Getting Lean and Staying Muscular

Tired of seeing your muscles deflate and dilapidate when you’re trying to lose fat?

Withering into nothingness as the weeks wane on traditional cuts isn’t uncommon.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to combat the carnage of cutting.

Getting lean and staying muscular is possible, and it's not as difficult as you think.


Get lean first.

That was my advice in 3 Reminders for the Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, as well as many other articles and e-mails, because muscle is difficult to maintain when dieting down. Yet I still get e-mail after e-mail saying: “Every time I try to lean down I lose my muscle.”

Yeah, I kind of told you that would happen. But I guess I never explained why it would happen. So here’s the deal: If you plan on losing weight in a short amount of time (ie: a “cut”), you’re going to take some muscle with you unless (and this is a big unless) your nutrition and training are 100% spot on.

Usually, the faster you try losing fat, the more muscle will go with it.

The changes you have to make to lose fifteen pounds in eight weeks will be more drastic than the changes you have to make to lose fifteen pounds in twelve weeks.

These are the same changes that sabotage muscle mass.

(Hypothesis: This, I think, is why distance running is seen as a pacman of muscle tissue. When “cutting,” most people do some running while dropping their calories. Muscle goes bye bye and “cardio” gets the blame. But is it the aerobic training? Or is it that you’re going into short-term starvation?)


Your muscles grow in response to training and nutrient intake: eat enough of the right food (see my Diet to End All Diets), train intensively and consistently with the right lifts (see a sample program in Skinny-Fat to Superhuman), and get enough rest.

To ensure weight gain, most people overshoot their nutrient intake on “bulks.” They gain both muscle and fat, knowing that they will “cut” the fat after.  Most “cuts,” however, alter both the training and nutrient intake.

Let’s think about this.

Two things that went into building muscle (nutrient intake and training) are changed. So what was responsible for all of your progress is suddenly non-existent or altered. How couldn’t your muscles also be affected?


People usually say it takes 500 calories above your maintenance level to build muscle. (I’m not sure this is true, nor do I care to find out as I’m not a fan of exact numbers when it comes to nutrition.) To lose fat, however, the opposite is recommended: 500 calories below maintenance.

So if you come off of a 500+ calorie bulk and go on a -500 calorie cut, you’re swinging your intake 1000 calories and expecting muscle tissue to maintain the same level of homeostasis.

Even without adjusting your training routine (even though most people do), this change in calories in enough to effect levels of muscularity.


Most times, short-term fat loss programs also affect muscle tissue. To test this myself, I dropped 1000 calories from my diet for five consecutive days. The amount of food I ate wasn’t that far under what I would normally eat on an “off” day. The main difference was that I ate like it was an “off” day even on training days.

Over the course of the week, I noticed my muscles wither into apparent nothingness. This only took five days. Imagine what would happen over the span of eight weeks.

This consistent nutrient deficient mindset of most cuts is what propels my recommendation: get lean now. Be done with it. For the natural trainee, being lean and muscular simultaneously is much easier if you build slowly from a solid base.


Right, I keep talking about a “solid” base and not really quantifying it. First and foremost, don’t confuse “solid base” with “disgustingly lean six-pack.”

If I attempt to maintain a sickening level of leanness, a few things happen:

  • Strength (even slow cooking it the way I do) stagnates.
  • I lose motivation to train.
  • I get injured (likely trying to train at my previous level and pushing through days I have no motivation or mental clarity).

I would never be able to maintain a decent lifestyle or training regimen if I tried to stay as lean as possible every day.

Note that I said day.

My nutrition philosophy is based off of something I like to call nutrient autoregulation. While I touched on this in a previous skinny-fat article, it’s basically cycling calories (carbohydrates and fats for the most part) on a daily basis depending on both mood and feel.

Some days I just know that I need more calories or carbohydrates. (This comes from experience.) Or if I’m feeling especially lean, I’ll eat more. (I’m privy to eat a lot if I feel like I need to.)

So some days my body lives in a state of nutrient overload. Other days it lives in a state of nutrient deprivation. But I never go outside of my comfort zone and I always appear relatively “lean.”

In any given week, I rotate through having a no-pack to a two-pack to a six-pack. This fluctuation helps me maintain focus and have daily-to-weekly mini bulk-and-cut cycles. And I can only do this because I started out lean enough to afford the caloric fluctuations.

I live by the philosophy of never being one-to-two week away. So I allow fluctuations in body composition. Just nothing that can’t be undone within one week. This allows me to litter this website in half naked pictures of myself with a sick-pack and gain muscle at the same time.

