Updated: Jun 29
Summer is fast approaching, which for some of us means time at the beach, the pool, or some other place where copious amounts of skin will be on full display. I understand happiness comes from within, but life is unquestionably better when you’re not only happy, but you’re also in the best shape of your life and everyone else around you takes note of the work that you’ve put into yourself.
In this article I’m going to talk about what I do to say lean and maintain what I like to call the "Greek god" aesthetic, especially since I think my approach may be a bit different than most.
I’m not claiming that my way is the only way nor am I claiming that it is the best way. But it is my way, and I’ve gotten the exact results that I’ve wanted by using this regimen.
Through eating the right foods, heavy resistance training, daily walking, stress management, and sleep, I’ve curated my metabolism in a way that minimizes fat production and builds muscle to create a lean and muscular aesthetic while still being able to have some flexibility and maintain my overall quality of life.
In this article I’ll talk in a bit more detail about how I incorporate each of these aspects into my life, and hopefully you can take some of this information and use it to formulate your own strategy for getting leaner.
Weight management happens in the kitchen first and foremost. If my diet isn’t right, then I know that I’ll never see the results that I’m looking for. There are a lot of different diets out there, from carnivore to vegan and everything in between. I personally think that healthy eating can be simplified into three words; eat whole foods.
What do I mean by whole foods? For starters, I’m not referring to the store. Whole Foods are defined as “food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances.”
To achieve this, I like to eat an ancestral diet which basically means eating foods that were available to us before refined and processed foods became abundant. Another way to look at it is by asking, “can I acquire this directly from earth or water through hunting, gathering, and fishing?” If the answer is yes then it likely fits into the diet, but if the answer is no, then the next question to ask is, “is this something that someone could have made 1000 years ago?”
This is where foods like cheese, yogurt, and olive oil come into play since they do not come directly from the earth but require minimal processing.
I realize it’s difficult to only eat these foods, so my rule of thumb for sticking to an ancestral diet is what I call the Rule of 84 which is that 80% of my diet should consist of foods that contain 4 or fewer ingredients. I find that this simplifies the process of determining whether or not something is suitable for consumption, and it forces me to stay into the habit of checking ingredient labels so that I’m more aware of what’s actually in the foods that the food industry is selling us. Sticking to this rule will for the most part keep me in line with ancestral eating while also allowing room for other foods that I enjoy.
A quick note on animal products. They are only as healthy as what they eat. I won’t go into the specifics in this article, but I always prioritize buying grass-fed beef and dairy, pasture-raised eggs and poultry, and wild-caught seafood.
The nutritional profile of these animals typically contains significantly more anti-inflammatory omega 3s among other things. So not all animal products are the same, and if I want to stick to an ancestral diet, then I also need to make sure that the animals that I consume ate their own natural diets rather than processed corn and other refined foods.
A brief summery of the foods that I eat the most are eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, butter, extra virgin olive oil, cheese, yogurt, tree nuts, legumes, fruits (especially berries), natural peanut butter, chia and flax seeds, leafy greens, and plenty of seasonings and spices. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think you get the idea.
I do eat other foods, but the ones listed above represent the bulk of what I eat, and if you notice most of these foods are found on the perimeter of grocery stores or in the refrigerated sections because most natural, real food cannot sit on a grocery store shelf for weeks at a time.
Foods that I avoid include processed foods, vegetable and seed oils, refined sugar, bread, refined grains, pasta, sauces, fruit juice, and pretty much anything with a long list of ingredients.
As far as supplementation I take two things daily... 25 g of whey protein and 3-5 g of creatine monohydrate. From my experience, most protein supplements out there are filled with all kinds of junk, so I switch back and forward between two different brands, both of which contain no more than three ingredients in their product.
Metabolism over calories and macros
This can be controversial since it is not really aligned with conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that I’d have to estimate my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and then eat a few hundred calories below this number each day while making sure that I get the appropriate portions of protein, fat, and carbs. It’s basically the calories in minus calories out equation, and I think this is well meaning but a bit misguided.
I don’t believe that all calories are equal. A calorie of highly processed protein is quite different than a calorie from a natural whole food source of protein. It’s absorbed by the body differently, it impacts the metabolism differently, impacts to blood sugar and insulin is different, and so what your body decides to do with those calories can be vastly different between different foods of the same calorie count.
I also think the strict focus on macronutrients is too formulaic for my taste. People long before us managed to be lean and strong without counting calories or tracking their macros to the 3rd significant digit, and I honestly have been able to stay relatively lean simply by sticking to quality sources of whole foods which are nutrient dense and metabolically beneficial.
If I had to ballpark it, then I’d say that my meals typically contain about 40-50 grams of protein and my snacks are typically around 20 grams of protein. The rest of the calories comes mainly from fat, while carbs and sugar combined are usually in the range of 50-75 grams per day. And remember, that’s coming only from whole foods like fruit and vegetables rather than processed food sources. I usually eat two meals a day, one at around noon and the other around 7pm, and I eat two snacks in between meals. I also try to fast for about 16 hours each day from 8 pm to noon the next day.
Following ancestral diet lends itself to a diet that is naturally high in protein and unrefined fats while being low in carbs, sugar, and processed foods. When I eat, my macros naturally fall into place.
