Dieting down to an extremely low level of body fat is a HUGE achievement, it leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of knowing you had the discipline and dedication to do what is necessary to achieve something that many people cannot do. Although, with such extreme levels of body fat comes a number of negative side effects, after all, our bodies aren’t meant to get to this point which is why it’s so hard to do. That’s why in this blog post I’m going to explain why being too lean sucks!
With the way social media is these days, it’s easy to see your favourite fitness model or bodybuilder posting photos in unbelievable condition and looking lean or aesthetic, but before you decide to emulate their results there’s a few things you need to consider.
It’s also important to keep in mind this level of conditioning is only attainable for very short periods of time. Most high profile athletes or models on social media will have a full library of photos from a number of photo shoots that they will use over an extended period of time. This can often be misleading to those that think they are in this condition year round (unless they are pharmaceutically enhanced).
Some Of The Negatives Of Being Too Lean…
Quality Of Training: After being in a calorie deficit or negative energy balance for an extended period of time, you will eventually reach a point where no matter how much caffeine is in your pre-workout or how much rest you get between sessions, you simply cannot maintain your strength and training intensity. The result, your training sessions begin to suffer, burning fewer calories, losing muscle mass and the enjoyment of training decreases.
Metabolic Adaptation: As your calories decrease, your metabolism will eventually adapt to your current energy expenditure and calorie intake. This is why you need to continue reducing calories over time or adding cardio (or both) as your body adapts. This also explains why your maintenance calorie intake will usually be dramatically lower after your cutting or dieting phase compared to what it was at the end of your bulk or gaining phase.
Social Life: Regardless of how flexible you are with your approach to training and nutrition, you will eventually reach a point where your social life starts to suffer. It becomes hard to eat out with friends and family due to your lower calorie intake requirements, you don’t feel like going to social events, as your energy levels are so low, and in most cases your mood will severely decrease over time, which can often upset those around you and simply make you annoying to be around.
Hormones: Extremely low levels of body fat can often lead to reductions in hormones such as: testosterone, insulin, thyroid and leptin.
Food Obsession: As calories are reduced, your hunger and obsession over food will increase. This can be very frustrating and consuming as you literally can spend the majority of your day thinking of food.
Sleep Quality: As you get leaner and leaner, your sleep quality will more than likely get worse and worse. Making recovering in between training sessions and day to day life activities a lot more difficult.
Some Of The Positives Of Being Too Lean…
By now you’re probably thinking, “why would I ever want to get this lean?!”
Don’t stress, there are plenty of positives that come with a lean/shredded physique, including:
-Increased mental toughness. Getting to such low levels of body fat requires a lot of determination and discipline.
-Improved knowledge on your own body with what works and what doesn’t along with how your body responds to certain training and dieting methods.
-Possible increase in social awareness/popularity if your business and profile is health and fitness related (clients love seeing REAL results and case studies… Do as I do, not do as I say).
-Photos that will last a lifetime.
Some Tips To Make The Journey A Little Easier
-Give yourself enough time to diet down before your competition/event date.
-Be flexible with your food choices and do not eliminate certain food groups (unless of course you know your body does not respond well to a certain food or drink).
-Use cardio as a tool. Start with minimal cardio and only add in more when necessary (when fat loss plateaus or you are not willing to further reduce calories).
-Track your progress. Calories, training sessions, cardio, average weekly weight, body composition… These are just some of the things you should be track during a fat loss phase to help you understand what’s working and what isn’t.
-Train to increase or at least maintain strength in the gym. This will help with maintaining muscle mass as you get further into your cut. More muscle = more fat loss.
-Inform family and friends of what your goals are. Let them know that it’s going to get tough and that you’re trying your absolute hardest to not let it affect your mood and relationships.
Achieving a lean physique is something everybody should experience (whether that means being lean enough to see your abs or whether it means being competitive in a bodybuilding show), although there’s a significant difference between being lean and healthy, and being lean to the point that other aspects of your life start to suffer. If you’re goal is to step on stage, then by all means go for it! Use the tips above to minimise the suffering during your prep and just keep in mind that it’s not going to be easy. That’s what makes it such an achievement. But if you’re just wanting to get in shape and look good for your summer holiday or a social event, keep things at a level that will allow you to enjoy your training, not miss out on a social life, but still get the results you’re after. Sacrifice will always be part of the journey but the aim is to keep it minimal.
A healthy (but lean) level of body fat for males> 10-15%
A healthy (but lean) level of body fat for females> 15-25%