When it comes to physique and “bulking,” part of me thinks that we should never be more than two weeks away from what we feel are “perfect” bodyfat levels. Perfect will of course be subjective.

But once we move beyond the two week feel, things get scary. You’re digging deeper. And it’s a lot harder to crawl from deeper holes.

So you can dig one hole, 50 feet deep, or you can dig 10 holes 5 feet deep.

Both work.

But finding a way out of the 50 foot hole is much more difficult.


The one week philosophy is just what I prefer and can be summed up with:

  • Get to your ideal body fat level
  • Use nutrient autoregulation: overshooting nutrient intake some days, undershooting nutrient intake some days
  • Never wander out of your body fat comfort zone to the point of being able to undo the damage within one-two weeks (this takes some practice)

If the one week philosophy doesn’t sit well, you can still do traditional bulks and cuts. They essentially transform the one week rule into the eight week rule, meaning most people that bulk set themselves up to hit their ideal body composition after eight weeks of cutting.

But trying to lose fat in eight weeks requires the drastic and constant caloric swing. Therefore, most people simply aren’t big enough at the conclusion of their bulk to hit their ideal physique at the end of their cut.

This is why the cycle of bulking and cutting repeats yearly for most people. One winter of bulking and one summer of cutting simply doesn’t add the amount of quality of lean mass people want, so they repeat it over and over, year after year.

Say a twelve week bulk leads to twelve total pounds gained. Traditional bulks (read: natural, non-steroid) usually end in a 50-50 body fat to muscle split, so six of the twelve pounds is muscle, the other six is fat.

By nature of the caloric swing, a cut will take one to three pounds of muscle with it. (There’s a good chance that this isn’t lean tissue anyway, just increased glycogen and fluid storage that usually accompanies bulking. So even though it appears as solid muscle, it isn’t.) This results in three to five pounds of muscle gained over the entire body. Seems like a lot, but it isn’t readily noticeable spread across the entire frame.

So in order to be happy after a bulk and a cut, you will likely have to bulk beyond your ideal weight and escape the illusion of glycogen and fluid retention being “solid” lean tissue. This means gaining more fat—something most people aren’t comfortable with. (And let’s not forget the theory that fat sacks, once created, are there forever. They shrink, but don’t disappear.) Most people aren’t comfortable getting overly fat, which is why the cycle of bulking and cutting reoccurs yearly.

So it’s safe to generalize and say that your bulk—all bulks—aren’t as successful as initially thought, especially when considering the issue of glycogen and fluid storage.


Fitness fads come and go, hence the word fad. But this intermittent fasting bit is different. The infamous clean bulk was infamous because it used to be damn near impossible.

Until intermittent fasting.

Now a day, a lot of people are able to get lean and gain muscle simultaneously. Or, at least, get lean and maintain muscle.

While scientific theories can be used to explain just why this is, I have a different “theory”. One that doesn’t involve hormones or any special scientific principles.

Just pluses and minuses.

Traditional cuts involve repeated days of eating below maintenance calories. These days are designated with a (-) symbol, representing coming in under your calorie goal. (-)’s doesn’t bode well for muscle. Muscle is metabolically expensive. The body won’t hold onto all of it if basic energy needs aren’t being met.

Traditional cuts log a (-) every day, so muscle isn’t prone to stick around.

But with something like intermittent fasting or nutrient autoregulation, there are (+) and even (o) days thrown into the mix.

  • (+) represents coming in above your calorie goal
  • (o) represents coming in at your calorie goal
  • (-) represents coming in below your calorie goal

Take Brad Pilon’s 24 hour, twice per week, Eat Stop Eat fasting for example. Two to four days per week log a (-) because of the fasts. But the other three to four days can log either a (o) or (+). These (+)’s and (o)’s, representing adequate or beyond adequate nutrient intake, go a long way in maintaining muscle. Starting from a solid base is advantageous because it allows for more (+) days as opposed to (o) days, making muscle gain more likely.


With something like fasting or nutrient autoregulation, managing (+)’s, (o)’s, and (-)’s can be done to the point of losing fat, maintaining muscle, and even gaining muscle. But starting out with too much fat makes managing much more difficult. The solid base, however, affords more freedom. So it's better to have a solid base, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Although logging consecutive (-)’s can sacrifice muscle, it gets the fat loss job done faster. So ask yourself just how much muscle you really have and whether or not it’s going to be worth tip toeing around.

Using myself as an example, I wasn't carrying around much muscle at the beginning of my journey. Although I didn't know how to at the time, I technically could have used the (+), (-), and (o) system to try to lose fat and gain muscle. But going on a straight cut is beneficial for some because it gets you to a comfortable body fat level faster, reducing psychological baggage. It also allows you to monitor changes in body composition better. When you're puffy, you're always puffy. But when you're lean, you can compare everything to your lean level — “bloat” is much easier to detect.

