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Reduce Your Body Fat Percentage To 15%

Jun 18, 2024

You need a calorie deficit for fat loss, but the leaner you are the harder and harder it becomes.

You can't just keep dropping your calories lower and lower forever. And with long-term caloric restriction over months and months you risk losing muscle mass. That's the last thing you want when you're trying to lose body fat.

What Is Body Fat Percentage?

Your body fat percentage is the ratio of your fat compared to the muscle, bones, and organs: lean tissue. And of course, there's not much you can do about your organs and bones, so you need to focus on maximizing your muscle.

There is research that shows that female physique competitors can be as low as 8% and male physique competitors as low as about 6%.

That was close to stage time. So within a few weeks of them stepping on stage trying to present their absolute best physique.

The Goal Of 15% Body Fat

I'm going to assume that you want to be somewhere in that 15% range, for women about 15 to 20%.

This is not easy!

The leaner you are the harder it gets there's less wiggle room you don't have as much room in your nutrition plan to have a lot of treat Foods you need to have those only in small amounts and less frequently.

You have to be much more precise if you want a more specific result.

All the general stuff like eating your lean protein, your vegetables, taking care of your sleep, regular walking, and movement, your weight training session, consistent cardio even.

Those things should already be taken care of and you're trying to go a little bit further.

Weight Training To Reduce Your Body Fat

We'll start with the weight training because you will need at least 3 days per week.

If you're not doing that already, maybe up to five.

And these need to be pretty solid in terms of both your intensity and the amount of work that you're doing during that session. Say 50, 55 minutes long.

It's not just go in there do a couple of exercises and run back out. There needs to be enough work done now there's a little bit of argument about this but the primary driver for hypertrophy, muscle growth, is probably going to be mechanical tension.

Mechanical Tension For Hypertrophy

How much weight you're actually lifting. But it's also related to how much you're actually doing in terms of work. So if you are able to do a shoulder press with 40 lbs in each hand and you're only doing it with 15 lbs then you're not really doing much work in terms of your abilities. You're not going to push those muscles to grow.

So mechanical tension is how hard the work is relative to your one rep max. You will get the best results if you are relatively close to failure meaning you just couldn't push out another rep with good form. It doesn't mean that your head has to pop off every time you're training from all the intensity of work.

But leaving just one to two reps at the end of your set is usually where you want to be so you're pushing yourself that hard in order to stimulate the muscles to grow.

Progressive Overload For Muscle Growth

This means that you're going to generate some kind of progressive overload. That's what you need in order for those muscles to break down and then be rebuilt stronger.

Most people think of progressive resistance training as related to just increasing your weight. But if you've been training for a longer period of time, say 5 to 10 years, you're not going to see large increases in weight. You have to find different ways of stimulating the muscles to grow.

Ways To Modify Your Weight Training

You can increase the amount of sets that you're doing. You can decrease the reps and you can make the weight heavier.

So if you've been working to do three sets of 10, you can do five sets of five for instance. That's one particular training system.

You're going to be doing a heavier weight but fewer reps.

There's a lot of ways that you can change this around. You can have shorter rest periods, longer rest periods. So that means you'll likely be able to lift heavier weight.

Another option is to increase the time under tension.

If you slow the movement down, particularly the eccentric portion, which is that lowering part of the movement, you're not only getting potentially more growth but it's safer for your joints, ligaments, tendons, all the things that you really want to be careful of as you get older.

Volume For Muscle Growth & Fat Loss

Now the last thing that's important is volume.

And this again, there's some argument how much volume is ideal. For the most part we see that higher volumes are going to get better results.

So more work done equals more results.

There of course is going to be a limit. If you are unable to recover because you're not sleeping enough, you're not resting, you're not fuelling yourself nutritionally after your workouts or prior to your workouts, then you're not going to be able to optimize your muscle growth. Because you're under-recovered.

You can't just do more, more, more and you're going to build more, more, and more muscle.

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

Paying Attention To Recovery If You're 35 Or Older

You might want to be mindful of the fact that what you can in your 20s and early 30s you might not be able to do in your 40s and 50s and 60s things have to adapt to your particular situation if you can still crank things out keep cranking things out at whatever your age.

I don't really care.

If you're recovering you're not overly tired and your muscles are growing, then keep it up.

The volume that is going to be ideal is highly individual. So you need to pay attention to what you're already doing. Look at ways of initially increasing it and seeing what happens.

Muscle For Fat Loss

In general we say to hit the major muscle groups twice a week.

Legs, of course, which too many people ignore. But they are very valuable for fat loss overall because there is such a large proportion of muscle in the lower body. There's potential for development there.

That will get you much more calorie burn and then enable your fat loss later on. You build up more muscle in the lower body and you'll be able to burn off more calories.

