How many calories should I eat?

Do I need to do a ton of cardio?

Should I go Keto?

There’s a lot of confusion around getting abs. It can seem like the furthest thing from reality and something you have devote your entire life to achieve. You see these guys in magazine ads that are dick skin shredded (hat tip to Alex Mullan for the term) and you think to yourself “It would be nice, but I’ll never look like that.”

Getting dick skin shredded isn’t just for dudes on Instagram or dudes rocking banana hammocks for bodybuilding shows. Anyone can have abs.

For example, here I was doing a Tough Mudder and

Dave-Bonollo

Here I was a week out from my bodybuilding show

me-competition

Besides my mom (love you mom), no one thinks I’m special or genetically gifted. I’m just a normal guy that wants to be my wife’s arm candy.

And to be honest, I’m really not all that active. I go to the gym 3 days a week and the rest of my time is either on da socials, writing or binge-watching TV.

Back in my yute, I was frustrated and down on myself from my lack of results. I fell into all the same traps you probably did.

I took fat burners.

I did endless cardio.

I did tons of reps with light weights all to end up end up having the strength of someone with muscular dystrophy. I would think I’ll never be able to do it, my metabolism was too slow or I was too old.

Really, I was just a bitch making up excuses because I wasn’t consistent with my diet and I had zero patience. I wanted abs now.

The truth is it’s going to take time and consistency. But if you follow the plan I’ll outline for you, you will get there barring you can shut that voice up in your head.

Setting Expectations

We all want abs today. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Getting lean enough for your abs to show takes time. Great progress is losing 1-2 pounds a week. Good progress is 0.5-1 pound a week. Any more than that and you’re risking losing muscle as well.

So if you have 20 pounds of fat to lose prepare for 10-20 weeks of dieting. I’ll admit that does seem like a lifetime but looking back a year later, is it really going to matter?

Why Fancy Diets Are Irrelevant

twinkies-abs

Keto. Paleo. Slow Carb. Carb Cycling. Intermittent Fasting.

All diets that came out in the last 15 years. All promised to be the best diet ever. All have two things in common.

Calorie restriction.

Absolutely useless if you can’t stick to them.

Research has shown that when calories are held constant below maintenance, high fat/low fat or high carb/low carb makes zero difference.

Does that mean you could eat all your daily calories in Twinkies and KFC and still lose weight? Effectively yes. But good luck keeping muscle and not feeling like a bag of dicks at the end, especially if you are working hard in the gym.

Twinkies and KFC, although delicious, aren’t good for muscle recovery.

Breaking Down Macros

abs-protein

If you like having muscle and don’t want to look like you’ve been on the latest season of Survivor you’re going to want to add protein to your diet. Not only will protein help keep your muscles that you worked so hard for, but it’ll also help you from becoming ravenously hungry and eating everything in sight.

So what’s the right macro ratio to help you shred fat and keep muscle?

Really whatever you want, obvi with a caveat.

If you’re trying this at home, set protein to 1-1.2g/ 1 lb of bodyweight. For a 200 pound guy, this is 200-240g of protein a day.

That’s a lotta meatballs.

This amount of protein will do a few things for you.

First of all, it’ll help repair muscles after a hard workout.

Next, it’ll help you preserve the muscle you have. So at the end of this, you won’t have the strength of a prepubescent girl.

Finally, protein takes a while to digest which means it’ll stay in your stomach longer which results in you feeling full longer.

The rest of your calories can be a blend of both carbs and fat, dealer’s choice on which one is higher. I know it’s contrary to prior belief that you can eat carbs and lose weight so I understand the skepticism. It’s been beaten in our heads that we need to go low carb to lose weight. But honestly, that’s just a way to reduce calories.

Going low carb will help you drop a few extra pounds in the beginning which would be water weight. It could be good for motivation. The opposite side of that coin is workouts will suffer and you’re probably going to get a little cranky.

Calories Are King

So the real question becomes how many of these fancy calories do you need a day?

This is where my complex math skills come into play. Ready?

