Around this time of year, people are making all kinds of resolutions to improve their health.
Some people want to lift more weight in the gym and possibly beat their all time 1-rep maxes on the “Big 3” (squat, bench, deadlift).
Other people want to run a full-on marathon, training for 1-2 hours a day to prepare themselves for the big event.
And as always, millions of people will say they just “want to be healthier” (whatever that means).
But if you’re still struggling to choose a New Year’s Resolution to get your health fully optimized…
Why Getting Lean Should Be Seen As An International Health Crisis
I’m not exaggerating when I say the world is getting fatter at an unprecedented rate.
According to Statista, NEARLY 39% of adults worldwide (ages 18 and up) are overweight.
It gets 10x worse if you look at the United States of America.
Take a quick peek at Wikipedia and you’ll see just how FAT we are getting right now:
“In 2013 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 57.6% of American citizens were overweight or obese. The organization estimates that 3/4 of the American population will likely be overweight or obese by 2020.
A forecast based on early long-term trends suggests that more than 85% of adults will be overweight or obese in the U.S. by 2030.
Obesity has been cited as a contributing factor to approximately 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year and has increased health care use and expenditures, costing society an estimated $117 billion in direct (preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to weight) and indirect (absenteeism, loss of future earnings due to premature death) costs”
How do these people die off, you may ask?
Real simple – much like inflammation, obesity is at the heart of numerous health problems:
Numerous types of cancers (breast, kidney, etc.)
Cardiovascular disease (stroke, hypertension)
Type 2 Diabetes
Increased risk of physical disability
Read the list above very carefully; this is the life you are CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSING if you are overweight and/or obese!
The Difference Between Being Lean And Being Skinny
On the other hand, you can choose the “forgotten fountain of youth” by embracing a lean, muscular and healthy physique.I’m not just talking about a skinny physique – you can be ‘skinny fat’ and still at risk for numerous health problems (suboptimal bone density, poor gut health, etc.).
In fact, many older individuals suffer from a loss of lean muscle mass as they age, due to a mix of poor lifestyle habits and a medical condition known as “sarcopenia” (i.e. muscle wasting):
“On average, between the ages of 40-60, a person gains about 1 pound of fat per year and loses a 1/2 pound of muscle. By age 75, 50% of your muscle mass can vanish!
Beyond the loss of strength that occurs with reduced muscle mass, a loss in lean tissue affects our health in many ways and even puts us at greater risk for disease”What we’re going for is an athletic-looking physique that is both sustainable long-term and leaves you looking(and feeling) good naked.
But don’t get it twisted – being lean offers you an exceptional quality of life which goes far beyond mere vanity.
The 1st Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Living A Happier, Longer Life
I think it goes without saying that everyone would like to add as many years to their life as possible, right?
If you’re nodding your head up and down, then being lean should be your primary focus.
A 2010 analysis done in the New England Journal of Medicine examined 1.5 million Americans over a period of 10 years using multiple studies.
As any rational person would conclude, the people with the highest body mass index (BMI>40, which falls under “morbid obesity”) were 2.5 times more likely to have died during the 10 years.
And of course, those with a normal body mass index (20-24.9) had the lowest date rate regardless of age category.
But here are the more surprising takeaways:
The most common cause of death amongst overweight/obese people was cardiovascular disease.
The study was only done on WHITE Americans.
Even more shocking is having to debunk the notion that there are people who are both fat AND fit:
“…nurses in the mid-range overweight category who were physically active (as little as one hour a week counted) had a lower risk of death than lean nurses who were inactive (exercising less than an hour per week). Being a little active and a little fat wasn’t such a bad combination.
But physical activity didn’t completely eliminate the risks that attended being overweight or obese. In fact, when the nurses were grouped by how active they were, the heavier nurses were more likely to have died than the lighter ones at every activity level.
Here’s the real bad news: Even putting on a medium amount of weight (9–20 pounds) during adulthood was associated with a higher risk of death.”
Look, let’s not live in a fairy-tale fantasy: If you’re overweight, you are asking for a shorter life.
It will end a lot sooner than you think, and in a way that will prove to be most painful.
