By Mario Strong

Occasionally you may feel the need to shed some excess body fat. Perhaps you just want to look good at the beach or maybe just trim up a bit for your health. Following a well-designed exercise and nutritional program is necessary for maximum results. When following a weight loss program, the goal is to retain muscle mass while losing unwanted body fat. After training hard for several years and successfully building a he-man physique, the last thing a bodybuilder wants to do is lose the muscular gains he worked so hard to achieve. Following a diet that severely reduces calories is difficult for most bodybuilders. The best way to lose weight and retain muscle mass is to do it slowly over an extended period. When bodybuilders lose weight too quickly some of their weight loss may be in the form of muscle and not fat. This is because the human body has a survival mechanism designed to hold on to its fat stores in order to prevent starvation.

The more overweight a person is the faster he or she will lose bodyweight. This is because the heavier person creates a greater calorie deficit. As an example, Person A is 50 pounds overweight and consumes between 1,800 and 2,200 calories daily. Person B is only 10 pounds overweight and consumes the same 1,800 and 2,200 calories. The heavier person will lose more because it takes more calories to sustain a heavier bodyweight. If you are extremely overweight, you can expect to lose an average of 1.5 to 2 pounds of fat a week. If you are between ten and fifteen pounds overweight, your weight loss will average 0.5 to 1.5 pounds of fat a week. For most bodybuilders, two pounds is the maximum amount of body fat they should strive to lose in any given week. Any additional weight loss is probably only a loss of muscle tissue and not fat.

Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water daily to help curb your appetite and maintain your health. Forget the fallacy about gaining weight from drinking lots of water since this is probably a result of poor mineral balance in your diet or some underlying medical condition. This alone should be reason enough for you to follow a well-balanced nutritional program and seek medical advice when needed.

When on a fat loss program it is important to understand the scientific principles involved in the process. To lose one pound of fat (3,500 calories), your consumption of food must be 3,500 calories less than your calorie expenditure. Although this process is slow, there are other factors to consider.

Breaking the “base level” is an important factor to understand when trying to lose unwanted body fat. The base level is a particular bodyweight the body maintains when calories are not restricted. Your body has its own level of fat that it wants to store, regardless of slight variations in everyday caloric intake and expenditure. One way to manipulate your base level to a lower point is to perform cardio exercises each and every day.

Natural bodybuilders should strive to lose no more than two pounds per week. More than that may result in the loss of muscle tissue. To regulate your weight loss you need to know exactly how many calories you are eating every day and to adjust them until you begin to lose body fat. It may take some experimentation on your part, but knowing how many calories you are consuming before starting a diet gives you a good point of reference.

Remember, it is calories that are of prime importance when losing body fat. Many bodybuilders make the mistake of severely reducing their carbohydrate consumption or eating lots of protein with the belief that this is the best method in becoming more muscular. While these nutrients are important, the first consideration should always be the calories consumed. A good starting point to losing body fat is to learn how many calories are needed to maintain your current bodyweight and then gradually decrease your caloric intake by 300-500 calories a day. It is also important to monitor your condition and determine if you are losing body fat or muscle tissue.

When following a fat loss diet, consuming a sufficient amount of protein is of prime importance. Protein is responsible for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, and since retaining muscle mass is a primary goal of natural bodybuilders, they should be sure to consume enough high quality amino acids daily in order to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. To accomplish this, muscle builders that train intensely should consume between 1.0 and 1.25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. That means that a two hundred pound bodybuilder needs to consume between 200 to 250 grams of protein a day. To properly digest and assimilate this much protein, bodybuilders should eat several small meals per day, spread out over every two to three hours. This practice will help keep the body in a positive nitrogen state by constantly feeding the muscles with protein and other nutrients. Spreading your daily nutritional requirement through several small meals also helps with absorption and prevents indigestion.

Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy. When on a fat-loss diet, they must be adjusted to meet the goals of the bodybuilder. The trick is not to lower the carbohydrates to the point where the body has to rely on muscle tissue for energy. In order to retain muscle mass and strength it is imperative to include some carbohydrates in your diet. Some bodybuilders make the mistake of drastically cutting their carbohydrate intake while increasing their fat consumption, believing that fat is a better source of energy. Fat contains twice as many calories than protein or carbohydrates, and since it is more difficult for the body to breakdown its fatty acids, this does not seem like a reasonable practice. The bottom line is to keep your fat intake to thirty or less grams per day. All animal products have fat, so be careful in the type and amount of foods you consume.