Take your current weight and multiply it by 10. This amount of calories is an aggressive cut but it works.
This will get you off to a fast start to help motivation and help you burn through some fat quickly. Now you are going to lose weight. So every 10 pounds lost, you want to recalculate this 10x calorie intake.

After 8 weeks, I suggest reverse dieting back up to maintenance. This will help you put on muscle and ramp your metabolism back up.

While you’re dieting and reducing calories your metabolism becomes more efficient. It starts extracting more nutrients from your food and discarding less. Great adaptation for survival but an absolute shit show when adding calories back in. Simply overloading your body with calories will cause more food to be absorbed which is why people blow up after being on a diet.

What To Eat

You’ve seen food lists for other diets, right? Minimally processed foods, limit the alcohol, don’t cook in fat or bread your meat. I’m sure I’m missing a penis joke somewhere in there.

abs -ryan

This does not mean you have to eat chicken and broccoli every day. North Korean prisoners aren’t even subjected to that kind of torture. Vary it up, but keep the general plate distribution.

First, protein. Fill about half of your plate with protein. That way you feel like we ate something and you can save your muscles. Remember you are trying to get 1-1.5g of protein a day. Still a lot of meatballs

Next vegetables. Take what’s left of the plate and fill it with vegetables of your choice. If it’s a vegetable, it’s good.

Finally carbs. Have your carbs before and after your workout. This will help you fuel the workouts and repair after you’re done being a boss in the gym. If you can’t get all your carbs in during these two meals eat some in the meal before your pre-workout meal if you workout in the afternoon or at lunch if you workout in the morning.

Now you prob have questions about some foods that are staples of your diet now. A good rule of thumb is if it came from the outside aisles of the supermarket you’re OK. Inside that, I’d skip it or save it for a cheat meal.

The more processed foods are on the inside, the healthy stuff is on the outside. If it feels like you’re cheating, you are. Put it down.

Put Down That 5lb Dumbbell

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95% of your weight loss is going to come from your diet. Your workout is just to preserve muscle and strength. So working out 3-4x per week is more than enough.

Dieting down is stressful on the body. Working out also stresses the body. Plus, I bet you have something called work that never gets stressful.

That’s a lot of freakin stress to deal with.

Stress causes the body to release a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause an increase in fat gain and slow fat loss. Kinda the opposite of what we are trying to do here. So let’s try to manage that and reduce stress where we can, our workout.

To lose fat, 3 days of full body workouts are enough. If done properly it’ll be enough to keep your muscle and strength while giving your metabolism a little boost.

And to preserve said muscle and strength, you need to lift heavy. Save the lightweight shit for someone that will look the same July 4 as they did March 4th.

To keep strength, keep your squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench press, rows and pull-ups heavy. I’m talking less than 6 reps per set. Ideally, working up to a 3 rep max will be enough to save your strength and stimulate the most muscle fibers.

The goal of your workout should be to stimulate muscle and not annihilate it. If you are coming from a bro-split or are used to doing a ton of volume you’ll burn out quickly, spike cortisol and slow your fat loss down.

Remember, you are not a professional bodybuilder. You are not supplementing with steroids and other PEDs to throw protein synthesis into overdrive. Don’t compare yourself or do the same workouts they do. I’m not saying they all do, but it’s safe to assume it’s enough people to have a stereotype.

So for the normal busy guy, each workout should have one to two heavy exercises (< 6 reps), one to two med exercises (8-10 reps) and one to two light exercises (12-15 reps). Topping out at 4-6 exercises per workout for full body. This should take you about 45-60 minutes.

For the heavy exercises, you want to aim for <24 reps, med exercises 24-36 reps and light exercises should be in the 36-50 range.

