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5 Tips for Leaning Out

By July 12, 2015September 14th, 2016Conditioning, Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth), Nutrition

If you’re the type of person who can formulate a plan and stick with it to a T for months on end no problemmo, then you won’t find this article as useful as others who struggle with adherence. Furthermore, if you’re the type that just needs to recomp (add muscle while decreasing fat and staying relatively at the same weight), then this article won’t be as much help to you. The vast majority of individuals will indeed benefit from this article since most people are markedly overweight. However, I wrote this article for the folks like me who have been training for many years and have put on a significant amount of muscle mass but never reached the level of leanness they desire. This applies to the majority of advanced lifters as well, since most never truly get into competition shape (I never have, for the record).

For me, adherence is the most difficult thing in the world. Every few hours, it takes everything in me to not enter the kitchen and devour everything in site. Since I was 16 years old, I’ve always been a terrible sleeper, and if I’m hungry, I can’t sleep. In fact, most nights I wake up in the middle of the night starving and the hunger pangs are hard to bear. I have to drink a protein drink or eat a Greek yogurt then go back to sleep. For these reasons, although I’m highly skilled at creating macro plans, I’m not the best at sticking to them.



I’ll elaborate to make a point. Last year, my intern Andrew Vigotsky would come over and we’d work on various research projects from around 8:00 pm to 2:00 am in the morning. During these 6 hours, he wouldn’t eat anything, he wouldn’t drink anything, and he wouldn’t go to the bathroom once to take a leak. In this same amount of time, I’d predictably eat 3 different times, drink 1.5 Liters of fluids, and take a leak at least 3 times. He doesn’t get hungry often and has to force himself to eat enough, whereas I’m hungry around the clock and have to try my hardest every day to not go berserk and consume 10,000 calories/day. I’m certain that if we took blood samples throughout the day and analyzed our physiology, we’d see  completely different hunger hormone profiles. It’s like my bodyweight set point is for some reason at 300 lbs and I’m trying to be 215 lbs. At any rate, I finally buckled down and made some progress, and I’m excited to share with you the tips that worked for me. 

As I mentioned in a blogpost HERE a couple of weeks ago, I recently lost 22 lbs (from 246 lbs to 224 lbs) and leaned out considerably. Many of my readers were curious as to how I went about it. As a matter of fact, I posted a picture of my current physique on Facebook and it received 4,690 likes – by far the most I’ve ever received!

This was pleasantly surprising to me because I don’t feel like my physique is very impressive. The dude in the picture below – now that’s an impressive physique! Nevertheless, having leaned out myself and having helped numerous clients lean out over the years, I believe that I have some good insight to share.

This guy is shredded!

This guy is lean! Not me.

I Figured Out What Worked for Me, You Have to Figure Out What Works for You!

Throughout this article, please realize that these are the approaches that worked well for me; they won’t necessarily work for you. However, you can learn from my strategization and experimentation in order to help you figure out the methods and systems that best suit your individuality.

After much deliberation, I decided to narrow things down to five main tips that should help you on your way to leanness, should that be your goal.

1. Do what you need to do to continue achieving excellent workouts

It’s much easier to train hard when you’re eating like a horse. When you’re dieting down, your workouts will eventually suffer, and this effect gets more pronounced the longer you’ve been dieting.


It is mandatory that you have plenty of energy to train hard to maintain strength (or even better – to build strength) over time. If you feel weak and shaky when you lift, your performance is obviously going to suffer massively, therefore you won’t be sending the same growth signals to the muscles, and your muscles will atrophy. The goal is to keep as much muscle as possible while you lose weight so that the weight you do lose is mostly fat. Most people mistakenly focus on losing weight instead of losing fat. Muscle gives you shape and keeps your metabolism more revved (*side note: many fitness experts overestimate this though; a pound of muscle burns approximately 5.9 calories/day whereas a pound of fat burns approximately 2.0 calories/day, at least according to literature referenced HERE), so it’s imperative that you prioritize strength training. You don’t want to just be a smaller version of your current self; you want to keep your muscle and lose mostly fat so you will appear more ripped and possess lower bodyfat levels.

So how do you ensure that you have sufficient energy to train hard when dieting down? Everyone is unique in this regard – I cannot give you a precise formula. You’re going to have to experiment and be scientific in order to figure out what works best for you. In particular, you need to figure out:

  1. The ideal time of day you should train in order to put forth your best effort
  2. The ideal number of meals you should consume prior to your training session
  3. The ideal combination of foods you should consume prior to your training session
  4. The types of supplements, if any, that help you train harder
  5. The amount, type, and timing of cardio, if any, that helps you lose fat without interfering with strength
  6. The optimal amount of calorie reduction and macro proportions that allows you to steadily drop weight (fat) while keeping your strength (muscle)

I know of some lifters who like to train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This strategy alone would cause me to lose significant strength and most likely muscle as well as I don’t perform optimally in the mornings – especially with squats, deadlifts, and other “big rock” movements. I do best when I train in the afternoon or evenings.

I know of some lifters who don’t feel right if they don’t have a couple of moderate carb meals prior to their workouts or at least a high carb meal 1-2 hours before their workout. I know of some lifters who consume all of their daily carbs during the 3 hours surrounding a workout (before, during, and after). I don’t require moderate or high carb meals before I train; this doesn’t seem to affect my performance. However, I like to have several meals in me by the time I train, especially a protein shake around 40 minutes prior to my workout.

