Is it even possible to get "ripped" doing paleo?

by 627 · February 15, 2013 at 11:25 PM

I've been eating paleo for at least three years and I've done very well. My weight is down from 221 to 170 and I look and feel great. I'm 45 years old and 5'10". I don't eat grains, I don't eat casein containing dairy, and I don't eat mammals. So I eat basically lots of fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, butter, heavy cream, green leafy veggies, and the occasional apple, lemon, orange, or lime, etc. I do like to have a DietRite and Whisky or a glass of wine or two with dinner. I eat one big meal per day (IF) generally 1500-2000 calories and I commute by bicycle 30 miles a day. Pushups and pullups to failure 2-3 times per week.

So I've gotten to the point where I don't know how to achieve my goal of being "cut" or "ripped". I feel like I'm doing everything "right". Taubes says calories don't count so theoretically it does no good to reduce calories. At what point does the body say "you're lean enough" and quit losing? It seems like my body likes to be at 170 which is about 10 lbs heavier than my goal of 160. Anyone know what to do at this point? Thanks!

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5624 · May 06, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I think this is an interesting question because as a former bodybuilder the only way I knew to get sub %5 BF was caloric restriction and expenditure (calories in/calories out). However, I don't think I could or would want to maintain that level of leanness for a long period of time because i just don't think most people are meant to or even can run effectively without a certain amount of BF to protect the organs, joints, etc. Of course, there are some who are genetically "gifted" and run at very low BF levels very effectively but I think that is a very very small portion of the population.

Now back to your original question....I think Taubes is correct to a point. But I think you have hit that point! Your body obviously needs an extra "push" to lose additional BF or get ripped. The only push I know is either more exercise or less calories or even both.

Another suggestion, and something I tried when I was bodybuilding, was carb/caloric cycling. Essentially do a cycle of something like 3 days of restricted carb/calorie followed by a one day of excess carb/calories. Restricted and excess meaning lower or high than your "BMR."

Other than those two suggestions, I don't see how you can get to a "ripped" form unless you are genetically gifted. Of course there are different definitions of ripped, but that is another discussion.

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155 · May 07, 2011 at 9:32 PM

Depends on your definition of paleo. If you aren't genetically predisposed to being lean in the first place, I would say no. Let me ask you this, how many people on a paleo diet would have been lean with or without it, and comparatively how many people are not at their ideal weight on a paleo diet? The ones who are satisfied with themselves are typically within a "normal" body fat range, and don't have a goal of being ripped. And most fat (long chain triglycerides) is, no surprise, easily stored as bodyfat compared to protein (read about ASP).

IF is bad, bad, bad. Where do you think the excess of those 1500-2000 kcals go within 2-6 hrs of digestion? Are they magically carried into the next 18 hrs. of the day? Oh right they are, as stored fat. Get rid of fruit, fructose is no good for you. Change your diet to high animal proteins, low fat, and go for simplicity in your diet instead of complexity.

To get ripped, you need to apply some common sense instead of relying on blind faith. And you simply need to EAT LESS, that's what I had to do anyway. Not more exercise. Reduce you calories by about 400 kcal / day and tell me you don't lose fat. I know it must be huge mental barrier to get over, but you just need to do it.

3395 · May 06, 2011 at 2:55 PM

Being ripped is having a low bf% AND having a lot of muscle. There are several approaches you could take to achieve both:

(1) Your workout regimen is pretty sparse. Try adding an Olympic lifting regimen that shoots for strength gains. No, it's not going to be a bodybuilding regimen that aims for hypertrophy only, but with strength gains come mass gains because strength is a function of the cross-sectional area of a muscle. I'd recommend Starting Strength (a book by Mark Rippetoe), StrongLifts, or some 5x5 protocol. The functional benefits of a strength program far outweigh the slightly quicker aesthetic benefits of a bodybuilding program, at least in my opinion. Adding muscle will also affect several factors that will help in either keeping weight off or losing more fat: increased testosterone synthesis, increased basal metabolic rate, increased insulin sensitivity, etc.

