5 Steps to Get Under 8% Body Fat (Science-Based)
Check out Jeff’s transformation where he lost a whole bunch of fat!
Getting to low body fat levels is definitely challenging, but it’s also possible to achieve naturally.
If you want to lower your body fat percentage down to 6, 7, or 8 percent, then this one is for you. Discover the benefits that come with losing weight and reducing your body fat to extremely low levels, as well as the drawbacks.
And find out how to get under 8 percent body fat naturally and properly lose weight and belly fat fast in this post.
Steps to Achieving a Low Bodyfat Percentage
We all have a layer of body fat sitting on top of our muscles. And by stripping away most of the body fat, you’ll see more muscle definition, striations, and veins.
While it’s challenging to get to lower body fat levels, it’s definitely possible to achieve naturally.
So, I want to go over the exact steps you need to take to get to those really low body fat levels.
First, you have to ask yourself if this is really something that you want to do. There are some drawbacks to having a really low body fat percentage.
Some of these include:
- a lack of energy,
- low libido,
- mood swings, and
- always feeling cold
Under eight percent body fat is typically unsustainable over a long period, especially if you’re doing it naturally.
Chances are, you’ll be able to achieve extremely low levels of body fat in the short term. But in the long run, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to maintain it while feeling good.
And that’s just the truth.
But many people might want to decrease their body fat percentage for a particular event. And afterwards, you might want to bring the body fat percentage up to have you looking defined and aesthetic.
#1: Create a calorie deficit
So step number one is to create specifically a small calorie deficit.
Keep in mind if you’re overweight or obese, you’ll want to lose as much body fat as fast as possible. There are more aggressive fat loss options available for you.
Still, you’re not ready just yet to be thinking about getting down to a single-digit body fat percentage.
If you want to get to a really low body fat percentage, you should already be somewhat lean.
You should plan for it to take a reasonable amount of time, anywhere from six weeks to months, depending on how slim you are when starting out.
Why do I need a calorie deficit?
You’ll want to create a small deficit. Why? Well, because when you’re already lean and in a calorie deficit, your body activates specific mechanisms that lower energy expenditure to a greater extent than someone with a lot of fat to lose.
A negative energy balance causes hormones like thyroid, insulin (including IGF-1), and testosterone to drop pretty fast in someone who has a relatively low body fat percentage.
Anabolic hormones help you build muscle and burn fat. But instead of producing anabolic hormones, your body will replace them with adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.
As a result, you’ll be more prone to muscle loss, which is why it’s important to maintain only a slight calorie deficit.
One study compared the difference between three months of dieting with a 25 percent calorie deficit or a very-low-calorie diet of only 890 calories per day .
At the end of the study, the muscle ratio to fat loss was much higher despite the very low-calorie diet group losing more total weight.
That’s why you want to take a slower dieting approach, especially as you lose body fat.
Guidelines for Calorie Deficits
Here are some general guidelines for calorie deficits based on your current body fat percentage:
- If your body fat percentage is between 12 and 14, stick to a 20 percent calorie deficit.
- Stick to a 10 percent calorie deficit if your body fat percentage is between 10 and 12.
- Go for a 5 percent calorie deficit if you have a body fat percentage between 8 and 10.
To figure out approximately how much body fat you have right now, you can go get a DXA scan, but it’s time-consuming, and it costs money.
#2: Calorie Cycle
The next step is to cycle your calories. There are a couple reasons for doing this.
Since you’ll be dieting for some time, you should keep in mind that hunger is the primary reason that diets fail .
That’s why it is vital to optimize your diet and lifestyle for controlling your appetite.
One way you can do that is by cycling your calories. This means consuming more calories on some days and fewer on others.
For example, let’s say that you need to eat a total of 12,000 calories per week to lose fat. This is about 1,715 calories per day.
You could eat 1,715 calories daily to reach 12,000 calories by the end of the week. But you could instead have two lower-calorie days and five higher-calorie days each week.
An example would be to consume 1,200 calories on Monday and Thursday. This would save you calories for the rest of the week, allowing you to have 1,920 calories on the other days.
You can set this up in a way that suits your preferences. So you can do 3, 4, or even 5 lower calorie days to bank a lot more calories for the other days of the week.
According to the evidence, cycling your calories can improve diet adherence, diet satisfaction, and weight loss compared to continuous calorie restriction .
How can I make calorie cycling work?
But to make calorie cycling work, you need to keep a couple essential things in mind.
First, ensure that you hit your protein target every day of the week.
So, get at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.
This is about 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
And since your protein intake remains the same, you’ll need to reduce either carbohydrates or fats or a combination of both. This helps decrease your calories on lower-calorie days.
#3: Schedule low-calorie days on rest days
Next, you’ll want to schedule your low-calorie days on your rest days.
This is because protein synthesis leads to muscle growth and even muscle maintenance.
But protein synthesis is lower on the days where you eat fewer calories, especially if you’re considered advanced.
So save the higher calorie days for your workout sessions.
Remember that even though you have higher-calorie days by cycling your calories, you’re balancing them out with the lower-calorie days.
These are not cheat days or full out refeeds.
#4: Avoid cheat days
The next step is to be very careful with cheat days when attempting to hit really low body fat percentages.
You’ll probably want to avoid them in general.
I see many people making the mistake of cheating every week with things like protein cookies, low-calorie ice creams, and other processed foods. Then they’re left wondering why they can’t get past a certain level of body fat.
