How to stay lean once you’re ripped

Lean muscle bodybuilder

Diet, exercise and a lot of determination
Source: Classic Bodybuilders

In a previous article we discussed how to shed the fat, but how do you stay lean.

Keeping trim is a complicated subject, and you’ll need a good understanding of complex training and diet mechanics.


Over the years, I have learnt how to get my body to look exactly the way I want it to, and it always comes down to one very important point – diet.

Although the time we spend in the gym is often considered the deciding factor in building a muscular, lean physique, it is not. It’s important, but you simply cannot out train a bad diet. Maintaining a good, healthy diet which provides all the macronutrients you need – whilst also keeping your intake of essential vitamins at optimal levels – is by far the most important aspect of staying lean.

We’ve talked about how to structure your diet when bulking in our Beginners Guide to Bulking Up. But when the goal is to maintain a lean physique, you have to tailor your diet. Let’s take a look at what you should eat in order to stay lean.

Macro Breakdown

Whilst a typical bulking diet will consist of a 40/40/20 split of carbohydrates/proteins/fats, it is common practice when maintaining to adjust this to 20/60/20, thereby getting a good portion of your daily calories from protein sources. This will help maintain your muscle mass, whilst the low carb intake will help avoid fat storing insulin spikes.

It is very important not to drop fat levels too low. You need daily fat to regulate hormone levels and prevent disruption to bodily functions such as insulin and oestrogen regulation.

You should also calculate your daily maintenance calories. Make sure you don’t exceed these if the goal is to maintain. There are many calorie calculators available; I use this one from Free Dieting.


Although diet is the key player in maintaining your physique, without frequent training your muscle mass will eventually atrophy (a decrease in the mass of a muscle), leaving you with little definition and shape.

Since your maintenance intake is less than your bulking intake, you will find your endurance and strength may suffer slightly. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal, and as long as you are still working with heavy sets to failure, this should be more than adequate to keep your muscles growing and body fat low.

If you want to put on muscle and maintain a low body fat percentage, you’ll have a hard time. Known as body recomposition, it is generally unachievable without using illegal steroids or being genetically gifted.

It is widely accepted that if you want to grow, you’re going to have to put some body fat on in the process. The good news is that if you keep the carbs relatively low, and make sure you hit the high protein targets of your daily macros, fat gain will be minimal and can easily be shed after finishing up your bulk.


Supplements such as low fat, low carbohydrate proteins such as whey protein isolate powder are logical choices. Creatine is also a fantastic aid in the goal of maintaining muscle mass, not just by improving physical performance in the gym but also in augmenting the visual appearance of key muscle groups.

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