(2) Taubes is right in that calories aren't as important as the strict, classic energy balance theory makes them out to be, at least insofar as the essential effects of hormones are ignored in that flawed assumption, but know that calories ARE still important. If you eat 500 calories a day of only carbs, you'll lose some weight. If you eat 7,000 calories a day of only fats, you'll gain some weight. These are extremes, but it shows the limits of Taubes' framework. You can leverage the extremes, though, to your benefit. You can eat for more fatty calories than sugary calories before gaining fat, and gross caloric intake, irrespective of its source, is essential for muscle building. This means that if you were to start a strength-training program, you could (and would need to in order to see quick gains) eat ~3000 calories of fatty food with plenty of protein (~1.5g/lb body weight) and gain mostly muscle, only minimal fat. I see that you do IF... check out leangains.com for a ridiculously successful approach to keeping lean while gaining strength and muscle mass that incorporates IF and is compatible with a Paleo diet.

(3) Cortisol decreases insulin sensitivity which makes it harder for fat cells to let go of stored fats. Your daily bike ride is a cortisol machine. Cardio releases plenty of cortisol if done for long enough in a given session, and the problem gets worse if the cardio is chronic, as it is in your case. Maybe reduce the number of bike rides if possible and replace them with a long walk, rest, or some interval sprints.

(4) The heavy cream may be doing you no favors. Though it certainly has a lower casein and lactose content than milk, both chemicals are present in heavy cream, and both lead to an insulin response that could hamper your fat loss.

(5) How occasional is the fruit, and what fruit is it? If it's citrus, toss it; too sugary. If it's not citrus or berries, keep it down to only a couple of times a week. If it's berries, maybe do a handful every other day or so.

Keep trying to lose those last 10 lbs. Don't get in the mindframe that your body has reached its point of satisfaction, even if you haven't. This is paleoHACKS. We'll find a way to piss off your body and get YOU what you want :)

15831 · May 06, 2011 at 2:07 PM

I would say calories do indeed count, not that hormones and activity level do not. Realize and focus on your goal. If it really is leaning down to your desired 160 then realize its more important than your whisky, wine, 30 mile/day bike rides, etc.

I would advise eat at least twice per day, maybe three times.

Stop riding 30 miles per day. (I know its a commute and it may not be avoidable but im just advising what i feel will get you to your goal.)

Ditch the pushups and pullups to failure. (great exercises, don't get me wrong, but you're sending the wrong signals to your body if you are doing them to failure.)

Start lifting very heavy weight 2-3 times per week for low reps.

Sleep at least eight hours per night, nine or ten if you can.

Ditch any liquid calories (wine and whisky included).

Eat carbs in the 200-300 grams/day range.

Eat protein at 1 gram per pound of body weight.

Eat fat for the remainder of the calories you desire (perhaps 2000 per day would be a good starting point.).

1884 · May 06, 2011 at 2:09 PM

Eating what you're "supposed" to eat (i.e., paleo) means you'll look like you're genetically "supposed" to look. Most of us are not predisposed to be ripped. Lean, yes, but not cut like a model on the cover of Men's Fitness.

Certainly you can make it happen if you want to, but if it's a step away from your default state you will have to actually take that step to get there.

Medium avatar
39204 · May 06, 2011 at 8:31 PM

I would disagree with most everything here and simply state that you should keep doing what you're doing with some slight modifications. 30 miles is a good distance, but if you're not heavily exerting yourself for extended periods of time, then your muscles will be burning fat the entire time. Your conditioning is probably such that most of us would be exerting ourselves quite a bit and relying on glycogen but you don't. Just keep it slow and steady. Having that substantial quantity of "built-in" activity will be a huge benefit for you.

As for your workout, pullups and pushups are excellent compound exercises. I would keep doing them 3x a week, but I would do 4 sets of each every workout. I'd set it up with MWF 4 sets of pullups; TThS 4 sets of pushups. (Every set to failure). This won't be overtraining. I'm all for setting up workouts that aren't just effective, but are actually sustainable. Having the perfect workout that you get totally sick of after 2 weeks is worthless. You already do these exercises and like them, so just keep doing it. You hit most upper body muscles with them and obviously your legs are getting a great workout already so don't bother hitting them.

As for the diet, I would simply increase total meat consumption per day and decrease total fat consumption.

