A geek’s guide to getting to 10% body fat and having visible abs in 4 weeks or less.
This guide is all about maximum impact, with the least effort, but it still involves some work and discipline.
I was fat kid at school and I’m a geek. I never had visible abs – until now. Who better than an ex-fat kid with an unhealthy preoccupation with health reading to write about visible abs and low body fat numbers?
I set out to get to 10% body fat and this is a collection of things I’ve learnt. Getting to 10% body fat turned out to be non-trivial, but it’s been a fun challenge.
This post is the result of three months of learning and experimenting. It’s an all-in-one compact guide which includes a number of ideas: intermittent fasting, ketosis, GOMAD, CKD, Occam’s protocol, focused abs exercises, efficient weight training and some food supplements. I did not come up with most of these ideas, but I’ve packaged them into a fairly simple 3-day routine.
You may also want to read my previous post about rapid fat loss:
Three Meals a Day is the New Tobacco. That was all about fasting, ketosis and losing 10kg in 4 weeks. This post assumes you have dropped to reasonable body fat (around 15%) and you want to start optimising things a bit more – getting to 12% or 10% body fat.
Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, so please read about these topics for yourself.
I struggled with the title of this post – I had to ask why? a few times. The original title of the post was “Gym Nerd”. My “why” was to look good on the beach. I enjoy a challenge and making sense of all the complexities involved in health and fitness. I did this for fun, to see what would happen, but is this really just about body fat and visible abs?
What was the real “why?”. Why go through all this effort? My best answer so far is that I suspect most people will be driven by some primal thinking – looking good naked and feeling a boost in confidence. I think feeling in control of your body also gives you a feeling of control in your life.
This can’t hurt and you will look great naked.
Let’s get started…
- Eating is 80% of the story
- Set goals
- Collect data
- Get a friend to join you
- Get interested in these topics and read about them
Goals and Metrics
My goal was to get visible abs – mostly for the Cape Town summer / beach days. My original goal was just to lose 10kg, but nobody wants to be just another skinny guy, so another goal was needed.
In 4 weeks my body fat dropped 4%. I lost 3kg of fat and gained 4kg of muscle. The compound effect is key here: 7kg change.
It’s not just about losing fat. You want to do two things at once: lose fat, while gaining muscle. This is not a body building bulk-up and cut programme – you are doing both at the same time.
In my case it was actually a bit easier gaining muscle than losing fat.
The 3 key metrics you want to track are:
- Fat lost
- Muscle gained
- Body fat percentage
Find a way to measure these and record this data, daily if you can.
I also wanted to gain strength. I managed to increase my bench press one rep max from 90kg to 100kg. I also managed to steadily increase my max squat, dead lift, military press etc.
The body weight graph below shows my weight over the last three months, first dropping 10kg (previous experiment), then taking a break, and then gaining some muscle while bringing down my body fat percentage.
Next up, body fat percentage going down from 16% to 12%…
Muscle going up from around 39kg lean muscle to around 43kg… 4kg muscle gained.
Note: the data is not super accurate, because I just use a BIA machine and plug some numbers into a spreadsheet daily, but it shows the trend well enough.
I follow a 3 day cycle: Training day, 24h fasting day, IF day. Add one carb day in the week and these fit nicely into a 7 day week. Stick to the 3 day cycles – this also matches your rest days for weight training and should give you a healthy amount of time in a state of ketosis.
Saturday: Carb day
Sunday: 1 – Weight training day
Monday: 2 – 24h fasting day
Tuesday: 3 – IF day
Wednesday: 1 – Weight training day
Thursday: 2 – 24h fasting day
Friday: 3 – IF day
You get the idea.
You get one cheat day a week to pretty much eat what you like. On this day you eat fruit, dairy, pizza etc. It does not have to be Saturday, but Saturday seems to work well. Don’t go too crazy. Eat slowly. Maybe have 1/2 a pizza. Make sure you also eat some healthy stuff on carb days, veg etc, because two of the days are pretty much just protein and fat days. For bonus points: about 60min after you eat lots of carbs – do air squats and push-ups – this tells the body to send the energy to the muscles rather than store most of it as fat.
Day 1: Weight Training Day
Get up early. Have your Creatine and TiTea with MCT about 45min before gym. Sip BCAAs 15min before gym. Don’t eat any solids before gym.
