When I shared Steve’s image on my Instagram account a few days ago it surprised me how much this resonated it people. I said in the caption,
“I’ve coached over 1000 people in the last 7 years of working online. You know the biggest lesson I have learned from all of that experience?
👉🏻 The value of keeping things as simple as possible for people.
Set things up in a way you can sustain – Two big meals and a protein shake is the most common meal pattern among all my clients when they are cutting.
Anything that may be fractionally more optimal in theory is irrelevant in practice if you can’t stick to it. So, when in doubt, keep things simple first, add layers of complication on top only later.”
Steve did a good job, but this is fairly standard stuff, nothing I haven’t shared over 100 times before.
But this is me forgetting something important – we often learn and relate best via stories. People crave real examples with concrete details, so that’s what I’m going to give you here. I particularly think you may find the meal examples useful, which is an area where some people get stuck before they start. First though, two corrections…
- The original Instagram post said “no cardio,” but I forgot about Steve’s kickboxing hobby. This would have accounted for an estimated additional ~2000 kcal burn each week, which means an additional 0.6 lbs (0.26 kg) of fat loss. That’s significant, but not game-changing, and I’d like to underscore that cardio is rarely a tool I use when getting clients shredded.
- Steve had a snack each day, so you might count that as 3 meals depending on how you define these things. Regardless, he fasted in the morning.
Weight: 71.4 kg > 65.2 kg, Stomach: 31.3″ > 28.8″, Height: 5’8
Steve is a very good friend, not a client, so there are some minor differences in how I would have done things which I’ll comment on below. He got it 99% bang on though, which doesn’t surprise me given how much we have talked about these things over the years. – You’ll find his exact training plan, macros, meals, weight changes and adjustments over the time period.
Steve’s Story in His Own Words
I’m 34 years old, 5’8″. Australian guy currently living in Osaka, Japan. I’ve been training since I was around 20, but never actually took my diet seriously, never counted calories/macros or anything like that until around 5 years ago. In fact, I even managed to get up to around 205 lbs on a dream bulk in 2010.
My summer “cuts” each year have usually been pretty half-assed and ended up with me sitting at around 155lbs, 12%~ BF with a semi-visible six-pack thinking, that’s good enough for the summer.
This year I decided to take it a bit further.
I started this year’s cut on May 1st, weighing in at 157 lbs. My waist measurements (tensed, but not sucked in) on that day were 30.9″ (2″ above navel), 31.3″ (navel) and 31.5″ (2″ below navel).
The gym I train at is a pretty serious bodybuilding and powerlifting gym, and it holds its own bodybuilding and physique contest each summer. Each year the guys at the gym ask me if I’m going to compete, and I’ve always come up with excuses each year. This year I decided to sign up for the contest so as to give me the motivation to get into really good shape.
Steve’s Diet, Including Meal Examples
My basic plan for my diet was as follows. I worked out my TDEE to be around 2,400 calories, so I aimed for a deficit of around 500 calories per day in order to hopefully lose 1lb a week. I basically followed a “Leangains”/IIFYM-type approach: higher calories, higher carbs, and lower fat on workout days; lower calories, lower carbs, and higher fat on rest days. I wasn’t too fussed about eating an exact number of calories each day, I just made sure that I was within 100~ calories of my target over the course of the week.
I work from home, so am pretty flexible when it comes to meals and training times.
I’ve tried lifting in a completely fasted state before, but really prefer to have a solid meal a few hours before I train or at least a protein shake. So, I wake up around 9:30 am, have my first meal (or shake depending on what time I go to the gym) early in the afternoon pre-workout, have my post workout meal after the gym, then have dinner around 9 pm.
I find that I naturally have a very big appetite. If I eat “intuitively”, I generally need around 1,500 or 2,000 calories to feel “full”. Then 2 hours later I will be hungry again. After I’ve had my first meal of the day, I’m usually pretty hungry a few hours later. However, if I fast during the morning, I really don’t notice any hunger, especially if I get busy with work for a few hours and I forget about eating. That’s the main benefit of fasting in the morning and having an 8-hour eating window for me – it basically helps me control my appetite and keeps me more satiated by allowing me to have bigger meals during my feeding window.
As for the content of my meals, I’m not the most creative cook, but I generally have a rotation of 6-7 meals that I cook on a regular basis and am pretty good at. I’ve calculated all the macros in each meal, so it’s easy for me to make the same things over and over again and just choose a combination of 2 meals + snack or protein shake, or 3 meals for the day depending on what macros I’m shooting for.
If I trained a bit earlier like 1 pm (Case A), I would just have a protein shake around 45 minutes pre-workout and two larger meals later in the day. If I trained later around 3-4pm (Case B), then I’d have a proper meal around 2 pm, making a total of three meals.
