And one more time. My opinion, based on experience with all of them, is that they’re not terribly special in any way other than that they improve caloric control potential and can be relatively easy to incorporate into one’s life.
Might not matter what you eat
Paleo, Primal and keto (although Primal and Paleo can both be integrated into a ketogenic diet) place great emphasis on eating primarily vegetables, meats and fats (including saturated animal fats), and minimizing carbohydrate intake. Fat, protein and vegetables are satiating and minimize insulin response (although protein spikes insulin when consumed alone). High carbs (especially sugar) = big insulin response = blood sugar drop = hungry again = less likely you’ll be able to or want to achieve your caloric/ fat-burning goals. If you wanted, you could technically eat 500 calories worth of only bread every day below your caloric maintenance level and lose fat. You could eat McDonalds or shrimp or cheese or marshmallows or only barbecue sauce and still lose fat as long as you put your body into an energy deficit. I should say here that in my experience, I do not think that a low carb diet is conducive to getting ripped since heavy lifting is required and maintaining adequate muscle glycogen stores helps with that. More on my opinion of carbs here: [link to opinion on carbs].
Dropping fat is only half of the requirement for getting ripped; the other half is maintaining, and ideally building muscle at the same time. Once muscle becomes a requirement, then the macronutrient composition of the diet becomes important, but in my experience, still not to the extent that some might say [link to macro blog post].
I believe that “eating clean” is just another tool that assists in achieving caloric goals. Since “eating clean” typically means staying away from fast/ processed/ boxed/ canned food/ refined sugar (a la Primal/ Paleo to some extent), you’re likely eating vegetables, meat and unprocessed or minimally processed fat (dairy, animal fat etc), and plant-based carbs like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rice etc. Although some of these foods can spike insulin, on balance, this style of eating keeps insulin under control and moderates hunger. I think it’s really that simple.