Go to gym. Exercise your whole body in about 45min. Sip BCAAs through your gym time.
I alternate between Olympic bar days and gym machine days. Make sure you do squats or low-rows. You want to stimulate the release of growth hormones by exercising as many core / lower back muscles as you can at the same time.
Warm up well. Stretch after your gym routine. It should not take more than an hour in total.
Hit the rowing machine for warming up, 3-5min should do it.
Train to failure – while keeping good form. Do 5 reps per set. For each rep, lift for 5 seconds, bring down the weight for 5 seconds. Don’t rest at the top or bottom. Keep the muscle under stress for as long as possible. Full range of motion. Slower is better. You get the idea.
Squats, military press, dead lift, Yates rows, bench press, pull ups, dips, abs. Make sure you know how to do these things with good form.
You want to take a two day break between weight training days, sometimes 3 days for full recovery. Add more weight to your programme after the 3 day break. Ideally do the Olympic bar programme on this day.
On weight training days I drink a litre of grass fed / organic milk. Drink 500ml milk with a 20g scoop of whey protein isolate and some chia seeds about an hour after gym. Then another 500ml with protein and chia an hour later. Read about GOMAD / LOMAD. In short: squats and milk help you gain muscle. Milk protein is 80% casien – slow release. Make sure the protein powder you use has very little carbs (around 1g per 100g).
Btw. this real-milk-protein-milk-shake tastes great. You can also use a blender and put some flaxseeds in there – nice and nutty taste.
Milk has about 50g of carbs and 30g of protein per litre, so you want to get some afternoon exercise to use those carbs. Go for a long walk or a swim or a spinning class. I usually go for a 1km swim or a 90min walk.
Have a protein snack around 17:00. Biltong is good.
Eat a good dose of lean protein around 19:00. Tuna or grass fed steak. Have a few boiled egg whites. Have some glutamine. Have some more boiled egg whites if you get hungry towards 20:00. Go to bed early and get your full 8 hours of sleep.
Total protein for the day should be above 120g – add it up!
You can work out your protein intake with: lean body mass in kg x 2.2.
Example: I weigh around 82kg, with 12% body fat, so lean mass is 72kg, my protein for the day should be 158g. (82-(82*.12))*2.2
There is 3.6g of protein in an egg white, and only 71 kilojoules, so snack away. Yes, BCAA count towards daily protein intake (count about 90% of the BCAAs as protein – similar to whey protein isolate).
A can of tuna with lemon juice and some pepper is a good snack which gives you 20g of protein. There is 20g protein in 100g of steak. 23g in 100g chicken. Have some avo with your protein to keep things interesting and add some fibre. Avo only has 9g of carbs per 100g, but don’t eat too much – you want to limit the crabs.
An egg white has 0.24 g of carbs, zero carbs in steak, chicken and tuna.
For bonus points, try and get a slow release (low carb) casien protein powder and drink before bed. This should give you 6 hours of slow release protein. Whey Protein is a fast digesting protein. Egg white is medium. Casien is slow.
Protein and sleep, good combo. 9 hours if you can. If you think about it, we probably evolved to go hunting – stuffed ourselves with meat – and then slept. The body likes to rebuild itself with sleep and a belly full of protein.
Day 2: 24 Hour Fasting and Ketosis day
Fasting is much easier than counting calories and carbs.
This day is pretty simple. Don’t eat until 18:00. Have 1/4 dose Creatine morning and have a bit of coconut oil in your green tea. This helps protect your muscle mass. Have some green tea through the day – keeps you busy.
This is a fat burning day. Get some exercise in the afternoon. You can have some MCT oil late afternoon if you want to do some high intensity cardio like spinning. Take the MCT 45min before training.
You should be in a ketosis state most of this day – since you last had carbs before 22:00 the previous day.
Day 3: IF Day
Have some green tea with coconut oil. Eat at 14:00ish. This is major health food time. Eat a raw salad, green leafy veg, avo etc. Get all those micro-nutrients in. Lunch should contain some healthy protein, fats and fibre.
Usual afternoon training.
Usual protein meal at 19:00. Steak and broccoli or spinach, carrots etc.
Notice how you are cycling the ketosis state (CKD), on day 3 you put some carbs back in your body to give you enough energy for your training the next morning.
The 3 day cycle gives you 50 hours without carbs, which should give you about 30 hours in ketosis.