I know of some lifters who love their HIIT and can’t stand steady state cardio. I don’t like doing HIIT or running as I feel that it interferes with my strength since I train with high frequency (*side note: THIS review shows that concurrent training does interfere with strength, power, and hypertrophy, and THIS review discusses some of the factors involved in the interference effect). I walk for 40 minutes 4-5 days per week – always after my strength workouts.

I know of some lifters who thrive off of coffee and/or caffeine pills prior to training. I rarely drink coffee, and I don’t take pre-workout supplements, but I always drink a diet energy drink on my way to the gym.

Initially, I was able to reduce my calories substantially while still maintaining my strength. This could be explained by a drop in carbohydrates (I was consuming tons of carbs every day) leading to improved insulin sensitivity/enhanced physiology, along with a significant portion of the first 10 lbs of weight loss coming from water losses. I lost 16 lbs during the first 3 weeks of dieting, and the remaining 8 lbs took 9 weeks, but my physique looked better every week. I know I was a little overaggressive out of the gates, but it all worked out in the end.


I had to be more meticulous as time went on in terms of calorie reductions in order to prevent strength and muscle losses. As I lost weight, I fought vigorously to maintain my strength. I’m going to reiterate that to make a point: I CARED ABOUT MY STRENGTH AND MADE IT A PRIORITY. You need to do this too if you want to hold onto your muscle while you lose weight.

Throughout the 24 lb weight loss, my high rep deadlift strength, weighted chin up strength, max rep chin ups, and lat pulldown strength soared, my max rep deadlift strength, hip thrust strength, reverse lunge strength, rowing strength, and incline press strength remained fairly steady, and my squat strength, front squat strength, bench press strength, and military press strength diminished by around 10% – similar to my bodyweight reduction. So I gained in some lifts, maintained in some lifts, and lost in other lifts. However, I set weekly goals, I planned, tracked, and analyzed my workouts, and I tried my absolute best to still set PRs when possible. I believe that this caused me to retain more muscle and lose more fat throughout the dieting process. This are the strategies that worked best for me; you’ll need to figure out what works best for you. 

2. Eat less and prepare to suffer more

When I was at The Fitness Summit a couple of months ago, some of my colleagues noticed that I looked leaner and asked me what I was doing in order to lean out. I thought about it for a few seconds and replied with this:

“Um, I’m eating less overall calories and staying hungry more often.”

We all laughed because they expected some fancy formula, but all I gave them was something any moron could tell them. However, this advice is very important. I suppose I could have been more technical and informed them that I created a caloric deficit by progressively cutting my carbs and fat down while keeping my protein the same (around 1 gram/lb of bodyweight per day). However, one of the main things I had to do was get used to being more comfortable with being hungry.

I realize now that I was a spoiled little b#$%* when I weighed 250 lbs. Whenever I experienced the slightest bit of hunger, off to the kitchen I went. In fact, sometimes I’d even hit up Valeros at 2 a.m. before I went to sleep. Valeros is a local Mexican food take out restaurant near my house – I’d order a chorizo and egg burrito with beans and rice. Who in the f*#$ did I think I was LOL? This was just one of the 8 meals I ‘d consume per day. Back then I was eating around 6K calories per day at 250 lbs, but in order to get down to 224 lbs I had to eventually get to around 3,000 calories per day. This was fine when I was in my early 20’s, but I’m 38 yrs old now and can’t handle all those calories while staying lean.


When I was at 250 lbs, I would guess that I experienced general hunger for around 20 minutes per day. But at 224 lbs, I would guess that I was experiencing general hunger for around 3 hours per day. I had to accept this and learn to deal with the suffering. Getting lean isn’t all fun and games for most people.

3. Prioritize diet, but every little bit can help

It’s important to be mathematical with regards to the fat loss puzzle. How many calories does exercise in general burn? Of course, it depends on various factors such as the nature and intensity of the exercise and the person’s bodyweight, but let’s just go with 5-10 calories per minute for sustained exercise.

Common sense tells us that extreme methods don’t pan out in the long run. So let’s assume that you’re going to be realistic and lift weights 4 times per week for an hour. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you train very hard – full body – and that each training session has you burning 300 more calories more than you would at rest. This equates to 1,200 extra calories per week. Say you add in four 30 minute steady state cardio sessions which burn an additional 200 calories per session above what you’d normally burn. This equates to 800 extra calories per week. Now you’re burning an additional 2,000 calories per week through exercise, or 286 calories/day.

Not very impressive, right? Let’s say you currently eat a bagel with cream cheese each day as a snack, or say you have a few alcoholic drinks after work each night. Simply cutting these out of your diet will create the same caloric deficit as all of that exercising above (6-8 hours of total activity). Obviously strength training with the extra calories would be the best choice for your physique over the long haul since it causes the body to transform by building more muscle and shedding fat (assuming weight stays fairly constant), but the take home point is that the primary focus with fat loss should be on diet, not exercise, since it’s easier for most people to eat less as opposed to exercising more.

That said, every little bit can help. For example, when you’re dieting down and you crave a sugary snack, you might very well be willing to add in 40 minutes of brisk walking as a trade for allowing yourself to gobble down some tasty treat (for example, a snickers bar, not a giant bowl of icecream or half a dozen donuts). It just depends on your cravings and mindset. Some people aren’t tempted and can stick to their macros like a boss. Others struggle more in this regard.

Inclined treadmill walking is one of my favorite forms of cardio - doesn't interfere with strength and hits the glutes pretty well.