When done right, cheat days help you maintain your strength and help you stay on track mentally when your goal is weight loss.
But when your goal is achieving a low body fat percentage, cheat days aren’t great.
And there are a couple reasons why.
Reasons to Avoid Cheat Days
#1: You’ll regain the fat you’ve lost
First, the obvious is if you raise your calorie intake above maintenance, and you don’t balance it out with lower-calorie days you’ll regain some of the fat you’ve already lost.
It’s effortless to gain the fat again, but not so easy to lose it when you’re at those lower levels.
#2: You’ll stop burning extra calories when you return to normal
And while a cheat day may raise your metabolism, there’s no evidence to suggest that the tiny increase in your metabolic rate will continue when you go back to your regular calorie deficit.
That’s because the increased metabolic rate we see after someone has a cheat day is primarily due to the larger thermic effect of digesting a more considerable amount of food.
Digesting more food costs your body more calories and elevates your metabolism. But you won’t continue to permanently burn more calories just because you had a cheat day.
The point is when you stop eating more food, you’ll stop burning those extra calories you burnt from digesting more food.
#3: Your appetite won’t decrease after cheat days
Third, your appetite doesn’t actually decrease on the subsequent days following a cheat day or refeed. That’s why I always say that most people’s primary benefit is strictly mental, not so much physical.
Research shows that appetite regulation is primarily driven by body composition, not energy intake. So, the amount of calories you eat on one day generally doesn’t influence hunger on the following days .
Other studies have shown that overfeeding by 60 percent more calories can increase appetite rather than decrease it . In other words, it’s not very likely that you’ll trick your metabolism and hunger levels by cheating.
In the best-case scenario, a cheat day will usually just pause your fat loss. However, it can also do more bad than good because it will cause you to regain some of the lost body fat if you go overboard.
What should I do instead of cheat days?
Instead of boosting your metabolism with cheat days, you want to further lower your calorie intake or increase your activity level when you hit a plateau.
You’ll have to lower your energy balance in one of these two ways because your body will have already adapted to your previous calorie intake.
When choosing between cutting your calories further or exercising more, you should know that one is not inherently better than the other.
That’s because fat loss is almost entirely about energy balance.
It doesn’t matter if you reduce your energy balance by doing cardio or eating less. This is because given the same energy balance, weight, and fat loss are the same .
Which one first: lowering calories or increasing activity levels?
With that said, you may want to try reducing your calorie intake first instead of adding more cardio to your workout program.
This is because it takes a lot of cardio to match the number of calories you can burn by only eating a little less.
On top of that, cardio can impair muscle growth.
This can be seen in a 2012 meta-analysis that found adding cardio to a resistance training routine reduced muscle growth effect size by 39 percent . This negative effect on your muscle mass is referred to as the interference effect.
Even with this in mind, there comes the point where it becomes impossible, or at least highly impractical, to lower your calorie intake further while still meeting your protein and micronutrient needs.
If your calorie intake is already really low…
Then you’ll have to increase your activity level.
In that case, three strategies will help you minimize the interference effect while still burning calories:
First, remember that cardio’s goal for fat loss is simply to increase energy expenditure, not to improve your endurance; that’s a different goal.
So schedule in as little cardio as you need to achieve the calorie deficit you’re aiming for.
Second, the lower intensity forms of cardio like walking, for example, contribute a lot less to the interference effect than the higher intensity forms of cardio.
And third, you’ll want to perform the cardio workouts as far away from your strength training workouts as possible.
Research shows that this really helps minimize the interference effect.
However, if you have no choice but to combine the cardio and strength training in the same workout, save the cardio for after your weight training so you can perform at your best and lift the heaviest loads. This is crucial to maintain muscle while in a calorie deficit.
#5: Get enough sleep
Finally, the next step that most people overlook is to ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.
In general, it’s essential to get enough rest if you want to lose weight, but this is especially true if you want to get leaner.
And there are a couple reasons why.
The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep
One is that sleep deprivation suppresses appetite satiating hormones like leptin while at the same time raising levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin .
And it definitely doesn’t help that ghrelin levels are already automatically elevated when you’re very lean.
Therefore, it’s imperative to focus on controlling hunger hormones while reducing your body fat percentage.
The second reason is that poor-quality sleep prevents fat burning and stimulates muscle wasting. So, even if you lose weight despite sleeping poorly, more of the pounds you lose will come from muscle rather than fat.
And there’s lots of evidence to support this.
For example, one weight loss study found that sleeping only 40 fewer minutes per day from Monday to Friday shifted the amount of muscle to fat loss from 20 percent to 80 percent! .
And another study revealed that sleeping 5.5 instead of 7.5 hours a day increased muscle loss by 60 percent while decreasing weight loss in the form of fat by 55% .
The Bottom Line…
So the bottom line: make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. It’s crucial if you want to reach low levels of body fat.
Even though these steps may sound simple, by following them consistently for enough time, you’ll be able to drop your body fat to a really low level.
Before you go…
If you’re looking for a done-for-you workout plan that can be completed at home or in the gym that includes a customizable meal plan based on your preferences, click the link below to use my free workout and meal planner tool.
Between the three gyms we have in New Jersey and the online training, we’ve put thousands of people through these programs.
My clients who follow the plan are losing 20 pounds, or 5 percent of their body fat, in only 6 short weeks.