If you’re clocking in at 15% body fat, you’ve already earned a gold star when it comes to healthy habits. Unless you’re an endurance athlete who needs to drop body fat for speed, shooting for 10% is probably for physique more than any other reason—you want to turn your hard stomach into a fully defined six pack or you want more vascularity.
The good news? That next level can be yours within three to five months. The bad news: All of the easy-to-kick habits are already broken, and now you’re getting into things that are harder to let go of. In addition to having a thorough mastery of everything that took you from 20% to 15%, here’s what else you have to do to drop down to 10%, according to Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, VA, and celebrity trainer Lalo Fuentes, C.S.C.S.
1. Rethink your approach to food
You are no longer eating primarily for the enjoyment of flavors. “Food can still taste good, but you have to start eating for fuel dominantly more than enjoyment,” White says. That means eyeing where you’re eating too much. “Healthy guys are most guilty of overeating the good stuff—peanut butter, avocado, hummus,” White explains. But calories are calories, and if you don’t need it as fuel or for repair, you should cut back on it.
2. Focus on clean macros
Rather than cutting calories, it’s more about cleaning up the calories you have, says White. Stay between 1,800 and 2,200 calories, but switch your focus to protein and fat over carbs, and clean up the quality of what’s on your plate.
It’s time to take all those final steps—going from salted nuts to natural, regular yogurt to Greek for more protein—and cutting sugars out entirely. This is one of the biggest factors keeping guys above 15% body fat, Fuentes says. Lastly, up your fiber to 25-30g. “Not only does it help keep you full, but high protein diets can make you constipated, and fiber will help promote good GI health,” White says.
3. Live a little
“You can go into the grey a little bit when it comes to diet, but you have to be careful because the more you do this, the longer it’ll take to reach your goal,” White explains. Give yourself one indulgent meal a week if you need it. You know what a cheat meal looks like, but what about the most delicious indulgence of all—beer? Luckily, White says one light brew—infrequently—is OK since it’ll only cost you about 100 calories. But imbibing often or having more than three beers in one sitting, or a higher alcohol content pint, does.
4. Go heavier
To get to 10%, kick your workouts up to five to six days a week, White advises. That’s a combination of weight training, HIIT, and cardio. Increase to heavier weights and higher intensity, focusing on not just the big muscles but also specializing in the smaller muscles to help carve that definition.
5. Sleep more
Your most unhealthy habit probably has nothing to do with your workout or diet. Forty percent of Americans log fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, according to a Gallup poll. Not only is it harder to resist snoozing through your morning workout alarm if you hit the hay too late, but studies show the less you sleep, the higher your chances of having belly fat. Shoot for 7-8 hours a night.