I go to killer abs classes at the Virgin Active, once or twice a week.
Keep adding more weight to your abs exercises – you want to end up with about a 10kg medicine ball doing the myotatic crunches.
See the Eating section of this post.
You should be eating around 30g of fibre per day. Fasting can impact your digestive process, so make sure you eat enough fibre and drink enough water, especially on your IF days and cheat days. Good sources of fibre: avo, chia seeds, flaxseeds, broccoli, apples. I started adding some chia seeds to my milk on LOMAD days. The dietary fibre content of chia is approximately 56.5g per 100g, 14.1g soluble.
Make sure you rest and sleep enough. You probably want to take a week off between three week sprints. Or take a week off between every two weeks. If you feel tired and don’t want to go to gym, take an extra day. Rest is good.
Get yourself some Creatine HCL and BCAA. I started taking flaxseed oil a few weeks ago, one capsule in the morning, one at night. I don’t use any fat burners and I avoid coffee / caffeine. Take some calcium + magnesium to help with recovery.
MCT oil is useful for training while staying in ketosis.
On weight training days I take a full dose of the Creatine and 2x 8g BCAAs. On non-training / IF days I sometimes take a 1/4 dose Creatine. I only take supplements about 3 or 4 days a week. It’s probably a good idea to take a break from the supplements after every 4 week cycle.
It’s that easy. Now all you need is a healthy dose of self discipline. Make it a game. Track your progress and challenge a friend. Rinse repeat this 3 day cycle until you get to 10% body fat. You probably want to do 3 or 4 week sprints at a time. Have fun, crazy kids.
- Can you give me a short summary of all this stuff please?
This is the short summary.
- Do I really need to do this 24 hour fast thing?
You can probably do two IF days if you really can’t do the fasting. Fasting gets easier the more you do it. After a few IF days you should be able to do a 24h fast.
- Do I really need to drink a litre of milk on weight training days?
You don’t have to – just make sure you eat enough protein on that day.
- Where do I find these BIA machines?
Try the Discovery shop in Sea Point. I know the Stellenbosch Virgin Active has one. You want to find a BIA machine with 4 electrodes (contact points). Those 2 electrode BIA scales are probably not ideal.
- Where do I get this grass fed milk?
I buy Camphill milk at the Sea Point Spar, but your best bet is probably to use Ethical Co-Op. Read this post about pasture fed cows.
- What about before and after photos?
Meh. Not really my thing, but I did post a photo here recently.
- What if life gets in the way and I can’t stick to this 3 day cycle?
Don’t stress. You still want to have a social life – go to that party and enjoy it. See it as a carb day. Just make the following day a healthy eating / detox day and then start the 3 day cycle again.
- This diet must be super cheap?
Yup. After you have the supplements.
- You are doing this all wrong!?
If you have suggestions or questions please comment below.
Notes on Fat Loss
You can probably bargain on losing around 300g of fat per day in a ketosis state. Think in grams not kilograms when it comes to fat loss.
You simply can’t lose 1kg of fat overnight – water / hydration level fluctuations make it hard to measure fat loss.
There are 7700 calories in 1 kilogram of body fat. My base metabolic rate is around 1950 calories per day. In a ketosis state I can burn about 250g of fat per day simply by being awake.
You probably want to speed up the process by doing some exercise. This should give you an idea of calories and fat burn for a few activities:
250 cal – 1k swim : 32g
125 cal – 20min walk : 16g
330 cal – 60min walk : 45g
500 cal – 90min walk : 65g
800 cal – 1h spinning session : 104g
600 cal – 1h mountain walk : 80g
300 cal – 1h gym : 40g
These are estimates.
The easiest way to burn fat is still to let your base metabolic rate consume the fat – which is why eating is 80% of the story.
Overview / Example
|Time||Training Day||24h Fast Day||IF Day|
|7:00||Creatine, TiTea, BCAA + Gym||1/4 dose Creatine, BCAA / Coconut oil||Swim|
|17:00||Swim / Spinning||Protein snack. Walk||Walk|
- The Leangains Guide
- From Geek to Freak
- Three Meals a Day is the New Tobacco
- HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT IN 4 EASY STEPS
BIA Machine Photos:
UPDATE: 23 October
12% body fat, still about 2.1kg of fat to lose. Here is a photo…
UPDATE 30 October
10% body fat. Goal reached!