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10 Tips to Staying Lean Year Round

Updated: May 1, 2020

Autumn is here and winter is right around the corner. Let’s be honest; for many of us, that means it's growing season! The chill in the air comes at the perfect time to add calories, strength, and size. The problem with “bulking” season though, is that those extra calories you eat to increase muscle size and strength often deliver a solid portion of extra unwanted body fat. Adding muscle without adding any body fat is next to impossible, but you can increase your muscle and fat mass proportionately so that your body-fat percentage remains about the same.

Every bodybuilder, physique model, fitness model, every before-and-after transformation success story, every person who has finally reached their physique goals shares one thing in common: a long, tedious, challenging and time consuming road to get in the best shape of their life.

Those who do reach their goals deserve a congratulations for achieving something they probably once thought was impossible. The question I think that most transformation stories have are… where do you go from there?

Many (not all) physique athletes are no less interested in reaching peak condition come contest time, but have no interest in displaying much of an offseason physique, looking soft or otherwise lacking clear muscle definition. That year-round level of lean undoubtedly requires a different kind of approach than simply trying to peak for a one-time event- this is where these 10 secrets to staying lean year round comes in handy

Getting in shape is half the battle, staying that way is the other half! Often getting lean or ‘shredded’ is treated like a frantic undertaking rather than the daily norm. In a panicked rush, diets get cleaned up and training intensity, volume and frequency go absolutely insane. For many people, this is an annual routine. Whether it be competition prep, transformation challenges or just looking good to fit into that dress on the weekend, this is becoming a consistent routine in society.

Staying lean year round is incredibly challenging, and it may even be unrealistic for some people. But it’s not impossible. Of course, you can’t just work hard as hell and then cruise once you reach your goals, since your body will be inclined to go back to it’s natural equilibrium. For those of you who are determined to not only get in great shape, but stay there, below are 10 essential tips to remain lean year round. Incorporate as many as possible to ensure you look photo-shoot ready whenever you have a chance to peel off your shirt.

1. Switch up the way You Train

Do the same movements with the same load for the same sets and reps and I guarantee your body will very quickly adapt to that workout. As your body adapts you need to alter your training regimen to keep the body guessing and make continual gains. Learn how to manipulate your load, volume, intensity, rest periods, and training to failure so your body doesn’t become accustomed and plateau. This will reduce the likelihood of overtraining as well as provide a fresh mental approach.

2. Time your cheat meal with a certain workout

For individuals who work their ass off and eat clean everyday, there may be nothing more rewarding or satisfying than getting into an occasional cheat meal. If and when this is done correct this can actually be advantageous. For myself there is no more intense workout or more demanding workout than my legs session, so I will utilise my cheat meal around that particular session. After a hard workout your muscles are extremely receptive to the nutrients we throw at them. This means fast digesting carbs will create a desirable spike of insulin that helps the muscles replenish glycogen faster and protein is assimilated more readily by broken-down muscle fibres.

Cheat meals also maintain your sanity when your at your most run-down.

3. Compound your workouts

Compound or multijoint movements in which more than a single pair of joints are at work, will engage more muscle mass than isolation exercises. For example, a bench press will engage more muscles than a fly. Compound movements elicit a greater hormonal and energy response than isolation exercises, which in turn helps build more muscle and burn a greater amount of calories. Keeping this in mind, ensure your training regimen is built around squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows and overhead presses rather than bicep curls, leg extensions and flyes.

4. Choose Supplements that Match Your Goals

The supplement stack you used to get into great shape isn’t necessarily the same one you’d use to add strength and size, so your long-term goal really dictates what you should be taking. Assuming you want to stay quite lean and slowly gain muscle over time, consider whey protein, creatine, and caffeine as your starting point. These supplements have been shown to support muscle growth, fight fatigue, help you burn more body fat and increase mental drive and focus.

5. Be a Bit Selfish

With a finite amount of hours in the day, it can be difficult to justify the time it takes to prep, commute to the gym, train, stretch and do everything else it takes to reach your desired level of lean. My advice: get it done!

We all have lives, jobs, families, and responsibilities. But on the other hand, finding the time to get into the gym can help handle all those other things better. Take time to get into the gym and eliminate all the distractions.

6. Count your Macros

Being successful in the kitchen doesn’t happen by accident. Keeping tabs on your macros (protein, carbs and fat) and calories probably helped you get in shape, and it’s definitekly key to helping you maintain that. Don’t overlook the value of nutrition tracking, which allows you to stay on top of your daily caloric count.

7. Be Realistic about your body fat

While remaining shredded long after you bring your body fat down is your goal, the point at which you ultimately settle has to be both realistic and healthy. If you’re killing yourself 24/7 to a stay a ludicrously low body-fat level, you should readjust your goal.

You have to find a point where you enjoy your training, can realisyically follow an eating plan, and live a balanced life. That’s where you’ll ultimately settle. This can vary between every person. Don’t get hung up on the numbers- find the combination of elements that works best for you.

8. Stop “Dieting”

To stay lean all year round, you can’t follow an unrealistic short-term diet that simply restricts you to calories. You need to develop a lifestyle with positive habits that will be the true keys to maintaining the physique you have worked your butt off for.

You need to create and be consistent with a balance, fitness oriented lifestyle that you can pursue with passion, enthusiasm and actually enjoy it. You don’t have to with a “fitness is amy whole life” mentality, but if you want to be lean 365 days, it should be something you love.

To get to a level you are happy to maintain your diet will most likely be quite strict but the one you follow from there should be eased up on the calorie reduction. You can still cycle carbs, if you prefer, but ease up on the low days.

9. Periodorise your plans

Periodorisation means a planned, systematic approach to implementing progressive stages into your nutrition and training. The changes aren’t random but are well planned. And they lead to great results without leaving you stranded on a plateaus. Although your training split may look the same, changing the exercises and the fibres worked within that session may be different to the last. Each split could be split into 4-6 weeks with each phase having a specific goal or objective to achieve.

This style can be very effective as every time your body becomes accustomed to your program, you will switch it up. As you are constantly throwing new things at your body and giving it no other option but to adapt- you won’t need to worry about plateauing. You can program these cycles so each one has a purpose to the goals for your entire year.

10. Keep in Mind Fluctuation Is Ok

As you are working to building lean muscle and maintaining low body fat percentage you’ll notice that your weight, body fate percentage and strength will fluctuate. Just remember that this is perfectly normal. Accept the idea that your goals, the amount of food and type of you eat, the amount of water you drink, sodium intake and so many other factors will effect your appearance, weight and measurements.

If you do notice these changes as you step in front of the mirror or step on the scales do not worry. Staying shredded year round does not compare to our health and happiness. Accept that you may not have a perfect 6 pack all year round. Think of your body as it lies on a spectrum. With planned effort and dedication, you can lie on the leaner side of the spectrum regardless of your goals.

Every tip above relates to a choice you consciously have to make on a daily basis. The foods you put on your plate, the exercisers you do in the gym, the supplements you take, and the kind of fitness lifestyle you choose to follow are all based on choices. Make smart, healthy choices over time and you’ll eventually no longer have to choose. By that point, you will have built positive and consistent habits. That’s when you will learn to stay lean year round.

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