The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Of Being Lean
Big biceps, abs out, veins popping - that’s the image constantly drilled into our heads by the fitness industry. And then there’s the opposite side of the spectrum - often shaming people who simply want to look good naked, claiming it contradicts being healthy.
Now going from overweight to sub-zero body fat is comparable to any goal in life, which requires some serious dedication and commitment. Surely, anything that requires effort is good for you right?
Here’s a little guideline to highlighting the different levels of body composition between 6 - 20% body fat for men and 16 - 30% for women:
Let’s look at male physique competitor whose aim is hitting a low body fat around 6 - 9% - and what sacrifices it takes to sculpt and hold onto such a physique. The process itself can be fun, but challenging and at times quite painful too.
The good and fun part:
Anything you wear - you look great!
Yes - literally. You could wear the cheapest, unfanciest clothing and still look super cool. There’s no need to spend ridiculous amounts on branded names and fitted clothing just to get those heads turning.
“Bro, I swear he’s steroids”
Steroids are performing-enhancing drugs and are widely used in the fitness industry, which I don’t endorse. You’ll get this comment from narrow minded individuals who don’t know better and it’s best to take this light heartedly as a compliment because it shows you’re doing something right. Unfortunately in life, you can’t please everyone and expect positivity. Let that be your fuel to achieve more!
As there seems to be an endless list of conspiracy theorists claiming sugar is cancerous, being vegan is cool and coconut oil is new thang - let’s face it, the major cause of diseases within western culture is obesity and that itself is fully backed by research. Being leaner makes you feel, look and in fact you physiologically are healthier than someone who's obese following a highly un-active lifestyle.
Sky's the limit when it comes to confidence
Anyone who tells you that a good body doesn’t make you confident is WRONG. An average human is judged within seven seconds of getting noticed - and that clearly shows that first impressions make a huge difference.
There are some great people out there who will appreciate the hard work you’ve put into achieving your body and applaud your efforts. Being lean takes patience, sacrifice and hard work in and out the gym - just with any goal in life, it needs consistency and effort.
The bad part:
Struggling in social situations - especially food!
Flexible dieting is fun and yes you are the master of what you eat - but... The leaner you get, the harder it gets to eat out because your calorie intake keeps decreasing. You’ll have to skip the Friday night curry with your partner and instead, head to the movies with a protein bar in your pocket.
No time for social opportunities outside of exercise
The leaner you get, the tougher it gets decreasing calories and essentially the harder you start training. This does mean you end up training twice a day, splitting your sessions between cardio and weights to maximise your efforts. This can be very time consuming and requires you to be a lot more organised and giving up certain hobbies.
Big time commitment to track foods
Referring back to point 2, you have to be strict with meal tracking and including a lot more nutrient dense foods; which are foods high in nutrients and low in calories. As boring as vegetables are, they’re probably the most nutrient dense food group out there fortified with vitamins and minerals coupled with low calories. Unless you have some pretty cool strategies for managing hunger and cravings, eat your celery and broccoli.
It’s never enough
You will never be happy - and that’s a fact. I can’t quite get my head around this myself, because I’ve personally never been content with the physique I’ve achieved - and I’m always keen on trying harder. This is life I guess, once you get something you’ll never appreciate it until it’s gone.
The worst and ugly part:
Psychologically - You feel awful
When you’re going beyond the 10% body fat threshold, things get real tough. I’m talking mentally and emotionally which leads to some serious tiredness and moodiness which results to anger. As you’re consuming less calories than what you maintain, your brain is fighting against you by trying to adapt to the low caloric amount and your hormones play up, and if you’ve never experienced this it’s horrible. Most people give up during this stage!
Unhealthy - compromised immune system
When you hit the 9% mark, things do start to get tough. You’ll probably experience some very slight health implications hitting the 10% mark, but anything below is NOT healthy and I’m saying this from experience. Your immune system is really weak as you’re lacking essential vitamins and minerals, you’re constantly tired and you’ll end up getting colds a lot more often.
Lack of strength
As body fat drops, the more your strength decreases and I can unfortunately say that low body fat and strength are mutually conclusive. When you have less fat on your frame, you won’t recover from training sessions efficiently due to lack of glycogen in rebuilding stressed muscles. So don’t even think about holding on to strength, and don’t even try building on it - you’ll do more harm than good.
The worst thing about getting super lean is that you simply can’t stay super lean all year round and genetics play a huge part in what your body senses as normal. I mean, even I get frustrated seeing my naturally lean friends pigging their faces down at dinner but still being ripped as hell. Realistically speaking, if you’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get below 10% body fat, you can only maintain this if you can put up with all the bad/horrible points I’ve mentioned – otherwise you’ll get back up to a healthy 10 – 13% body fat.
Firstly, the fitness industry are simply notorious for selling consumers an extremely unhealthy low body fat look. The image below shoes a healthy body fat range that most fitness enthusiasts should be aiming for – good amount of definition, visible abs and muscles.
Now is what the fitness industry push through supplement sponsorship and sales. The difference can be seen straight away; low body fat with every muscle popping and in my opinion – not healthy at ALL!
So don’t fall for the sensationalism and ridiculous image trends pushed around. Face it, if you’re male and sitting at around 10 - 13% body fat, you’re healthy and life is great!
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