At the beginning stages of a reduced calorie diet, most of the initial weight loss may be in the form of water. As your body burns it’s most accessible fuel, which is the glycogen stored in your muscles, it releases three to four grams of water for each gram of glycogen. During the first week of your fat-loss program, you may lose several pounds of unwanted bodyweight. This reduction in poundage is dramatic and should motivate you to stay on your program. As you continue on your reduced calorie diet, your body will start burning fat more readily. Because fat contains many more calories per pound than glycogen, it takes longer to lose. Patience is the key! 

A common mistake bodybuilders make is to limit their consumption of calories, fats, and carbohydrates severely in an attempt to lose pounds in a short period. This type of diet lacks food variety and the essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly. Luckily, your body has a survival mechanism (base level) that holds fat stores if your nutritional consumption is limited for a period. Severely restricting your intake of nutrients turns on your body’s survival mechanism and causes your body to respond by slowing down its metabolism to save energy. While this survival mechanism helps us stay alive in times of need, it can nevertheless stop you from losing the unwanted bodyweight you desire. This means that even though you are eating very little you will not be able to lose bodyweight because your body has drastically slowed down its metabolic rate. It all comes down to a balanced exercise and nutritional program when trying to lose excess body fat.

One important thing to remember when first undergoing a fat-loss program is patience. If you do not see your bodyweight dropping after adopting such a program, do not worry. Your weight training might be creating new muscle and causing you to weigh the same or more. Just stay with your nutrition and exercise program. After the muscle growth stabilizes, you will eventually start losing unwanted bodyweight as your body begins to tighten and firm up.

If you are currently on a high calorie/fat diet, do not immediately jump into a low calorie/fat regimen. Let your body and mind adjust to your new nutritional plan gradually. Never let yourself become weak from hunger. Remember, while you are burning away the fat, you are also building a fortress of long lasting health and vitality.

Since natural bodybuilding is the scientific application of exercise, nutrition, rest, and positive mental attitudes, it’s important to apply each of them to your life in a reasonable fashion. Many bodybuilders do not pay enough attention to their diets and eat tons of food to gain weight, and then starve themselves while trying to rid their bodies of excess fat accumulations. That is no way to body build! My method is more practical. I eat the same types of foods each and every day. My diet consists of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, legumes, chicken, eggs, and spring water. The amount of each food item I consume on any given day depends on how I feel and if I have any set goals in mind, such as losing or gaining bodyweight. By eating the same types of foods every day at the same times, I find it easy to adjust my bodyweight with some slight modifications to my daily nutritional intake. When I desire to look great at the beach, I just lower my fat, carbohydrate, and calorie consumption a bit to bring out the striations. If I want to increase my body’s mass I move the lever in the opposite direction while maintaining my required protein intake. It is just a numbers game and these slight adjustments are all I need to acquire my desired look. This simple method allows me to maintain my strength and muscular size, while never having to experience hunger pains or any type of physical weakness.

Mastering your diet will put you in tune with your physique and your health. Nutrition feeds life and consuming high quality natural, organic foods should be a primary goal for you in building lasting muscle. Learn the nutritional composition of as many foods as possible. Study the amount of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein each food contains and design a nutritional program for your own individual needs. A nutritional adviser can help you do that. What I can do is outline my personal fat-loss diet as a reference and you can adjust it as needed. Most importantly, be patient. It takes time to accomplish your goals, but rest assured that they will be realized by you if you consistently follow the advice given here.

A. Reduce your calorie intake by 300 to 500 calories per day. A calorie deficit will help you lose the visceral fat, which is the fat that wraps around the abdominal organs. Give your body time to adjust to your new nutritional program. Reduce or eliminate those foods that are high in fat. Remember that a gram of fat has more than twice as many calories than a gram of carbohydrate or protein does.

B. Limit your consumption of fat to no more than 30 grams a day. If possible, keep your fat intake closer to 25 grams a day. Limit high fat foods. Read every label and check the fat content of every food. The following items are high in fat: hard cheeses, cottage cheese, whole milk and whole milk products, ice cream, butter, mayonnaise, oils, beef, pork, lamb, sausage, the skin of poultry, avocados, nuts, potato chips, and chocolate. There are many, many others. Never put anything in your mouth without knowing its ingredients. If you must have milk, make sure it is low or nonfat. This goes for all milk-based products.

