How to Get a Lean Body: 5 Tips to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle Mass

How to Get a Lean Body

When it comes to setting achievable fitness goals, we oftentimes get confused about what it is that we are working towards. Though losing weight is ideal, it may not be at the forefront of our minds. This is where the concept of “getting lean” comes in. 

Desiring a lean body is another way of saying that we want to be in great shape and be able to remain physically active in day-to-day life. 

So, what does it take to get a lean body? Well, we are here to let you in on the top tips to help you achieve a leaner physique. Follow along to find out more. 

What Does It Mean to Be Lean?

With a quick google search, the term lean is described as “a thin person with good physical condition.” While this is technically true, the definition fails to include anything about lean muscle, fat, and overall body composition. 

Being “lean” is more about being strong, toned, and healthy rather than simply being “skinny.” 

To get a better understanding of what it means to be lean and achieve lean muscle definition, we need to take a closer look at the difference between lean muscle and bulk muscle. 

Lean Muscle vs. Bulk Muscle 

Every one of us has lean muscle. The problem is that it’s hidden underneath a layer of fat beneath the skin. When we train our muscles at a higher volume (i.e. body building), we are likely to increase muscle mass to form bulk muscle. 

From this point, we are able to take our training regimen one step further to trim down our excess fat and show off our lean muscles. Ultimately, the process of getting lean is more dependent on losing fat compared to gaining muscle. 

According to experts in exercise and nutrition, the best way to get leaner is by engaging in a strength-based exercise regimen to maintain muscle mass while burning fat in combination with a well-balanced diet [1].

Top 5 Tips to Help you Lose Weight and Gain Lean Muscle Mass

There are plenty of exercise programs and diet fads that claim to help us lose weight – from intense (read: HIIT) workouts to calorie-restriction diets and everything in between. Though, when it comes to achieving a lean, healthy body, these efforts are useless if they can not be maintained for years to come. 

For this reason, we have specially curated a list of 5 tips to help you lose weight and gain lean muscle with total ease. 

1. Cut Calories

Controlling the calories we consume is one of the most effective ways to lower our body fat percentage. True weight loss occurs when we're in a “calorie deficit”, meaning that we are burning more calories than we eat in a day [2]. 

To get lean, we must lower our caloric intake slightly below our daily calorie needs so that we can burn the stored body fat that surrounds our muscles. A calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is effective for sustainable, long-term weight loss. 

In addition to cutting calories, it’s also essential to be mindful of the quality of calories we consume. Since not all calories are created equally, it’s important to consider the nutritional value of these foods too. Some of the best fat-burning, muscle-building foods are also those that are rich in nutrients such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dietary fiber. 

2. Boost your protein intake 

Protein is an essential macronutrient that will not only help us build a lean physique, but will keep us feeling full during a caloric deficit. Experts explain that a diet rich in lean protein is more likely to help individuals gain and/or maintain more muscle mass, prevent muscle loss while dieting, and keep them on track to their fat loss goals [3]. 

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, if you’re on a caloric deficit diet, you should be consuming anywhere between 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to help build and maintain lean muscle tissue [4].

Here are some high-protein, healthy foods they recommend:    

  • Chicken and turkey

  • Sardines, salmon, tuna

  • Red meat such as pork and beef 

  • Quinoa

  • Eggs

  • Cottage cheese

  • Nuts and legumes

  • Full-fat yogurt

3. Lift Heavier Weights 

Resistance training is an important aspect of looking leaner. Though weightlifting is typically done for the purpose of muscle growth and overall bulk weight gain, using the proper intensity and frequency can help you preserve muscle mass during weight loss. For example, higher training volumes are associated with lean muscle growth which helps the body metabolize fat and calories more readily [5]. 

Since skeletal muscle makes up nearly 40% of our total body weight, evidence suggests regular resistance training may also be influential in modifying metabolic risk factors such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity on account of muscle development [6]. 

The best exercise program for losing weight and maintaining lean tissue growth is one that:

  • prioritizes compound exercises (i.e. squats, bench press, deadlift, etc.) and maintains consistency of these movements within a training block/timeframe; 

  • progressively increases training volume (i.e. hypertrophy training); and  

  • effectively alternates between periods of recovery time and training blocks to ensure proper muscle recovery 

4. Try fasted cardio 

Fasted cardio is an excellent aerobic exercise technique that can help you increase fat burning processes, boost athletic performance, and get lean quickly! 

The goal of fasted cardio is to perform any type of aerobic exercise such as biking, running, or rowing on an empty stomach. Research has found that during a fasted state, our cells have low glycogen levels, which is the primary energy source to help us perform work, causing us to burn fat faster compared to a fed state [7, 8]. 

In combination with a healthy diet, fasted cardio is shown to be effective in burning calories we don’t need and contributing to a successful weight loss journey. For optimal benefits, fasted cardio should be done 1-2 times per week at a low-to-moderate intensity.  

5. Drink plenty of water 

The last tip to achieving a lean physique is to make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. In combination with other healthy lifestyle choices, including diet and exercise, drinking more water can help us lose fat, boost muscle performance, and promote lean muscle gains.

Experts have found that drinking 0.5 liters of water can increase the amount of calories burned for an hour in a process known as “water-induced thermogenesis” [9, 10]. In addition, this zero-calorie beverage is an excellent appetite suppressant to help keep our hunger at bay throughout the day. 

Water also plays a vital role in transporting nutrients needed for producing protein and glycogen compounds (the building blocks of muscles). As a result, water is shown to help build lean muscle, alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness, and positively affect muscle performance [11]. 

The Bottom Line on Getting Lean

Getting leaner is a common goal for many people these days. The problem is that most of us are taking extreme measures to lose weight and gain muscle without considering the need for long-term sustainability. 

These tips are not only great for any body type, but they provide healthier, more practical lifestyle changes that can help you achieve a lean body without fail.

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