Here’s an example of my daily meals, assuming an average of 1,800-1,900 calories per day (around 2,100~ on workout days, 1,700~ on rest days).
12 pm: Protein shake: 120kal, 25P, 1F, 2C
2:30 pm: 130g of spaghetti with 150g of beef/pork mince and pasta sauce 936kcal, 48P, 32F, 111C
Snack: 20g of mixed nuts 120kcal, 3P, 10F, 5C or a Kirkland protein bar 190kcal, 21P, 7F, 22C
8 pm: 300g of Chicken breast with vegetables (lots of broccoli) and a combination of rice, potatoes and beans/chickpeas (usually 2 out of those 3 carb sources): 803kcal, 91P, 8F, 84C (example with 200g potato and 100g beans)
Total: 2,049kcal, 185P, 48F, 219C (with protein bar snack)
2 pm: 80g oatmeal with protein powder, berries and peanut butter 581kcal, 43P, 16F, 70C
4:30 pm: 300g of Chicken breast with vegetables (lots of broccoli) and a combination of rice, potatoes and beans/chickpeas (usually 2 out of those 3 carb sources): 803kcal, 91P, 8F, 84C
9 pm: 300g of lean fish with vegetables (lots of broccoli) and a combination of rice, potatoes and beans/chickpeas (usually 1 out of those 3 carb sources): 750kcal, 81P, 18F, 68C (example with 200g potato)
Total: 2,134kcal, 215P, 42F, 222C (variable)
Diet is more flexible on rest days, as no need to have pre-workout or post-workout nutrition. I would usually have a protein shake with some mixed berries + 2 full meals.
Meal 1: 250g of fatty fish with vegetables (lots of broccoli) and a combination of rice, potatoes and beans/chickpeas (usually 1 out of those 3 carb sources): 749kcal, 65P, 39F, 32C (example with 100g beans)
Snack: Protein shake (1.5 scoops + berries): 230kal, 37P, 1F, 22C
Meal 2: Flexible depending on how my macros are tracking for the week – If I have the leeway, I would enjoy some rice fried with 2 eggs and a small amount (70g~) of beef/pork mince. (668kcal, 36P, 30F, 60C). Other times I would just have chicken breast + eggs + vegetables (for more protein and fewer carbs).
Total: 1647kcal, 138P, 70F, 114C
Assuming 2 days of Case A, 2 days of Case B, and 3 rest days, the total weekly macros would be
1901kcal, 173P, 55F, 174C, which is close to my actual averages.
Alcohol – How Steve drank on weekends without screwing up his progress
While I generally tried to avoid alcohol consumption during the cut, there were more than a few Saturday nights where it was inevitable and unavoidable (events such as friend’s birthdays, etc.).
Rather than staying at home and be miserable, I generally followed Andy’s “Alcohol Guide” on these days.
First of all, I stuck to vodka shots or vodka with diet soda (which are about 70 calories per standard drink). If I was originally planning to eat around 1,700 calories on the rest day (the Saturday), and I knew I would probably have at least 5 drinks that night, then I would try to eat only around 1,350 calories during the day knowing that I’d be getting another 350 calories worth of alcohol. I basically just ate lean protein sources (chicken/lean fish) and vegetables on those days.
It’s interesting to note that I actually went out for drinks the weekend before the contest. In my leanest state and not having consumed so much alcohol within the last few months, I found myself quite drunk after only around 3 or 4 drinks – a cheap night out indeed!
I also train kickboxing as a hobby. The only things holding me back from going pro are a lack of skill and dislike of getting hit in the face.
Throughout the course of the diet, I trained kickboxing in the mornings (fasted), usually around 3 or 4 times a week. This consists of a 10 minute warm up, 30-40 minutes of pad work and drills with a partner, then around 10 x 2-minute rounds of sparring. Sometimes I would just do the pad work and then leave, other times I would quickly drop by just for a few rounds of sparring and then leave. Because the intensity of the sparring, etc. can completely vary between “95% of a real fight with a real possibility of getting my ass kicked” to “slow and relaxed shadow boxing” depending on the opponent, I didn’t trouble myself to accurately calculate the calories burned nor make any changes to my caloric intake based on the calories that I thought I’d burned.
Based on my rough calculations, I think I burn around 500 calories during a full 75-minute session, but I really have no idea…
[I’d agree with this estimate.]
No other cardio was performed. (I despise jogging and any other cardio for the sake of cardio)
You can tell from the pics that I’m obviously natty.
