The above is a photo (shameless selfie) of yours truly after adhering to my own system if guidelines for around two months. To be fair I don't have a before photo, but while I never let myself fall too far out of shape, I was definitely a lot smoother in the arms and chest while my abs were barely visible. I lost approximately 6-8lbs during that time frame.
To experience similar results (of course varying results being that we're all unique snowflakes), there are certain things you MUST do. Granted, there are countless choices you can make that will benefit your health and body composition, but there are only a handful of things you MUST do in order to experience the fastest changes in your body possible. And let me be clear (Obama voice), this is mid May, and if you're trying to get results for summer, you need to nail these Musts without exception.
You Must Track Your Food
You have probably heard that nutrition is 70% of the battle, or some other made-up percentage. While we really can't nail down what percentage nutrition plays in the quest for leanness, we do know nailing it is a MUST.
In order to do this you need to determine your total daily energy expenditure, and you need to eat at a 15-20% deficit. I like this deficit range because it nourishes your body enough to fuel your workouts but still puts you in a state to lose fat.
I personally like to take a high protein approach to this, and go with a 40% protein, 35% fat, and 25% carbs. This macro nutrient split is not a must, but it is a very effective split and pairs great with the above caloric deficit MUST.
If you have never determined your daily caloric expenditure or tracked your food intake before, I recommend checking the internet for a calculator, and using an app like MyFitnessPal to track your food.
You Must Prepare
This goes hand-in-hand with the above MUST, but when it comes to getting lean, you need to be a boy scout. What I mean is always be prepared or preparing.
We live in a world where time is by far our most precious commodity. People with average middle class incomes are willing to pay good money for time saving services, which means it is no longer a luxury anymore. Time is sparse and it is valuable.
When you begin trying to squeeze in workouts and healthy meals between your already chaotic life, you will soon realize why preparation is so key, and why you absolutely MUST prepare in order to be successful. It usually takes people a week or two of attempting to cook every night, search for restaurant lunches that will serve their purpose, and failing to hit workouts before they realize that prepping is not an option, but a MUST.
You need to prep two things, and those are workouts and food.
Your workouts must be scheduled as urgent priority. They need to be entered in your calendar on your phone, on the to-do list, and considered regular scheduled maintenance that MUST be done. Many times people prioritize workouts a little bit lower than this, and they fall lower and lower down the list, because I promise there is always going to be something else you feel you could or should be doing. You need to think of your body as your game piece, and take care of it as such. The leaner, meaner, stronger, and fitter your game piece is, the better you will play whatever game it is that you play (work, school, family).
Regular work on your game piece is a MUST, and it must be intense. If you're looking to get lean for summer, you cannot phone in your workouts. Incorporate upper-body/lower-body super sets, use circuits, emphasize multi-joint exercises, and shorten your rests. You need metabolic disturbance to facilitate the quickest change possible, which means doing more work in less time.
One trick I like to use in order to keep the intensity of a workout at the optimal intensity is to monitor heart rate instead of time between sets. As soon as the heart rate returns to between 120-135 (depending on the person), begin the next set. This is a nice balance between metabolic disturbance, but being recovered enough between sets to perform at a high level in the following set.
Hit your workouts hard around three to four times per week, and fill in a couple of your rest days with 30-40 mins of low intensity steady state cardio. I know it's cool to hate cardio right now, and I'm not going to get into any counter attacks, I am just saying for faster fat loss results, do it. Just don't do it at the exclusion of your weight training.
You also MUST prep your food. Select a window of time during the week where you have around two hours. For most people this is a Sunday afternoon, but it can be any time that works. This is food prep time, for at least the next four to five days. This will solve the problem of trying to cook each night, and scouring the city for healthy lunches. It will also save you some dollars. These meals don't need to be fancy and overly time consuming. In fact that's the whole point. Throwing some meat, vegetables and potatoes in the crock pot with some chicken broth, or baking a weeks worth of chicken breasts with some seasoning of your choice will generally do the trick. You can also boil a big pot of rice, bake some potatoes, or steam some vegetables. Split it up into ready-to-go meals, and now you're nailing your nutrition.
This is not only a MUST because of the shortage of time, but also because of stress. Many of us stress eat, and I am definitely included in that. When you're stressed, your bucket is full and you just don't have the same capacity for intelligent decision making. You DEFINITELY don't want to add more tasks to your list, so you absolutely will not be cooking. You are also looking to feel better, and you want that NOW. This is where the family size bag of Reese Bites comes in and destroys your progress and takes your whole campaign for a lean body off its rails. Food prepping will solve this, and solving this is a MUST.
You Must Be Consistent
This applies to everything already mentioned above. This isn't baseball, so batting .300 is NOT good. You need to be batting .950 to win this game, and that means nailing the above day in and day out.
Many people make the mistake of searching for motivation to stay on track, but this is actually the mistake that causes those same people to miss the mark. You don't need motivation. In fact, you need to scoff at motivation, maybe even bite your thumb at it. Okay, maybe that was a bit extreme, I apologize.
The point is, motivation is fleeting. All the Instagram meme's in the world won't fuel you with enough motivation to truly hit your goals. What motivation is useful for is making decisions. It's a great time to decide and commit to a goal, but that's where it ends. To REACH your goal, you need dedication, and that means doing the things whether you feel like it or not. In order to succeed you don't need to find the motivation, you need to dedicate yourself to it and realize that you are going to be doing these things necessary no matter how high or low your current motivation is.
There are countless life changes that will contribute to a leaner, stronger and healthier body, but the above are the uncompromising few that you need to look at first. There is no way around it, and focusing your energy on nailing the above mentioned MUSTS will save you a ton of time, effort, and hard-learned lessons. Time is our most precious commodity, use it wisely, and make every single day a day of growth, progress and improvement.