Get Shredded in 8 Weeks

Lose Body Fat by Fourth of July

Oh Shoot, Where Did All My Cuts Go?

To paraphrase the delightful Britney Spears, “Oops, you did it again.” No one plans on losing all those badass cuts and veins they were showing off last summer, but we are all human beings. We are the descendants of hunter-gatherers who managed to survive two or possibly three ice ages in the 200,000 years the Homo sapiens species has been around this rock revolving around the sun. We are genetically wired to crave fat and sugar, and to eat more of it when it’s cold and dark. Some of you live in climates where winter never comes, but the rest of us have to deal with these winter months every damn year. On top of our own instincts related to climate, we also have the temptation to overindulge in all the wrong foods plus copious amounts of alcohol in that roughly six-week span from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve known as “the holidays.” So don’t beat yourself up if you packed on some fluff. All that matters now is that summer is coming up, and there is no time to lose. You can peel off that body fat and look like a freaking shredded Greek sculpture by the Fourth of July if you commit to starting right now. First off, I have some good news about cardio. Yes, you will still need to do it, but it doesn’t have to be as miserable an experience as it may have been in the past.

Cardio – Fasted or Fed, Doesn’t Matter!

While fitness conscious men can pat ourselves on the back for often being years if not decades ahead of the medical and scientific worlds when it comes to effective methods for building muscle and losing fat, it turns out in one case we have unknowingly been perpetuating a myth for decades. This myth is that doing cardiovascular exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, i.e., fasted, is far superior for burning fat than any other time of day. The rationale is that as we fast overnight in sleep, our glycogen stores from any carbohydrates we have eaten the previous day become fully depleted. Thus, instead of “wasting” a good 20-30 minutes of cardio burning stored carbs, you immediately tap into body fat stores from the second your foot stars pedaling or stepping. This bit of broscience became universally accepted, and anyone trying to get ultra-shredded and achieve extremely low body fat would drag their starving, exhausted ass out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to do his or her cardio, typically feeling like death warmed over in the final weeks as they came closer to their goal. Now it seems there was never any advantage in fat loss to that whole practice.

It is 100% true that you will burn a larger percentage of fat doing fasted cardio. But doing cardio in such a physically compromised state (starving, running on an empty tank) means you burn less overall calories. Contrast that with having your normal breakfast of eggs and oatmeal, waiting perhaps 90 minutes, and then hitting your cardio. With all that extra energy/fuel, you will work that much harder and burn more calories. As a random example, let’s say you burn 300 calories in 30 minutes of fasted cardio, and 600 calories doing “fed” cardio. We now know that fat loss can be boiled to an absurdly simple mathematical formula called CICO for short: Calories In, Calories Out. That’s it! You are either in a caloric deficit or you are not. If you expend more calories than you take in, you are in a caloric deficit and will lose fat.

Another myth regarding the superiority of fasted cardio was that it “boosted the metabolism” since you burned/oxidized a greater percentage of fat during that session. Studies have shown that the body compensates for this by burning less fat the rest of the day. On the other hand, if you do your cardio in a “fed” state, you will burn less fat during the session but more fat the remainder of the day. All this means that it really doesn’t matter if you do your cardio on an empty stomach or after a meal, or even several meals. If you enjoy doing your cardio fasted for whatever reasons, by all means go for it. Just know that it doesn’t offer any advantage in your pursuit of shreds over doing cardio with food in your system. 

Before I get into any specifics, I want to hammer home the significance of that phrase. If you are not losing fat, you are either eating too much in terms of calories, not expending enough calories through your cardio, or both. Many lifters and are in total denial about CACO. They have this wacky idea that they can lose weight in a caloric surplus so long as they are eating super clean. If only this were true! Unfortunately, you can’t defeat the laws of mathematics. If you are taking in 3,000 calories and expending only 2,000, you simply cannot lose fat. That’s why it’s a must that you track your daily caloric intake. Luckily it’s 2022 and there are countless nutrition apps that make it a snap to do that quickly and easily on your smartphone. 

How Much Cardio?

Sorry to keep going on about the “C word,” but there is one final point to make that’s critical toward reaching your fat-loss goals in time to be showing off nice cuts at the beach or the pool (I know some of you guys love those pool parties!). Rather than think of the proper amount of cardio in terms of time, the goal should be a specific amount of calories burned per session as the entire point of cardio in this situation is to tip the scales into caloric deficit. Besides which, one person doing very easy cardio might only burn 100 calories in 30 minutes, while another who really gets after it could burn 600-700 calories in the same amount of time. Of course, it’s your time, so you can choose to burn more calories in less time by applying more effort or take it easy if you don’t mind spending a lot more time on a treadmill, bike, stepper or elliptical runner.

