When it comes to getting lean—like ripped-abs, beach-ready lean—a few tricks of the trade can make the difference between good and exceptional results. Instead of skimping on meals and resorting to brutal three-a-day cardio sessions, make smart, long-lasting, maintainable changes.
Not sure where to start? Lucky for you, fitness competitor and MusclePharm athlete Kyla "The Lean Queen" Ford is here to share a few of her top secrets for carving a lean, strong, functional physique that turns heads. Heed her advice, adopt a few of these techniques, and you'll see results before you know it!
1. Make Hydration A Habit
Dehydration can leave you feeling physically and mentally wiped. Not only is water essential for proper digestion and nutrient absorption, but it's a fat-burning necessity. When it comes to leaning out, more water is definitely better.
"Drink at least 4 liters of water daily," Ford instructs. "Water flushes out your system, keeps you feeling full longer, and ensures that you don't suffer from a dehydration-related reduction in performance."
While you can sip on H2O throughout the day, Ford recommends that you focus on drinking as much water as possible before, during, and after your meals. Since you'll already be close to the kitchen, heading to the tap to fill up a few cups of water won't take much added thought or effort.
Doing this help keep you stick to a simple schedule that's sparked by mere association: Every time you eat, make sure you have a tall glass of water to wash down your meal.
Lean Queen Tip: Although it won't drastically increase your metabolic rate, water can help to suppress your appetite. Try to consume 16 ounces of water before each meal to help reduce food consumption.
2. Leave Every Workout Winded
If leaning out is priority number one, make sure you bring intensity to each and every workout. After completing your regular sets in the hypertrophy range of 8-12 sets, kick things up a notch with finishing techniques such as dropsets, negatives, and—if you're training with a partner—forced reps.
"When you train with intensity, your body requires more energy and burns more calories," Ford says.
While it might be easy to feel wiped after pressing out a few heavy reps, make sure to keep your rest between sets to a minimum, and avoid the lure of gym-time watercooler chatter.
"Time your rest periods between exercises to make sure they're not too long, and be careful not to get distracted by other people in the gym," Ford explains. At the end of the day, these intense workouts can translate to more total fat being burned 24/7.
Lean Queen Tip: Keep in mind that while your weight lifted may drop slightly, shortened rest periods are no excuse to slack. You should still be challenging yourself with a relatively heavy weight in order to promote muscle growth.
3. Be Smart About Cardio
When most people think of fat loss, cardio training immediately comes to mind. But if you want to really excel and see optimal results, you need to be sure that you are doing the right training for you.
"High-intensity interval training can be far more advantageous than steady-state cardio, because it revs up your metabolism and elevates your body's ability to burn fat long after the workout ends," Ford says.
Since high-intensity cardio sessions usually last no more than 20 minutes, they give you the chance to get your workout done quickly, providing maximum benefit and minimal time commitment. Plus, less time spent running it out also means your body is less likely to tap into muscle for fuel, increasing the likelihood that you'll preserve your gains.
This doesn't mean you should swear off steady-state though. If you have the time, there's nothing wrong with choosing a relaxed hour of incline-treadmill walking for every few days.
Lean Queen Tip: No matter what type of cardio you decide on, make sure you choose the right gym equipment for your goals. As it turns out, bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals weren't all created equally.
4. Eat Whole Foods First
If you're overwhelmed by all the diet tips people throw at you, take a deep breath and keep two simple words in mind: whole foods. By eating foods in their natural state—and not in a prepackaged box with a slapped-on nutrition label—you'll automatically start to cut processed foods from your diet and take a step in a healthier direction.
"Processed foods can cause blood glucose levels to soar and increase your risk of fat gain," says Ford. "Whole foods, on the other hand, contain one ingredient. By eating these foods you'll take in more dietary fiber, which will help you feel fuller longer. When paired with water, they'll also help you stay regular."
Lean Queen Tip: Ford's top picks for wholesome, high-fiber foods? Green vegetables, leafy greens, beans, oats, and brown rice.
5. Increase Your Protein Intake
Want to get lean in a hurry? Plate up on protein. "Be sure to add a lean source of protein to every meal you eat," Ford recommends.
Protein will help you maintain muscle mass while dieting, keep you feeling full for the long haul, and even help you burn additional calories because of its high thermic effect! All this means that protein is the number-one nutrient for dieters. It's the mightiest of the macros!
One 4-ounce portion of chicken packs 28 grams of protein. Aim for 1-2 servings per meal so that you hit about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day.
Lean Queen Tip: Take a page from Ford's muscle-building book. For great sources of protein, consider chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and a quality protein powder.
6. Fuel With Healthy Fats
"Fat won't make you fat!" Ford exclaims. So many people are under the impression that if you eat fat, it'll get converted to body fat, but that's not how things work.
Fat itself doesn't actually hinder your body's get-lean machinery. (An excess of fat and carbs—or calories in general—is a different story.) The fact is, some fats are absolutely essential, like the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. "It's critical to get sufficient essential fatty acids, because your body cannot produce them," Ford explains.
The omega-3 fats in particular provide a host of health benefits. While you can find omega-3s in certain food sources, you can also take a quality fish oil supplement to ensure you get an adequate amount—1-2 grams of EPA and DHA—daily.
Lean Queen Tip: When seeking out healthy fats, Ford recommends eating foods rich in essential omegas, such as fish, shellfish, flax, chia, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds, and leafy green vegetables, and supplementing with a good fish oil product.
7. Get Serious About Sleep
Fat loss and general fitness doesn't stop when you leave the gym. To maximize your results, make a concerted effort to get eight hours of sleep per night.
"Sleep is important for fat loss and weight loss in general," Ford says. "If your body doesn't get enough sleep or rest, it won't recover properly." When you aren't getting enough sleep, your body can go into a stressed state, which can lead to elevated cortisol levels and other hormonal imbalances.
"Lack of sleep also increases hunger and food cravings, and may make some people fall off the wagon," Ford says.
Lean Queen Tip: Learning smart sleep tricks—such as keeping your bedroom cool, dimming bright lights at least an hour before bed, and turning off all electronics— can help you fall into a deeper sleep faster, promoting better recovery.
8. Don't Go All Or Nothing
Remember, everyone has off days where they're too busy or simply lack the desire to make it to the gym. Banish that all-or-nothing mindset, and fit in what you can. "If you're inconsistent with your diet or training, you can't expect to see results," Ford says.
Try to squeeze in part of your workout, or target a muscle group you're more excited to crush that day, even if it's not what originally was planned. Chances are good that once you get going, you'll keep at it and complete the full session.
If you're still in a slump after a few reps, at least you'll have done something. Most importantly, you'll have stayed in the fitness mindset, which is critical for success.
Lean Queen Tip: To stay on track, take progress photos every two weeks for visual proof that your hard work is paying off even when it doesn't feel like it. After all, the camera doesn't lie.
Also, try to have a performance goal in mind, whether you're striving to hit new personal bests on lifts, take shorter rests between sets, or increase the volume you use in the next workout. Having a measurable, non-physique-related goal can provide added motivation and help you push through slumps.