Inclined treadmill walking is one of my favorite forms of cardio – doesn’t interfere with strength and hits the glutes pretty well.

On days when I train clients for 4 hours or so, I find that I’m able to consume around an extra 600 calories compared to days when I don’t train any clients, and I won’t lie, the extra calories are very nice. But truth be told, if I wasn’t making money from the personal training, I’d prefer to just omit the extra hours of work/activity and just consume less calories. For those who don’t have tremendous cravings, you can just lift weights and adjust your diet appropriately; you don’t have to employ additional cardio to get lean. I realize that this is contrary to popular opinion, but many of my clients have pulled it off just fine – they stepped on stage looking incredibly lean having never done on ounce of cardio. Some cardio is indeed important for health purposes, but many people greatly overestimate how much cardio is ideal for health related goals (*side note: specifically with running and vigorous exercise, there’s a sweet spot, or a u-shaped curve, that maximizes health benefits, according to THIS paper, and it’s capped at 30-40 minutes per day).

4. Figure out clever ways to stave off hunger

Calculating macros is easy, but sticking to them is not always very easy, especially as you get leaner. Now, if you’re the type that isn’t prone to experiencing hunger pangs, then you’re a lucky individual and you can ignore this tip. However, if you’re like most people, you’re going to reach a point when dieting down where you find yourself getting extremely hungry. The body has inherent set points for bodyweight and bodyfat, so when you drop down, your body responds by sending out hunger signals. You will need to find a way to stave off hunger.

This is another thing that is highly individual. Some people consume a lot of fibrous veggies. My body doesn’t seem to be fooled by this – 30 minutes later my stomach is growling like crazy. Others chew gum, drink tea, drink a bunch of water, or even brush their teeth. What works best for me is exercise, caffeine, and carbonation. Each of these stave off my hunger temporarily. Sometimes I’ll be starving and I drink a diet energy drink and then go for a walk, and my hunger will have vanished. Three hours later I’m finally hungry again, and I successfully “stalled” my hunger for a few hours which helps enable me to stick to my macros. You will need to figure out similar strategies that work for you.

5. The 1-2X/week whey protein macro-fitting strategy for long-term adherence

Adherence is the name of the game over the long run. If you can set up, stick to, and intelligently adjust your macros for months on end and consistently set PRs in the gym, you’re going to look incredible. Many people don’t understand what “macros” means. Macros are protein, carbs, and fat, and the amount you consume of each determines your caloric intake. If this is new to you and you desire a basic guide to teach you about flexible dieting and calculating macros, click HERE to check out Sohee Lee’s “The Beginner’s Guide to Macros.” It’s an affordable guide and it’s very well written – I vouch for it. I also included a bonus guide in my 2 x 4: Maximum Strength product.

Before I divulge my “whey protein macro-fitting strategy,” I’m going to first rant about anti-flexible dieting comments I’ve seen over the past year.

Rant start

I’ve been seeing some people dissing “flexible dieting” lately as if it doesn’t have merit. This would then mean that they’re all for “inflexible dieting” or “rigid dieting.” Having trained numerous competitors who ate the same meals everyday for a couple of months during their preps (egg white omelets, broccoli, chicken, tilapia, sweet potato, oats), I can tell you with much confidence that this doesn’t pan out in the long run. As soon as the competition is over, most of these ladies put on 15 lbs the following week, then they’re miserable. This is why I’m a strong believer in moderation and why I don’t like excessive cardio or dieting. Variety is ideal for adherence.

On a continuum of “dieting flexibility,” on one end you’d have the most rigid dieters who would just eat a few different things each day, whereas on the other end you’d have the most flexible dieters who would switch things up and eat new things daily. I’m pretty sure nobody would recommend just eating one food, such as milk. Or beef. Or eggs. Or whatever. You’d be very unhealthy and would develop serious health complications pretty quickly. So rigid, inflexible dieting is out, and at the very least, it would be prudent to regularly consume at least 10 different foods. Most people are flexible dieters whether they realize it or not.

The difference between the flexible dieters and “anti flexible dieters” is that flexible dieters often purposefully work in some junk food such as pop tarts, or ice cream, or whatever, but it’s in small amounts. The rigid dieters think this is unhealthy, but something that they’re missing is that you can still adhere to flexible dieting and abstain from junk food. You can “eat clean” (misleading term but we all kind of know what it means) while still being flexible and incorporating a lot of variety. For the record, adding in some junk is not unhealthy in the grand scheme of things as long as around 80% of your foods come from whole, minimally processed foods, and I’m unaware of a single marker of overall health that would be negatively impacted such as insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. Many “clean eaters” have a cheat day where they go crazy for an entire day and end up eating just as much junk throughout the week as the flexible dieters anyway.

Nevertheless, variety is better for overall health since you get more of a variety of micronutrients, phytochemicals, etc. But being lean is very healthy in and of itself. Many of you will recall “The Twinkie Diet” rage years ago where professor Mark Haub lost 27 lbs in 10 weeks by eating 800 less calories/day. He consumed a protein shake and a can of veggies each day, but everything else was junk – twinkies, oreos, little debbie snacks, hostess products, doritos, and sugary cereals. Even though he ate a bunch of crap, since he leaned out, his overall health improved – his LDL levels dropped by 20%, his HDL levels increased by 20%, and his triglycerides improved by 39%. Overweight people who add fruits/veggies to their diets without losing weight don’t tend to improve their cardiovascular health (see HERE).

