You’ve seen those motivational videos on YouTube of guys eating dry chicken and doing hours of cardio to get shredded – but is it really needed?
In reality, you probably need cardio to get shredded and cut, but not really. It’ll depend wildly on your training, genetics, and other things – let me show you what I mean.
What Exactly Is “Cardio” & “Shredded?”
We’re often misled by the phrasings and language that professional athletes and influencers use, so we might need to do a bit of nomenclature schooling before we go any further.
Cardio can be described as any movement that we do to improve cardiovascular fitness or to expend calories. This includes both aerobic (long-distance training) and anaerobic training (like sprinting).
Cardio is often simply portrayed as doing miles on the treadmill or the elliptical. Technically, these are the “only” forms of cardio people do for fat loss, but as you’ll see later on in this article, there are various other ways to lose calories.
Shredded is simply a word that is used when describing someone who has a large amount of muscle mass without a lot of fat tissue. Usually, someone is classified as shredded when they have less than 10% of body fat, but the term is relative.
Thus, someone being super skinny isn’t shredded. Someone who’s truly shredded needs a certain amount of muscle mass – this is a non-negotiable.
So, Do I Need Cardio?
Hold your horses; we still need to define a bit of nomenclature, my friend. See, to really get shredded, you need two things, as I mentioned earlier – muscles and next-to-zero fat.
For the purpose of keeping this article from turning into a whole book, I’m going to go ahead and assume you do have a decent amount of muscle mass and are consistently maintaining it (i.e., with lifting, protein, creatine, you name it).
Now that we have that out of the way, we can start looking at that second part – removing as much fat as humanly possible. Seems lovely, doesn’t it? You’re dreaming of babes hugging you on a 60-foot yacht, swooning at your abs. Or you’re dreaming about ice cream. What?
Yeah. Getting shredded isn’t nice. It sucks, and there’s a very good reason for that. It’s deeply unhealthy and unsustainable. Humans weren’t meant to have less than 7% body fat, and there’s actually evidence that being that lean (especially as a female) could do you massive harm.
What it’s like to be shredded:
Turning our attention to the elephant in the room, you need to lose fat. There are, of course, various ways of doing this. Actually, there are a few that spring to mind:
1. Following a Calorie Deficit
This is really just Science 101 – that being in a calorie deficit will lead to energy being extracted from somewhere else. This means that you’ll be getting energy from stored body fat
2. Increasing Protein
This is a bit of a stretch for some to believe, but sometimes more is actually less – at least according to the IRS. It’s also the case when it comes to protein.
A study published in 2014 found that a high(er) protein diet didn’t lead to more fat gain compared to a carb- and fat-matched diet. So, protein is “free calories, dude.”
Not really, of course. There are still calories in protein, but if you were to increase protein by 40 grams and decrease carbs by 40 grams, you’d lose some fat.
For all the schtick it gets online, cardio is still an effective tool to burn calories. It’s like slamming your car into neutral and revving that baby, just burning fuel needlessly.
But, you want to know if number three is actually necessary, don’t you? No, you don’t need to do cardio in order to lose weight. To get shredded… that’s another discussion.
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Can You Get to 10% Body Fat Without Cardio?
Getting to lower than 10% body fat is the holy grail to most men, and as someone who’s been there a few times, it’s pretty cool. That said, it’s really tough to get there for most. See, losing fat will largely be determined by your calorie intake, which can be altered by doing cardio.
Most people (mainly professional athletes) who get to below 10% body fat levels are all doing some form of cardio. It’s part of their job description, or they do it for one very good reason – they get to eat more food.
People get hungry! This is something that’ll affect all of us, and you can be the most wholesome dieter out there, but you’ll still feel hunger.
How does cardio help hunger, you might ask?
Doing Cardio Increases the Amount You Can Eat
If you do 400 calories worth of cardio per day, you can eat an extra 400 calories and still be at a net 0 calories.
