Gettin’ shredded: Why the hell would I do this to myself?

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.)

3 Responses to “Gettin’ shredded: Why the hell would I do this to myself?”

  1. June 13, 2013 at 21:50

    Hi There,

    Patrick here, I’m a regular on Aretae’s blog, but I don’t think I’ve commented here before. I mostly come for the car pörn, but strength-nerdity is my second love.

    Just reading the blogs while I try to finish a black double espresso with no sweetener (except cinnamon) that is today’s fare on day 8 of the infamous Velocity Diet.
    If you haven’t run across this monster, it’s 28 days of nothing but protein, (with a bit of fiber and vitamin supplements to stop you getting sick), and stimulants to both keep you going and to stave off (some of) the hunger pains.

    Originally a Testosterone Nation idea, (or whatever they’re called this month). Of course their version involved all the super high priced protein and stimulants and vitamins that they make all their money off. But I’m just using the generic stuff.

    Dear wife is overseas on business for the month, so this gives me a chance to try stupid things. Being a nerd this means wacko diets, a deadlift station blocking the downstairs corridor, and a new cam installed in the car. Maybe a N2O kit…

    Tonight is refeed night, so I’m planning a whole pork roast, with apples and onions, and maybe roast garlic too :-b…. <- Ascii smilie of drool if you didn't get it.

    Anyway, I'll be checking in on any diet progress you make.

    • June 13, 2013 at 22:10

      Howdy, drpat! I recognize you from Aretae’s comments; glad to have you here.

      I thought about doing a protein-sparing fast like the V-Diet, but honestly I didn’t think I could budget enough low-stress time for it — and my experience with the UD2.0 suggests that I was right. I’m following Martin Berkhan’s dictum of dropping fat slowly, steadily, and with minimal deviation from a “sustainable” maintenance diet. I might throw in a Velocity Diet or (Lyle McDonald’s) Rapid Fat Loss run at the end of August if I’m feeling particularly impatient and want to get my bulk on in the fall, but so far I’m happy with the progress I’ve seen so far outside of life fucking with me.

      If you find you enjoy the peaks and valleys of a depletion-refeed diet, by all means check out Lyle McD’s Ultimate Diet 2.0. Four days of low-carb hell at 50% maintenance, one last grinding brutal workout, then it’s glucose and amylopectin as far as the eye can see to the tune of one kilo of carbs in a 24-hour period. And add some creatine, because, yeah. Might as well while your muscles are sucking up everything in your bloodstream.

      Tell me more about this car and its new cam….

      • June 14, 2013 at 01:26

        The car…
        A Ford Falcon ute (car based pickup, like the El Camino). 1998.
        It was originally fitted with a 148 kW 4.0 liter straight 6, the same as the Sedans had in about 1993. 1998 Sedans had a dual stage manifold and a few tweaks that gave more low-down torque and about 157kW. Then there was the sports version, 164kW. Which was embarrassingly faster than the 5.0 liter V8 (the standard 302 Ford as seen in the US Mustang.) The overhead cam 6 will rev higher than the stock V8, and so make up for the 20% capacity loss. The 6 is lighter too.

        So, my original plan was to bolt on the sedan manifold, extractors, hot exhaust,. I did the extractors and hot exhaust and recorded 168 kW (gtech measured). Which isn’t bad. And clearly put me ahead of the V8. I was driving a truck on the freeway when my wife overtook me in my ute, and I looked around to see the source of that fantastic sound… Hey! That’s MY car! Cool.

        I bought the dual stage manifold (actually my 1337 skilz at ebay bidding netted me TWO manifolds, by accident) but never got around to actually installing it before…

        My wife borrowed the ute (her BMW is nicer, but just can’t carry a big load) and didn’t notice when it ran out of oil.

        Result: I need a new engine. Being common as muck it cost $600 for a replacement engine, and this one already had the sedan dual-stage manifold etc.

        But it was still running the old ute ECU, so it didn’t use the new capacity. So I bought myself an ECU from the above mentioned sports model (actually, 2 again, I’ve got to stop that) and redid the wiring to connect the new components. Now my car has about the same power as before the oil incident(172 ish kW) but more torque than before. Better economy too. This is apparently the limit to the stock cam as far as people can determine.

        So, next step: A cam. I purchased one that is rated as the most aggressive you can run without new valve springs. Also rated as the most agressive you can run in an auto without putting in a high stall converter. A stallie is still next on my list.

        So, what I have to do over the next 2 weeks before dear wife comes back is take out the old cam, and put in the new one. As an OHC engine this is fairly straight forward, but the chain (not a belt, that would be a stupid design) tensioner has a tendency to break when this job is done so I don’t want to rush it.

        Of course there is the issue of the leaf sprung live axle not being able to put the power to the ground. That’s kind of fun, and kind of dangerous.

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