This is why adherence is the name of the game! So we all need to figure out strategies that allow us to “adhere” for the long-term. This allows us to be at the right weight and bodyfat that we want to be at and stay there for the long-term. This leads right into my next point.

Rant over

When you’re dieting down, you tend to crave predictable foods. Sugary foods, fried foods, foods that have lots of carbs and fats, etc. For example, pizza, burgers, fries, ice cream, peanut butter, bacon, cereal, pancakes, macaroni and cheese, cookies, brownies, pie, candy, and chocolate. I started utilizing an interesting flexible approach that 1) allowed me to get in the foods I craved, and 2) was quick and didn’t require a lot of prep time. Win win!

My Whey Protein-Fitting Macro Plan

Now, you don’t have to follow this same approach, but you could easily tweak it to suit your individuality. What I did was simply jot down foods I really wished I could eat. For example, I love my giant bowls of cereal, I love my cheeseburgers, and I love my pancakes with tons of butter and syrup. Guess what? I realized that I could have cereal in the morning along with a whey protein shake, a double cheeseburger for lunch, pancakes for dinner along with a whey protein shake, and a whey protein and peanut butter shake (actually more like pudding) before I went to sleep. How’s that for a day’s meals? The things I craved were loaded with fat and carbs, but I “filled in the gaps” with whey protein in order to ensure that I hit my macros and didn’t go overboard on calories. Think of the foods you crave (when you’re dieting down, sometimes the things you crave are different than when you’re not dieting down), work them into your diet in reasonable amounts, then balance everything out with protein. Here’s what one of the days looked like for me:


Giant bowl of Grape Nuts: 500 calories, 12 grams protein, 94 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Skim milk: 135 calories, 12 grams protein, 18 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
2 scoops in whey protein in water: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Total: 855 calories, 66 grams protein, 120 grams carbs, 4 grams fat

grape nuts


Double cheeseburger (Wendy’s): 700 calories, 48 grams protein, 38 grams carbs, 39 grams fat
Total: 700 calories, 48 grams protein, 38 grams carbs, 39 grams fat

double cheeseburger


3 pancakes: 471 calories, 12 grams protein, 69 grams carbs, 15 grams fat
2 tablespoons butter: 204 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 24 grams fat
6 tablespoons syrup: 312 calories, 0 grams protein, 78 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
2 scoops in whey protein in water: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Total: 1208 calories, 54 grams protein, 155 grams carbs, 41 grams fat



2 scoops in whey protein: 220 calories, 42 grams protein, 8 grams carbs, 2 grams fat
Skim milk: 90 calories, 9 grams protein, 12 grams carbs, 0 grams fat
3 tablespoons peanut butter: 300 calories, 10 grams protein, 9 grams carbs, 24 grams fat
Total: 610 calories, 64 grams protein, 29 grams carbs, 26 grams fat


* I’d make the protein shake so that it was really thick and then I’d refrigerate it so it came out like pudding

Grand Total:

3373 calories, 232 grams protein, 326 grams carbs, 110 grams fat

You’ll note that this day of food intake totaled 3373 calories. Toward the end of the 10 weeks of dieting, I was down to around 3000 calories/day, so if I went over on calories like this, I’d walk for 30-60 min (depending on the overage on calories) at night at a brisk pace in order to make up the difference.

I would do this once per week at first and then twice per week after I’d been dieting for six weeks. These days would feel like cheat days, but they’re not cheat days – you don’t gain any weight and you don’t feel like complete crap the next day because you keep your calories in check. You’ll find that the rest of the week, you feel extra motivated to eat “cleaner” and get more fiber in, etc. I don’t experience digestive issues with these days but I would expect some people to, so those folks could take a fiber supplement on those days I suppose.

The other 5-6 days per week, I’d stick mostly to whey protein shakes, skim milk, eggs, tuna, chicken, lean beef, Greek yogurt, orange juice, fruit, dried fruit, mixed veggies, cheese, mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, pickles, and fish oil caps. So this way, the vast majority (over 80%) of my food throughout the week is still considered whole and minimally processed, with plenty of fiber and diversity. Of utmost importance, the flexibility allows me to stay lean, stay healthy, and stay aboard the plan.

Again, you don’t have to use this same approach. Many people don’t like protein shakes (I love them), but the whey is almost pure protein so it works very well for this purpose. You will obviously crave unique foods that are different from mine. But make no mistake about it – adherence is the name of the game in the long run, so you have to figure out ways to help you stick to the formula.


I hope that these 5 tips are helpful in your endeavors to get leaner. I’d like to state that many of my clients lean out considerably without ever dieting down. They simply keep their calories consistent, improve their macro proportions to contain more protein, and get way stronger. Over the course of several months, their physiques transform markedly despite the scale not changing. So the advice provided in this article is more so for the person who is too heavy and needs to lose weight to achieve their preferred level of body composition.

As I’ve repeated consistently throughout this article, these are the strategies that worked well for me, but you’ll need to get crafty and figure out ways to help you adhere to your diet so that you keep your calories in check, stick to your macros, and maintain or gain strength in the gym. You want fat loss and muscle maintenance, not weight loss, so strategize accordingly and defend your strength levels like a boss as you diet down.