So here’s what a sample workout might look like:

Day 1
Squat 3×8
DB Single Arm Row 5×3
DB Incline Bench Press 3×8
Lat Raises 3×12
Rope Pulldown 3×10
Bicep Curls 2×15

Day 2
Conventional Deadlift 3×6,5,3
Bench Press 5×3
Lat Pulldown 3×8
Shoulder Press 5×4
Preacher Curls 3×10
Skull crushers 4×8

Day 3
Single Leg Squat 3×8
Cable Fly 3×12
Chinups 4×5
Dips 5×3
Reverse fly 3×8
Straight Bar pulldown 2×15

Remember, less is more. Focus on diet first and stimulating your muscles second.

Get Off The Treadmill

abs-treadmill

We’ve all done it. We get fat loss as our goal and endless cardio is the next logical move. Don’t do that.

Take the lazy approach to cardio. Start slow and only do what is necessary. I suggest this for a few reasons:

Your body wants to be efficient.

A 15-minute run done week one will burn more calories than the same 15 minute run week two. That 15 minute run on week two will burn more calories than on week three. As you do more cardio your body becomes more efficient at producing the energy needed for the run.

To get the same calorie burn in week three as you did in week one, you’d have to either run faster for the same amount of time or run for a longer duration at the same speed.

If some is good more must be better.

Another reason I suggest this approach is people tend to overdo cardio which is all well and good the first week or two then your body adapts. Then your only options to continue to lose fat is either drop calories further or increase cardio.

Cardio is a tool in your fat loss toolkit, just like a hammer.

Start off with just getting more movement in your day. Take the stairs, park your car a little further from the office or poop in the bathroom furthest from your desk. I honestly don’t want you to touch a cardio machine for the first month.

Once your progress seems to slow down, add in 10-15 minutes of walking on the treadmill after a workout. Stay there until your progress stalls and then add in 1 day of HIIT on an elliptical for 10 minutes (20 second sprint, 40-second walk). The other days at the gym, just walk.

Keep progressing cardio like this, slowly ramping it up.

Supplements

Everyone wants a shortcut. I fell for fat burners, special supplements, and herbs that promised me abs. The only things I got from them was frustration and a lighter wallet. Combined with a calorie restricted diet these supplements might have worked but I doubt it.

The only supplements worth taking are protein powders if you find it harder to get enough protein from lean meats. It’s not necessary but it helps, especially if you are busy.

The other one is creatine. Creatine works as a bigger gas tank for your muscles.

One of the energy pathways used during exercise (6-12+ rep range) uses ATP for energy. After ATP is used it turns to ADP. ADP is useless until it gets converted back to ATP.

The turnover from ADP to ATP is the limiting factor in how many reps you can do before you feel gassed.
What creatine does is floods the muscle with the material needed to turn ADP to ATP. Hence the bigger gas tank.

Creatine, while dieting, will help you push out those last few reps to help preserve that hard earned muscle.

How To Know If Ya Gettin’ Anywhere

abs-selfie

The gold standard metric of successful fat loss is stepping on the scale. It shouldn’t be but it is.

That is until your weight doesn’t drop like you think it should. Then it becomes your golden ticket to go full on Fuck It mode and you eat everything within arms reach. Why stick to a diet if it doesn’t work? Right?

Let’s pump the brakes for a sec and think about this scenario.

Person A has abs you could wash clothes on and biceps that resemble the highest peaks in the Rockies. He has your ideal body. He weighs 200 lbs.

Person B has a beer belly and the only time he went into a gym was when he mistook it for a massage parlor. Ya know the kind (wink). He weighs 200 lbs.

Both guys step on the scale. Who weighs more?

God, I hope you said they weigh the same or else you got some splainin’ to do.

My point, the scale doesn’t take into consideration body composition if your full of crap cause you haven’t dropped heat in a few days or if you’re taking on water like the Titanic (more on this in the Whooshing section). All it knows is how much force you’re pushing down with.

Yea, it’s nice to see the number go down but it’s not a true indicator of progress. If you’re not used to seeing normal weight fluctuations it could lead to you quitting a diet that is really working.

Instead up your selfie game and take measurements.

TAKE BATHROOM SELFIES –

Ultimately, with fat loss, the main goal is to look better naked. Fuck what the scale says if the person looking back at you is wrapped in dick skin. Shirtless bathroom selfies are the answer. I suggest taking one once a month and comparing it to the one when you first started.