Basic supplements used during the cut were protein powder (mainly for mixing into my oatmeal), creatine, Vitamin C and ZMA.
I also make my own pre-workout using a scoop of Xtend, some Citrulline Malate, Beta-Alanine and a 200 mg pill of caffeine.
[Caffeine alone would have been just fine. Steve’s primary reason for using Xtend is that he is addicted to the sour apple flavor. I think this is a waste of calories which could otherwise be put to real food.]
I also tried using some Yohimbine HCL together with caffeine when I did my fasted morning kickboxing, but I didn’t like the jittery/anxious feeling I got after I worked my way up to 7.5mg, so I stopped taking it after a few times.
[Yeah, no need to bother with the Yohimbine. Overrated, not something I use with clients.]
As for my workouts, I trained 2 x upper and 2 x legs/shoulders per week. I gave myself a little flexibility with the exercises, but the general workouts were as follows.
Monday (Upper 1): Bench press (3×8), Cable flyes (3×10), Seated row (3×8), weighted chin-ups (3×8), Barbell curls (3×10), Skullcrushers (3×10)
Tuesday (Legs/shoulders 1): Squats (3×6), Leg Curl (3×10), Leg Extension (3×10), Calf raises (3×10), Barbell shoulder press (3×8), Lateral raise (3×8), Facepulls (3×8), Abs
Thursday (Upper 2): Incline DB press (3×8), Pec deck (3×10), DB row (3×8), chin-ups (3×8), Close grip bench press (3×10), DB curls (3×10)
Friday (Legs/shoulders 2): Leg press (3×6), Straight leg deadlift (3×8), Bulgarian split squat (2×8), Calf raises (3×10), DB shoulder press (3×8), Lateral raise (3×8), Facepulls (3×8), Abs
“No deadlifts?” you ask. Yes, I’ve torn my hamstrings a few times from kickboxing, and I tend to aggravate them or develop some kind of tendonitis when I do heavy deadlifts.
Macros and Diet progress
My actual weekly macros and weight loss are as follows. (The weight is my average weight for the week, measured each morning)
Week 1 – 157.0 lbs. 1842cal, 190P, 47F, 130C
Week 2 – 155.7 lbs. 1888cal, 206P, 49F, 126C
Week 3 – 154.5 lbs. 1923cal, 192P, 50F, 153C
Week 4 – 153.8 lbs. 1759cal, 190P, 44F, 136C
Week 5 – 152.7 lbs. 1844cal, 195P, 41F, 162C
Week 6 – 151.7 lbs. 1828cal, 187P, 50F, 150C
Week 7 – 150.8 lbs. 2094cal, 190P, 54F, 205C (I started a 12-day diet break from this Thursday)
Week 8 – 149.9 lbs. 2450cal, 183P, 67F, 285C (diet break week)
Week 9 – 148.9 lbs. 1908cal, 199P, 46F, 160C
Week 10 – 146.3 lbs. 2020cal, 202P, 50F, 163C
Week 11 – 146.0 lbs. 1950cal, 168P, 60F, 175C
– The data from here represents the last three weeks of Steve’s competition prep, not pictured at the top of the article. –
Week 12 – 144.3 lbs. 1677cal, 163P, 41F, 144C
Week 13 – 143.7 lbs. 1729cal, 182P, 50F, 114C
Week 14 – 144.3 lbs. 2378cal, 166P, 61F, 286C
Basically, it was smooth sailing most of the way. I was losing weight very consistently as I had intended. Things were going so well that I took a diet break for 12 days mid-way through the cut.
[Actually, note that the fat loss was not linear, there were spiked and dips throughout. Steve was simply used to this from previous experiences cutting.]
However, around week 11 of the cut, I hit the wall. Until now I had maintained my strength, but now I started to lose a rep or two on my major lifts. My recovery also got worse. Usually, I feel minimal DOMS the day after a workout, but at this stage, I was doing squats on a Tuesday and would still be feeling DOMS on Friday when it came time for my next leg workout. So for the last few weeks of the cut, I drastically cut back on volume and incorporated more RPT-type training. I would do one maximal weight/effort set for each exercise, then one set of a lighter weight with higher reps. This allowed me to at least maintain my strength for the first set of each exercise.
[I would not have done this. First thing I would try is a deload, cutting volume by ~1/3 but actually maintaining the loads on the bar. I know that Steve didn’t do this without even asking cause he’s a balls-out guy, much to his detriment with injuries over the years. If that didn’t work I’d then cut back the number of sets while maintaining load in the affected lifts. This is usually sufficient. I would specifically have told him not to work to a rep max, but stay a rep or two shy of failure due to the heightened injury risk when fatigued at the end of the contest prep. I’d also have specifically told him that it doesn’t matter (and would, in fact, be natural) if the loads lifted dropped slightly because otherwise he might push his limits too far and get injured thinking that this is the only way to maintain muscle mass.]
