How I Stay Lean Without Cardio (And How You Can, Too)


"Is this the year that I start that organic beard stubble farm?"

I'm 37 years old. I don't take fat-burning supplements. I don't do cardio. And I like to stay lean year-round. This is what has worked for me.


Disclaimer: I have developed this list after many years of trial and error, study, success and failure. While I'm confident that applying some of these practices will help you to get and to stay leaner, you will have to find out what works for your body. 


1. INSIST ON EATING THE HIGHEST QUALITY FOOD

That top-shelf farmer's market veg though...

I source the best possible ingredients that I can find at USDA organic farmer's markets, ranches, food co-ops, and the occasional supermarket. I eat primarily seasonal, organic vegetables, pastured meat and eggs, and wild-caught fish (find these at eatwild.com).

For more specifics on what to buy it and what it will cost, check out my recent post and video from the Santa Monica Farmers Market in Los Angeles. 

I've been recently inspired by my friend, Dr. Jeremy Wiseman at Wiseman Family Practice, to take this a step further. If I find myself in a restaurant where I can't be sure of the source of the proteins, I will opt for a vegetarian dish.

And if I'm on the go and don't feel confident about any of my meal options, I will simply fast until I can get high quality, nutrient-dense food.

When I made this the golden rule, everything else began to fall into place. 

2. SKIP BREAKFAST

NOT the most important meal of the day--even with Tapatío.

I stopped eating breakfast regularly in the fall of 2010--after reading Ori Hofmekler's Warrior Diet--and a crazy thing happened: I felt more energized and mentally sharp as the morning went on, and I didn't feel hungry until noon. 

I usually double down on this clarity with a good cup of strong coffee, occasionally with a tablespoon of coconut oil blended in for energy and improved cognitive function.

I train in the gym in this fasted state and while I'm not breaking records constantly, it has been sustainable for years now. 

I typically eat my first meal between 1-2pm every day, and by then I am hungry. This is the best reason to eat--not just because everyone else is. 

The most common response to skipping breakfast is "I could never do that," and I said the same thing once. It took about three days to adapt. Now, fasting until after 12pm is as natural as any other routine I've ever created for my life.  

3. EAT FATS AND VEGETABLES FOR THE FIRST MEAL

I eat a salad that looks like this almost every day. 

I break my fast with a massive, kale-based salad in the afternoon. By massive, I mean well over a pound.

The exact ingredients vary slightly depending on what's available at that week's farmer's market, but it's nearly always some variation of kale(s), red and green cabbage, heirloom carrots and tomatoes, red onion, fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, mint), and a whole avocado.

I cover this in extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt, and I'm always surprised by how good that first bite is--as if I haven't been eating it every day for years. A couple of times a week I will add a can of tuna or wild-caught salmon, but most days it's just about the veggies and fats. 

Eating a meal like this in the middle of the day means that I don't have the crash I used to get from the heavy proteins and carbs. I don't need an afternoon nap. And those great fats give me plenty of energy to get me through to dinner, which some days isn't until 9pm.

4. CYCLE CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE

Cycle delicious carbs like this.

Some people do well with a moderate or even high-carbohydrate intake. I am not one of them. I get super tired, tend to hold more water than I'd like, and just feel "heavier." Feeling this way sucks all of the ambition out of me to dominate the day. 

To remedy this I eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day for most of the week, the majority coming from vegetables and a couple of pieces of fruit.

On weekends, or when I'm feeling particularly depleted, I'll have plenty of "good carbs" like sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, etc. However, I rarely do this more than two days in a row. Improving sensitivity to insulin is crucial to staying lean year round, and that is difficult for me with a constantly-high carbohydrate intake.

The good news is that even when I'm particularly bloated from a bout of overindulgence, by the third day of very low carbs I've dropped most of the subcutaneous fluid and look sharp and dry.

And I'll take that over puffy and bloated every time.

5. MAKE THE FINAL MEAL THE BIGGEST (AND BEST) OF THE DAY

"I don't always eat medium-rare pastured lamb, but when I do, I listen to Electric Ladyland and have it with winter root vegetables and de ciccio broccoli. And wine. Lots of wine."

I'm usually pretty worn out by the end of the day. Creative and business tasks take their toll, and I like to wind down with a glass of wine while I prepare a beautiful meal with my beautiful gal.

Now is the time for protein sources like mahi mahi or some other wild-caught fish cooked in lots coconut oil, or the occasional grass-fed lamb, beef, or chicken (and carbs, if I'm going to eat them).

I'm not always thrilled to cook after a long day, but I'm always thrilled to eat the amazingly simple, but delicious, food. Truly fresh ingredients are packed with flavor and will do most of the work for you. And that's thanks to rule number 1. 

Eating a big meal like this makes me drowsy, and since the work is done for the day, that's okay: I'll be sleeping deeply and burning calories not long after the dishes are done. 

Obviously, if I plan to go out or work late into the night, I won't have the massive portions that I'm accustomed to. But for me, a feast of a dinner is a celebration of a well-lived day. 


Sample Diet

6am - 12 oz. coffee (optional: 1 Tbsp coconut oil)

1:30pm - 16 oz. + salad with cruciferous veggies, 1 whole avocado, 1 whole tomato, 4 Tbsp e.v.o.o. (optional: 6 oz. can of wild-caught fish), 1 piece of seasonal fruit

8p - 4-8 oz. wild-caught fish or pastured meat cooked in coconut oil, 4 cups seasonal vegetables cooked in coconut oil, 1-2 glasses red or white wine (twice a week: 2 cups rice, sweet potato, or quinoa)


What about exercise?

Exercising consistently and progressively is the best thing you can do to make your body stronger and to build muscle... but it won't necessarily make you leaner. That is best accomplished by manipulating what, and when, you eat. 

What's the best body fat percentage?

I think a body fat percentage under 10 percent is sustainable for men who aren't trying to grow or get strong quickly. For women, the low to high teens is a safer, more tenable range. But I don't get too obsessed with the numbers.

For me and my clients, it's more about getting to a dramatic look that can be maintained year-round. 

What do I know, anyway?

I've been researching nutrition, strength and conditioning, and diet strategies since 1997. In 2003, while at Boss Models, NYC, I started training people interested in getting lean and muscular.

In 2008, I opened Results Fitness Austin, LLC, and have been helping people transform their bodies since, now operating Training With Thomas in Los Angeles.

You can read more about me here

I realize that a few of the suggestions on this list fly in the face of much of what we've been taught about nutrition and what is "healthy."

But I can honestly say that putting these ideas into practice has made my physical maintenance easier than it has ever been, including the halcyon days of my mid-20's: "when the beer flowed like wine and the women flocked like --" Well, you know the rest of the quote.

Hasta pronto,

--Thomas

PS--Thanks so much for reading! It takes a lot of effort to write posts like this, so if you enjoyed it would you mind sharing?

Just out of frame: two winged white tigers