Cardio Itself Suppresses Hunger
Most people who are doing cardio will report that at that moment, they aren’t thinking about food. This allows you to extend the amount of time between meals if you time cardio perfectly. If your last meal is at 9 PM, do 45 minutes of cardio at 8 PM, and, boom, you just “survived” easier.
With All That In Mind …
Is that the only reason you should be doing cardio? Actually, yes. This will allow you to consume more protein and therefore allow you to have a greater chance of muscle retention. It’ll also massively accelerate the fat loss process. Plus, it’s pretty healthy as well.
So, can you get to 10% body fat without cardio? I guess, sure. It might take you 10 months, and you stand a better chance of losing muscle compared to someone who does, but it is possible – technically.
How To Lose Fat Without Cardio
Now that you know it’s “technically” possible, you’ll be interested in learning how to do it. How does one lose fat without doing cardio? Well, with a ton of effort.
Here are the various steps you would need to take in order to pull this off:
Have a goal date in mind. This will allow you to set up how much fat you’ll need to be losing per week to reach it. Have a date in mind so that you know when you’ll be shredded and know when you can get out ASAP. It’s not healthy, it’s not sustainable, and you can’t stay there for too long.
Step 1 – The Calorie Deficit
After figuring out how much you need to lose per week, you’ll obviously need to drop into a calorie deficit. You’ll take your maintenance calories and reduce that by 200 – 300 calories. You’ll keep reducing your calories by 200 – 300 each time weight loss stops. You’ll also only take calories from carbs and fats, not protein.
Step 2 – The Macro Split
Once you know how many calories you’re eating, you need to find your macro split. Simply put- at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, at least 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight, and the rest will be carbohydrates.
Step 3 – The Food Choices
Food choices! Yes, they matter. You’ll want to stick to healthier food options just because they contain a greater amount of micronutrients. This is not only good for health but could help with muscle contractions in the gym.
Step 4 – The Hunger-Fighters
Hunger-fighters – yes, you’re going to need them. If you’re hell-bent on doing this without cardio, you’ll need every sugar-free soda, jelly, protein shake, jelly babies, and lord knows what else to fight cravings. Just be careful – too many sweeteners give you diarrhea – ask me how I know.
Step 5 – NEAT
Increase your NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This will include just making your daily life more inefficient in the pursuit of burning more calories. This will include eating more fiber, taking more steps per day, walking to the shops instead of driving, walking between sets instead of sitting, etc.
Other than these five steps, there really isn’t a whole lot else you can do. Truth is, most of us that aren’t genetically gifted will suffer to get to <10% body fat levels without cardio. Hell, I’ve had to do several hours per day to get to 7%.
If you ask any bodybuilder if it’s necessary, the answer is yes, you need cardio to get shredded … but not to lose fat.
How To Get Shredded and Cut Without Cardio
This article might have been a rollercoaster of emotions to some. It’s possible, but not really, and even then, only to some will it be a good option. I get it – fitness can be confusing – especially with social media.
Look, cardio isn’t the saving grace of fat loss. It certainly isn’t the most important thing, and it certainly isn’t the only factor that leads to fat loss.
To lose fat and retain muscle mass, you technically only need a few things:
- A diet that puts you in a calorie deficit
- A protein-rich diet
- Time spent doing this, consistently
Cardio isn’t needed to lose some fat and retain muscle. Hell, hundreds and thousands of people do it yearly without even noticing. The thing is, you want to be shredded, and that changes things.
As you become leaner, the body will become more and more resistant to fat loss as a preventative measure. Thus, you’ll need to lower your calories more and more… and more. This is not only going to suck, but you also run the risk of losing muscle.
For 99% of us, it won’t make sense to try to get shredded without cardio. For some of us with amazing genetics, it’ll be possible – and easy.
For the rest of us, I’ll see you on the treadmill at 5 AM tomorrow morning. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
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