If you're not immediately worried about body fat or don't want to sacrifice muscle, however, spend some more time on the process and opt for nutrient autoregulation or some kind of intermittent fasting scheme that fluctuates between  (+)'s, (-)'s, and (o)'s.

Here are some things to take home:

  • In order for muscle to grow, it needs “enough” nutrients at times. This “enough” will never happen on a constant caloric deprivation (ie: traditional cuts).
  • If you’re doing traditional bulks and cuts, recognize the swing you’re putting your body through.
  • Most bulks aren't as successful as initially perceived because of fluid retention and loss from the subsequent cutting.
  • To get lean and maintain your muscle, it’s best to rotate between days of more nutrients and day of less nutrients.
  • Intermittent fasting allows adequate nutrient intake on most days, meaning muscle is prone to stick around.
  • Logging too many consecutive (-)’s increases potential for muscle loss.
  • Operating from a solid base makes muscle gain more likely, and makes it easier to run nutrient autoregulation from.


How do YOU normally gain and cut weight? Do you follow the traditional bulk and cut? Or do you do something different? See you in the comments.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alex July 11, 2012, 2:07 pm

    Very good article! Muscles have nothing to do with nutrient. It is the training and recovery. You can eat only potatotes and still have big muscles if lifting heavy.

    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 3:58 pm

      Not true, Alex. You need the right nutrients to support growth.

    • Wolfen July 24, 2014, 5:27 pm

      Wow. Could anyone be more wrong about anything ever?

      • Anthony July 26, 2014, 10:48 pm

        Everyone starts fresh! I used to think we pooped fat out.

  • Matt Case July 11, 2012, 2:14 pm

    I have always bulked and then cut. It really hasn’t worked so well. My experiences echo what you’re describing above in that once I’m finished with the cut, my body is right back where I started. I just two weeks ago decided to try to get lean as you described so I could hopefully slowly add muscle to my frame in a more permanent fashion. To get lean, I’m simply restricting calories and continuing to lift heavy and hard as I was before when I was maintaining. It sounds like what you’re talking about here would be perfect for me!

    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 3:59 pm

      Get down to that base, Matt, and then work up from there slowly.

  • Kieran July 11, 2012, 4:31 pm

    have been slowly chipping away at my bf% whilst maintaining/losing a little strength by following a similar way to you have mentioned. I usually do a 24 hour fast one day a week to ensure I am in a deficit for the week.

    What do you make of lyle mcdonalds RFL program? Thinking of running it for 2-3 weeks

    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 9:48 pm

      I’m not overly familiar with Lyle’s program. Care to share a link?

      • Kieran July 11, 2012, 10:13 pm
      • Adrian Crowe July 15, 2012, 6:13 am

        Lyle’s RFL is very effective. I ran it for 6 weeks and lost 14lbs during that time and getting myself down to 12% body fat. I didn’t lose any muscle, in fact I gained 0.5lbs but that’s because I went low rep, high load aftering just finishing a hypertrophy based program.

        The only pitfall to RFL is the transition phase. You really need to ramp up workout volume as you introduce those carbs back in to ensure you don’t add the fat back on.

        The only thing that worked better IMO and allowed me to maintain or build muscle was the two times I’ve done the Velocity Diet (t-nation).

        Anythony: fantastic article sir! Keep it up!

        • Anthony July 17, 2012, 12:46 pm

          Interesting take, Adrian. Appreciate the reply. How was the V Diet? That’s the shake only diet, right?

  • ChrisArm July 11, 2012, 5:09 pm

    Since I barely have any muscle to speak of, i’ve been attempting to cut down to a solid base. Since muscle loss is inevitable on a cut, do you think it is even worth having higher calorie/carb post heavy workout? I know you champion the benefits of leaning down as quickly as possible, and as such i’m wondering if it’s better to have a lower calorie all the time? From your skinny-fat experience, do you think it’s better to just have a drastic/rapid cut and be done with it?

    Cheers for the info, it’s always helpful.

    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 9:49 pm

      Either approach can work. Chris. It’s certainly much easier to maintain a narrow focus. But if you wanted to try to salvage some muscle gain while you take time leaning down, it’s also a viable option.

      I’d say it depends on how close you are to your goal and what kind of mentality you have.

  • Andrew July 11, 2012, 7:30 pm

    Is it better to cut down first and then focus on lifting? I used cardio and calorie counting to lose fifty pounds but I have another thirty to lose. Should I keep going like I have been or start weight lifting now?


