“Is Getting Shredded Worth It?”
That’s one for the ages. Every up and coming lifter has had this question pop into his mind at least a few times.
I used to think that walking around with absolutely ripped 6 pack abs, striations all over my body, and looking like I was carved from stone was the answer to life. Don’t get me wrong, I do think hitting this milestone is a completely reasonable goal—I just don’t think maintaining it is something worth doing. Once you hit this point you realize that all the “benefits” you thought it would bring aren’t all that great. If you’re anything like me, your reasons for wanting to “get totally shredded, brah” are probably pretty vain. It hurts to say that myself, but it’s true.
To start, let’s review what it REALLY takes to achieve a very low body fat percentage. Keeping in mind that most people tend to overestimate their actual body fat percentage, let’s use 8% body fat as a baseline. Yes, the way your physique looks is influenced by MANY other factors besides this number—but 8% is a pretty fair estimate for where you’d need to be to be “totally shredded” for most young males (the number is higher for females, obviously).
Getting to Single Digit Body Fat (What You Need)
A decent baseline of muscle mass. If you’re skinny as a twig, it’s going to be very challenging mentally to eat the meager amount of food necessary (assuming you have a reasonable appetite). Having decent muscular development will allow for two important things:
- actually looking “shredded” at low body fat instead of like a cancer patient
- the ability to eat slightly more calories and still lose weight as compared to someone with less muscle mass
Enough willpower to handle being hungry most of the time. Seriously. You’re going to have to get used to feeling hungry throughout the day. Depending how you structure your diet, you might do refeeds or eat a more balanced proportion of food to help with fullness. No matter which way you slice it, though—you’re eating less calories than your body wants. You’re gonna be hungry.
The ability to train hard even when you feel shitty. You are flat out going to feel worse physically when you’re dieting down. The idea of training is going to sound a lot worse when you’re fueling your workout on 2000 calories a day. However, this is paramount in minimizing muscle loss.
The ability to focus hard on your end goal. This is what keeps you “sticking with it”. I don’t think getting shredded is for everyone to be honest, because you have to REALLY want it. The leaner you get, the harder it gets. I think most people end up realize getting and/or staying there is just too draining mentally.
The Reality Of Getting Totally Shredded
Here’s the reality of how you’ll feel when dieting down to this point:
- you’re irritable for most of the day. The idea of talking to people sucks unless it’s about your training or diet, and even then you’re probably just bitching about it.
- it’s hard to focus on pretty much anything except your next meal
- you become increasingly obsessive over every little bit of fat you’re carrying
- it’s easy to get discouraged if something doesn’t go your way. IE-the scale says 171.3 instead of 169.5 like you were hoping
- you look like a cancer patient with your clothes on. But hey, for those 5% of occasions where you take your shirt off you look great
- your gym performance suffers a lot. You’ll have to deal with getting slightly weaker over time
- your muscles look smaller because of the lack of glycogen
- you get worn out and feel tired much more easily
Bear in mind, i’m not trying to convince you NOT to diet down to extremely lean. Like I said, I think it’s a great goal to have and definitely difficult to achieve. If you do, i’m sure you’ll feel proud. I just want to give you a picture of the reality of doing so. If it was easy, everyone would do it!
So, what IS worth it then?
I think it’s totally possible to maintain a great physique and not be wanting to kill yourself over your diet every day. While the difference between 8% and 10% body fat is pretty minuscule visually (and again, these numbers are different for everyone—i’m just establishing a baseline for arguments sake), the difference is huge mentally. The starting point here is: PUT ON SOME FREAKING MUSCLE FIRST!
It’s so so so much easier to maintain a leaner physique if you have the muscle to back it up. A couple of the things that make it easier:
The more muscle you have, the leaner you appear to be. Someone at 10% body fat with amazing muscle development is going to look at hell of a lot more “shredded” than someone at 10% with no muscle.
Your body is better at nutrient partitioning when you have more muscle. Getting fitter has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity—and the more insulin sensitive you are, the more likely it is that glucose in your bloodstream is delivered to your muscle cells instead of stored as fat.
The more muscle you have, the more you can eat. The more muscle you have, the more energy you’ll require to maintain that muscle. This means you can get away with eating more food as you diet; this is probably one of the biggest challenges in dieting–the total amount of food you can eat if you want to lose weight is minuscule! (Especially for those with big appetites like me)
It’s significantly harder to achieve very low body fat levels with little muscle than it is with tons of it. If you’re cycling longer periods of bulking and cutting, for example, you might find that each time you “diet down” you can get slightly leaner than you could before.
Well, I diverged slightly from my original point—being shredded isn’t worth it unless you have great muscle development. Still, staying at a very slightly higher body fat (barely noticeable, to most people) has huge benefits in terms of keeping you physically AND mentally content.
Go check this out if you still need more reading!