Step 1: Clean up your diet
When people ask me how to get shredded, they seem disappointed when I tell them to start eating clean. They were hoping they could get sliced and diced by taking a drug or an OTC supplement. Those do work, but only to an extent. If your diet isn’t on point, you can forget about seeing those deep cuts, splits, and striations with veins crisscrossing your arms, legs, delts, and chest like a river system. Eating clean means consuming as much wholesome natural food as possible, food that is closest to its natural state. These would include fresh fish, eggs, poultry, and lean cuts of red meat, along with rice, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods to avoid would be fried foods, white flour, anything processed, creams and sauces, and simple sugars. There is a world of difference between a grilled chicken breast and a box of Chicken McNuggets. Most items regular humans like to snack on such as cookies, crackers, chips, nachos, bread rolls, donuts, muffins, and cupcakes are off limits if you want to melt your bodyfat away to reveal the chiseled musculature below. If it comes in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag and the expiration date is five years from now, don’t even think about it. Get your healthy fats from nuts, salmon, avocado, and olive oil. Stay away from artery-clogging saturated fats as found in chocolate, pastries, pies, fatty meats like lamb chops and prime rib, processed meats like pepperoni and sausages, bacon, cheese, whole milk, and desserts. Pizza and most of the things available at fast food joints are bad news. Prepare your foods with seasoning or light marinades rather than breading them or drenching them in thick, sugary sauces like teriyaki. Steam vegetables instead of frying them in butter or oil. Green salads are great but become fattening if you slather them in anything but very low-calorie dressing. It should go without saying that items like sugary cereals and chocolatey granola bars have no business in your kitchen. Eating clean isn’t too hard to figure out. It just takes discipline, and planning ahead, which brings us to our next point.
Step 2: Food prep
The biggest challenge to eating clean, aside from battling cravings for the wrong foods, is having multiple clean meals available to you every day. If you have budget and really can’t cook either due to lack of time or ignorance on how to cook, there are meal prep companies that will deliver pre-cooked, pre-portioned, prepackaged meals to your home. For everyone else, you need to set aside a couple hours once or twice a week to prep your meals for the coming days. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and that goes double when it comes to clean eating. Unless you have the right foods handy, it’s always tempting to go hit a drive-through for a chicken sandwich or some other fast food item that’s inferior in quality and nutrients to freshly prepared food that you make yourself. Food prep simply means cooking in bulk. The first step is buying food in bulk. You can keep an eye on local supermarkets for sales on meat and poultry, or do what most of us do these days, which is to buy in quantity from wholesale warehouses like Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club. You can get great prices on chicken breast or thighs, ground turkey, lean red meats and ground beef, eggs, and fresh or frozen fish. These can be baked, grilled, or set in a slow cooker/crockpot. Once you determine what you want to eat every day (there is a sample diet at the end of this article for reference), you can set about devising a plan as to how and when you will prep your meals. Try to be as efficient with your prep time as possible. You might have fish baking in the oven while you are simultaneously grilling sirloin burgers, and 5 pounds of chicken breast are slowly cooking up nice and juicy in the crockpot. Eggs are best made fresh, as they don’t keep well. Invest in a rice cooker so you can cook a week’s worth of rice at once, and of course you can bake your potatoes or sweet potatoes in the oven with the fish. Once all your food is cooked, separate it in plastic or glass containers. Put the portions you intend to eat over the next 2-3 days in the refrigerator and freeze the rest until it’s time to thaw it out and eat. Once you get your system down, it should only take an hour or two, once or twice a week, to cook all your clean meals for every week. When all you need to do is take it out of the fridge or a cooler and heat it up, the odds of you sticking to the right foods to get lean increase exponentially.