2015-06-12 00.00.00

Me at 224 lbs after losing 22 lbs over 10 weeks


  • Chuck says:

    All good common sense eating. I fool myself sometimes and don’t eat good. But I do know better. And always come back to sensible eating.
    I ride a bicycle for my cardio. And it does help. I have read countless articles about HITT being the only cardio worth doing. But in my case riding a bike 4 or so hours a week makes all the difference in the world.
    57 years old. Would prefer just to do resistance training. But the older one gets, the more balance one should shoot for.( straight from my own personal Bro Science book)

  • Maleah says:

    Love the whey-protein fitting macro plan! Unfortunately not a lot of protein in wine, which seems to screw up my macros on the weekends, along with being absolutely sick of chicken breast and greek yogurt by that point.

  • Laura Jaren says:

    Great tips! I experience similar hunger at night – a few nights a week I can be found in front of the fridge at 3 am in my underwear eating a greek yogurt with nuts and cereal mixed in. No shame in it! 🙂 Even with that I manage to maintain a steady 128 lbs and around 13% bf due to lifting and running. Caffeine and tic tacs seem to help with the hunger.

  • Chris says:

    number on tip: Dont be lazy and do cardio. Tour France cyclists aren’t fat, anyone know why? 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Chris, this isn’t about laziness. Cyclists don’t have the best physiques in the world; bodybuilders do. Or at least those who lift weights. Strength training far trumps cardio, but I agree that cardio can and should be added in to help attain maximum leanness, but I believe that its frequency should be periodized throughout the year, and it just depends on the person. Some don’t need it, especially certain bikini competitors who don’t weigh that much to begin with. Progressive overload and good nutrition does the job well.

      • Chris says:

        Just wanted to chime in to add that I, Chris, am not of above Chris´s opinion. There are too many of us and we obviously have different opinions. Just in case Bret or anyone else stumbles on other comments by a “Chris” on this site which to a majority are probably mine. 🙂

      • Naina says:


  • Mitch says:

    Congrats on your success! You look really great and I think it’s awesome that you made so much improvement while also dealing with the stress of a PhD!

    I just have some comments with regard to flexible dieting. When defending flexible dieting, you say “For the record, adding in some junk is not unhealthy in the grand scheme of things as long as around 80% of your foods come from whole, minimally processed foods.” And yet in the above diet, over half of your calories are coming from processed foods. In fact, closer to 70% of your calories are from processed foods. (Processed foods being Grape Nuts, Whey Protein, Double Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, Pancakes. Unprocessed foods: Skim Milk, Butter, Syrup, Peanut Butter.)

    I don’t think that people who are against flexible dieting are rigid dieters who eat only egg-white omelettes. Rather, I think that people who oppose flexible dieting think it is unhealthy to eat heavily processed foods and then supplement with protein powder in order to meet macros. When you consume junk food and supplement with protein powder, you are skipping vegetables and animal/seafood proteins which contain very important nutrients. You are replacing those foods with low-nutrient substitutes.

    That being said, I want to be clear that I do think that macro nutrients are probably the most important factor in dietary health in terms of the blood numbers. I just think that flexible dieting over-emphasizes macro nutrients above micro nutrients, and I don’t think that you have fairly represented the arguments against flexible dieting.

    • Bret says:

      Thank you Mitch, I appreciate the kind words. You brought up a very good point, but think of it as an entire week. If I only eat that way 1-2 days per week, then the 80+% statistic I threw out there is legit. I think it’s more important to think of the entire week instead of one day at a time. And regarding the micros, I would think that since the other 5-6 days I eat such nutritious foods, I’d easily exceed my requirements on nearly every vitamin, mineral, etc.

    • Nicole says:


      The way I understood the article was that eating the processed foods like that should be done less than 20% of the time. 🙂 When he did eat like that he met his macros with protein shakes.

      Nicole Staley

    • Taylor says:

      “Unprocessed foods: Skim Milk, Butter, Syrup, Peanut Butter”

      …Those foods are all processed F.Y.I.

  • Nicole says:

    Whoops, Bret you answered while I was typing.


  • Denisse says:

    Great article Bret, thanks for sharing those tips, I’ve learned a few things. And omg! That peanut butter “pudding” sounds like a great idea. Again, thanks for the tips and keep up with the hard work, you’re looking great!

  • Looking great, Bret! 22 pounds in 10 weeks, that’s good ole disciplined work! Good job.

  • Tracy says:

    Great article. You have a very nice physique!
    My clients follow this as well. For show prep thoughtl, I do 90 percent whole foods. I dont believe that processed foods are bad. Flat outs wraps are amazing, high fiber. Wholly guacamole offers fats, fiber. Whey is processed.
    I like what you said, look at your day as a whole.
    i get 56g fiber before noon so there is room for a little something different if i want it. Flex gives freedom that staves off bro-fatigue! Thank you for sharing!

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing, Bret. Congrats on your success! You look great! It seems many wanting to dial in their diet and lean out are counting macros, which obviously takes the guess work out of it. I did this for about a year and it definitely works. My struggle is mindset. I start to feel like a slave to the food scale. Did you weigh all your food? Are you still counting macros and maintaining? I have only about 5 lbs I would like to drop. Seems simple enough, but it continues to haunt me. maybe I’ll simply up my cardio which I’m only doing about and hour a week.

    • Bret says:

      Chris, I think that everyone should weigh their food for a while until they get instinctual about it. I’m not counting macros right now; I’m just maintaining at around 228 lbs, counting protein, and trying to not go overboard on carbs and fat. But I’m going to get serious again in the next couple of weeks and make a push to get to 215-220 lbs.

