Lean vs Shredded: Realistic vs Not…
Is being shredded worth it? In my opinion, no. Honestly, being shredded is a fleeting moment because it is not realistic to maintain. Moreover, there is nothing healthy about it.
Most people, if asked, equate a “healthy” body with having a chiseled physique. You know, the “shredded” guy with big biceps, a chest that rivals Hercules, and abs that could grate the finest of parmesan cheeses. For women, the curves are tight (does she have butt implants?), the abs are solid, and the shoulders are popping like cherry blossoms a la Christi Brinkley, Sports Illustrated. These representations of very fit individuals can be undoubtedly misleading, leaving most people to scurry to their local doughnut shop to soothe their feelings.
However, have no fear! Your ideal physique can be achieved and actually…MAINTAINED!
There is a big line between being lean and being shredded. The former is something that comes straight off the beach. Most people call it, “beach ready”. This is a level of being lean that affords a person to feel comfortable enough to shed layers of clothing without having to have the label “Dad Bod” used to describe his appearance. Being shredded, well that’s just a place that is literally like taking a trip to another planet. You look your absolute best, and yet, you feel like a big steaming pile of dog crap.
Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers. Huge muscles, veins that veins, and the abs of a superhero. I wanted to be that shredded dude. Now, to be fair, I was the fat gay kid. I was the complete opposite and we always seem to want what we don’t have, right? Fast forward about 10-12 years and I have now gone through this process of dieting down to an extreme level three times. Does this make me an expert in contest prep? NO! However, it does give me enough experience to say, this will be my last time dieting down to this extreme for a very long time, maybe ever (never say never). Here’s why:
When I began the process to cut on my food intake for my upcoming physique competition, I was at a WHOPPING 15% body fat (exhibit picture A). This is a “fitness” level of body fat, however it is more than I like to carry. I let myself become too loose with my intake during my building phase. I had a lot going on personally (the usual) and to comfort myself I chose to tame the beast with baked goods. To be succinct, I am human and make mistakes. This is one I would pay for later when the cut really got busy.
As the initial decrease in food began, I felt great. Energy was still up, lifting was solid, the weights were heavy, and work was no issue. This feeling of “no problem” was fleeting. Upon completion of my sixth week of “dieting”, I started to feel a little rough around the edges. Getting out of bed was a little slower, energy in classes was starting to wane, and my hunger was starting to increase. This is what a “diet” for that shredded physique for a specific time beings to feel like. It becomes an all consuming mind game that even the most disciplined have some trouble with. Literally, I’m starving my body.
Little by little, per my coach, my consumption of energy got less and less. Even this past weekend, I had another chunk taken away from me. All the while, my body has been morphing into what Captain America even hopes to look like some day (this is science). So while my physique may be pleasing to the eye of the beholder, my mental game could not be more off. Not to mention the hurricane that is blasting the body physically while trying to achieve said aesthetic. By the end of this cut, my body fat will be close to 5%. To set the big picture, male athletes maintain a level of body fat of 6-13%. 2-5% is essential for a man just to live. Again, unrealistic.
I consider myself to be a strong minded, determined, and self motivated individual. When I set a goal for myself, I work like a honey bee to make it happen. This time is no different. All of this said, I wanted to quit MANY, MANY times this prep. In fact, I thought about throwing in the towel two weeks prior to competition date, because I had come to the realization that it is just not worth it to me to be this depleted.
Mentally, one has to be in the right frame of mind to cut to this extreme level. Honestly, no time is a good time. Life is happening every day with unexpected events (sickness, family gatherings, birthday’s, parties, and etc), relationship, work, and friend and family commitments that require our attention. Except, these things begin to suffer slightly as the diet gets more and more consuming. For the most part, life outside of the gym, the kitchen, and the food scale becomes non-existent. Rather, it should become like this if you’re in it to win it. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to diet like this, 100% commitment is necessary. However, compared to my last prep, this one was rough and a fight the whole way. My mind played tricks on me with things that I was just making up in my head. I was lashing out at the smallest of issues and situations (Sorry lady at Costco). My temper tantrums rivaled that of a 5 year olds at Target being told “No, she cannot have that Barbie Doll”. I had made it up in my head that my husband didn’t want to be with me anymore. I started to believe that I had lost my touch with work and losing connectivity with my community at the gym. All the while having professional opportunities thrown my way making me stop and consider, “what’s next”. By the way, try not to let BIG changes creep on to your path while dieting. It makes the Hunger Games look like a pre-school playground. Hunger plays tricks on people. And it’s not like I am not eating at all. I eat what most people consider to be TOO MUCH. All together, my intake is still above 3,000 calories. Exactly 3,100. However, this is coming down from around 6,000 calories all the while keeping my activity levels the same, if not hitting the weights and training sessions with even more intensity. This is a recipe for the beast to become uncaged if not dealt with. More times then not, the beast came out to play and I am not proud of it. These outbursts of temper are the major reason why I do not want to partake it in this again at any time in the foreseeable future.
Physically, the effects pretty much go without saying. The less I eat, the worse I feel because activity levels stay the same. My coach kept saying to pull back in classes. Do less. Well, it’s pretty hard to pull back in a class when 40-60 people are getting after it and you’re supposed to be leading the charge all the while looking like you’re on the sidelines picking your nose. Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen! I like to get messy with the rest of the gang. Eventually, I lost that battle. I soon had to coach more and more and less participation because well, my body just couldn’t keep up. I began to cramp, my energy levels were just plummeting, and my training was starting to become a chore. My body was/is starving and was telling me to SLOW DOWN. The body is smart. It know what to do instinctively to protect itself, but I am asking it to push further and harder. Other physical side effects of dieting down to this extreme are joint pain, the lack of ability to recover quickly after training sessions, sleep interruption, digestive situations, loss of sex drive, and the list continues. Honestly, what is appealing about this? I ask myself this again now as I am writing this.
Again, for me this is a goal. Something that I set out to achieve. I have given my best of what I could at this time. I stuck to the plan and did not waiver. I wanted to. I wanted to REALLY badly. However, we at Avenger Fitness are not quitters. It’s not in our vocabulary.
Chris and I both went through this experience together this year (made our marriage WAY better). We both have now commented on how selfish though this process is. We have spent more hours looking at MyFitnessPal making sure our macros are on point than having quality time together. We have seen our gym families more than our own. It’s a bad day when the batteries in the food scale diet out and we are frantically getting ourselves to the closest Walgreen’s for new ones so we may measure our banana to the exact gram in weight. We have missed out on social gatherings with friends so as not to have to burden everyone with the exciting story as to why we have chosen NOT to eat those warm, gooey, chocolate brownies and wash them down with a nice glass of wine. We are not normal. We realize this. We have realized that we need to swing the pendulum the other way and get back to what is real and maintainable.
Back to that thing we are all concerned about, body fat, we at Avenger Fitness promote health and health first with our clients. To repeat myself a healthy athletic body fat percentage for a male is between 6-13% and 14-20% for females. This, in our opinion is not only realistic but also maintainable with attention given to both diet and training. In fact, one can even build muscle and make great gains all the while keeping themselves lean and mean. The body only needs so much excess too create growth. Everything beyond that set point is going to be used for storage making the body work harder and longer to lose it in the end.
Leave your experience in the comment section below with everything from the good to the bad with cutting.