    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 9:54 pm

      Andrew, this is totally up to you and the comfort you have at your body fat. Just answered this question, so I’ll copy and paste.

      ” It’s certainly much easier to maintain a narrow focus. But if you wanted to try to salvage some muscle gain while you take time leaning down, it’s also a viable option.

      I’d say it depends on how close you are to your goal and what kind of mentality you have.

  • Mitchell July 11, 2012, 8:29 pm

    Anthony, interesting results on your 1000 calorie cut. I’m a big fan of IF, and have continued to see amazing results with fat loss and muscle gaining. The macros I eat play a major role in the targets I try to meet. My philosophy isn’t about restricting the same amount of calories every day, but arching the cut over an entire week. It helps to keep me mentally focused as well.


    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 9:55 pm

      Care to explain that more, Mitchell. I’m not sure what you mean by arching it over the week?

      Thanks for the reply, and welcome!

  • Josh T. July 11, 2012, 9:12 pm


    I do things very similar to you. I’m always 1 week away from what I’d rather look like body comp wise.

    My problem is this: at 5’10”, 185lbs, 10-12% BF, I have a hard time getting any lower than that. It’s like I have a setpoint to stay that size. I’d like to cut down to 7-8% BF, as I tumble and do a little gymnastics in my free time and I know that the reduced BF would help improve performance. Do you have any tips regarding someone in my situation? I practice IF regularly too.

    • Anthony July 11, 2012, 9:57 pm

      I don’t think going lower than 10% will benefit your tumbling or gymnastics much unless your competing at a high level. In my opinion, most “natural” folk won’t be able to sustain a body fat lower than 10% for that long. It takes drastic measures to get there, which is likely why you haven’t gotten there. It gets more difficult than just a “cut.”

      • Josh T. July 12, 2012, 3:18 am

        Appreciate the reply Anthony.

        While I don’t disagree with you, there are people such as Martin Berkhan who maintain like 6% BF with relative ease – and he can deadlift 600lbs. While I’m sure his nutrition is more dialed in than mine is, him and his clients have been able to maintain ridiculously low BF % levels relatively easily. Why is that?

        Also, most of the numbers I hear for an ‘optimal’ BF for a gymnast tend to be around 8-10%, so I suppose you’re right in saying that it wouldn’t improve performance all that much.

        • Anthony July 12, 2012, 10:49 am

          Josh — his clients aren’t ridiculously low. They’re around 10ish. And most of the pictures are probably taken on “ideal” days where they feel super lean and jacked.

          Just spitballin’ though. But there’s a big difference between his clients and the bodyfat of a bodybuilder pre contest. The latter is what I’m referring to here.

          • Rajat Desikan July 13, 2012, 7:03 pm

            Hi Anthony,
            Out of personal interest, have you ever attained that bodyfat level…sub 8% ish?

          • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:20 pm

            I can’t say because I haven’t had my bodyfat professionally measured in a while. If I had to guess, I’d say no.

  • Javier July 11, 2012, 10:45 pm

    I experimented a ton this year, and think I’ve found what works for me. I go on either a bulk or cut for 4-6 weeks. If i’ve gained or lost too much weight I adjust calories accordingly. 4-6 weeks seems to be more than enough time to do damage control.

    • Anthony July 12, 2012, 3:13 am

      Good stuff, Javier. Damage control is a good way to put it indeed. It’s largely individual too, so if you found your specific level, more power to you.

    • Traindom July 12, 2012, 4:17 am

      It’s always nice to be reminded that the best method for somebody is the one that works for them.

      I’m familiar with a guy that uses the traditional bulk and cut method and looks absolutely jacked. Even when he’s bulking he looks awesome. He goes by the name of Philrayho. Cool dude. And he eats six meals a day, which obviously works for him, haha.

      Anyway, it’s cool to see people that have different methods. It’s intriguing to see the uniqueness of people’s meshes with their training and diet. Individuality never gets old.

  • Traindom July 12, 2012, 4:03 am

    Great job on breaking nutrient autoregulation. I already knew the principle behind it, but it’s still very cool to see it in such a digestible yet loaded manner. I just have one question. Do you just eat purely by feel? Is there a part of you that measures a little? I’ve felt bloated some days and lean others, but I still go by caloric requirements. I’m more lax, but I still estimate somewhat.

    You probably already know that I partake in nutrient autoregulation. I might be repeating what I have said in the past, but I realized it could help people who read the comments, so why not? I’ve often scoured comments sections myself to find nuggets of gold. Hopefully this can help people.

