How to STAY Lean

For a lot of us we have no intention of hovering back and forth from shredded contest shape to offseason bulky.  Or perhaps you just need to maintain your level of body fat for a show or event a few weeks out.  Regardless it’s hard as hell to stay lean.  Is it metabolic damage?  No, it’s actually called metabolic adaptation, but even then it’s beside the point.  What we care about is HOW to stay lean after we work our ass off to get there, not WHY we tend to get fat again (let the Ian McCarthy’s of the world waste their time with that).

In late October the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a new paper that sheds some light on the factors that keep us lean, and the things that don’t [1].  Now this wasn’t a study specifically using bodybuilders (they rarely ever do), but it was a meta-analysis, which is when researchers look at a plethora of studies and try to draw meaningful conclusions from them as a group.  Think BIG PICTURE.

In this particular paper they compared five different factors that they believed might play a role in staying lean:

  1. Anti-obesity Drugs – Specifically sibutramine, an oral anorexiant that comes with a variety of side effects.  And Orlistat, or more commonly known as Alli, which is an over the counter drug that decreases the amount of fat your body absorbs, and uses for energy or stores as fat.
  2. Meal Replacements and Prolonged Refeeding – Meal replacements were simply low calorie, and micronutrient dense foods and drinks.  Prolonged refeeding is a method where they re-introduce whole foods (vs. low calorie drinks) over a long period of time.  Instead of simply adding back in all whole foods the day after a diet ends.
  3. High Protein Diets – Ranging from 20% to 30% of total calories per day.
  4. Supplements – Green tea, Fiber, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), and a vegetable based oil emulsion designed to decrease hunger.
  5. Exercise – Mostly aerobic, but two studies did include weight training.

I’m no Boston Lloyd but Drugs Wintravis degraff

Anti-obesity drugs were found to be the most effective.  While bodybuilders don’t commonly use either of the drugs they reviewed, it’s still suggestive that things like ephedrine and clenbuterol may help maintain your level of leanness.  The second most effective factor was meal replacements.  Close behind meal replacements were high protein diets.

Now those three things worked, but what didn’t work was supplements and exercise.  We can argue the supplements they chose were not very powerful, and the exercise protocols were perhaps great for a housewife, but not a bodybuilder.  But from the researchers perspective these are generally good supplements and exercise protocols for the general public.

Practical Application

Now their findings are not mind-blowing.  But what we can learn and apply as bodybuilders is quite simple.  First maintain or even increase your protein consumption.  Second slowly add calories back into your diet (prolonged refeeding).  Simply bumping up your calories by 2,000 is going to result in a significant accumulation of fat on your frame.  Third continue using things like ECA, Clen, etc.  You can eventually cycle off of them, but don’t go cold turkey the first day after your diet or show.  If you are hungry, use things like sugar free jello, diet soda, or a protein shake to curb your appetite.   Finally, use more effective supplements.

And NO, you should not stop weight training and cardio just because this meta-analysis said they do nothing to maintain your level of body fat.  Research has limitations; it’s not always applicable to a 250-pound man of muscle.  If you think you are going to retain all that muscle without weight training you better hope you have IFBB Pro genetics.

 – Travis DeGraff

[1]       K. Johansson, M. Neovius, and E. Hemmingsson, “Effects of anti-obesity drugs, diet, and exercise on weight-loss maintenance after a very-low-calorie diet or low-calorie diet: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” Am. J. Clin. Nutr., Oct. 2013.

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