That's really what the focus of fat loss has to be once you get lean. Because if you've lost weight and you're a smaller person you're going to be burning off fewer calories. 

A larger body burns off more calories than a smaller body. But if you're 170 lbs of 40% body fat then you're not going to be burning off as many calories as someone who is 170 lbs of rock hard muscle and and 8%.

They are burning off more calories because muscle is more energetically demanding than fat so that's why we want to maximize that muscle.

Building Up Abs While Reducing Your Body Fat 

I didn't mention abs yet but you can throw in abs exercises a couple of days a week as well. So if you're trying to build those up a bit so as you get leaner you're going to see a little bit more definition in that belly area. Then you can do them twice a week.

Let's say two exercises, three sets each, and that's going to be 12 sets.

Generally we want to be 10 to 20 sets for those muscle groups that we want to work on for muscle hypertrophy, muscle growth. Now pushing yourself for muscle growth before we even think about fat loss is really important. Most people are really bad at it. Not just from what I see at the gym just people you know scrolling and waiting 5 minutes in between doing like a bicep curl.

That kind of training is not going to optimize your muscle growth. But novice lifters in particular are not that great at choosing the the right weight for themselves. They tend not to push themselves.

There was an interesting study. Just a small one, with some novice lifters, men and women. The weight that they self- selected to do particular exercises was too low to optimize muscle growth.

So you got to work a little harder but just make sure that you're maintaining good technique.

Protein Intake To Reduce Your Body Fat Percentage

If you're lean and want to get leaner you need to manage your protein intake.

I recommend 0.7g per pound of body weight per day as a minimum.

This applies if you're within about 5 or 10 lbs of your goal weight.

If you're more than that then use your ideal body weight to calculate that protein goal. And I generally say up to about 1g per pound of body weight. There is some evidence that perhaps going a little bit higher in certain circumstances.

If you're very lean and you're dieting for a longer period of time, where loss of muscle mass is going to be more of an issue, then even higher amounts might be warranted.

The leaner you are, the more protein you'll need to maintain your muscle mass while you're active.

If you're 35 or older, like I am, then you'll probably want to be on that higher end of the protein range as well. Because the efficiency of muscle protein metabolism goes down with age, about 4 to 5% per decade.

You need more protein to get the same effects that you would have in your 20s. But generally there isn't much benefit to going above 1 gram per pound of body weight per day.

I'm about 135 lbs and I do go over a little bit sometimes. If you weigh over 200 lbs, like my husband does for instance, it feels like a lot. You just need to find the lean protein sources that you most enjoy and incorporate them more often.

I also do generally recommend adding a protein shake especially when you have such high protein needs. It's really hard to get the amount of protein you need with food and still maintain the calories low enough for fat loss.

Muscle For More Calorie Expenditure

A body that has more muscle is going to be expending more calories than a body that has more fat.

But remember that a larger body in general is burning more calories so as you get leaner you're still going to lose weight and that means that you're smaller.

If you lose 40 lbs it will reduce your metabolism, your total daily energy expenditure, your TDEE, so you're burning off fewer calories.

So in order to get into a deficit for fat loss you need to eat less.

Like I said, there's a limit to how much you can do that so we're first focusing on building the muscle and as that process happens and you have more muscle. You will burn off more calories so working hard to achieve muscle is always going to be a benefit.

How To Get More "Calories Out"

Remember that when we're talking about a calorie deficit, it's calories in and calories out.

Two things are going to get you more calories out besides your physical activity.

One is protein.

Protein is more thermogenic.

It takes your body about 20% more energy to burn off than fat or carbs.

The thermic effect of food, how many calories your body is using to digest your food, is a component of the amount of calories you burn each day.

So 2,000 calories of whole unprocessed foods is still the same as 2,000 calories of ultra-processed junk foods because a calorie is just a unit of measurement.

But the way that your body is dealing with those calories is going to be different. Your body burns off more calories dealing with those whole unprocessed foods than it does the ultra-processed foods that are very easy for it to digest.

It makes it easier to get into a calorie deficit if you're primarily focusing on whole foods.

Not JUST those foods though.

Because I strongly believe that you should include some of those treat foods that you really like because long term it's much more sustainable.

But if you're trying to get very, very lean it's going to be small amounts and not that frequently.

Maybe a couple of times a week a 200 calorie treat or 100 calories every day or something really small.

For me it would be like a Lindt truffle ball, which is 80 calories and I could have one of those every day even though I was working to get leaner. Because overall it's not making a huge difference if the rest of my nutrition plan is lean proteins and vegetables, nuts, lean dairy.

A tiny little portion of something like that is not going to interfere with your ability to lose fat and I'll argue that mentally it's going to make you feel a lot better.

To get your fat loss basics in place WATCH THIS.

Ivana Chapman