    I did a traditional cut for about eight weeks and lost about ten pounds or so. I believe I was around 15% body fat when I started and ended with around 11% body fat. I used a caliper to get those percentages, but I only learnt how to use it recently, so my body fat could have been lower. My parents were freaked. They thought I was dying. I also got comments at school. Also, under a certain lighting at lunch, my arm veins looked as if they raged beneath my skin. I got a few holy craps haha.

    My training remained pretty much the same. It consisted of training compound exercises two to three times a week. I ate from 1800 to 2100 calories during the cut. I had employed intermittent fasting, so I ate more on training days and less on rest days. I realized later that these numbers were actually lower than I thought as I weighed the beef when it was raw, and so I overestimated the calories I got from it. Oopsy, but hey it helped!

    The feeling of being lean was fantastic. Fat really is psychological baggage. I lost baby fat from my face and my clothes were looser. It felt good not having goo hanging off my body. I didn’t have that much muscle at the time so it’s not like I lost that much. Today, I feel like it was worth it. It’s now something that I have more control over and it makes me happier. It’s not something that I have to combat as I did before. If I feel a little bloated, I can counter that. I regularly eat tons on training days with a little more ease too.

    I’ve read that the more in control one feels in their life, the happier one may be. I totally agree with this. It’s like you’ve pushed the fat away and can now keep it at bay, something you couldn’t do before. Fat was always something on my mind before the cut. After I cut down, I felt more in control. I was able to exercise my willpower over something and beat it. It’s a good feeling that permeates your self.

    With nutrient autoregulation, I feel like I have some control over my body composition. Yes, it does fluctuate from time to time (sometimes I can feel bloated or too lean), but I can always bounce back and still be on my merry way towards my goal. There’s little to no paranoia and even though results come slowly, it’s still satisfying. I’ve come off that need for instant gratification that the traditional bulk and cut method satisfies. Yes, one may feel pumped or lean at different points, but the paranoia eats you up.

    I currently weigh 165 pounds now. I weighed 155 pounds at the end of my cut. I gained ten pounds, buuut here’s the twist: I’m still at around the same body fat percentage, 11%. I’ve actually gained some muscle.

    Yeah, it’s not too noticeable, but the numbers don’t lie. I also still feel as lean as I did before even though I weigh more. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to realize my gains had compounded. I knew it was happening but when I decided to wait a while and check, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great trade-off for me. Even though results are slow, I’m more in control and mentally sound. What you expend in patience you gain in results.

    • Tahlita July 8, 2014, 2:53 pm

      Maaan, you’ve just inspired me!!! Traindom my man, thank you for your post about your journey… You have helped this skinny fat human. Even though I’m a girl, I’m so gonna follow in your footsteps! I lost weight then decided to go on a bulk……..went horribly wrong! Fucked me up! Gained more fat than muscle and it’s a pain to lose the fat again! So I am gonna go all out, cut for 3 months incorporating IF+calorie cycling to minimise a metabolic damage I just managed to fix recently. Meaning I am not drooping my calories too low, just staying at around maintainace (or having -100/200 calories a day on cardio days)

      I am doing the 5×5 at the moment only on week 2 and just started taking creatine for strength in the gym! Wish me luck folks! Getting and staying lean is a pain in the fat ass 🙂

      PS! Love your blog Anthony! You are my hero X

      • Anthony July 9, 2014, 4:21 pm

        Thanks 🙂 Traindom is a quality dude. Good luck.

  • Rhys July 12, 2012, 8:23 am

    This article is absolutely brilliant mate!! I’ve never truly tried a bulk/cut but in saying that I was about to start one. After readin this it has completely changed my mind in terms of my approach towards it!

    Very informative read and ideas are well backed up. Good to see some own research was put into it too! I’ll definitely be recommending this read to my friends!

  • Daniel Wallen July 12, 2012, 1:32 pm

    This is basically what I’m doing now. I used to try the traditional bulk/cut cycle, but always felt like I was just getting “too chubby” or “too skinny.” So, I dropped the bulking, got SUPER lean, and–basically, as you suggest here–I have + days when training (high carb, low fat, high calorie), – days when not training (low carb, high fat, low calorie), and o days (when I’m taking a needed week off, I usually aim for maintenance). I love it, because I’m getting results; it’s less to keep up with; and I haven’t counted a calorie in months.

    As you know, Anthony, I like the “cheat day” concept–I used that plus slow carb to get lean in the first place–but in retrospect, auto-regulation is easier to follow, and I’m curious about how it would have worked for fat loss.

    Question–do you take a week(ish) off from training every now and then? Do you simply aim for maintenance at these times?

    • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:17 pm

      Daniel, there are only two reasons I’ll take weeks completely off: out of town vacation (once per year) and injury that leaves me unable to train completely. Ha! I’d aim for maintenance then though.

    • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:17 pm

      And drop protein intake.

  • Rajat Desikan July 13, 2012, 6:58 pm

    Hi Anthony! I want more detail based
    Lovely article…thanks for quantifying a seemingly abstract concept. Good job.
    I wanted to know how hard it is to maintain 10 % bodyfat year round with nutrient autoregulation and good strength training?

    • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:19 pm

      10% is doable +- 1% for apparent water retention due to high carbohydrate intakes at times. Most important part is getting down to that level.

  • Rajat Desikan July 13, 2012, 7:00 pm

    Sorry for the typo in the last comment…the first line was

    “Hi Anthony! I want more detail based on your personal experiences. Say you trained hard, ate a lot. How did you feel the next morning, and so on…Could you please add that to this post. i think that would be invaluable…”

    • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:19 pm

      Rajat, that’s going to be included in the book, which will complement the projects that are coming out. I hope to have some pictures to accompany this.

      • Rajat Desikan July 14, 2012, 7:34 pm

        More details about the book please 🙂

        • Anthony July 17, 2012, 12:45 pm

          Well, let’s just say I’m writing a lot. 🙂

  • Harris July 14, 2012, 7:10 pm

    Sorry if i really don’t get what you mean by “don’t confuse “solid base” with “disgustingly lean six-pack.”

    I’m a typical skinnyfat (hence why i’m here) , when you refer to a solid base , does this mean a certain bodyfat level ? Personally , i’m stuck at 17% – 20% for the past 2 months (down from a hefty 32%).

    So in my case , can i start IF ? Train for 4 days with slightly higher carbs + caloric surplus while staying below 50g’s of carbs and lower caloric intake on non training days

    • Anthony July 14, 2012, 7:24 pm

      Harris, solid base is around 10-15%. You will have a six pack at 10% under the right lighting and flexing conditions. Not at a body fat much higher though.

      Disgustingly lean six pack is like having it without flexing and with less than ideal lighting. This is more along the 5-8% professional bodybuilding level where dudes dehydrate themselves and their skin is about as tight as it is on the back of your knuckles ALL OVER THEIR BODY.

      You can start IF regardless of your current body composition. I enjoy the four day template and it’s a nice starting point. Your off days would do you well for fat loss. Sounds like a great starting point.

      • Harris July 15, 2012, 5:12 am

        Thanks for the response. Keep up the good work Anthony. It’s awesome having a site with loads of info to refer to besides the usual Bulk / Cut articles we’ve been accustomed to

        • Anthony July 17, 2012, 12:46 pm

          Thanks for reaching out, Harris. Glad I can help.

  • Zidar July 15, 2012, 6:03 pm

    this might be off the topic but I’m wondering about “up to 50 grams of carbs”. What is exactly calculated in those 50 g – all carbs (from veggies, fruits, proteins…) or just starchy carbs (oats, potatoes, pasta, quinoa, rice…) or both starchy carbs + fruits?

    • Anthony July 17, 2012, 12:50 pm

      If you want to get uber strict, those 50g will be all the greens. But a lot of nutrition coach’s forego the vegetables all together and disregard them in calculations. Either way, I don;y thing 50g of starch in addition to a host of vegetables will be all that detrimental as it will likely total 100g anyway, which is pretty “low” by any standards outside of paleo.

  • Winn July 15, 2012, 7:36 pm

    Hi Anthony,
    I just discovered your website and I am quite impressed. I have never posted anywhere before so here goes. As a 49yr old skinny fat ectomorph, I developed some elbow tendonitis from doing body weight rows a few years ago. There is not much pulling or pushing strength training I can do at this point (without symptoms) and I am pretty frustrated. Do you have any suggestions in overcoming elbow tendonitis? Wrist/shoulder mobility is affecting the elbow?

    I really enjoy your website and appreciate your generosity. Thanks

    • Anthony July 17, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Winn, thanks for reaching out.

      Any way you can use a neutral grip on your exercises? That’s the first place to start.

