Now that it’s warming up outside, it’s the shirtless season so everyone wants to look good. The problem is figuring out what to eat to be lean and ripped.
There are all sorts of fad diets out there that draw a lot of attention, but they will come and go.
The real answer lies in following the science. I like using the CICO diet or “Calories-In-Calories-Out” diet method because it uses science and tracking to get results.
What Does it Mean to be “Lean and Ripped”?
I said it a second ago, it’s shirtless season once that thermometer gets a consistent 70 degrees daily. In Texas, we call that February, but everywhere else it starts hitting about mid-to-late March.
But the question is “what does it mean to be ‘lean and ripped?’”
The easy definition is to be muscled, but not strongman-size; to be lean, but not skinny like an endurance athlete. So, it’s finding the balance between the two.
I think the ideal physique would be a superhero movie actor. My inspiration is Chris Hemsworth as Thor, but different people have different ideas. He might even be a little too lean for some people’s liking.
Without giving almost unrealistic expectations such as a movie star or professional athlete; the goal is to have muscles large enough to get some definition and look good in clothing, yet still, be able to see your abs.
So, when I say “lean and ripped,” I mean enough muscle to look fit in clothes and enough definition to see your abs.
A hard number for stat nerds like myself is roughly a body fat percentage of 6-13% for men and 14-20% for women.
What is CICO dieting?
If you’re dieting to get ripped, jacked, or just in athletic shape, I actually don’t like the term “dieting”.
Why? Because it has the connotation of being restrictive.
A restrictive mindset typically leads to you craving whatever it is you have decided you’re not allowed to eat. It’s laid out well here by Mercy Care in Cedar Rapids.
It’s pretty much human nature.
Think about when you tell a child not to do something, so what’s the first thing they do? Whatever you told them not to do.
CICO dieting is different in that it sets an amount limit instead of a specific item restriction.
To start, you have to calculate your TDEE or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is a numerical measurement to see how many calories you typically burn in a day.
There are a few calculators out there that are solid. A super popular one is MyFitnessPal because it’s an app on just about every smartphone. I actually like it the best for food tracking because, of the apps I’ve used, it’s got the largest food library, which I’ll get to later.
You can use MyFitnessPal or just Google search “TDEE Calculator.”
Instead of using the first thing that pops up, you should try a few different ones and try to get a pretty neutral average. This is the number you can use in conjunction with your goals to track your food and aim for.
Now, for those statistic nerds (sports fans, UNITE), there are 2 methods to figure out your TDEE. The easy method is to use your body weight.
- Fat Loss = about 12-13 calories per pound of bodyweight
- Maintenance = about 15-16 calories per pound of bodyweight
- Weight Gain = about 18-19 calories per pound of bodyweight
The more technical version is the Harris-Benedict Formula to calculate your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate, then multiply that by your activity level to get your TDEE.
The Harris-Benedict Formula has sex variations, so:
- Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x wt in kg) + (5 x ht in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)
- Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 x wt in kg) + (1.8 x ht in cm) – (4.7 x age in years)
The activity multiplier is as follows:
- Sedentary = BMR x 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
- Lightly active = BMR x 1.375 (light exercise/ sports 1-3 days/week)
- Moderately active = BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise/ sports 6-7 days/week)
- Very active = BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise every day, or exercising 2 xs/day)
- Extra active = BMR x 1.9 (hard exercise 2 or more times per day, or training for a marathon, or triathlon, etc.)
It’s a bit more complex but will give you a more accurate number for you to work with.
Focusing on Macronutrients
When it comes to counting calories, people will often neglect the more nuanced nutrients they consume.
Just like when you go to school and you are taught basic math in elementary school getting more and more nuanced until you’re in college when you are learning about applied algebra for your new engineering degree (I got my degree in English, so I don’t know much about maths), you will do the same with your food.
You start by simply counting calories, but then you can focus on your macronutrients. There are also micronutrients, but that is for extremely experienced individuals and athletes that don’t have anything else they can really dial in.
There are 3 primary macronutrients you will see focused on:
It’s interesting to see how each of these gets popularized and people think one is more important than the other, but the truth is that they are equally important, just serving different goals.
A common platitude for people in the fitness space is that you should consume about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
This is good advice if you’re trying to build muscle.
But really, you should align your macros with your goals. We’re talking about lean and ripped, so that suggests both muscle building and fat loss.
It’s very difficult to do both of these at the same time, but it is possible!
Typically, the range for protein is that a person should make 10-35% of their caloric intake
come from a protein source.
This is a great baseline, but individual nuance and variance will make those percentages slightly different.
What science says is that 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight are the ideal ratio for the average person.
Now, if someone is on the heavier side, they don’t need to follow this. The percentage route is better.
No matter what, when the goal is muscle gain, you need more protein than for maintenance. Aim for 35% of your food to be protein.
I feel like the popular fitness thing to do right now is to hate carbs.
Fun fact though, your muscles run on carbs primarily. Needless to say, it’s pretty important in your diet to get ripped.
The suggested percentage is between 45-65% of your calories coming from carb sources per the United States Department of Agriculture.
Usually, a suggested carb gram goal isn’t talked about, but it’s still important. The latest research suggests 5-6 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight.
A common suggestion in bodybuilding will be a lower carb intake than suggested. Usually around 40%. This is because some carbs aren’t satiating and digest quickly, leaving you hungry again relatively soon.
Carbs are necessary though, so don’t be that guy to demonize them. It’s not actually accurate and can lead to some health issues.
The classically demonized and recently glamorized macronutrient is fat.
Fat is an absolutely integral aspect of any well-rounded diet. It always cracks me up when I talk about health at a family gathering.
My brother and I were always reading up on the latest and greatest research (and bro-science, but we won’t talk about that one as much), so we thought we were geniuses. My grandma would chime in about how terrible fats are for your health, then proceed to use an entire stick of butter in the spinach and tout it as healthy.
This was always hilarious to me, but in all seriousness, fats are extremely necessary for humans to thrive.
Fats are recommended to take up 20-35% of your total caloric intake. Bodybuilding will usually opt for a less broad range with between 20-30%. Typically, bodybuilding focuses on manipulating fats and protein depending on the fitness goals.
When it comes down to it, using a TDEE calculator online will give you a GREAT place to start on the percentages for your macro intake. It might be even better to hone in on your individual needs with mild experimentation.
Every human is different and the exact percentage of your food will vary.
What to Eat to be Lean and Ripped
There isn’t any secret trick or any secret food that will make you have the body of your dreams. It boils down to requiring discipline and consistency to achieve your goals.
There are tools we can use to help us along the way, and I’ve found following the science of the CICO diet has proved to help with the nutrition portion.
While focusing on your calories, the more nuanced approach to percentages of protein/carbs/fats being roughly 10-35%/40-65%/20-35% will help you hit those goals quicker.
After getting a baseline, you will see some results, but those can be dialed in further by adjusting the percentages to your needs. A nutritionist or personal trainer may help with this as well.
Remember the goal is to be healthy so you can maximize your life and live with the most enjoyment for as long as possible.
You can eat cake one day and celebrate a friend’s birthday because you planned for it. Instead of having it be the catalyst to fall off the wagon, it’s a celebration and you’re back on the train following the cake.