Let us play a word association game.
What do you think of when you read:
- Bodybuilding Magazine Covers.
- Instagram Stars.
- Physique Competitors.
Your Answer: Shredded physiques.
Now how could I possible know this? Well maybe because I have paid attention over the last 5 years in the social media space.
The last several years can be easily describe as the “get as many shredded physiques in front of your face as possible, get your mind fixated on that ideal, and then sell you something to get you there” era.
This is marketing 101 in the year 2018. It works, and it works really well.
This has been a boon for the health and fitness industry and has helped revitalize a young generation and placed an emphasis on being fit.
I love that.
The problem with this though is that people don’t really understand the sacrifices you have to make to achieve that level of leanness, AKA being “ripped”.
Let me tell you the price you pay and the sacrifices you have to make to get to that level.
Understand the Difference Between Lean & Ripped
Before we get too far down this listicle we need to put something out there - There is a universe of difference between being lean and being ripped.
Being lean (~8-12% for men and 18-24% for women) is a completely different scenario than being “ripped”.
The bodybuilders, fitness magazine covers, and super lean Instagram stars that are “ripped” are often running into the 4-6% for men range and 12-16% for women range.
Now, removing the genetic outliers, maintaining this level of leanness for more than a few days or weeks is very unsustainable and is not something that the average person should really strive for.
Obtaining this level for short periods is possible, but there are sacrifices you have to make to get there.
Also, there is little difference in terms of your overall quality of life. I mean let’s be real, almost no one, except a handful of judges at a local competition, will care if you are 8% body fat or 5% body fat.
1. Be Prepared to be Cold
Ask anyone who has ever dieted down to extreme levels of leanness and they will all tell you the same thing, “I was so cold all the time”.
I remember when I was dieting down to the leanest level I could get (around 5%) and I have very vivid memories of how cold I was. I was wearing sweatshirts in 80 degree weather and had to always have a blanket handy in my office or on my couch. I was cold in the middle of summer.
It wasn’t the “oh I will warm up in a bit” kind of cold. It’s that “I am cold in my bones” type of cold.
There are a lot of reasons for this but the three main ones are:
- You have less subcutaneous fat and have less “insulation”.
- To get and attain this level of leanness you are consuming less calories.
- You have less body fat to generate heat.
Subcutaneous fat most definitely acts as a layer of thermal insulation. While it is not a super effective form of thermal insulation for most people it does contribute to maintaining body temperature when the ambient temperature is below 98.6 degrees. Really low levels of body fat essentially minimize this thermal insulation.
When you consume a low amount of calories to get this lean you have a lower metabolic rate and your overall body temperature can decrease slightly. This small decrease is noticeable to most people.
Body fat can be a source of body heat and having low levels of body fat reduces the amount of heat generated by fat tissue.
Combined, each of these mechanisms are a reason why you feel cold all the time at very low levels of body fat.
2. Your Sleep Will Probably be Awful
Now this is not a very well-studied phenomena but in my practice of working with thousands and thousands of people one of the most reported “side effects” of dieting is bad sleep.
Most scientific studies examine how poor sleep makes us eat more; however, some evidence supports the anecdotal findings in that dieting itself reduces sleep.
For example, in a study of young women, calorie restriction worsened sleep alongside thyroid levels and heat production (remember the point about being cold above?)1.
Now when you then consider how important sleep is to training, recovery, mental acuity, mood, etc. the benefits of being super lean start to be offset by the detriments to sleep.
3. Embrace the DOMS
You know that “OMG I can’t even sit on the toilet after leg day” feeling?
Well, if you are trying to diet down to extreme levels of body fat embrace that feeling.
One of the better documented anecdotes is most people noticed that their levels of soreness are higher and the soreness lasts much longer when they are dieting down. When you start to approach extreme levels of leanness this effect is greatly amplified.
This is largely due to the fact that the raw materials (aka nutrients) you need to repair tissue and alleviate soreness is lacking. You don’t have enough calories and macronutrients to get the work done.
This becomes a problem very quickly as you can’t train as hard or as frequently. If it takes you 6-7 days to recover from leg day… there goes your training for the next week.
4. Bye Bye Sex Drive
A lot of people diet down to ultra-low body fat levels because they want to look good naked. That is great, but if you lose all interest in your sex life then you have kind of defeated the purpose.
It is fairly well documented in the scientific literature that dieting, especially to low levels of body fat, lowers testosterone and lowers sex drive2. Additionally, it appears that not only is the desire for sex diminished but sexual performance also decreases2.
So if you are trying to get down to being super lean to improve your sex life, you are playing right into a catch 22.
Also, let’s be real, you are better served working on your humor and personality.
The Wrap Up
Being lean is achievable and sustainable for most people; being “shredded” often requires a lot of sacrifices.
If you want to chase “shredded” be prepared to be cold all the time and to not sleep very well. Those two things often come with the territory.
You are also going to be more sore and for longer periods of time. This will likely impact your ability to train and you will have to decrease both the frequency of your training and probably the intensity.
Lastly, if you are trying to shred down to improve your sex life, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot. With extreme levels of leanness you are going to have lower libido and likely lower sexual performance; you might be better off working on your stand up and conversation skills.