  • phil July 17, 2012, 1:37 pm

    excellent article and your message of getting lean first before building muscle is probably the most important take-away of all for us ectos looking to achieve a defined physique without either the hassle of bulking & cutting or the deprivation of fasting. i found that the best way to achieve that look is to first reach the target weight you would like to be at with the bodyfat% you would like to have (a high single-digit figure) and maintain both for a period of 2-3 months – and then begin the process of building muscle while staying at that bodyfat%. to get there i found that going for regular low-volume/high-intensity cardio-sprints (not HIIT!) with a diet that consists mostly of lean protein and plant-based fats, plenty of vegs & fruits and only little amounts of grain/wheat-based carbs will trim you down nicely. the calories consumed should be about 10-15% short of maintenance (not basal/BMR!) and should be approximated over the course of a week to give you more room for manouevre as your appetite dips and falls. like anthony said, don’t concentrate on building muscle, but instead concentrate on getting lean; therefore, do a little bit of resistance training to maintain muscle density and focus more on the cardio. once you’ve hit your target weight and preferred bodyfat%, maintain both for a period of 2-3 months (the bigger the weight and bodyfat% drop to get there, the longer this period, in order to give your skinfold and other tissue time to re-adjust) and only then begin the process of building muscle (slowly!) while ensuring you remain at that bodyfat%. either maintain cardio levels and up the calories or reduce the cardio and maintain current calories, whatever works best for you. with a bit of steady discpline a further 2-3 months down the road should see you with a nice defined/ripped physique. cheers anthony, keep up your great work!

    • Anthony July 18, 2012, 9:17 pm

      I wouldn’t say you need to do less resistance training in favor of cardio. But I like most of your other ideas here. Thanks for the reply, and it’s nice to have you around. Glad you can find the time to make such a thorough and enlightening comment.

  • Adam February 17, 2014, 1:17 am

    Hi Anthony,

    Just discovered this excellent article you have here.

    I’m skinny-fat around 20% 5’10 175 lbs, I look a little similar to Tariq’s before photo you used in your 3 reminders for the skinny-fat ectomorph, just a little less puffy, however i have a little pop belly and love handles which i’d like to get rid of. I just needed some clarification on how to get lean first, would i be eating in a -500 calorie deficit for both training days and off days, and I don’t do much HIIT cardio, more like 200 calories burn in 20mins cardio. My nutrition intake will most probably be high protein and fats, and moderate to low carbs.

    Also should my carbs be higher on training days and lower on off days, but still staying in a calorie deficit?

    Also I do a push/pull/legs routine 3 days on, 1 day off, repeat during the week. I’m not too worried about losing muscle as I dont have much muscle as it is. I just want to get down to a reasonable body fat level 10-15% before worrying too much about gaining weight and muscle.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Anthony February 18, 2014, 2:22 am

      For basic fat loss, I recommend a straight deficit + strength training + walking/sprinting/ other things that don’t interfere with the intro strength work.

  • jack April 1, 2014, 7:52 am

    Awesome Article!!

    I started out from 123 pounds and moved to 143 pounds in 4-6 weeks. I took SSN mass gainer(35g Protein, 55g carbs per serving) slightly above the recommended serving size.I think i have bulked up as i have lost some muscle definition that i had earlier before starting to workout.
    Now i am on a week’s off because i felt like i was over training as i started to get hungry every 2 hours of eating stomach full and i was not moving beyond 143 pounds after a whole week.
    Now i am planning to bulk another 4 weeks and then i want to cut for a month.
    During the CUT, i am planning to follow kris gethin’s DTP (extra high rep,low volume) workout and get on some lean gainer with around 50g protein and 1-2g of carbs.
    Currently i am at 15% body fat and planning to go around 10% body fat with the cutting phase.
    Do you think i will lose muscle mass with this plan (Increasing protein,removing carbs during the cut) ??

    Thanks in advance.

    • Anthony April 6, 2014, 11:52 pm

      I have no idea.

      What I do know is that muscle gain is always easier at first, and you shouldn’t expect it to get any easier. Expect it to take longer. Expect it to be harder. Weeks off to “reset” any magic potential isn’t likely going to help.

  • Mike April 11, 2014, 12:26 pm

    Hello Anthony

    I wanted to say that your comments have hit home with me. I have experienced what you have said about losing body fat when you are ecto and semi lean. I am a healthcare provider so I am atune to physiology and diet. People who are endo or meso do not understand what its like to be ecto. How difficult it is to get below 10- 12%, or even approach that level, and then not look like you just came out of a concentration camp.

    This will make your readers chuckle. I worked out with a meso buddy for 6 months. He grew looking at weights. After the 6 months he looked at me and said,”You ought to think about quitting!” LOL

    Thank you, great info.


    • Anthony April 18, 2014, 4:36 pm

      Ah, the fun isn’t in the product, but rather the process 😉

  • mustafa musa June 11, 2014, 12:04 am

    so youre saying i can lift 3 times a week and on training days raise complex carb levels and lower fat intake slightly, but on my 3 off days i can raise my fat intake but keep my carbs at a low but good rate and do sprints while intermittent fasting in the morning because i either fast 16 or 18 hrs on off days and i am skinnyfat so i do big compund movements in a split followed by little isolation movements 4 sets 5-10 reps max and ill be gaining muscle and losing fat while including 2 cheat meals every 2 weeks im 14% bodyfat does this sound like a good plan and i only eat healthy simple sugars like fruits,whole wheat, and milk every other day. im a beginner to liftng.