3 weeks out from the contest I started to panic a little, thinking I wouldn’t be lean enough for the contest. I cut calories to around 1700 for 2 weeks to burn as much fat as possible. I basically kept carbs low all week and did one carb-up day. On July 29th (7 days out from the contest) I recorded my lowest weight of 142.3 lbs in a carb-depleted state. My waist measurements on this day were 28″ / 28.8″ / 28.8″ – which is a loss of around 2.5 – 3″ from the start of the diet. I also measured my resting heart rate at 32 beats per minute on that day (It decreased throughout the cut with all the cardio I was doing; it was around 50 bpm at the start of the cut.)
Peak week, the last week before the competition
After hitting my lowest weight, I was happy with how shredded I had become. But I also think that I started to look a bit too thin – sickly and unhealthy, so I decided that I would eat at maintenance for the week leading into the contest to hopefully restore my muscle glycogen and look a bit fuller and more vascular for the contest.
Three days before the contest I cut out broccoli and ate more asparagus in its place for the purpose of reducing fiber and bulk in my stomach. (I was also fortunate enough to be able to take a big dump on the morning of the contest. Fun fact: Regularity of bowel movements decreases during contest prep.) Aside from not drinking too much water on the morning of the contest, I didn’t really fuck around with water and sodium, because I don’t know what I’m doing. I read that it’s generally better to maintain the status quo rather than risk making drastic changes during peak week and managing to fuck up all your good work.
[I wholeheartedly agree with this based on experience and this contest prep. recommendations paper my colleague Eric Helms with wrote with Alan Aragon and Peter Fitschen.]
On the morning of the contest (August 5th) my weight was 145.4 lbs (3 lbs higher than the week before). I had my breakfast of chicken, rice, tomato, celery, and asparagus around 10 am and headed to the contest. I was due on stage at 2:30 pm, so I had a caffeine tablet, some pre-workout and a few kit-kat bars around 2:00 pm and then went outside into the sunny car park and started to pump up using a resistance band.
There were 7 competitors in the physique division. Most of us already knew each other from the gym, so everyone was very friendly back-stage – everyone sharing food and helping one another pump up.
Then they called the physique competitors and it was time for us to enter the stage.
Here are the photos from the day. I’m no #24.
Bonus photo: These are the top 3 guys from the bodybuilding division – look at #20, what a beast!
I finished 3rd out of 7 competitors. The guy in the white shorts (#29) placed first and #23 placed second. One of the judges told me that I was probably the best conditioned there, but lost points because of my posing (particularly for the back pose, I wasn’t showing off my rear delts properly) and because I didn’t tan.
As for the tanning, this was a small contest and therefore there was nothing like any company or anything offering spray tans on site at the contest (I hear that this is common in other bigger contests). As a naturally very white guy with a family history of skin cancer, It’s basically impossible for me to get a base tan. The owner of the gym told me that if I used the rub-on tan without a base tan, I would look orange, so it’d be better for me to just go on stage as is. Looking back on things, I think I will shell out for a few spray tan sessions if I choose to compete again.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever compete again, but I’m at least happy I gave it a go and got into pretty good shape in the process. When I reached single-digit bodyfat levels in the last 2-3 weeks of the cut, my cravings and hunger started to get worse and worse and all I could think about was all the foods that I wanted to eat after finishing. I no longer dreamed about beautiful women at night; these dreams were replaced by dreams of cheesecake and pizza. Also, usually during a regular “summer cut”, there is no set end goal in sight, so it’s not such a big deal to cheat on the diet as long as you can get back on track the following day. But because I had a set date for the physique contest, I would feel overly guilty and disappointed with myself when I didn’t hit my macros as planned.
I feel great now that I’m starting a long, slow bulk and I don’t have to worry about calories so much.
Concluding Thoughts by Andy
Whenever I post a results picture (you can find over 100 more here) I am immediately asked something like, “What was the training plan?” “What were the macros?”
I worry that people will just copy it, screwing themselves over in the process. So please bear in mind that what was appropriate for Steve, in his circumstances, is not necessarily what is appropriate for you, right now. This is why I have written 100 + articles and three books explaining the nuance of things, rather than one long article.
That said, I do hope you have found the details useful. Thanks to Steve for his detailed write-up. If you would like to ask questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.
Lastly, if you think you might be interested in coaching, I’ve written up details about how I do things and how you can apply here. The lazy, non-committal, or people looking shortcuts need not apply. Serious people only.