Sure, we would all love to be lean and ripped, not just for summer but all year long. But while some claim to relish the down-and-dirty, in-the-trenches hard work that such a physique requires, most of us aren't quite ready for a 24/7, no-holds-barred commitment. Instead, we ask in all fairness: "Does it have to be so damn difficult?"
To help you achieve your perfect summer body without having to be, well, perfect in the gym and with your diet, we recruited three NutraBio Brand Ambassadors—IFBB Bikini pro Alexandra Sanchez, IFBB pro bodybuilder Erik Ramirez, and personal trainer and Team Bodybuilding.com Athlete Zane Hadzick. Here, they answer eight of the most brutally honest questions from readers about training, nutrition, and staying motivated when the road to getting lean gets tough.
1. I want to keep going to the gym this summer, but I don't want to spend a ton of time inside when it's so nice out. What are your tricks for keeping weight workouts shorter while still maximizing the benefits?
Ramirez: So many people are under the impression that you need to spend hours in the gym every day to get results. That's not true. Other than maybe leg day, you can be in and out in 45 minutes at most, as long as you give it all you've got during that time.
Hadzick: If you're looking to cut down on indoor gym time but still want to optimize muscle strength while decreasing body fat, stick to compound over isolation movements.
Sanchez: Whenever I find myself pressed for time, I incorporate supersets, either pairing two exercises that hit the same muscle group back to back or pairing two exercises that hit different muscle groups, like shoulders and biceps, back and triceps, or quadriceps and hamstrings. Doing supersets helps increase your intensity and cuts down on rest periods.
(For a solid, timesaving superset-focused workout, check out NutraBio Athlete Sarah Hunsberger's Four-Week Guaranteed Fat-Loss Plan.)
2. I get so bored doing cardio, whether I'm inside or outside. Any tips to make longer-distance cardio more interesting and motivational?
Sanchez: You're not alone. Very few people can honestly say they enjoy cardio. My go-to trick to pass the time is watching fitness videos. If fitness vlogs aren't what do it for you, then find something that interests you. Before you know it, your cardio session will be done. For outside runners, I recommend finding your favorite music station you can get lost in, discover a new trail, or run at the beach—anything to distract you from the actual cardio part.
Hadzick: I listen to audio books or podcasts—when you find good ones, they make time fly by, and you can learn something new. I also suggest finding a buddy for those workouts. Not only do they make it more enjoyable and add some potential healthy competition, but they radically increase accountability.
3. Everyone recommends high-intensity interval cardio, but I'm new to it and that level of intensity is just too much for me. What would you suggest?
Sanchez: With anything in fitness, it's important to start at your own pace. If you're new to training, high-intensity anything is probably too much, too soon. I would recommend starting with steady-state cardio.
Ramirez: I agree, you shouldn't push yourself to your max effort right off the bat. When you're new, you have no idea what intensity is going to start delivering results, so begin at a lower level. Walk at a fast tempo daily for 20-30 minutes, and after 5-7 days, assess whether you're starting to see results. Once that stops being effective, add 5-10 minutes to your workout. Keep building up slowly, and soon enough you'll be ready for the more intensive challenges like HIIT.
4. I hate diets. Hate, hate, hate them! Can I get results without being hungry all the time?
Hadzick: You can—the key is to do it in a healthy, gradual way, and don't get too extreme. Far too often, I see people radically cut calories, demonize foods, or starve themselves. That's not the answer. Cut back slowly, stay hydrated, and make sure it's something you can sustain.
Sanchez: I'd suggest eating up to five meals a day, whether that be three meals and two snacks or five smaller meals. What I find helpful is spacing out my meals every 2-4 hours. That being said, what's most important is the type of food you're eating: Wholesome, nutrient-dense foods that will keep you feeling satisfied longer are best.
5. I always start strong on a diet but then fall off the wagon. What are the most common culprits that cause people to fall off a diet that I should be wary of?
Ramirez: The main culprit is setting an unreachable goal in terms of your level of experience with fitness, bodybuilding, and body transformation. Choose a goal you are confident you will be able to reach, and give yourself a fair amount of time in which to do it. It's better to set a reasonable goal of, say, losing 5 pounds in two months than trying to drop 10 in three weeks and failing—not to mention, weight loss that happens that fast is probably not permanent. It takes time and effort to change your body composition.
Sanchez: Diets are short-lived, and therefore unrealistic to stick to long term. During my offseason, when I'm not following an overly restrictive diet, this is the rule I follow: Make smarter and healthier choices. The majority of your meals should consist of things like lean meats, poultry, fish, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits. That doesn't mean your meals have to be boring—get creative with healthy recipes. You should also allow yourself a cheat here and there. The key is finding a healthy balance, one that helps you achieve your fitness goals while also allowing you to enjoy a social life and not feel guilty about it.
6. It's summer and I have barbecues and parties I'd love to go to. How do you navigate these events without skipping out on all the fun?
Sanchez: I'm a big believer in balance. When I'm prepping for a contest, I pack my meals if I go out. My friends have gotten so used to seeing me with Tupperware that it doesn't faze them anymore. When I'm in my offseason, my general rule of thumb is to make better choices—maybe skip the hot dog and have grilled chicken, skip the macaroni salad and have some greens, or have a bowl of cold fruit instead of cake. Just be conscious of your portions and remember that the focus should be on time spent with friends and family, not on what you're eating or not eating.
Hadzick: Before you go, eat a meal to fill up a little, and then you can just graze on the foods at the event. Or consider bringing a dish to share, making sure it's something others will eat, too. If you also plan ahead, eating a little less throughout the day, you can indulge a little more at the party. Just don't sweat treating yourself occasionally. We all have to live a little and enjoy ourselves.
7. Do you have any tricks to dress up the taste of bland foods? What do you do to make meals more interesting?
Ramirez: A big mistake people make when it comes to eating clean is thinking that means eating plain foods with no salt or seasoning. I disagree. Unless you have health issues and you can't salt your meals, don't stop doing it. Use fat-free, sugar-free seasoning—you can find plenty of those anywhere nowadays.
8. Are there particular must-have supplements that can make a get-lean diet easier? What are your go-to supps and why?
Ramirez: A must-have for me is a good whey isolate protein, like NutraBio's 100% Whey Protein Isolate, for those in-between and on-the-run meals. I also recommend essential amino acids, like NutraBio's EAA Energy, for recovery, as well as multivitamins and fish oil.
Sanchez: Get-lean diets can often lead to cravings, and as someone who loves to snack, it can be really difficult to overcome. Thankfully, NutraBio has some of the best supplements on the market—my go-to favorites are their Alpha EAA and Intra Blast. They come in several different flavors, but my two favorites have to be Grape Berry Crush and Dragonfruit Candy. They both absolutely help satisfy my sweet cravings throughout the day.