On the flipside, being lean will allow you to live longer and prosper.
As I said in Living A Fully Optimized Life, “Building muscle helps you live a fully optimized life that allows you to age gracefully, while keeping your mind and your body dialed in.”
The 2nd Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Preventing Diabetes
By having a lean physique, you are able to increase your body’s insulin sensitivity (thereby reducing insulin resistance) and better manage your blood glucose levels.
With more muscle mass, you can absorb more of the glucose in your bloodstream and use it as glycogen to fuel your workouts.
But being lean is only one part of the equation…you also need to pack on some skeletal muscle mass:
“For each 10% increase in the skeletal muscle index (ratio of muscle mass to total body weight), there is an 11% reduction in insulin resistance and a 12% reduction in prediabetes.”
In fact, being lean without any muscle will set you up for diabetes just as well as being fat:
“…low muscle mass may be an early predicator of diabetes – independent of body fat.
In other words, it’s possible that regardless of your body fat percentage, the less muscle you have the more likely you are to develop diseases such as diabetes.”
This is why I emphasized the importance of having a lean AND muscular physique at the start of this article.
Losing the fat lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, or even being prediabetic.
Gaining muscle mass allows your body to manage its blood sugar levels more efficiently.
The 3rd Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Sleeping Peacefully At Night
Being fat makes it WAY harder to get a good night’s sleep.
I’m not joking — one of the most common problems with being overweight and/or obese is sleep apnea, which means your breathing is disrupted.
Due to your airways becoming more blocked, partial obstruction begins to take place.
This problem affects more than 18 million Americans, and most of those individuals are overweight.
And that’s not even getting into the other sleeping problems, such as hypoventilation (which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease) and excessive snoring.
Using the findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey done in the UK in 2017, you can SINGULARLY blame obesity on poor sleep:
“After adjustment for age, ethnicity, sex, smoking, and socioeconomic status, sleep duration was negatively associated with body mass index (-0.46 kg/m2 per hour, 95% CI -0.69 to -0.24 kg/m2, p < 0.001) and waist circumference (-0.9 cm per hour, 95% CI -1.5 to -0.3cm, p = 0.004), and positively associated with high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (0.03 mmol/L per hour, 95% CI 0.00 to 0.05, p = 0.03).”
Put another way, being lean and muscular allows you to sleep more AND get more “deep rest” out of the hours you spend sleeping.
The 4th Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Your Daily Life Is 20x Easier
This has nothing to do with how other men and women stare at you when you walk on the beach (although depending on your goals, that could arguably make your life easier).
Once you get lean, it’s far easier to maintain the physique you have.
You know what foods you need to eat (or avoid), you know the training regimen you need to follow, and any other supporting habits have now become automatic.
Provided you don’t deviate heavily from your current regimen for a long period of time, it’s entirely possible to “autopilot” the way you maintain your physique.
I’ll even give you a prime example of how being lean is a massively powerful life hack…
As a lean and muscular individual, you have a larger margin of error when it comes to your eating habits.
Because you have more muscle mass, your body is far more effective at partitioning the nutrients you feed it.
Which means you can tolerate higher carbohydrate intakes, and the carbohydrates you consume are NOT primarily stored as fat (the opposite happens in overweight, inactive people).
By extension, this means two things:
You can “get away” with eating more sugar.
You can selectively consume carbs before, during and after working out for maximum performance and recovery.
There was even a study done in Fukuoka University showing how lean people can easily pig out for several days and see virtually no change in body composition.
Healthy, non-obese Japanese men in their 20s (average BMI = 21) ate 1500 calories ABOVE their maintenance caloric intake for 3 days straight.
They were also specifically told to AVOID working out!
Bodyweight, fat mass and fat-free mass were recorded before and after the feeding to track changes:
And these individuals primarily increased their carbohydrate intake, with protein intake comprising 11% of the total calories consumed.
From personal experience, I can say this study is accurate.
I’ve personally eaten unrestrained while on vacation for 1-2 weeks, and come back home with an equally impressive physique.
It’s about as close to “lean privilege” as you can get!
