Shredded (adj) – possessing notably low levels of subcutaneous body fat, so that vascular and muscular definition is easily seen by awestruck onlookers.
Dieting — by which I mean honest-to-balls dieting, trying to drop significant amounts of fat while preserving lean mass — sucks.
Despite what the magic-macro peddlers will promise you, you’re going to get hungry. You’re going to spend irritating and inconvenient amounts of time preparing meals, calculating kcal and macros in at least rough proportions, and awkwardly dodging at least a few social events. Your strength is going to go down, at least some of the time, and your gains are going to grind to a halt (or nearly so). You’re going to drink a lot less beer than you want to. All that stacks up against maddeningly slow progress measured by infinitesimal changes in belt tightness or the length of the vein that’s starting to pop out on your bicep, with your metabolism being an asshole in the process and occasionally stacking up five or six pounds of fluid for no good goddamn reason at all except to test your will. I’m told that, once I get down to a certain level of leanness, the dieting game will get closer to fun as feedback gets closer to real-time — “Sure, I haven’t had an IPA in months, but I found new veins on my abs this morning!” — but I’m not there yet.
I wasn’t fat by any standard, except perhaps that of a competitive bodybuilder, when I got serious about getting my shred on this winter. There were no dire warnings of impending health problems, no awkward “real talk” interventions from concerned friends. I was sitting around 185 with a blurry but persistent two-pack, slamming meat slop and watching my squat inch higher at an agonizing pace. I put on about 20lbs over the course of 2012, and most of it — greater than half, at least — was muscle. Pretty good by the standards of the general population, right? Cool story bro.
So one answer is vanity. Not just “I want men to shrivel and women to swoon when I wear a t-shirt” vanity, but the fundamental existentialist drive to be better than two standard deviations above the mean in everything I care about (and can affect). I earned a Ph.D.; I deadlift four plates; and I once described my job as “saving the world with linear algebra”. By the standards of the truly elite, I’m weaksauce, but compared to a distribution with seven billion samples I’m doing pretty well. That self-image won’t tolerate hot-dog rolls of lower back fat.
But then again, I’ve been an arrogant asshole for at least two decades.
The second answer is sheer cussedness, the obverse of the “fundamental existentialist” coin. I’ve never been truly lean before. I want to see if I can do it. I might get there and think “this is cool, but IPA tastes better than veins on my abs look, so fuck it”. But I’ll have gotten there, and I’ll know that I can get back.
But I’ve been an arrogant existentialist asshole for well over a decade.
The real answer, the real driving motivation here, is that I’m a strength nerd with equal emphasis on “strength” and “nerd”. To get stronger I need to add muscle — broad strokes here, maybe we’ll talk about neurological adaptations later — and I’m not being terribly efficient about that if half of the mass I put on is fat. Worse yet, that fat is metabolically active, slurping up kcal, fucking up my insulin response, and shitting out estradiol — not what a growing boy needs, unless “growing” refers to gynecomastia and prostate cancer. Simply put, bulking produces more muscle and less fat at lower starting body fat percentages. That’s what I’m after. I want to cut for a year and bulk for a decade.
Also, I’ve been looking for diet plans that (a) fit with and enhance my understanding of energy metabolism and (b) don’t suck all of the booze and bacon out of my life. I’ve come across a few candidates, and I’ll blog about them later on. I’ve yet to find anything resembling a free lunch, of course, but if you’re willing to lift like you mean it you can put yourself in the somewhat awkward situation of not being able to eat enough chips and candy to satisfy your diet over the next thirty hours. Slamming a stack of Pringles and following it up with half a pound of Rockets — and then going to bed wondering how you’re going to get twice that volume of carbs the next day — is a peculiar kind of fun, but I’d recommend it. I’ll explain glycogen supercompensation a few posts down the line.
One last word, if you’re interested enough to have read this far down the page: I won’t pretend that I can tell anyone else how to get lean. I’ll write about how the things I’ve tried have shaken out for me. You might be able to apply some of it — maybe even all of it — but don’t blithely accept anything I claim as typical or universal.
Update: Digging around a bit I found this article on meat toxins by SilverHydra (you know, “meat slop guy”). Turns out that the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for that delicious brown crust on meat, produces “advanced glycemic end-products”, which appear to be (at least in part) responsible for the horrors that a diabetic body inflicts upon itself. So getting lean means being able to eat more tasty meat. (That article’s also great on its own merits, and follow through to the one on aromatase too. That’ll come up when I tell you to eat yer fuckin’ veggies, just like Mom said.)