5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Try and Stay Shredded Year-Aroundby Chris and Eric Martinez on July 26, 2016
How’s it going Mountain Dog readers! Fat loss is always a hot topic, especially when the warm weather rolls around; the sun comes out, the rain stops, and the bikinis and board shorts start going on sale.
This usually calls for crash dieting, yo-yo dieting, low carbs, excessive amounts of cardio, etc. Basically, it boils down to a ”whatever it takes” mindset to look good at the hottest Vegas pool party or beach.
The problem is what happens when this “whatever it takes” mindset causes serious health implications, a suppressed metabolism, abnormal weight regains, disordered eating occurrences, etc.
Is this “whatever it takes” mindset still worth the shredded look? Oh yes, we almost forgot, all the Instagram stars are shredded all year around so that means you have to do it to?
We decided to do some research on this, use our real world practice, experience, and results from our female and male clients, and write this article for good use. We want to inform you if being shredded year-round is safe, smart, realistic, healthy, and then some.
1. Suppressing Your Metabolism
Let’s start this off with suppressing your metabolism through excessive calorie restriction (1,2). What’s a suppressed metabolism you ask? The way we define this is your metabolism is permitted from losing body fat unless you starve yourself. It’s a lack of weight loss disproportionate to your calorie intake.
A common example of this would be someone looking to go to extreme measures to get in bikini shape in a short amount of time. They would be on an extremely low calorie diet, anywhere from 600-1,000 calories and eventually they would end up not being able to drop body fat due to their metabolic rate dropping so much.
To avoid metabolic suppression, try the following:
- Diet on as many calories as you can instead of slashing calories too aggressively
- Don’t diet down to very low calories…it’s not sustainable, its unsafe, and serious health implications could occur
- Take frequent diet breaks
- Have 1-3 planned refeed days
- Be disciplined with gradual food intake increases after dieting, documenting progress so that you can establish metabolic needs per your changing body composition levels
2. Too Much Cardio Takes a Toll on Your Body
Cardio is a tool when it comes to fat loss and one of the first things people do is abuse cardio by doing excessive amounts of it just to get lean or stay lean. Problem is, too much steady state cardio can take a toll on the body and lead to plummeted testosterone levels and chronically elevated cortisol levels (3).
And in real-world practice, an example of this is someone doing a high volume of low intensity aerobic exercise, anywhere from 2-3 hours a day and up to 5-6 times a week. Pair this along with very low calorie dieting and you have a recipe to break down your body, induced metabolic adaptations (4), and serious and long term health complications can occur.
To avoid these detrimental effects from excessive amounts of cardio, try the following:
- Use HIIT and LISS cardio together strategically, start with 1 HIIT session and 1 LISS session and add slowly over time
- Try using MISS cardio, which is moderate intensity steady state cardio
- Periodize your cardio just like you would training
- Make sure resistance training is at the forefront of your program
To quote Brad Schoenfeld (5):
“I’m a firm believer that resistance training is the most important activity you can do. That said, adding in cardiovascular exercise promotes synergistic effects that enhance overall health and wellness. Ideally everyone should do both.”
3. Increasing Muscle Mass Will Be That Much More Difficult
Now, we know you don’t want to have soft and stringy looking quads and hammies in your brand new bikini or a 6th grade looking chest in your board shorts right?
So how do you expect to increase muscle mass, make changes in weak points in your physique, if you’re constantly low calorie dieting with tons of cardio?
The answer is you can’t. You will have a very difficult time making changes and even a proper progressive resistance training protocol won’t cut it. If you’re lucky you may be genetically gifted and could get away with this, but that’s a very slim population.
You just can’t make improvements to your physique if you’re low calorie dieting and performing excessive amounts of cardio all year around. You simply won’t have the calories or energy to build muscle, recover properly, or even train hard.
On the contrary, if you have more calories in your diet, then you’ll have more energy, more strength, increased glycogen in the muscle, you’ll train harder, you’ll recover better, and thus you’ll make more gains in your physique.
