A Guide For Dieting To Single Digit Body Fat – Part 1

In Part 1 and 2 of the series, “From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder – Why and How I dieted to 7% Body Fat”, I outlined the process of getting into contest shape for my first bodybuilding show on the 9th November 2014. In the 3rd part I documented how I fared in the show and my thoughts on the peculiar spectacle that is bodybuilding!

If you’d like to read those instalments before this one they can be found here – http://www.deluxenutrition.co.uk/blog/. In the next series, “Dieting to Single Digit Body Fat” (two articles), I will discuss the means of how you can do it too.


As I had touched on in part 1 of this series, I am aware the transformation I made for my bodybuilding show is nothing earth shattering. But I genuinely feel, coming from a powerlifting background where I had zero knowledge of nutrition, diet and bodybuilding itself, I can offer a lot to the average person who wants to make real positive changes to their physique.

I knew nothing to start with too – but through this experience I have picked up a significant amount of good knowledge, tips and tricks “from the trenches”, where I had to work hard to figure out the most optimal approach to losing body fat.

Read this article and avoid the usual ‘paralysis by analysis’ that you get when seeking answers on how to lose fat – particularly on the internet, or what you hear from work colleagues or friends. Too many people think they are experts and that their views are ALWAYS the correct ones, particularly in the fitness industry.

I am no expert on nutrition, but I feel my physique was testament to how your average person/trainee can get into single digit body fat percentages.

Therefore, I am going to discuss the pertinent lessons learned, written out simply but effectively in the quest to lose body fat for aesthetics or for a bodybuilding show. I will not outline you a diet and training program. However, I will give you the means of how to make an effective diet and training plan for the goals found below. You just need to apply it yourself.

This article is applicable to both the lay person and established trainee alike. If you are an advanced bodybuilder or similar, this article would still be relevant but of course there would have to be some tweaks to specific details. You want to read this article if you:

  • Want to get in the best shape of your life – single digit body fat.
  • Would like to get ‘shreddy’.
  • Would like to compete in a bodybuilding show.
  • Have a photo shoot coming up.
  • Have an ‘aesthetic holiday’ in the near future etc etc.

Before we begin, I’d like to point out that it’s simple to do – pretty much anyone can diet to single digit body fat for aesthetics or competition. Simple of course does not mean painless – it demands a synergy of will, determination, persistence, fidelity and some knowledge.

Dieting Priorities

There are laughable amounts of diet ‘types’ (including the renowned ‘fad’ diets) out there. Although some are based on sound fundamental principles, what they really seek is money and reputation enhancement.

They pull the wool over your eyes because they could not sell something that in reality/theory is relatively simple – it’s not complicated. I will stress this constantly throughout.

It annoyed me more than anything when trying to construct a plan that so much information I came across felt the need to try and ‘reinvent the wheel’ with diet and nutrition. If you want to implement a dieting approach such as Intermittent Fasting (IF), Carb Nite, Carb Backloading etc etc. Fine. I won’t stop you, but just remember what’s important (calories and macronutrients) and this is what I will go on to discuss now.

Figure 1 - Part 1
Figure 1: Inputs for diet success (courtesy http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/09/14/clean-eating-vs-iifym-advanced-athletes/)

Figure 1 above outlines the inputs for dieting success. Let’s briefly summarise them in order of importance:

  1. CALORIES IN VERSUS CALORIES OUT – Also known as calorie balance; this has the greatest effect on any diet and is the single most important variable in dieting success. It basically implies that fat loss is mostly a matter of eating less food/calories and is a physical inevitability.

Calorie balance is the ratio between calories taken in and calories expended in any one individual (usually measured over the course of a week to cancel out fluctuations, but logged each day).

The following short video is a great (and amusing) watch on just how important calorie balance is – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzcE9gBqJxo.  This exposes two main inferences: that it is simply ‘ANY CALORIES’ (Thanks Yusef), ideally you would want specific macronutrients in your diet (see input 2 below).

However, if you are in a negative calorie balance it is virtually impossible not to lose weight regardless of your ratio of carbs/protein/fats you are consuming.

Moreover, it also unmasks the second inference – the diet/food industry promote the myth that you need to eat whatever food is seen as THE contemporary health food(s) to lose weight..untrue! No thanks. Cheers though. Please see one great example from my friends over at Propane Fitness (http://propanefitness.com/) in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 - Part 1
Figure 2: The ‘Healthy Food’ myth (courtesy http://propanefitness.com/calories-getting-bogged/)

Of course, Figure 2 is just one example. It’s not telling you to go out and eat bag after bag of crisps or that hummus is bad for you but what it does imply is that you CAN eat crisps and lose weight, if it does fit your calories and your macronutrients. The same can be said for fruit, there are large amounts of sugar in fruit but because it is perpetuated as ‘healthy’ people try to eat copious amounts of it while on a diet. Stick to your vegetables instead.

Any time you lose faith, feel discouraged and get caught up in all the claptrap out there, remember that it’s “ANY CALORIES”. Simple, basics and the fundamentals is what you want. Not overcomplicated drivel.