  • Holly says:

    Thank you for this! I love the honesty. To put it simply the struggle IS real in not overeating, succumbing to cravings and fat loss. I always find I start the week off strong, then get derailed by the end of the week. By food (too much of it and the wrong stuff!) Love to work out but it the its a challenge to keep those calories in check! Will utilize these tips as the proof is clearly in the pic! Thank you for sharing!

  • Jon says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. You really have to just figure out what works for you. Everybody is different. Some people require a lot of cardio, where some people just have to put the most focus in dieting correctly. I personally just have to make sure to meet my protein requirements and lower my carbs. Good read.

  • Will says:

    Hey Bret,

    Have you tried anything similar to Nate Miyaki’s Intermittent Feast or John Kiefer’s carb Back Loading? I’ve used these programs in the past to great success. Essentially what I’m asking for is your views on macro timing, particularly carbs due to the insulin response they elicit.

    On a side note, great job man. The #1 thing I tell people I coach is “Hunger is not an illness, you should feel hungry from time to time; if you don’t, then you’re doing something wrong.”

    • Bret says:

      No Will, I haven’t. I like Nate and Kiefer but I lean more towards timing being overrated; it should be based more on what suits the individual best not some predetermined factor (I’m referring to general lifters, not athletes). That said, I have a hunch that it is a big factor with folks that use high amounts of anabolic steroids…if I trained Phil Heath I wouldn’t be telling him to eat three times per day and avoid getting in a postworkout shake. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Marisa says:

    This may be kinda personal, but in curious– were you ever constipated or irregular following this nutritional plan? Just wondering especially on those cheat days with I’m assuming 200+g of protein…I fear I may be…

    • Bret says:

      Hi Marisa, I addressed this in the article…no I didn’t. But you could take fiber supplements if that was an issue. Also, be sure to adjust calories/macros according to your gender/lean bodymass/activity level/etc.

  • Dee says:

    Thanks for the article!I guess I have to learn to suck it up and just be hungry.

    I need to consistently eat 1500 cals a day for at least two months to lose the weight I would like to. I figured between my fitbit and Polar HR monitor that I burn about 2000 – 2200 calories a day just lifting 4 days/wk and 2-3 days of core and conditioning/cardio. I am a 150 lb 56 year old female. I have such a problem sticking to that 1500 cals. Within 2 hours after dinner I am starving like I never ate. I am paying attention to my macros and keeping protein ratio to bodyweight. None of those tricks – tooth-brushing, gum chewing, water drinking work for me. I eat three meals a day with small snacks – whey protein shake, protein bar, greek yogurt, hard boiled egg. I can eat 1500 with these, but there is no room for anything else. It’s inevitable that at 8 pm I eat some almonds, a piece of sliced turkey or provolone and/or an oatmeal cookie and I am up to 2000. Trying to find time to add some additional calorie burning activity, but it’s inconsistent. Weekends present another challenge when the fam wants to go out for dinner.

    Any ideas/strategies?

    • Bret says:

      Dee, I’m in the same boat. Sometimes it just takes a big mindset shift and suddenly you’re in the zone. That’s what happened to me. I felt unstoppable for 10 weeks and was riding a high. Psychology plays a big factor.

    • Jenna says:

      This is a strategy that works for me right now: For me it helps to have as little as possible carbs with my breakfast. Somehow carbs at breakfast make me hungry (or it’s just in my head), and then I have to eat a snack (or two!) before lunch. When not eating carbs I pretty much can stick it out till lunch on one meal. So now I eat the protein I used to eat throughout the morning in one sitting. My natural tentendy is that I like to eat a big breakfast, and eat more around the afternoon and evening. With this strategy I can have my bigger, filling breakfast, and have a larger dinner with more carbs which is a lot more satifying to me.
      When I eat most of my carbs during the day I have this unsatisfied hungry feeling in the evening, but eating my carbs more towards the afternoon and evening helps me with the hunger.

  • Robert says:

    Hello! Great article – always fun to read how people are differently “hard-wired” and what it takes for them to get the results they want. I’ve always had zero morning appetite – so carb-backloading works for me!

  • kfg says:

    ” . . . diet energy drink . . .”

    Did you actually type that with a straight face?

    • Bret says:

      Yes kfg, I did. Care to elaborate?

      • johnnyv says:

        They probably mean there are no/negligible calories in a diet energy drink. Maybe not understanding the caffeine causes catecholamine release which is what gives the energy/anti fatigue effect.

        • kfg says:

          “They probably mean there are no/negligible calories in a diet energy drink. ”

          That’s correct.

          “Maybe not understanding the caffeine . . .”

          I have a deep and personal relationship with coffee.

  • Jonas says:

    Hey Bret,

    I just wanted to say that your recipe (to be lean) worked on me. I have just lost 20 pounds in 5½ months. I am really happy for myself right now.

    Thanks alot Bret!

  • Matt says:

    Hey Bret, great job and nice article. I’m curious to know your thoughts on the relationship between training and diet, and specifically how you advise adjusting – if you do at all – training when fat loss is the priority. For me, I’m very interested in the relationship between training and diet, as for me personally I have a tendency to burn myself out during fat loss phases. Hunger I can deal with; exhaustion, aches, mental fatigue and other issues are what get me each time. Any thoughts? Did you have to adjust your training at all to compensate for lower cals?

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Matt, this is really the crux of the issue! And where I always get hung up as well.

