Shedding fat and gaining muscle takes some dedication—and not just when it comes to training. While of course strength training, cardio, and yoga can help shape your body and mind, you also need solid sleep and a healthy, sustainable meal plan. That’s especially true if you’re aiming to drop fat fast.
To find out how to get lean in less time, we asked top trainers to share the methods they turn to. Follow their tips, and watch yourself get sculpted.
Just keep in mind: Lowering your body-fat percentage and losing weight takes times, so give yourself a few weeks (or more) to see results.
1. Savor Single Servings and Strength Workouts
“Learning what a serving size is can be extremely important for someone trying to get lean or cut,” says Adrian Williams, C.P.T., training manager at Tone House. The goal is to keep your portions small. Williams does aim for a bigger breakfast, though, often including four whole eggs, one piece of whole-wheat toast, and one avocado. He’ll have a medium-size lunch, like baked salmon with half a sweet potato and a salad. Then he’ll end the day with a small dinner, such as grilled chicken with steamed Brussels sprouts. “Consume a lot of water and avoid white starches, like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes,” Williams says. “Nutrient-dense foods will be the key factor in providing your body what it needs while consuming fewer calories.”
As for your workouts, stick to strength training, but mix in a little heart-pumping activity, too. “I usually increase the cardio aspect of my strength training if I’m preparing for a competition,” Williams says. “Less rest, timed intervals, medium weight, and a higher rep range”—those are key to getting chiseled.
2. Do Fasted Cardio
“Having just trained for a physique competition, [I know] one of the changes you can make to lean out is steady-state cardio in the morning,” says Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder and coach at TS Fitness. Do it on a completely empty stomach or after taking some branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which come in powdered form, just like protein. Depending on your size, goals and fitness level, aim for about 30 to 60 minutes at a walk or light jog, Tamir says. “You want the intensity to be moderate—about 60% of your VO2max—and not for a long duration,” Tamir says. This will help your body utilize fat for fuel more so than carbs. You’ll see the weight melt off faster.
3. Keep it Simple
“Honestly, you’re never going to beat the basics: reduce calories, get sufficient protein, increase your vegetable and water intake, and get extra sleep,” says Dan Trink, C.S.C.S., founder and co-owner of Fortitude Strength Club. For Trink, that protein comes from foods like eggs and grilled chicken. As for water intake, he ups how much he drinks, consuming four to five liters of H2O per day. “Oh, and make sure you’re tan,” he jokes. “Everyone looks more ripped with a tan.”
4. Focus on Nutrition
Shaun Jenkins, C.P.T., senior training manager at Tone House takes a shot (sans alcohol) every morning. He mixes one ounce of apple cider vinegar with water, lemon and Cayenne pepper, and throws it back at 6 a.m. “It’s a great reset for the PH levels,” he says. As for the rest of his slim-down plan, he keeps his protein sources as lean as possible (fish, chicken, and red meat once a week max), eats lots of healthy fats (mostly avocados, at almost every meal), and consumes plenty of fibrous veggies, like sweet potatoes, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts. “Trial-and-error is the best practice in your weight-loss journey,” he says. “And shredding effectively takes time.”
5. Track Your Food and Up Your Intensity
If you don’t write down what you eat in a day—especially when you’re trying to get cut—then that’s your first mistake, says Jared P. Smith, CrossFit Level 2 coach and creator of B.A.M! at NEO U. “Otherwise you may think you’re making changes but you’re really not,” he says. “Personally, if I’m focused on getting leaner, I’ll make sure I’m cutting out sugar as much as possible, as that’s a primary cause of inflammation.” He also ups his hydration.
Smith focuses on muscular endurance (low weights, high reps) during his workouts when he’s trying to lose weight, rather than going for low reps and high weights (the typical approach to building strength). He’ll also combine that lifting technique with CrossFit and HIIT classes. “I’ll do more interval-based endurance workouts consisting of both sprints and longer distances,” says Smith. So if you’re hoping to slim down, try swapping heavy lifting days for conditioning workouts, involving things like the assault bike, ski erg, burpees, or jump rope.
6. Make Small Tweaks
About two to three months before a big event you’re trying to get ripped for, increase the amount of cardio you’re doing—and try to do it in a fasted state, so 20 to 30 minutes right when you wake up, says Marco Paul, CrossFit coach at Brick New York. Try a cardio machine to get it done or do 45 seconds of work, followed by 15 seconds of rest for moves like burpees or jumping jacks.
Also, try to cut back (or stop altogether) on processed sugar, drink more water, and cut sodium to 500 milligrams per week. To round it out, really make sure you hit that sleep goal of seven to eight hours.
7. Go for a Lifestyle Approach
“Training has to be full circle, including structured strength lifts, interval training, long structural sessions, and recovery with mindful practice and yoga,” says Mike Ramirez, CrossFit Level 2 Coach at ICE NYC/CrossFit Below Zero. That also includes sleep and recovery. Ramirez’s favorite longer cardio sessions involve running and a rower. “Slow and steady with some intervals and intensity changes throughout is what I go for,” Ramirez says.
Also, “balance your meals with a handful of protein, two handfuls of veggies, and a quarter palm size of fat,” Ramirez says. You’ll know you’re getting just enough food if your energy stays up, along with your cognitive function and libido.