(Side note: If you’re lean and injecting therapeutic testosterone, you don’t have to worry about penetrating beyond excess visceral fat into your muscle!)
The 5th Health Benefit Of Being Lean: The Freedom To Move Your Body As You Want
My good friend Bryan Krahn wrote an article a while back on why people should get lean, and Reason #8 stood out to me the most:
“You’ll Move Better. Some fat people are surprisingly nimble. They’re also usually young and athletic. Very few chunky, older bros are wowing the world with jaw dropping mobility. Extra fat just takes up space and slows you down.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The increased athleticism that comes with being lean cannot be described in words — it has to be FELT for one to truly understand.
A lean and muscular body allows you to do so much more.
Without all of the fat making you heavier for no good reason at all, you become more nimble.
You find yourself more flexible, able to easily do movements and stretches that previously proved to be impossible.
Jumping, sprinting, pushing, pulling…your ability to do all four improves virtually overnight.
If you’re having a hard time grasping how body fat affects your movement, Built Lean uses a great analogy involving a race horse to showcase how a “little” fat can be a major performance killer:
“A race horse is an amazing physical specimen that typically weighs 1300 pounds at around 5-6% body fat and can run up to 45 mph.
How much weight do you need to add to a horse to slow it down?
2-5lb is all the extra weight needed to slow down a horse so that it loses a race.
In fact, only 2lb extra will slow down a horse roughly 8 feet, or one horse length.”
Exercise professor Dr. Todd Milton took this analogy further and conducted a research study on college athletes in prime condition:
“For a 170 pound athlete, a fat gain of 3.4 pounds (2%) could result in a vertical jump height loss of 2 inches, and a 40 yard dash time increase of 0.26 seconds.
If you are not familiar with the 40 yard dash, 0.26 seconds is an eternity.
This is the same sprint test all NFL football players must do at the NFL Combine, which tests the athletic ability of all the athletes before entering the league.
A 0.1 second difference can mean millions of dollars.”
So if you ever wondered why you could magically do more pull-ups and push-ups when you lost a few pounds of fat, now you have the answer.
The 6th Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Better Mental Health
If you are overweight or obese, it should come as no surprise that your mental health is also poor:
“Compared to their normal-weight peers, adolescents with overweight or obesity reported psychosocial problems and suicidal thoughts more often.
Victimization was a significant mediator in the relationship between having overweight, and psychosocial problems (indirect effect OR: 2.3; 95% CI 1.5, 3.7 and direct effect OR: 1.4; 95% CI 1.2, 1.7) or suicidal thoughts (indirect effect OR: 2.1; 95% CI 1.4, 3.2 and direct effect OR: 1.3; 95% CI 1.1, 1.5)”
Some researchers still question whether poor mental health causes obesity, or if it’s the other way around.
Only now are we starting to truly embrace the vital connection between the body and the mind.
You can’t have one without the other.
In fact, it’s been recently shown that having high levels of body fat is literally linked to brain SHRINKAGE:
“The researchers analyzed brain scans and found that higher levels of body fat were tied to lower brain volumes in certain areas.
Specifically, too much body fat was linked to reduced amounts of gray matter — the brain tissue that contains nerve cells — in structures in the center of the brain, the researchers said.”
And get a load of this:
“…The researchers, from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, also saw changes in the brain’s white matter — long nerve fibers that allow areas of the brain to communicate — tied to body fat”
Seeing as low grey matter is highly associated with conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s and PTSD, it’s no wonder obesity has become such a multi-faceted problem.
My take on this?
Obesity is definitely changing your brain structure, and not in a good way.
Unsurprisingly, the same foods you eat to get lean are the SAME FOODS that help reduce symptoms of various mental health problems.
The 7th Health Benefit Of Being Lean: Disease And Injury Are Kept Far, Far Away
It’s one thing to live longer, and another thing to have those extra years full of vitality and joy.
With a lean and muscular physique, you can simultaneously reduce your risk of injury and accelerate the rate at which you recover:
“People with a greater amount of lean muscle mass also have a higher bone mineral density.
Dense, strong bones prevent falls and injuries, but lean muscle mass does more than just strengthen our bones. It also stabilizes and strengthens our joints.