C. Eat protein several times a day. Prime sources of low fat, high quality protein are egg whites, white-meat chicken or turkey, and fish. Stock your fridge with skinless chicken breast as your main choice of poultry. If you like, choose low fat fish such as abalone, bass, cod, flounder, halibut, perch, red snapper, and canned tuna in water (no salt). Avoid fatty fish such as bluefish, carp, catfish, herring, mackerel, salmon, shad, swordfish, trout, and whitefish. If you are concerned about cholesterol, avoid seafood such as crab, lobster, and shrimp.

D. When possible, eat fruits in their natural form rather than drinking their juices. The fiber in the fruit slows calorie assimilation. Fruits have macronutrients and fiber that manmade sugary food items do not provide.

E. As a general rule, eat complex carbohydrates only twice a day. Complex carbohydrates tend to satisfy hunger. They also have a calming effect and slow the metabolism slightly. Limit the complex carbohydrates to the scheduled planned meals. Eat plain cereals (hot or cold) such as rolled oats. If you eat bread, use grain or whole wheat instead of white.

F. Avoid eating foods that are fried or cooked with butter, oils, commercial dressings, or any other fatty substance. When you cook, boil, steam, broil, or poach your foods. When possible, steam vegetables rather than boil them. Boiling removes many valuable micronutrients. Do not add table sugar to your foods or drinks. Do not use butter, sour cream, jams, peanut butter, or margarine. If you must, use spices, herbs, lemon, or lime juice as seasoning. Sodium encourages water retention. Do not add table salt to your foods.

G. Drink several eight-ounce glasses of spring water daily. Drink water with your meals and throughout your day. Also, be sure to drink water before, during, and after your workout to avoid dehydration. Never drink coffee, caffeinated tea, soda, or diet drinks, and never consume beer or other alcoholic beverages.

H. Eat high-fiber foods. Fiber is great for the digestive system. It has a low caloric value and helps prevent some calories from entering the bloodstream. Fiber also contains cholesterol-reducing properties that can keep blood levels in a healthy range.

One of the biggest sins I see bodybuilders commit when on a fat loss regimen is to train with light weights. Training in this fashion while losing body fat will only cause you to lose the hard-earned muscle you built through the lifting of heavy steel. If you diet correctly, you should experience no drastic changes in your strength while losing body fat. Remember, to retain their mass and strength, muscles need to be stimulated often. When training for a competition, or just to look good at the beach, I always lift heavy, right through the entire sculpting process. It is what I know and what has worked best for my students and me. Training with light weights in order to get cut for the beach scene will most likely cause you to lose quality muscle size. If you find yourself to weak to use the same heavy steel that you were previously using before your fat loss program, then chances are you are probably not consuming enough calories and are losing bodyweight too fast. It takes time to build mountains of muscle and it takes time to lose excess body fat and reveal your rock-hard ridges.

Another mistake natural bodybuilders make when trying to lose body fat is to increase the volume of their training by adding sets, exercises, and even workouts in the assumption that the more time they spend in the gym, the more calories they will burn, and in turn the more buffed they will look. Unlike the anabolic androids, natural bodybuilders have to depend on their bodies’ own recuperative powers, so the last thing you want to do is over train while dieting and cause your body to halt its progress. Forget about the marathon workouts you read about in the muscle magazines. Many of the so-called champions are on the juice and have little credibility in my book. If they were so knowledgeable about muscle building, they would not be relying on chemical enhancements to create their Herculean forms. The bottom line – do not train to increase your endurance, that is not your goal. Train in accordance to your recuperative powers while following a sensible calorie and fat restricted diet such as the one outlined in this chapter.

For these reasons, natural bodybuilders on restricted diets should not train every day of the week. At most, seasoned muscle builders should train each body part once every four to seven days, while intermediate bodybuilders should target each area twice weekly, since their training intensity is not yet at peak levels. It is also important not to weight train more than two days in a row so your muscles will have a chance to recuperate and rebuild. Body parts should also be broken down into groups so as not to directly work any muscle group on two consecutive days. Retaining muscle tissue while simultaneously increasing the separation and hardness of the individual muscle should be of prime importance when training to lose body fat.

A favorite advanced split-system of mine for losing body fat is to weight train each body part once every four days, with a rest day in between each workout. I group the body parts into two sections: one is the torso group (chest, back, and shoulders) and the other group is the limbs (arms and legs). For example, based on the following workout charts, on the first week you would perform Workout 1 on Monday, Workout 2 on Wednesday, Workout 3 on Friday, and Workout 4 on Sunday. On the second week, you would perform Workout 1 on Tuesday, Workout 2 on Thursday, Workout 3 on Saturday, and Workout 4 that following Monday. It is a continuous pattern that produces big results.