I would pitch the catabolic IF and just eat 3 big meals of mostly meat and tubers per day.

I'm only now getting back to where I was bodyfat-wise before I adopted a high-fat diet. When I get to a point where I want to stop losing fat, I'm just going to add fat back in until things stabilize.

As for Taubes, if you want to look like him, do what he does. If you want to be "ripped" like a bodybuilder, do what they do.

Good luck.

Medium avatar
3244 · May 06, 2011 at 5:05 PM

If your city is anything like mine, public transit can accommodate bikes. To cut down on the chronic commuter-cardio I sometimes bike one way and transit back, or drive to the outskirts with the bike on the rack, park in a public space, and beat the traffic downtown. I get the damage biking can do, but I get a huge amount of enjoyment dodging cars. Life-and-death adventure is kind of paleo isn't it...?

565 · May 06, 2011 at 2:10 PM

You'll probably have to vary your routine a little if it's been the same for a while. Your body is completely adapted to what you're doing. You're eating maintenance amounts of food. 30 miles a day is a good amount of cardio. That much cardio could be impeding muscle building. Your body is holding onto what fat it has left b/c it's in preservation mode. Try bumping up the carbs with some squashes or sweet potato a couple days a week. I know it seems counterintuitive, but it the body thinks it has different fuel to burn it won't be so stubborn to release the fat that it's holding on to.

Try adding some heavy lifting into your routine as well. It will active different energy systems. Even if it's just one day per week.

120 · May 06, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Have you seen pictures of Mark Sisson at http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ ? It is quite possible. Do you commute 30 miles via bike out of necessity or for your health? You might think about switching to more high intensity, shorter duration workouts. That 150 or so miles a week on the bike just might be causing your body to hold on too some of the fat.

375 · May 06, 2011 at 7:59 PM

Alot of the above advice is great, but I will expand just a bit. The REASON calories don't "count" is because what Does count are the hormonal signals being sent in the body. In order to achieve a leaner physique you must take into account how your modern life differs from the ancestral lifeway, and whether you are hormonally signaling to the body that it 'should' be leaner. That last 10 pounds

-CORTISOL modern life (artificial life, chronic stress, unnatural sleep patterns, alcohol consumptions, etc.) can send more of a chronic type stress signal that will disregulate cortisol (making it high when it shouldn't be or most of the time). One of the most important factors in allowing the body to use its stored fat as fuel is proper cortisol regulation. Get a long nights sleep in a very dark room, sun exposure during the day, keep stress low, and exercise intensity variable, etc.

-EXERCISE Should vary in intensity, but 30 miles of biking a day could be considered chronic cardio, and may actually make the body run preferentially on glucose (whether by food or gluconeogenesis) and not fat. Strength training and short intense sprint or max effort workouts may be favorable for fat loss.

Intermittent fasting and very low carb often work well for an initial period, after which fat loss can stall in some people. This is mostly due to the cortisol issue I mentioned above. Any amount of artificial sweetener and alcohol can also inhibit fat loss to varying degrees. Here is what I recommend you try for 10-16 weeks:

-Cut down the long distance biking to 2-3 days a week if you can (if you can't, eat a decent amount of starchy carbs like sweet potato within 1 hour afterward)

-Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks per week for this short period until your goal is met, then see how you do adding more back in.

-Add 2-3 heavy weightlifting sessions per week focusing on big compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc. ALWAYS get a good amount of protein (40-60g) and starchy carbs, NOT FRUIT, within one hour post workout to keep cortisol at bay, encourage muscle gains.

-Be sure you are sleeping 8-10 hours per night in a DARK room. This is very important when losing that last few pounds and keeping hormonal signals in balance.


200 · May 06, 2011 at 7:10 PM

yeah, i did it. i started out skinny so i didn't have all the fat too lose, but once i started working out and eating paleo style it was pretty fast from there to being "ripped". i did it strictly with bodyweight exercises and sprinting, and long walks. the key is low body fat for abs and such. I acheived a six pack with only a few exercises, planks, planche progressions (I am currently able to hold a tuck planche for about a minute) and pushups (making sure to keep entire body stiff during sets). I never had abs, was always skinny with no muscle, and was shocked at how fast I had visible abs from planks, planche stuff and pushups. shocked. i read up everything i could find about bodyweight and isometrics and found some really good things to put into practice. Now it's much easier to see how food affects my body, as in if i eat a bunch of pizza one day the next few days I can see the change in my body comp, and likewise if I have a particularly good stint of eating and training. I'm not huge by any means but when i started out Bruce Lee was my main inspiration and the more I train and eat right the more possible it seems to achieve a level of rippedness that I deem acceptable in light of masters like Lee.

