Admire those ridiculously ripped guys from The Expendables? Here’s a secret that’ll come as both a relief and a letdown: Physiques like those of Stallone and crew have the life expectancy of a mayfly—a day or two after the shoot.
We’re not saying it’s CGI or Photoshop that’s responsible for creating these onscreen bodies. Rather, it’s a secret, weeklong get-shredded strategy that separates people who make their living with their bodies from guys like us who just want to eat popcorn and watch them dodge bullets. The movie stars, the underwear models, the pro bodybuilders—they don’t look like that all the time. They can’t. But when it’s go time, they’re ready with Hollywood’s biggest get-shredded secret.
Thing is, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be in on the secret, too. Whether you’re planning to hit the beach, go to a pool party, or audition for Magic Mike II, there’s a method you can follow to get as lean and hard as possible, so your muscles look like they’ve been shrink-wrapped by your skin. Follow these seven steps to get “the body” for your big moment.
Tip: Green, leafy vegetables like spinach are a must on any get-lean diet. Their fiber and water content contribute to fullness without adding many calories, and they have no effect on blood sugar, so they won’t impact fat burning. If you can’t eat enough on their own, blend them up with your protein powder to make a shake. (You won’t taste the spinach.)
1. Start Lean
Here’s the tough-love truth: If you can’t see your abs pretty well already, you need to diet to get your body fat down first. The shrink-wrap plan is primarily for losing subcutaneous water weight that’s obscuring definition, so if your belly hangs over your waistband, it’s going to take more than a week to get rid of it.
2. Do the Math
You should already be following a diet to get lean, and should therefore be aware of how much you’re eating. But to remove any guesswork, we’ll give you some numbers to hit for the week: Consume one gram of protein and 10–11 calories for every pound of your body weight; 20% of those daily calories should be from fat, and the remainder from carbs. (Remember to first subtract the protein calories you’re also eating from the total allowed before you calculate the number of carbs.) For example, a 200-pound guy following this program would consume 200 grams of protein per day, and eat 2,000–2,200 calories—that’s approximately 420 calories (about 50 grams) from fat, and 880 calories (220 grams) from carbs. Your protein and fat intake will stay relatively constant, but your carbs can be raised or lowered as needed (see Step 5). So, if you’re taking your shirt off on Saturday, begin following this protocol the Saturday prior.
Tip: Sweet potatoes offer a more sustained release of glucose than the white variety, making them a good option for energy that lasts all day. For the sake of digestion, most of your carbs on this diet should come from sweet potatoes, potatoes, and rice, as opposed to grains. Fruit (beyond a few pieces) has the potential to be stored as body fat, so limit that as well.
3. Eliminate Potential Allergens
It’s possible you’ve lost significant fat already with foods like milk, wheat bread, and artificial sweeteners in your diet, but for the next week, cut these out entirely—even if you don’t think you have an intolerance to them. Even the slightest irritation to your digestive system can cause bloating and water retention, so eliminate the risk completely. Dairy and gluten appear in numerous condiments (soy sauce, salad dressings, some brands of barbecue sauce, etc.), so to avoid a potential problem, read labels and control your intake as much as possible. Season your food with condiments such as sea salt, salsa, and balsamic vinegar instead.
4. Prime Your Muscles
Don’t work out later than three days before your event. If your party’s on Saturday, for example, do your last workout of the week on Wednesday—muscles bulge most when they’re flush with glycogen (the carbohydrates stored in muscle), so you need to give your body time to recover and replenish its glycogen stores before your unveiling. If you train too close to the big day, the carbs stored in your muscles will be depleted, and you’ll end up looking flat and soft. Furthermore, make sure this last workout focuses on the areas you want to highlight, such as chest and arms. Glycogen is replenished fastest in muscles that need it most—i.e., the ones that have just been worked—so if you want your pecs and biceps to pop, you have to make sure they soak up as many of the carbs you’re taking in as possible (explained in the next step). There’s one caveat, though: Don’t train your abs. (You’re welcome.) While you need to work abs most weeks, the point of workouts at this stage is to get the muscles that pump up well to swell further with increased glycogen storage. Since abs don’t get pumped like biceps or shoulders, it doesn’t make sense to drive glycogen into them—in fact, doing so can cause them to inflate too much, blurring definition. Also, don’t do any cardio. (Again, you’re welcome.) Because you want to maximize glycogen, interval training—which uses stored carbs for fuel—would be counterproductive. You can do some light walking or other aerobic training if it helps you keep your sanity, but nothing that could deplete your energy. Keep it to under an hour and perform it at a very low intensity.
Tip: Fruit like bananas should be consumed mainly after waking up or post-workout. They immediately stop the catabolic (muscle-breakdown) effects of your weight training and help restore glycogen quickly. However, the liver stores excess fructose as fat, especially when there are already starches in your system, so don’t rely on fruit as a major carb source.
5. Load Up Your Carbs
After your last training session (Wednesday, in this example, two full days before Saturday’s event), eat two to three grams of carbs per pound of body weight for the rest of the day. If you train at night and it’s hard to eat enough carbs before bed, you can split up the total and eat the rest of the carbs on Thursday night. Insulin sensitivity remains high for 48 hours post- workout, so glycogen will still go to your muscles. Otherwise, on Thursday, go back on the diet prescribed in Step 2. Once your muscle glycogen stores are full, they’ll remain this way for days, as long as no other strength training is performed (because muscle glycogen is burned only during high- intensity exercise). Carbing up on Wednesday also gives you time to make adjustments. If you feel you look flat and small on Thursday or Friday, increase your carbs a bit. Bloated and soft? Cut them back a bit. Make adjustments by 25–50 grams at a time.
6. Keep Drinking Water
In an effort to look even dryer on game day, some guys will drastically cut their water intake. This only causes the body to react the opposite way, causing you to retain more water to avoid dehydration. Drink your normal amount of water up until the night before the target day, at which point you should cut it back. The day of your event, halve your water intake until you’re ready to party. This will help you appear a little tighter without giving the body time to react negatively to water restriction.
7. Keep Eating Salt
It’s widely known that salt causes water retention—but if you cut it completely, your body will scramble to prevent water loss. (Sorry, but it’s smarter than you are.) Continue to salt your food as you usually do until 24 hours before you go shirtless. At that point, avoid any extra sodium (that is, beyond what’s already in your food). When you’re ready to live it up, don’t feel guilty having a drink—at least, not the first one. Alcohol at this stage will actually help your cause—giving you a tighter look—as it has a slight diuretic effect.
The Plan – Here’s how to reach your peak for a Saturday party
Saturday (one week out)
Figure out your calorie, protein, carb, and fat allowance and start eating accordingly. Eliminate all potential allergens (e.g., dairy, soy, and gluten).
Wednesday (three days out)
Complete your last workout of the week, focusing on the body parts you want to look their best on Saturday, such as arms and chest. Don’t train abs. After your workout, increase your carb intake so you’re consuming 2–3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight by the end of the day.
Thursday (two days out)
Adjust carbs if necessary, depending on how you look. Be conservative.
Friday (one day out)
Adjust carbs if necessary. Stop salting your food 24 hours before the time you plan to lose your shirt. Limit your water at night.
Avoid salt and drink half your normal water intake up until the party.