To increase muscle mass while staying lean, try the following:
- Slowly and deliberately add calories to your nutrition program to keep excess fat accumulation to a minimum
- Pull back on the cardio slowly
- Lift heavy and hard. Have a proper periodized progressive resistance training protocol in place
- Be patient during this process and enjoy the journey
4. It’s Just Not Very Realistic to Stay Shredded Year-Round
Whether or not it’s realistic to stay shredded all year-round depends on just how ‘in-shape’ we’re talking about. While hard work and dedication is obviously involved, the look of women and men on fitness magazine covers and social media platforms is largely based on genetics or performance enhancing drugs. In many cases, it’s a matter of having won the genetic lottery.
A lot of these fitness models also have ectomorphic body types, in other words greyhound type metabolic rates aka very fast metabolisms, so they can eat more and keep excess fat gain to a minimum as opposed to someone that has more of an endomorphic body type aka slow metabolic rate and stores fat more easily.
You also have to not be so naïve and realize that these women and men do “whatever it takes” to stay in shape and shredded year around by getting some extra help from pharmaceutical drugs.
However, where there’s a will there’s a way they say. The most realistic, healthy and ethical ways that you can stay in shape and still improve your physique are:
- You are genetically gifted and have all the right things going for you
- Having an ectomorphic body type with a skyrocketing metabolism
- Extra help from performance enhancing drugs
- Slowly add calories over time
- Continue to lift heavy and use progressive overload
5. Safety First!
Prolonged dieting and severe calorie restriction isn’t a very wise thing to do.
We know this is a big deal for some of you ladies and gents, some others it’s not, but there are serious psychological and physiological health implications from doing this. Allow us to further elaborate (6,7):
- The high volume of training, low energy intake (calories), and stress hormones produced by psychological stress, may lead to a physiological alteration in the endocrinological control of the menstrual cycle (loss of periods) for women. This can eventually lead to Osteoporosis at some point. For males Testosterone levels will drop in most cases.
- Low energy levels over a period of time can cause higher concentrations of growth hormone, cortisol, and lower concentrations of leptin, insulin, and triiodothyronine. These are all hormones related to metabolism, and thus to nutritional and metabolic status.
- Some female athletes have a classic eating disorder, potentially driven by a need to maintain a low body mass for performance (i.e., bikini body).
You could potentially develop osteoporosis (thin and weak bones) from malnutrition and low energy intake.
Your mental health state can become a real issue when it comes to relationships, social events, work, etc.
- That sexy leopard bikini or flashy board shorts and Vegas trip with the boys or girls can wait until summer.
Hopefully we’ve informed you on why it’s just not safe and wise to try and stay shredded all-year around. Some take home points are:
Don’t eat extreme low calorie diets and do excessive amounts of low intensity aerobic exercise, this is a recipe for a suppressed metabolism and serious health problems
Use nutrient periodization and cardio periodization just like you periodize your training
- Diet 3-4 months out of the year and then bring calories back up to maintenance or into a surplus for the remainder of the year. We like to call this the “Rinse and Repeat” method.
- Slowly add in calories to build your caloric cushion and metabolic capacity this way went you want to diet down you are in a good position calorie intake wise
- Use frequent diet breaks and include refeeds throughout the dieting phase
- Understand that maintaining this type of shape is very difficult, unhealthy, and most of the times unrealistic
If you want to improve your physique, you should slowly add in calories over time, taper off on the cardio, implement a proper periodized training protocol, and enjoy the journey
It may look cute and feel good to stay shredded year-around, but the cons out weigh the pros and who wants to look the same year after year and never make any body compositional changes. You also have to think about being healthy, safe, making ethical decisions, and using science based practices.
So, unless you’re one of the rare and gifted ones out there, don’t think you can just stay shredded year-around and still make improvements in your physique. Put in the work ladies and gents and think longevity.
1. Johannsen et al. Metabolic Slowing with Massive Weight Loss Despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012
2. Maclean et al. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. 2011
3. Anderson et al. Cortisol and testosterone dynamics following exhaustive endurance training. 2016
4. Trexler et al. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete. 2014
5. Brad Schoenfeld. Lookgreatnaked.com
6. Sports and Women Athletes: The Female Triad Athlete. Am Fam Physician. 2004. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0401/p1734.html
7. Karen Birch. Female Triad Athlete. BMJ. 2005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC546077/