1118 · May 06, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Being 'ripped' does not just mean low bf%, it means low bf with a descent amount of muscle mass. Marathon runners have very low bf% but I doubt anyone one would consider them ripped. You may be doing 'paleo' and so have insulin and food toxins managed, but that's only half the story. It sounds like you are just skinny (or maybe even skinny fat) and are probably dealing with cortisol and leptin issues.

My suggestions:

  1. Ditch the bicycle (maybe do it 1-2x a week on non-workout days) and start using public transportation/carpool/driving to work.
  2. Start lifting weights 2-3x a week, heavy, using compound exercises like stronglifts.com. Track your numbers and always aim at increasing the amount you can lift weekly.
  3. You can stay eating the way you are on non-workout days, but on the days when you lift weights you should eat around 1000 calories more, which would be ~3000kcal, consisting mainly of tubers and lean protein. Break it up into 2 meals instead of 1 large one those days to manage consuming those calories more easily.

Make those adjustments and you should definitely see improvements in body composition towards a 'ripped' physique.

20762 · May 06, 2011 at 9:11 PM

ben61820 has is right. You need to cut the chronic cardio and start lifting heavy weights. 30 miles a day riding is somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 hours on the bike. That's too much time in the oxidative pathway. Your body is going to try its best to NOT put on more muscle in that situation because then it has to feed that muscle during your long rides.

I feel that I'm reasonably ripped (especially considering that I spent most of my good formative years being a nerd and not doing any good exercise other than chronic cardio) and I'm 100% paleo (eating)

I do:

crossfit-like high intensity stuff (7-10 minutes) 2-3 times a week.

lift heavy weights (5x5, 3x3, 1x1 at 85-100% max) about 2-3 times a week.

indoor rock climb for recreation (i.e., not going there for my workout) 1-2 times a week.

eat about 5000 calories a day, at least 3000 from fat.

On that schedule I'm really happy with my body comp and performance

1346 · May 06, 2011 at 2:28 PM

another vote for hi-intensity weight lifting doing major compound exercises a couple times per week. And your chin-ups/pull-ups--add weight (I hang plates from a rachet tiedown around my waist and clamp them between my knees, very crude but efective), your upper body will start getting ripped. I think push-ups do more than benching so i switch off, so on push-up day I have my son set plates on my upper back, do my set, and then he takes them back off. again, very crude, but whatever.

0 · February 15, 2013 at 11:25 PM

I've noticed diet is only a part of the leaning process. I wouldn't suggest lowering your calories or trying to burn more by extending your time at the gym. I would recommend breaking through your exercise plateaus. In other words, your body seems to adapt very well to the environment it is put through. You mentioned that you lost over 50 pounds and you are in your forties. That combined with the fact that you are having trouble burning those last few pounds of stubborn fat. This indicates to me that your body is quick to adjust to your diet and workout and diet regimen. With that in mind, there are only a couple things you can do to breakthrough your metabolic rate plateau. For one, you need more muscle mass. If your 5 foot 10 and you are weighing in at 170 you have some room for muscle mass increase. This will help burn much more fat. That is of course easier said then done. I am not suggesting you need to lift more weights. I am talking about full body muscle mass. This is achieved by high intense full body workouts in the form of circuits, typically with body weight resistance supplemented with weights. (I can forward you an excellent free one I use if you email me for it at jrwoodield@gmail.com) Lastly to be able to successfully build the necessary muscle, You will need to consume at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, typically supplementing whey isolate or hydrolyzed whey protein shakes with added BCAA's shortly after your workout. Hope this helps! Good Luck brother

0 · January 29, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Um its pretty easy. Build more muscle and keep the same bodyfat. You need to hitthe weight more and the cardio less. I do no cardio and am ripped.

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