TAKE MEASUREMENTS –

Since you see yourself every day you might not notice subtle differences in your body. Taking measurements around the belly, over the chest and the shoulders are that objective view of how you are losing weight. Take these measurements with a flexible tape measure like tailors use.

Pick a day and a time to do these both weekly along with weighing in. Write it down or keep it in the Notes section of your phone. Or if you’re nerdy like me, put it into excel and graph it.

But if you are going to completely ignore my suggestions and stick with just taking your weight, do yourself a favor and take your weight every day. At the end of the week average them out. Daily weight fluctuations are normal, real progress lies in the weekly average. If you are consistently losing weight based on weekly averages you’re doing good.

If it’s the same, read the next section before you go off the rails.

WTF IS Whooshing

Now if you are comparing weekly averages you might notice something odd.

At a certain point, it’s going to look like you are either staying the same or getting worse. If you can honestly say you haven’t strayed from your diet and you are still eating at 10x your bodyweight for daily calories then you are a prime candidate for a whoosh.

One of the most troubling yet satisfying things about fat loss is the whooshing effect. The whooshing effect is when you lose a ton of weight seemingly overnight.

Here’s what actually happens. Your beer gut has fat cells filled with triglycerides (fat). When you are in a calorie deficit those triglycerides are removed from the fat cells and used for energy. Yeah!

As anyone that has removed something from a container knows, that leaves space in the container. Space which is then filled with water. Boo!

So on the outside and on the scale, it looks like nothing happened when in actuality you are making fantastic progress. This is usually when people quit. Don’t fuckin’ quit!

For the few that stick with it, more and more fat is lost, and that space is filled with more and more water. You’ll notice your fat will get more jiggly and the areas become warmer to the touch after you do cardio. Fat won’t do this, especially being warm after cardio.

Then one magical night the whooshing fairy taps you on the nose with her magic wand and you wake up 2-5 pounds lighter with a noticeably thinner waist. What actually happens is your fat cells shrink and you piss out all the water.

I prefer the Whooshing Fairy explanation but I’m just a child in an adult’s body.

Cheat Meals vs. Cheat Days

Now the elephant in the room. Cheat days and cheat meals.

With cheat days you’re basically undoing all the work you’ve reluctantly stuck through during the week. If you’re struggling to lose weight for a while like I was in my yute, this is a good place to start looking.

Fat loss is a product of calorie restriction over weeks. Let’s say during the week you’re eating 1500 calories, then you have a cheat “day” to the tune of 3500 calories. We all know a cheat “day” is code for the entire weekend. For ease of math, let’s say 2000 calories is to maintain your weight.

Monday: 1500 calories (-500)
Tuesday: 1500 calories (-500)
Wednesday: 1500 calories (-500)
Thursday: 1500 calories (-500)
Friday: 1500 calories (-500)
Saturday: 3500 calories (+1500)
Sunday: 3500 calories (+1500)

So at the end of the week, you’re +500 calories. While not significant for one week but that compounded over a year is an extra 26,000 calories. Assuming a pound of fat contains about 3500 calories, that’s an extra 7.5 pounds of fat a year. You’re going the wrong way.

If a football team worked like this, 3 of the 11 players on the field would be competing against their own team rather than the opponent.

Stick with cheat meals. One to two a week can drastically up diet compliance, satisfy the cravings and still get you to your Aesthetic Physique.

Wrap It Up B

Getting dick skin shredded takes time, patience and consistency. It is not an all day job, hell you don’t even have to go to the gym every day.

  • Set calories to 10x bodyweight
  • Aim for 1-1.2g/pound of bodyweight for protein
  • Fill in the rest with fat and carbs
  • Workout 3x a week
  • Keep the big lifts heavy
  • Say no to cheat days

If you’re looking for some extra help, I do offer online training where I handle all your nutrition, workout and accountability needs. Fill out an application and we can talk.

Dave

Whoosh