For my recent bodybuilding shows I got myself down to what I would guestimate is about 4% body fat. While much debate exists on actual body fat statistics, some say competitive bodybuilders come in at 2% , others say 4%. I would say I was a couple of % points above what the top top guys would come in at. Regardless of the actual number I was ridiculously lean and many rugby players have asked me how did I get there? Carrying excess fat on the rugby field slows you down, makes rugby fitness training harder to do and reduces your endurance levels.
My 4% Body Fat Blue Print.
I started my approach to the competition in March. Conscious to build both muscle and of course lose fat for the stage I used a fat loss week about every 4 weeks until I got into the 8 week run in to the show. This means I would spend 4 weeks focusing on building muscle, which involved 40 weights sessions a month and 3000 calories a day with no extra movement over my baseline requirements of life . I would then follow it by a week or so of dieting. Which involved reducing food intake and moving more. My dieting dates, body fat % for the year were –
Body fat at start March 4th – 46mm (~9% fat)
March 5th – 11th – 1 week dieting -Body fat at end of period 40.5mm (~8% fat)
April 7th – 13th – 1 week of dieting – Body fat at end of period 38mm (~7.5% fat)
May 10th – 16th – 1 week of dieting – body fat at end of period – 35mm (~7% fat)
June 20th – July 3rd – 2 weeks of dieting – Body fat at end of period – 30 mm (~6% fat)
July 21th – August 19th – 4 weeks of dieting – Body fat at end of period – 20mm (~4% fat)
With these numbers you could see I lost body fat % at roughly half a % per week, or 1% every two weeks. This seemed fairly consistent throughout the period from 8% body fat and below. To ensure the same rate of fat loss I progressively made the plan slightly harder by either walking further or eating less each week.
What Did I Do To Lose The Fat?
You can see the times I spent focused on reducing the body fat above. Important to note also is I was 100% nailed on in between the dieting phases to ensure I grew muscle without gaining body fat. I did this by being strict on my 3000 calories a day intake. Time and again I have seen that when I do not monitor bulking phases and eating more I gain fat which then needs to be dieted off at a later date. So the first rule of getting to a low fat was not getting fatter in between dieting weeks. March onwards I was really good at this.
The actual run in for the competition was 6 weeks of dieting with a couple of weeks break after the first two. I knew the body had a compensatory effect in that the more you diet the harder it gets to lose fat. To this point I had set up a plan to make things more challenging each week. The basic philosophy for results I used was walking a lot and reducing food intake with one weights session a day.
Week 1 dieting – 2100 calories – 28 300 steps – 21 km walking – 1 weights sess / day
Week 2 dieting – 2100 calories – 28 600 steps – 21.3km walking – 1 weights sess / day
Week 3 dieting* – 2130 calories -32 800 steps – 24.5km walking* – 1 weights sess/ day
Week 4 dieting – 2020 calories – 37 500 steps – 28.1 km walking – 1 weights sess / day
Week 5 dieting – 2100 calories – 37 200 steps – 28.5 km walking – 1 weights sess / day
Week 6 dieting – 1700 calories – 37 800 steps – 29.3 km walking – 1 weights / 2-3 days
Week 7 ** – 1000 calories – 38 100 steps – 29.9 km walking** 0 weights sess / day
* Only 4 days dieting / 3 days recovery ** Only two days on this protocol (phew!)
N.B. Measurements are off a fit bit which may not be accurate in terms of steps / km.
What did I eat?
The food was fairly consistent throughout the dieting weeks. I took the approach many natural body builders take which was eating pretty much the same meal every day throughout the dieting period.
My meal plans were a combination of –
- Tuna – Potato – Tomato Ketchup – 500 calories
- Onken Yoghurt – Protein shake – 500 – 600 calories
- 1 Dairy milk Kids bar – 120 calories
The key to success was following the diet day in day without errors. For me this needed three elements….
- Not think about food – I didn’t want to spend time cooking, thinking about nor preparing food. I cooked every meal in the microwave in under a minute. Total time of preparation and eating was under 10 minutes.
- Had to taste nice – I needed to enjoy my meals to some extent, the tomato ketchup kept me in the game. Without this no chance I could follow it.
- I needed some treat – Life is grim when you are undereating and over moving. The daily chocolate bar was less than 5% of the total calories yet kept me in the game. I discussed this in the best and worst chocolate bars and best to worst crisps to eat.