  1. MACRONUTRIENTS – This is the second most important input and refers to the make-up of your diet – protein, carbohydrates and fats. There are many ratios of these you can apply in a diet and still lose weight if your calories are in line.Personally, I kept my protein as the highest macro throughout the duration of the diet which led to 135g protein, 105g carbs, 27g fat (1,200 calories) for me 4 weeks out (I don’t recommend these low numbers). It is recommended by many that you should keep protein as your highest macro too as protein is the most important for muscle retention in a diet.

    Around 1g protein per 1lb of bodyweight is recommended. Carbs come second in importance, are needed for fuelling training and everyday activities and can vary in amount depending on the intensity of activities on an individual day. Finally, fats come last; healthy fats should be consumed in small amounts for health and hormonal function.

  2. NUTRIENT TIMING – This refers to meal frequency and meal timing in relation to activity. Generally, nutrient timing has a much smaller effect on body composition than the first two inputs and is not hugely pivotal in fat loss. In my opinion, it should not be closely considered unless you are a high level bodybuilder or similar. Focus on the first two inputs for dieting success but be sensible with when you eat your meals too. For example, don’t eat a big meal 10 minutes before a workout or eat just one giant meal a day.
  3. FOOD COMPOSITION – Refers to the quality of your food i.e how ‘high quality’ your sources of macronutrients are. This is often argued as the ‘if it fits your macros, it doesn’t matter’ argument e.g haribos versus sweet potatoes for your carb sources (if it still fits your macros and calories). More on this later.
  4. SUPPLEMENTS – Although supplements come last in terms of importance in the graph, it is particularly difficult to measure their specific effect. In the context of my diet, I don’t believe they were the determining factor.However, I really found them invaluable because Deluxe Nutrition’s Whey and Casein are very low calorie and therefore didn’t dent my overall daily calories too much, while allowing me to meet my macros much easier because of their excellent macro content. Also, there has for many years been great evidence complementing the effects of caffeine in a fat loss protocol so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Deluxe Nutrition’s caffeine tablets as they kept my energy in check on such low calories.

    The Deluxe Nutrition multivitamins/minerals would also be useful for making sure your vitamin intake is in check too.

I hope you have now established that the two most critical inputs are of course calories in versus calories out and your macronutrients ratios, unless you are a high level bodybuilder nothing else matters. Read that sentence again.

Dieting Approach

Regardless of your dieting approach, you are often going to be hungry at times. You need to accept this. However, you can make things easier for yourself. Personally, I followed a flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach which, as the name suggests, allows you to eat what you want as long as it fits your pre-set calories and macronutrients.

This does not mean I didn’t eat ‘clean’ but that I allowed myself some leeway to enjoy treats I may have been craving at the time as long as it fit my macros (and calories). Simple.  Of course, this approach still allows the dieter to attain great results or not many would do it.

Figure 3 - Part 1
Figure 3: A chunky 75kg in April 2014 (left) to 63kg the week of the show – November 2014 (right)

Won’t take my word for it? All you need to do is search for all the IIFYM transformations on the social media platforms. Again, unless you are a top level bodybuilder I would highly recommend you use this approach too. This approach is excellent for the following reasons:

  • Encourages dieting compliance – it’s easier than constant rigid ‘clean eating’ to adhere to so your failure rate is greatly decreased.
  • It allows you to have ‘treats’ you may have been craving and to socialise and consequently, have a life.
  • It prioritises the two overarching inputs of dieting success – calories in versus calories out and macronutrient breakdown.
  • You will see results while still enjoying your food.

Just don’t take the piss with it and be sensible. Also remember not to overcomplicate the process, often clean eating can be simpler because it’s so clear cut what you can eat.

Additionally, for long term health just be cautious how much crap you are eating and for how long you have been doing so. In the last month of the diet I did however really hone in my food choices and calories (as outlined in part 1 of “From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder…”) which meant I had no choice but to eat ‘clean’. I recommend you do this too when approaching the final phases of your diet.

What is really invaluable to any dieting approach is to track your calories. We are so lucky in this day and age that there are apps to you let you do this easily at the click of a button. “Aint no one got time” to spend their day weighing out food portions.

The free app ‘MyFitnessPal’ from the app store was so critical for me (and so many others) to track calories and macronutrients. It has thousands and thousands of different foods from loads of brands/supermarkets etc. It even has booze on it too! So when you eat a food simply search for it and log it (once you have set your goals/calories/macronutrients on it).

A quick note on ‘cheating’ in a diet (going over your calories for that day) – having a cheat meal once a week or so can help to refresh your mental strength and can serve to speed up metabolism slightly also.

Problems arise here in overdo-ing it and/or generally thinking that you have ruined your diet and there is no turning back because you ‘cheated’ after investing so much time and energy in trying to lose the weight in the first place. Wrong!

The key here is to accept what you have done, accept you cannot take it back, but perhaps most critically, accept that you can control anything you do from that point on if you want the outcome bad enough. An example would be considering setting your calories lower for the next day if you had cheated the previous day. Just know it’s gonna take you a wee bit longer to shift the weight if you have cheated – but don’t be disheartened.


Continued in the second and final part – coming soon.


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