      Here’s some anecdotal bro-science, and this will likely show great individual variance, as to what you can adhere to. I’m sure BC will have other ideas, which I’m anxious to learn as well.

      I think this is where bodybuilders get it right: when they cut, they cut. That is the single most dominant goal. Certainly they are going to try and hold on to as much muscle as possible, but losing the fat must trump all other goals. This is a street fight!

      Everything about cutting makes training tough, you lose energy, you lose strength, you lose muscle, and you lose water, which = “intra cell-volume”. (This is a totally made up term that I’m using to describe that powerful feeling of a full belly, lots of salt, and that protected joint feeling when holding big loads.:)

      You probably won’t lose strength going from 18% to 13%, but going from 13% to 7% is a whole different ballgame!

      Speaking for myself only as a forever natty 195, 12-15% guy who has gotten to 147 emaciated, but etched, (absurd, I know):

      Two days a week, go nuts with ONE enormous re-fuel, and on that day lift with heavy loads on the spine: SQ, DL. You can do your benches and OHPR here, but keep the session short and tight. Try to get to one top set, and a few non-grinding back off sets.

      Watch the volume, as you know it is going to be hard to recover without a surplus of calories. Our goal here is to preserve as much strength as possible, and keep the groundwork laid for when we go back to our muscle building pursuits.

      If these two days seem to sabotage the overall fat loss, it may have to be cut to one day, or possibly surrendered altogether, until you can stabilize at your goal weight/composition.

      (This is by far the hardest pill to swallow for hard training types. It is mental sabotage on top of physical discomfort.)

      The other five days a week, it’s one meal a day, and tons of body weight work, to fatigue but not grinding failure. Push ups, pull ups, dips, inverted rows, and the like. Some light swings can be added. Light cardio, hill walking and such. Surprisingly, you may find these workouts to be invigorating, and give you an epinephrine high that makes hunger dissipate for several hours.

      (Hard core HIIT combined with low cals = getting sick, for me this has been proven relentlessly. Your mileage may vary, obviously.)

      If you are used to a traditional “meal split”, this plan may not work for you. I realize “one meal a day” has been re-christened “intermittent fasting”, yay for that, I have been using this plan since long before buzz words, etc. It’s just a way to control hormones, and stay in a fat-burning state for most of the day. I find it better to eat the meal at night in order to sleep. YMMV.

      Someone above mentioned that, “the (hunger) struggle is real”. Of course it is! But down deep, we all already know that. 🙂

  • Lise-anne says:

    I love progressive overload!,it helped me drop 62 lbs and gain strength last year.This year I did a 12 Week bulk. I’ve been maintaining my weight since March but i continue to make gains with my lifts. I am eating a lot now and make sure I get my protein in everyday. Cheeseburgers and pizza are in my weekly meals but I do eat healthy most of the time. I also make my pizza and burgers to keep sodium lower. I made a mean 1200 cal double bacon cheeseburger! Lol.

  • Adam says:


    I appreciate greatly how “real” you are. So often, I believe, clients put trainers on a pedestal, or expect that the behaviors we preach and practice come easy to us–that we can’t fully understand the struggle they go through. Perhaps we can’t FULLY understand what they go through, but the fact that it takes both you and I “everything in me to not enter the kitchen and devour everything in site”, makes our struggles no less real. It is so good to hear a fellow trainer, particularly one I hold in such high regard, be so real. Thank you for doing so!

  • mark says:

    Hey Bret,

    I really like reading your articles and well done on getting yourself in shape, it certainly is tough work trying to cut back when eating is so enjoyable. I’m a bit of a night owl myself and would find it very difficult workout early in the morning. At the same time wouldn’t you think working with or consulting a registered dietitian to be the most effective approach when creating a nutritional plan?

  • Mike Asara says:

    “To stave off hunger” is very important in order to make any progress. Many fail because they just couldn’t resist the temptation that they surround themselves with! Simply getting out from the house and run/ jog would be a good idea to focus on something else .

  • Gary H says:

    You had me when I read: pancakes for dinner. Next to donuts, probably my second favorite “junk” food. Lol the struggle is real…

  • Jeff says:

    Hey Bret, Maybe your body is telling you to be that 300 pound Powerlifter you are supposed to be 😉

    (good job on the fat loss)

  • elise says:

    another inspiring article. Read it twice and looking forward to embracing the discomfort of hunger, as I’ve done with the discomfort of my heart pounding through my chest after certain kettlebell circuits. I love the simplicity and sustainability of your program and try in vain to share this concept with my clients but so many of them seem brainwashed (for lack of a kinder term). Rather than hear “increase your protein intake and strength train but most of all it’s a lifestyle, not a three-month fix,” they are convinced that 1200 calories a day, low-fat, low-carb and/or “portion control” a la Weight Watchers is the only way to go. The irony is that many of them succeeded on Weight Watchers—temporarily of course—and so think it’s the only thing that works, so they join again. So Bret—what do YOU say to the general population who believe they have to starve themselves and be miserable in order to be lean? I’ll point them toward your article, that’s for sure. I guess people are ready to hear the truth when they’re ready. Thank you!

  • Christine says:

    Hey Bret,

    What an awesome article, thank you for sharing your personal experiences, it is very helpful and authentic. There were many valuable insights that I gleaned from reading this, but of most significance was the letting yourself be with hunger tip. I am currently learning how to do this, and seeing improved results. I noticed that if I can stretch out the meals a bit longer, and strategically place bigger meals around my training, I am able to lose weight a bit easier too. Learning that hunger does not require an immediate response is new, and as you recommended, I am going to try implementing a “stave off hunger” activity. Good Stuff, Bret!