….Protein is essential to build and repair every type of tissue in our bodies, not just muscles.
When we are sick or injured, our body needs more protein than usual to heal and it often borrows protein from the muscles to meet its immediate needs.”
A lean physique also helps you improve your health in two ways: NOW, and LATER.
In several cases, losing a few pounds of fat can make virtually any medical condition more treatable (or at the very least more manageable).
But you also get to reap the rewards in the future:
“By cutting fat, you may be able to eliminate health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, a variety of cancers, high blood pressure and dementia.
In other words, get rid of the fat today and you can avoid all the health issues in the future that requires fat loss for maximum management.”
If you read Living A Fully Optimized Life, then you already know this to be true.
Being lean keeps you young, strong, free from inflammation and well-equipped to prevent many diseases of aging.
By reducing your body fat through natural means as quickly and efficiently as possible until you are lean, you will automatically solve the majority of your health problems.
The Ideal Body Fat Percentage For Being “Lean”
But you may be wondering: Exactly how much fat do you need to lose in order to be considered lean?
Believe it or not, there IS such as thing as being “too lean” for a long period of time.
It’s one thing to experience the mental toll it can take on you – obsessive focus on each and every calorie, missing out on social events with friends and family, and never-ending paranoia about how you look in the mirror.
But there are also negative health effects that can arise when you go from lean (7-10% body fat) to “shredded” (4-7% body fat):
Sporadic food cravings
Lack of energy
Loss of strength
So where can we find a happy, healthy medium?
According to the American Council on Exercise, this is the sliding scale that showcases the ranges in body fat percentage for each level of health:
A healthy body fat percentage for a lean adult male would be 10-12% (20-22% for women, who need more internal body fat for child-bearing purposes).
This allows you to gain all of the health benefits associated with being lean without suffering the negative effects of extremely low body fat.
If you want a visual idea of how this would look, Legion Athletics did a phenomenal job of demonstrating how men and women look at different levels of leanness:
Females on the left, males on the right.
However, there’s just one slight problem with building a lean and muscular physique through fat loss alone.
The true priority for metabolic health is lean body mass (LBM).
I explain this further in The Metabolic Blowtorch Diet, but here’s what you need to know…
With more muscle mass, you can burn more calories while you are at rest.
This makes it the great metabolic equalizer — without muscle, permanent fat loss is impossible.
So rather than chase fat loss like most people do, you should be chasing MORE MUSCLE instead.
Take a look at the chart below:
It’s the SAME chart as the one created by the American Council on Exercise, but with one’s body composition expressed in terms of LBM (relative to total weight).
If you increase your LBM, you will become healthier. Period.
How Can I Get Lean And Beyond?
Like I said in Living A Fully Optimized Life, being lean is all about an INSIDE-OUT approach to health that allows you to have many more years of exceptional living.
It will solve the vast majority of your health problems and prevent virtually all aging-related diseases.
After all, “there are no obese people in old people’s homes!”
But you need to go about it the right way.
More specifically, natural optimization tactics should always be looked at as the first line of defense before considering clinical intervention.
For this, I recommend two resources:
Metabolic Blowtorch Diet: My go-to primer for anybody who wants an effortless approach for maximum fat loss with zero muscle loss. Great for beginner and intermediate athletes.
Guaranteed Shredded: My extreme, rapid fat loss approach that involves heavy use of medications, supplements and nutrient-specific timing. Best for advanced trainees.
However, please remember that staying naturally optimized is extraordinarily difficult in our modern-day environment.
With so much environmental degradation taking place and our endocrine systems constantly under siege from pollutants in everyday products, we need an extra edge.
That edge comes in the form of hormonal optimization, and I also have two time-tested blueprints to help you take your health to the next level:
The Testosterone Optimization Therapy Bible: The ONLY comprehensive reference for fully optimizing testosterone levels and male hormonal health through the productive use of therapeutic testosterone.
Living A Fully Optimized Life: My magnum opus for optimizing your physical, mental and spiritual health (equipped with my most up-to-date list of recommended supplements and medications).
Go forth and chisel your best physique yet!