Instead of braking out food scales and measuring my portions until I hit the exact amount of protein, my preference is to simply take note of everything that I eat throughout the week and note whether or not it is high in protein, fats, carbs, and sugar, and then step on a scale to measure my progress on a weekly basis.
I use a smart scale that uses bioelectrical impedance to take measurements beyond just weight because weight is honestly not something that I pay too much attention to. Instead, I track for a reduction in body fat percentage over time as well as either maintaining or increasing skeletal muscle mass over time.
Using my scale readings, I refer back to my diet journal to see what I ate and make necessary adjustments accordingly. For example, if I see a drop in body fat percentage over time then that’s my cue to continue eating just as I was, but if I see a drop in muscle mass then that may signal that I need to add another protein source or increase my training intensity, or both.
I personally do it this way because I’m focusing on real data points and feedback from my body to inform my eating habits. It also gives me space to still eat somewhat intuitively which I think is really important for turning a diet into a sustainable and lifelong eating habit.
Heavy resistance training
One of the most common misconceptions that I hear from people is that resistance training is going to make them too big and bulky which is the opposite of what most people who are trying to lean out are going for. Instead, they will spend hours on a treadmill trying to burn off calories. In my opinion, this is one of the most inefficient and time-wasting things a person can do.
Lifting heavy weights or doing calisthenics with high resistance are the best exercises to actually lose body fat. To put it simply, muscle absorbs blood glucose which helps to keep insulin levels lower, preventing unwanted fat build up.
I personally train every day with varying levels of intensity, and I typically follow a push-pull-legs calisthenics split meaning one day I do pushing movements like pushups, then next day I do pulling movements like pull ups, and the next day I do leg exercises like squats... Some days will be a full workout lasting about an hour, while other days will be a quick 15-minute session, and the length of my workouts is honestly contingent on how I feel for that day.
Since I do only calisthenics, a few of my go-to resistance exercises include dips, pseudo-planche pushups, handstand pushups, pullups, rows, weighted archer squats, weighted jump squats, and Nordic curls. I do plenty of other exercises too, but these are the staples.
Truthfully, you don’t really need to work out daily. It’s what I prefer for a number of reasons, but three or four high quality resistance training sessions per week will do the trick so long as you’re training all of your muscle groups almost to failure throughout the week.
Minimum 30 minutes of daily walking
I have talked about the importance of walking before in a previous article, and I stand by my word. For able-bodied people, walking is one of the easiest and lowest intensity workouts that everyone should be doing.
I don’t walk for the purpose of burning calories. In keeping with my philosophy of optimizing the metabolism over focusing on calories, I see the true benefit of walking in the metabolic effects that it has on my body.
Walking basically speeds up the metabolism and keeps insulin and blood glucose in check which translates to less body fat.
On top of that, walking is also generally a good way to relieve some stress which leads me to my next point….
To put it simply, the more stressed out we are, the more we are likely to produce hormones that cause weight gain and retention. If I’m doing everything else right, my diet and fitness are on point, but I’m not properly managing my stress then I could be slowing my progress.
I like to make sure that I am taking steps to keep my stress levels in check. It’s vitally important that mental health is trained together with physical health, because honestly our body is an interconnected system. When we feel good about ourselves, when we feel calm and we’re not unnecessarily anxious it will show in our appearance, in our posture, and how we present ourselves overall.
A few things I typically do to manage my stress is to…
Get some sunlight every day, preferably first thing in the morning
Give myself 30 minutes of daily quiet time which I usually spend meditating or reading; also preferably first thing in the morning
Keep my home calm and peaceful which means frequently cleaning and decluttering, and adding live plants into my space to bring some color and vitality into my space
Take cold showers
Keep a healthy social life by hanging out with friends, going out on dates, and simply enjoying the presence of other people who motivate me, uplift me, and overall bring me joy (this is where the other 20% of my diet comes into play)
This isn’t everything that I do but I’d say these are probably the most foundational.
Plenty of Sleep
I don’t think I need to make a strong argument about the importance of sleeping, and to be honest I contemplated putting this at the top of the list to avoid any misconceptions about how important it actually is. To put things in perspective, most people can go for months without eating, but only for a few days without sleep. Sleep is arguably as vital to sustaining life as water, but unfortunately most of us are chronically sleep deprived.
I struggle with this myself, but I’ve noticed that when my sleep hygiene is really good for a period of time, my physique gets better, I get stronger, and I see noticeably more definition on my body.
Making the effort to get more and higher quality sleep is really important for me. Since at the moment of writing this article, I am trying to sculpt my body and lean out a bit, I am paying much more attention to my sleep habits.
Whatever you do, get more sleep. Chances are that you need it, and your body will thank you for it.
The Simple Six
This may all seem like much but when it’s all boiled down, my fitness is really quite simple. It comes down to six things:
Eat whole foods
Focus on optimizing the metabolism
Lift heavy weights or do calisthenics
Manage your stress
Get plenty of sleep
It’s a simple yet powerful formula for melting body fat, boosting metabolism, and building muscle.
If you are looking for programs to level up your fitness and your physique, then I’ve pulled all this information and more together into my BEAST program which mimics my training style and provides detailed guidance on diet and fitness to help you reach your goals.