It is vital that you weight train when on a fat-loss program. If you do not pump the iron while on a reduced calorie diet your muscle mass will diminish. Lifting steel keeps your muscular gains intact as your body begins to become more refined. If you go off your diet for a few days be sure to continue with your workouts so that you will continue to burn calories and not gain unwanted bodyweight. If you do gain while not exercising, the pounds will be fat, not muscle. Stay active!

Similar to your mass-building workouts, the majority of exercises performed while on a weight loss program should include the same basic movements that got you to the level where you could even consider trimming up for the beach. As explained earlier, it is imperative to include the heavy mass-building movements in your workouts and not replace them with inferior light isolation exercises. The basic exercises help you retain muscle mass while you diet. If you stop doing them, you run the risk of not only losing muscle mass but strength as well. The basics include the: Full Squat, Leg Press, Bench Press, Deadlift, Row, Upright Row, Shoulder Press, Power Clean, Parallel Dip, Front Pull-Up, etc. These types of movements work several muscle groups across several joints, which means you can use heavy weights and retain more muscle mass.

While the basic exercises should constitute the majority of your weight training movements, occasionally performing a few isolation exercises is a great way to help striate, define, and separate the individual muscles. These exercises will add polish and refinement to your physique. Make sure to use proper form when performing them and use a weight heavy enough to give the muscles some real stimulation. Some examples of isolation exercises include the Side Lateral, Leg Extension, Incline Fly, and Concentration Curl.

Because a slow metabolism burns fat slowly, it is important to increase the metabolic rate while retaining as much muscle mass as possible. The faster your metabolism, the quicker you will burn fat. To accomplish this you need to raise your metabolic rate up to the point where you can practically see and feel the fat melting off your body. One tool in your fat loss program is cardio exercise. Cardio exercises not only promote fat loss, but also help strengthen the heart and lungs as well. The heart is a muscle, and just like the skeletal muscles, it needs to be exercised vigorously to become strong and healthy. Although it will take a bit of time before you realize the benefits of cardio work, you will almost immediately benefit from the oxygen delivered to your heart.

Many bodybuilders overdo aerobic training when trying to lose body fat and unfortunately lose muscle tissue as well. You have to find the right balance between weight training, cardio, and a nutritional plan to help guarantee maximum fat loss while retaining muscle mass. To help keep excess pounds from accumulating on your body, perform cardio work several times a week (on non-weight training days). By performing cardio exercises for 30-45 minutes on your off days, you’ll have more stamina for the steel and prevent overtraining, because the exercise load is spread evenly throughout the week. This will help retain your muscle mass while shedding away-unwanted body fat. The well-being of your heart and lungs will also improve dramatically. For you to realize the benefits of aerobic training, try getting your pulse rate up to 70-80 percent of its maximum capacity and keep it there for at least twenty minutes (to determine your maximum pulse rate, just subtract your age from 220). You can accomplish this with any number of activities, such as cycling, jogging, running, elliptical, step-master, swimming, etc. Whatever activity you prefer is fine, as long as you sustain the elevated pulse rate for at least twenty minutes, several times a week. Be patient when first beginning a cardio program and gradually increase the workload on the heart and lungs to prevent possible medical problems.

Remember, while on a fat loss program you should be training hard and heavy while simultaneously following a fat/calorie reduced diet. If you perform an excess amount of cardio work, you run the risk of losing muscle tissue and that is the last thing you want. As a natural bodybuilder, your primary goals are to retain as much muscle and strength as possible, while losing body fat and improving the function of your heart and lungs as well.

Personally, my favorite form of cardio training is running. Since my body fat is already in check, all I need is a good one to two-mile run once a week to keep off any excess fat that might accumulate on my physique. I also include several 100-yard sprints after my run to help bring out the definition in my thighs and keep them agile and mobile. Find out what works best for you and apply it to your fat-loss program.

Exercises to Stimulate the Aerobic System:

For Weight Reduction
Long Distance Swimming
Slow Paced Stationary Cycling

For Cardiovascular Conditioning
Running, Treadmill Running
Elliptical Trainer
Fast Paced Stepper
Fast Pace Bike Riding
Fast Paced Stationary Riding
Jumping Rope



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