Step 3: Practice portion control or count calories
So is that how to get shredded, just eat clean? While that is most of it, you also need to keep a basic math equation in mind. Dropping bodyfat results from expending more calories than you ingest. You must be in a caloric deficit. That means just because you’re eating clean doesn’t mean you can or should eat as much as you want. Let’s say your daily caloric needs based on your body mass and composition, activity level, and BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate, are 2,500. If you consume 2,500 calories a day with no additional activity, you will fail to lose any bodyfat. If you consume 3,000 calories daily. It won’t be long before your body starts accumulating more bodyfat, even if you’re eating 100% clean. To drop fat, you would need to either eat less calories, burn more calories via exercise, or both. Many bodybuilders have fallen into the trap of assuming they could eat unlimited amounts of food so long as it came from clean sources like grilled chicken breasts, steamed white rice, and egg whites. While it would be harder to overeat with clean food than it would be eating calorie bombs like pizza, donuts, and bacon double cheeseburgers, a calorie is a calorie. You need to calculate your daily calories and track your bodyweight and body composition in order to adjust your diet to reach your goals. There are tons of apps these days that allow you do all this with ease on your phone. The key point here is that at the end of the day, getting ripped is really about calories in vs. calories out. Unless you create a caloric deficit, that bodyfat of yours ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Step 4: Structure carbs around training
Carbohydrates have taken on an almost mythical status when it comes to fat loss. Many preach that carbs are the devil, and the secret to melting off fat is simply to forsake them. Ketogenic diets can be effective in the short term for fat loss, but over time they are exceedingly difficult to sustain and can also lead to loss of lean muscle tissue. Since regular people only care about seeing a lower number on the scale, the rapid water loss that occurs in the initial stages of going zero carbs are enticing. Bodybuilders want to keep all their muscle mass while they lose fat, and you also need carbohydrates to provide the muscle glycogen that fuels hard training as well as to replace spent glycogen stores for damaged muscle tissue to repair and recover. At the same time, you must be careful when striving to lose fat to only consume what you need, and no more. When I talk to people at a loss as to why they can’t get any leaner and I find out they are having carbs with every meal of the day, I want to do a face palm. That might be a good idea for someone with a fast metabolism who is trying to gain weight. For anyone attempting to shred it up, it’s a very bad idea. When does your body truly need carbohydrates? I submit that it’s only at two times: the meal before you train, and the meal after you train. As for the post-workout shake, little or no carbs are needed in that as the protein content will preserve muscle tissue. Eating carbs in just those two meals gives you the best chance of having those carbs utilized properly instead of any excess being stored eventually as more bodyfat. For mental function, it’s also okay to have carbs with breakfast even if it’s not your pre-workout meal. Your metabolic rate is highest in the morning and you haven’t eaten all night, so most of these carbohydrates will be sucked right up.
Step 5: Do your damn cardio
I know that none of signed up for cardio when we started our bodybuilding journeys. It was all about moving some heavy iron and getting our pump on! But any response to the question of how to get shredded that doesn’t include cardiovascular training is setting you up to fail. It is possible to create a caloric deficit via diet alone, but you will be miserable and starving. Better to increase your activity level and eat more food, for both your mind and body. Cardio stimulates the metabolism, keeps your heart and lungs strong and healthy, and improves circulation. When you combine 100% clean eating with portion control and regular cardio, that’s when the real fat-loss magic happens. How much, and what type? The amount of cardio needed to produce results will vary among individuals. Suffice to say that anyone with bodyfat to shed should start on a bare minimum of four times a week for 30 minutes. You have your choice of treadmill, stationary bike, steppers, or elliptical trainers. The toughest of all is the StepMill. You can use the sensors on all these machines to stay in the target heart rate for fat burning, but you should always be breathing heavy and working up a sweat. If you can easily talk to the person next to you or on the phone, you need to either up the resistance level, go faster, or both. Depending on how much fat you have to lose, you might need to do as much as an hour of cardio every day to reach your goal and see those razor cuts. Cardio can be done fasted, first thing in the morning for optimal results, or after your weight training. Studies have been inconclusive as to whether fasted morning cardio is indeed vastly superior for fat burning over doing it at other times in a fed state, so use your own discretion. Your pace can also either be steady state or HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training. You will lose fat either way, but you will burn more calories in a shorter time with HIIT. If you’re someone with limited time to devote to cardio, HIIT is your best bet.
Step 6: Who said you get cheat meals?
It seems that whenever someone these days asks how to get shredded, their follow-up question is often, “And how many cheat meals do I get?” You won’t like my answer – none! Cheat meals have become a standard reward for adhering to a diet, as if dieting is such torture that no human could withstand it for long without a break. Cheat meals do have a time and place, mainly in cases where a person is losing too much weight, too fast. Unless that situation befalls you, there is no need for a cheat meal, which would only set you back a bit toward hitting your goal. It’s okay to be hungry and to have cravings. People have this insane expectation now that they should never have to experience any level of discomfort. If you want to have a six-pack that looks like you could scrub laundry on it, you are probably going to have to suffer a little bit for it. Anything worth having is worth working for, and sticking to a clean meal plan is well worth it once you see the chiseled muscles revealed once you strip away the fat that’s obscuring them from view. If you want to go celebrate with a cheat meal once you’ve achieved what you set out to accomplish, go for it.
- 10 egg whites, ½ cup (dry) rolled oats with ¼ cup blueberries or strawberries
- 8 oz. chicken breast, 6-8 grilled asparagus stalks
- 8 oz. salmon, large green salad or 1 cup steamed broccoli
Meal 4 (pre-workout)
- 8 oz ground turkey (1 tbsp salsa okay to mix in), medium sweet potato
- Post-workout shake
- 40-50 grams blend of whey and casein protein
- 8 oz white fish, ½ cup brown rice
*Assuming late afternoon/early evening workouts