Monthly Archives: September 2010

Being Lean Makes Muscle More Visible

I work out at different gyms and I still run into the male obsession with being “big” (even at the expense of leanness!). Is the goal to be more muscular or is it to just take up as much space as possible?!

Here’s a cosmetic illusion that you can use to your advantage: having low body fat (low enough so that all of your muscles are visually defined) makes you appear more muscular. Even someone with an average amount of muscle mass will appear larger when they’re stripped of their body fat. By larger I mean more muscular, not necessarily more massive. In fact, if you get lean enough, you will find that it’s next to impossible to be “massive” because you will be taking up much less space due to the lack of body fat.

Creating this illusion involves both high muscle mass, and low body fat; but the real key is low body fat. No matter how big your muscles are, they will “pop” when you get lean enough. Massive muscles just make this illusion more pronounced. And I’m certain you will get more comments on your muscularity at this point whether you seek it or not.

Take home points:

Guys – don’t be afraid of getting smaller (actually seek it) on the way to getting leaner. Once the muscles become more visible, they will “jump” at you and be more impressive-looking no matter what your size.

Gals – don’t be afraid of adding muscle mass. It’s not an easy feat and as we showed, it helps visually transform your shape! Go after the fat mass instead if you have the goal of being tighter.

Muscle Magazines = Misleading

WARNING: Anabolic Steroids are not legal in all countries and may cause serious side effects and health risks.

Today is a controversial topic. It has to do with “role models” in professional sports, entertainment, and magazines. If you’ve seen the movie, “Bigger Stronger Faster*” then none if this is news to you. The fact is that many of these “idols” are, or have been, on drugs.

For the record, I don’t use drugs to enhance my physique but I am not passing moral judgement on those who choose to. In fact, I’m a fan of professional bodybuilding, simply for the spectacle that they are. My intent with this post is to address the false belief that you can emulate your physical heroes without powerful drugs.

I’ll focus on bodybuilding and “fitness” magazines since that’s what inspired me in my early days of training (but don’t be naive to think your “heroes” in the NFL, MLB, WWE, or MMA are not on drugs). I won’t even touch on the shadiness of “before and after photos”. The idols that you see in the magazines are on a ton of very potent drugs. Even so-called “natural” bodybuilders can be drug-users, because the term “natural” is open for interpretation. Does it just mean they are recently clean? Or they were able to pass a drug test? Or they don’t use steroids, but use other powerful, growth-promoting/fat-reducing chemicals?

It’s not even an issue of cheating: it’s selling an ideal that is impossible to obtain without potentially dangerous (and most of the time illegal) drugs. Just to give you an idea of how potent these drugs are, Testosterone (the basis of what most people recognize as anabolic steroids) will produce more and faster muscle growth in a sedentary person than in a highly-trained person who is not on steroids. And the level of growth possible with steroids is magnitudes above what is physiologically possible clean. That’s how potent these drugs are. And for bodybuilders, Testosterone is just the beginning. Here is a laundry list of other chemicals:

– Growth Hormone

– Insulin

– Thyroid Hormones

– Stimulants

– Pain killers

– Diuretics

– Appetite suppressants

….and many more, in high doses.

I once did what the magazines said, which was to eat a lot of good food (which made me fat), train to super fatigue in excessive volumes (which made me weaker), and meticulously take supplements (which was a pain in the arse). The part that was left out were the injections, needles, “purple pills”, black oils, and timing your day around your next shot! My point is that the young and impressionable should not be fooled by these ads. And “fitness” magazines have really just turned into giant supplement ads, in my opinion.

The cost of obtaining quality drugs is an even darker rabbit hole. The big physiques you recognize in the industry either have very good contracts, deal drugs themselves, or sell themselves for [drug] money. This is not meant to judge or depress anyone, it’s just the truth. A yearly supply of Human Growth Hormone alone would almost cost what a fresh-out-of-college graduate would earn in a year!

Focus on your health – most people think a good-looking, well-built, lean, natural body looks good. But If you want a “freakish” physique like what you see in the magazines – just realize what is required to get that look, and ask yourself if that’s something you would do. Chances are you didn’t get into working out and staying in shape to be a mutant.

Jason’s Fat Loss Formula

My Formula For Getting Lean:

To be “ripped”, you first need high muscle mass. So work hard and often in the gym to inflate those muscles.

Second, you need to figure out your BMR (basal metabolic rate). These will be the number of calories you need to maintain your weight.

I prefer the Katch-McArdle Formula for BMR:

 P = 370 + \left( {21.6 \cdot LBM} \right) , where LBM is lean body mass in kg.

So to give you a rough estimate, my lean body mass is about 141 lbs (~64 kg) so my BMR is roughly 1750 calories.

Using a free online program like (or if you’re lucky to own an iPhone, Tap & Track Calories) I can tally up the foods I eat in a day to equal ~1700 calories.

This would maintain my current weight.

To lose fat, I’d need less than this amount.

Start with a conservative deficit. I aim for a 500 calorie deficit, which enables me to still eat 1200 calories a day. With this method I lose an average of 2 pounds per week.

Keep in mind you may lose more weight than this in the beginning, but not all of it is fat mass (a lot of it is water).

*I don’t factor in exercise because I consider it a “bonus”. Also, if you are very sedentary one day, then your BMR will make up all of your calorie requirements. And exercise burns fewer calories than we think. So consider exercise like icing on a cake (but count calories if you’re eating cake).

*I also assume the food I’m eating has more calories than what’s listed. There’s so much variability and estimates especially when it comes to organic food that it’s smart to overestimate the amount of calories in one serving. For example, if I’m having an apple, I will just look up one “large apple”. That way it totals as a higher calorie amount, rather than lower. This is also important because overripe fruit has more calories than under-ripe fruit.

*I weigh my foods on a digital food scale, especially produce. This is the most accurate tool you can use, and it works well.

Is Bulking Up a Good Idea?

In a word, no! Common practice in bodybuilding circles is to spend part of the year consuming more calories, allowing for fat gain, while training heavy in an effort to increase muscle volume. Then, diet strictly to get lean. Without a doubt, this is unnecessary (and I’ve even tried it before).

While I don’t deny that growth is a calorie-intensive process, so is fat gain. Any “size” you gain while overeating, will come with fat. And when the fat has to be taken off to get lean (unless you’re a strongman or powerlifter, then you can stay fat for life) you will also have to undergo a period of low calories, during which growth will be compromised. So you end up with the same net calorie balance, you just spent half of the year or more (depending on your competitive schedule) being fat.

Let’s say a bodybuilder coming off a contest has a metabolic requirement of 2000 calories. He/she can either:

a) Eat 3000 calories for three months in an effort to “bulk up” and gain muscle (and fat), but then will have to eat 1000 calories for another three months to drop the fat off. Net calories = 2000 for six months.

b) Or, bodybuilder can stay at 2000 calories for six months. No fat is gained, therefore no fat needs to be lost. Net calories = 2000 for six months.

The difference is that in example b) there was no dreaded “fat” period, and no need to severely lower calories to get lean again and deal with the mental adjustment of changing dietary habits.

Fat and muscle are separate tissues, so treat them as such. Adjust your calories based on your body fat levels, and let training dictate your muscle size. You will eventually reach your genetic potential, and look great no matter what time of  the year.

Unless you just started lifting or are using pharmaceutical enhancement, the amount of actual muscle (contractile protein) you can gain is not much. You should be more concerned with muscle “fullness” than the gross amount of “weight” you can gain from training. However, 1-2 pounds of pure muscle in all the right areas on a lean physique looks tremendous.