    I bought your book, am on your mailing list, and have used many of the resources (Sohee) and videos that you have suggested. After watching your training videos on Instagram, I sought out an awesome powerlifting coach, and have been working slowly to develop good fundamentals and mechanics!

    Thanks Bret, keep the rad stuff coming 🙂 Gotta go, I’m hungry!

  • Nancy Anne Martin says:

    Your articles are always well written, but I think this one is of particular practical use. I shared it on my Better Body group on Facebook.

    Thank you fore taking the time to so succinctly share such great information!

  • Erika says:

    Thanks BC great read! Any tips for dealing with sleep disruptions? I’m in a place where I can deal with the discomfort that comes with dieting down but hunger wakes up at about 4am. I am not just hungry, I am almost hyper and totally awake. We eat dinner at 7:30-8:30, asleep by 10:30 and when I’m eating at maintenance I sleep like a baby until about 6:45 am. I really don’t want sleep deprivation to derail me.

  • scott says:

    I think regarding…..the picture of the dude you say is ripped……. you may want to talk to his Growth Hormone Dr. The dude is notorious on the web for using drugs… Im not saying the dude doesnt look great but for us drug free lean muscular athletes who get disgusted by guys who use drugs yet act like the simply have control over their food … You may want to post pictures of guys who are not paid to look a certain way because most of the paid ones… use drugs..

  • Alison says:

    Where’s the veggies dude?!! haha..


  • Steve Freeman says:

    Hey Bret, Great article. I’m not lactose intolerant but I’ve had problems with whey protein in the past. I want to try again but I’m not sure where to start. What brands work for you? Thanks!

  • BEc says:

    You make so much sense. I love reading your writing. Thank you so much for being so straight forward.

  • Leah says:

    Hi Bret,
    Huge fan and follower here! So I’ve competed in a few bodybuilding competitions and am now starting to learn more about powerlifting, and I know you have worked with both athletes. So I’m very curious to hear your thoughts, bodybuilders are all about protein when it comes to building muscle and stand behind carbs being purely for energy, while powerlifters thrive off of carbs and fats with a minimal amount of protein…what’s optimal for building muscle?

  • Jessica says:

    I would love some advice. First it was great to read of another who is constantly hungry. Always always hungry!! Though I wish I could eat 3000 kcal. I figure I shouldn’t be consuming more than an average of 1700 kcal / day. When I do I gain weight in fat. I have desperately been trying to get rid of that stubborn last 10/15 lbs of fat that hides the muscle I spend hours and hours to build. I’m sort of at my whits end. I am no where near the physique I’d like to be but not for lack of really hard word and constantly being hungry.

    Some back ground my help. I am a female, 5’3″, 120 lbs, about 20% bf. I work out almost ever day. I lift heavy, and lift 4 days/week and run 2 days. I have tried protein drinks, all sorts and brands, and I just can’t handle them (very upset stomach). I work out in the evenings after work since there is no way I could be a morning exerciser! I eat very clean, loads of fruits and veg, home cook almost every meal, no processed foods, high protein… All the right stuff!! The figuring out how to stave off hunger is an ongoing issue for me. I. AM. ALWAYS. HUNGRY. ALWAYS. I’m hungry as I type this.

    I am getting very frustrated that I can not get that awesome toned beautiful build. Im not seeking an unrealistic body, i just want toned, see the muscle, lose the fat. But I just have that constant layer of fat. Advice?

    • Marla says:

      Jessica, this is months after you wrote your comment, but just in case you’re still struggling–I’m the same height and weight as you, with approximately the same training habits. I honestly don’t know what to tell you to help you lose any more weight. If I knew, I would be able to do it myself! I suspect that 120 lbs is just a really happy weight for my body and there isn’t a compelling reason to lose weight, since I’m basically toned and healthy and slim. If you are eating 1700 calories a day and still feeling a lot of hunger, I would try shifting your macros to include more fat and fewer carbs. If I keep my fat at 50% of calories, carbs at 20%, and protein at 30%, I find that I can eat as few as 1500 calories a day and be pretty comfortable while shedding a couple pounds. I cannot eat fewer than 1500 without getting ravenous and turning into a monster, no matter what. That seems like a good sign that that’s my minimum! If I eat more than 2000 or so, I start to gain weight unless I’m very low carb (which I’m fine with, except I’d rather eat 2000 calories of junk than 2000 calories of meat and vegetables). Hope this helps! Oh, and I can’t stomach any protein powders or bars without getting insane gas, but I love me some Halo Top ice cream, which has a ton of protein and is a great treat.

  • Mike says:

    Dude I’m what you would call a fussy eater. Love junk food McDs burger king and such hate greens (won’t even mention fish) but with these tips I can see myself getting trim (lean) after reading a million articles and blogs i truly believe with these tips I’ll look good the next time I hit the beach.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Mitch says:

    This is a fantastic article. Well written and thought of. Well done, Bret. Great tips on some body who wants to maintain muscle size, and lose body fat.

  • Mitch says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing those lean tips


    Ah yes! I remember around the times i had eating disorders (anorexia, orthorexia, then binge eating) that many times i would wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep unless i ate something (which usually brought guilt). Now i strive for balance, and i never wake up to eat in the middle of the night! Feeling very confident about progress.. Not tracking macros anymore though! Thanks for the helpful article!

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