    • Anthony June 14, 2014, 5:00 pm

      I like focusing on fat loss first, so I’d err on the conservative edge of a recomp.

  • Tahlita July 8, 2014, 3:20 pm

    Great read Ant – as always! Learning shitloads…

    Few question, truly appreciate your help!!!
    1. Would training 6 days a week (3days resistant training 3days cardio) interfere with calorie deficit/cycling
    2. I stopped IF as I was told it’s really bad for women & I got nowhere fast (gained weight & gorged on food at night times – once I started eating I couldn’t stop). Verging on the edge of an eating disorder… How else do I make IF beneficial especially on a deficit?
    3. I naturally eat low carb (paleo/ketogenic style) due to being gluten/wheat sensitive. My body is kinda used to not having much glycogen but it’s been a pain when it comes to training. Do you have any experience with low carb hard training clients? I want to start sprinting again after lifting!!!

    I may be asking the obvious but, it’s been painful trying to get lean… I love the gym, diet is my weakness – I confess! Also, I think I’m a cross between an meso/endomorph….

    Thanks for your help!

    • Anthony July 9, 2014, 4:19 pm

      1) It depends on how you want to cycle your calories. There’s no universal way, so there’s nothing more I can say here.
      2) If you can’t do IF, you can’t make IF beneficial.
      3) No, because I always recommend some kind of carbohydrates — usually enough to stay above ketosis.

      • Tahlita July 12, 2014, 7:19 am

        Right! Forget IF…
        I will add carbs (sweet potatoes) and take some creatine for the pump!!! Cutting at 1800 to start so I can room to wiggle about… Will cut all carbs and salt on last final 10-12 weeks….. Then start carb cycling for maintainace and lean gains.

        I haven’t got a lot to lose weight wise but I feel I ought to lose as much as necessary to have a very low BF% then build from there???

        Only planning to lose weight and shed fat once (cutting)! I am sick of this endless cycle… All I wanna do is just work on building muscle for the rest of my life and be able to control my weight gain/loss easily with a few pounds here and there! Frustrating!

        Thanks Anthony. Your website is genius!!!!

        • Anthony July 14, 2014, 10:48 pm


  • Steven August 19, 2014, 4:06 pm

    Hi Anthony
    I am skinny fat thirties Asian 6foot 155 pounds at 13 percent bfat.
    So your article suggests instead of weeks of cuttimg(which I did to get form 17-13bfat)
    And bulking, just set the cycles weekly. I assume that’s +on workout days and – on cardio or off days.
    I am wondering approx how long it will take to reach 165 with around 12 bfat based on this method of diet. I am doing three to four days of workout and tabatS weekly. Thanks!

    • Anthony August 30, 2014, 5:50 pm

      I don’t think you can predict how the body will work, and I think it’s stupid to try. Do something, get the feedback, and go. Ido Portal says: don’t plan, REACT. Reacting means you have to DO. You can plan all day without DOING.

  • Jonas August 25, 2014, 9:03 am

    Dropping 1000 calories a day for five days could impossibly leave you to watch your “muscles wither into apparent nothingness”. 7000 calories constitute a kilo, 3500 a pound, so five days of calorie deprivation of that magnitude could at most have yo drop 1,5 pounds worth of muscle AND fat. (Depending on WHAT you ate on those days, a majority of the tissue lost could have been from fat, further invalidating the muscle wither claim. It is damn near impossible to lose only muscle, unless you persist entirely on a diet of quick carbohydrates and saturated fats 🙂 )

    Other than that, great guide, and I agree with every word!

    • Anthony August 30, 2014, 5:42 pm

      “apparent” is the key word there. There’s obvious fluid loss and “fullness” lost with deprivation that isn’t truly your muscle fibers.

  • Sammie July 12, 2015, 8:25 am

    Lmao at your muscles “withering away into nothingness” within 5 days, what a load of fucking shit, you were glycogen depleted, that’s all.

    Stupid article filled with garbage advice.

    • Anthony July 17, 2015, 12:18 am

      This is an old article, and I agree with you with in that the withering bit was an exaggeration from my old self trying to explain a concept the best way I could.

      Thanks for your insults.

      You’re really making the world a better place. Keep your chest high, my man. Don’t let anything get you down. You can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do.