For the average day of 2100 calories my macros looked like –
Protein – 191g, Carbs – 243g, fat – 41g, calories ~ 2100, P:36 % C :47% F: 17%
Every Sunday I ate 4500 – 5000 calories. This was aimed at giving the body plenty of carbs, fat and calories to recharge systems and metabolism. It also allowed me mentally to keep going. I would eat whatever I wanted. I would normally go to a restaurant of some type (either chinese or pizza) and eat a lot. Without this day there is no way I would have been able to diet for 4 weeks straight.
Despite being a rugby player I haven’t drunk alcohol since 2007 and thus this was not an issue for me. The only thing I drunk outside of normal water was fizzy mineral water with lemon and lime. This was low calorie, less than 25 calories in a litre yet added to the taste issue for being able to stick to the plan.
As I no longer play rugby I used walking as my main form of burning up body fat. I did a couple of jogs towards the end to speed things up to hit my step count as short of time. I also played the odd bit of touch rugby or 5 a side football. I could have done less exercise and reduced my diet further if I wanted to but I didn’t want to be sitting around the house all day telling myself not to eat. Plus, the dog loves walking and a lot of my steps are a natural part of training clients outside. I average 22 000 steps a day (17km) just from clients and the dog in normal life so increasing my steps to the numbers above was already coming from a high base level of movement.
The plan of action is all well and good but the reality is almost every other day you wanted quit. The best way to stay on target was to just think ahead to the next meal, magnify the joy of seeing results as much as you can and then look to people for support. I would talk daily about my results with one or more people. This could be friends at the gym, other competitors or my friends in general. Without these chats and sharing your journey there is no chance I would have stuck to it all the time. Likewise, certain people I avoided specifically as they were a bad influence on my results and behaviours. Just like rugby is a team sport even the most individual of sports such as bodybuilding needs a support team of some sorts.
Official measurements were done using my 10 point self measurement systems using body fat calipers. This was done alongside daily mirror checks and photos every few days. I would also film myself doing posing practice which again allowed me to see body fat changes. My body would generally lose fat on the legs one day, the back the next and the front the third. This meant I was happy two out of three days as couldn’t see the changes when off the back. The final week the body was almost exclusively taking fat from the back of the body which lead to serious de-motivation as I couldn’t spot it. When I re-filmed my posing after a 5 day break I could see the massive changes. Then I was happy but someone dieting off only results would have quit before seeing that change.
The healthy vs unhealthy debate
It is fairly obvious that some of these behaviours and plans are not the best in terms of being “healthy” per se. Dieting to any extent by its nature compromises your health, dieting to the extreme obviously compromises your health much more. While I could list countless ways of improving the “health of my plan” above the number 1 rule of a diet for fat loss is – “Being able to stick to it” . To that point the plan was very good. I stuck to it almost perfectly and in the two shows I saw few people with body fat as low as mine and almost everyone I spoke to complained about their inability to stick to the plan.
Sport to almost any extreme or pursuit is unhealthy and bodybuilding is no exception. Where rugby has you hitting other players in the tackle the demands of body physique competitions are more internal. The flip side though is away from competition you spend the majority of your year trying to maximise metabolism which is perfect for your health. Obviously many people use this phase to compromise their health through eating a lot of junk to increase their calories and others go down the steroid route. That is their choice, but if you keep your bulking food clean and compete drug free these phases are very good for your body.
What Can You Learn From This?
Hopefully this article gives you some insights into dropping body fat. I wouldn’t try to copy my approach per se as it takes more effort to drop from 10% to 4% than for people at higher levels plus it would undermine your rugby performance. But any rugby player who needs to lose fat is carrying a dead weigh around with them so it important to understand the fundamentals involved.
I consistently lost body fat every time I dieted. This formula works for me. I did it through moving a lot more (50-100% more) and eating less (33-40% less). I didn’t starve myself, I was rarely really hungry and didn’t have many cravings. I did not eat super low calorie, super low carb nor super low fat. I allowed room for taste in my meals, I allowed myself some bad foods and periods to relax totally.
I also know this is not the only way to lose fat for me. I have also lost fat by just training in the gym and reducing my food intake within the diet. I have lost fat by jogging for 20 minutes a day with almost no walking outside of this while again reducing intake through my diet. I have had success not eating before midday and other times not eating after 5pm. I have even lost fat only eating junk food while controlling the amounts of it I ate. There are many ways to lose fat, they all are varying the underlying formula. The key being your ability to sick to it.
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