I do strongly suggest you work in the maximum fat-burning zone. Most cardio machines have sensors; and if not, you can check your heart rate with a Fitbit or Apple Watch or any similar device that’s right there on your wrist. Here’s the easy formula to follow if you don’t have a high-tech watch that does the calculation for you. The following would be an example to follow if you are 25 years old:

Maximum Heart Rate is 220 minus age

220-25 = 195

Fat loss shown to be optimal at 70% of MHR

70% of 195 = 136.5 (round off to 137)

Take five minutes to warm up and get up to that heart rate, then simply maintain it until you reach your target for total calories burned. As far as how many sessions to do per week, I strongly suggest gradually ramping it up so you don’t go from zero to 60 too soon and burn out. Here is a suggested frequency:

Weeks 1-2: 4 sessions per week

Weeks 3-4: 5 sessions per week

Weeks 5-6: 6 sessions per week

Weeks 7-8: 7 sessions per week

The following is a suggestion for how you might also progressively increase the total calories burned per session:

Weeks 1-2: 250 calories per session

Weeks 3-4: 300 calories per session

Weeks 5-6: 400 calories per session

Weeks 7-8: 500 calories per session

Keep in mind that some of you who have less body fat to lose may not need as many calories as shown above, while others who have substantially more subcutaneous fat hiding your muscle definition will require more. A heavier person with more muscle mass will also burn more calories doing cardio, all other factors being equal, than a lighter person with less lean tissue.

Your Diet

I came up with a sample diet that will be effective if you follow the general format. You only really need carbohydrates for breakfast, a pre-workout meal and your post-workout meal. Serving sizes will be reduced halfway through the diet. If you train after breakfast, you really only need carbs once more, in the post-workout meal.

The diet below reflects the typical eating pattern for most of you who work during the day and train in the late afternoon or early evening. Please keep in mind that you can substitute other lean proteins or carbs, and you should calculate your total caloric intake. Based on whether or not you are losing fat, you will then have the tools to adjust your nutrition accordingly. That’s why the following is just a “suggested” diet plan and the serving sizes reflect a pattern where we reduce calories as we near the target.

Sample Diet: Weeks 1-4

Meal 1

10 egg whites, ½ cup (dry) rolled oats with ¼ cup blueberries or strawberries

Meal 2

8 oz chicken breast, 6-8 grilled asparagus stalks

Meal 3

8 oz salmon, large green salad or 1 cup steamed broccoli

Meal 4 (pre-workout)

8 oz ground turkey (1 tbsp salsa OK to mix in), medium sweet potato

Post-workout shake

40-50 grams blend of whey and casein protein

Meal 5

8 oz white fish, 1 cup (cooked) white rice

*Assuming late afternoon/early evening workouts

Sample Diet: Weeks 5-8

Meal 1

10 egg whites, ½ cup (dry) rolled oats with ¼ cup blueberries or strawberries

Meal 2

6 oz chicken breast, 6-8 grilled asparagus stalks

Meal 3

6 oz salmon, large green salad or 1 cup steamed broccoli

Meal 4 (pre-workout)

6 oz ground turkey (1 tbsp salsa OK to mix in), small sweet potato

Post-workout shake

40-50 grams blend of whey and casein protein

Meal 5

6 oz white fish, ½ cup (cooked) white rice

*Assuming late afternoon/early evening workouts

How Many Cheat Meals Do I Get, Bro?

Zero. You get no cheat meals. Eight weeks goes by quickly, and the human body was not designed to lose body fat quickly. Most of the people who had those genes died off in times of famine. Body fat was an energy store that could and did keep people alive when there simply was nothing to eat. If you were training as a competitive physique athlete and wanted to get into ultra-ripped condition and show striated glutes, it’s feasible that toward the end of a 16-week prep your fat loss could stall and a cheat meal could be implemented to help reboot the system. You will not be getting anywhere near that lean and this program is only eight weeks long, so just suck it up, buttercup! You can endure a few weeks of cravings and hunger when you know the end result will be well worth it. Whenever it gets tough and you’re looking at those My Cookie Dealer cookies in your freezer, just think about how spectacular you will look with your shirt off. You will have clear muscle separation, a deep six-pack and some cool veins criss-crossing your bronzed torso to top it all off.

Additional Nutrition Notes

Avoid butter, margarine, any deep-fried foods and saturated fats. Also avoid fruit juice, all breads, white flour and white sugar.

See You in 8 weeks, Looking Lean and Mean!

There you have it. Follow the advice and guidelines we have set out for you here, and your body will be ready to turn some heads and get some lingering stares in time for the Fourth of July if you’re in the USA, or peak beach season anywhere else. Stick to the program and those shreds are yours!

Ron Harris

Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area., Instagram: ronharrismuscle

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