Rear view of a muscular young man flexing his arm

How to Get Down Below 10% Body Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass

Ever heard of Clarence Bass? If you’ve been in the strength or bodybuiding community for very long, then you know who he is. Clarence is a seasoned and well-respected writer and one of the few that walks the talk and talks the walk. By that I mean he has produced an incredible year round physique all the way into his mid 70’s, is still in excellent health and is able to articulate how to do all of that with great ease and readability as well. I recently read one of his books – Challenge Yourself – and wanted to cover it here, because it had such a profound impact on me.

NOTE:  Don’t miss my interview with him here: Clarence Bass: Natural Middle-Aged and Senior Bodybuilding.

First of all, the book is full of fantastic practical advice on how to lose weight, build muscle, exercise, etc. and keep doing it year after year after year.  Now, in my case, I don’t really need to be pushed to exercise, because at this point in my life, I can’t wait to get to the gym.  I feel great when I walk out almost always and I know how important it is, so I’m already a believer.  Furthermore, I am a Skinny Bastard, so putting on a spare tire has never been tht much of an issue for me either.

However, I do need to challenge myself in a key area:  I had given up on ever getting my body fat percentage below 10% while maintaining my hard-earned muscle mass.  As a 54-year-old ectomorph’s ectomorph, I don’t put on muscle that easily and I certainly don’t want to lose it all trying to get my abs.  However, I also do NOT want to do the standard low carb diets that everyone does out there to “cut.”  I have written quite a bit on those diets, as I believe they can negatively impact gut flora and cause arrhthymias in some men  when done long or even medium term.  Plus, all the saturated fat that comes with these diets would be a real erection-killer for me as well.  (I thrive on what I call  Low Fat Paleo: see my page on High Protein, Medium Carb, Low Glycemic Low Fat Diet.)

This is where Challenge Yourself comes to the rescue:  Clarence actually eats very similar to how I do, although he eats more fat and a few other modifications, but our general philosophy is very similar:  whole foods, an emphasis on plants, an emphasis on nutrient dense, high volume foods, etc.  So I could not agree more with almost everything he writes on nutrition.  Furthermore, he shows how to get your body fat below 10% – well below – and do it while eating this way, i.e. a largely plant-based, whole foods diet!  Now there’s a sermon worth listening to!

I have been told on my own Forum that the only way to get below 12% body fat is to go low carb or low carb with certain “tricks” attached to it. Right now low carb is so popular that I simply asssumed they were correct, because I read article after article praising low carb for fat loss and leaning out and virtually nothing from the other camp.  Bodybuilding articles on the necessity of “bulking” and “cutting” did not help matters and so I just gave up.  For a couple of years I have been hovering at about 14 – 15% body fat and assumed that was my final destination.

As you might guess, it was an incredible relief it was to find that there was a philosophy out there, compatible with my own, that utterly shatters the prevailing low carb mythology that it and it alone can achive low body fat percentages.   Clarernce has proven in himself and in many of his followers that, if you are willing to eat a healthy, whole-foods plant-baed diet – yes, he eats some meat and dairy as well – you can slowly lose weight with no significant loss of muscle mass AND you can do it relatively effortlessly, i.e. without a lot of hunger and counting calories, etc.

The book maps out just how to do this and this is how I plan to challenge myself.  I’d like to get my abs showing and do it in a healthy manner without losing a lot of muscle.

Just how does “Challenge Yourself” say to do this?

Well, there are literally hundreds of helpful guidelines and tips, but here are the biggees that stood out in my mind:

1.  Lose Weight Slowly.  Most guys try to drop the pounds too quickly and hammer their hormones and, most importantly, lose their hard earned muscle. Losing weight in a more “sane” manner also makes it possible to lose weight without going hungry or depriving yourself of a nutrient rich diet.

2.  Measurement is the Key!  How do you know if you are losing muscle as you are dropping weight?  How do you know if you are losing or gaining water weight?  Obviously, a standard bathroom scale ain’t gonna do the trick.  Sure, you can go get yourself hydrostatically weighed, but that involves some cash, scheduling and time.  A much, much more practical alternative is to get yourself a good bioimpedance scale.

I had never heard of one of these until I read about it in Clarence’s writings.  Don’t ask me how I missed it, but I was overjoyed to find that you could buy a cheap and accurate bioimpedance scale.  I got a Tanita – if it’s good enough for Clarence Bass, it’s good enough for me! – and have been using the thing religiously for about 10 days now.  I’m a numbers person and so having useful data is highly motivating for me.  That’s part of being a certified Health Geek I guess.  The Tanita gives you in less than a minute your weight, % body fat and % water weight- all the numbers you need to know to estimate water weight, lean body mass and, of course, fat mass.

3.  Do the Same Thing Every Day, 365/24/7.  Now I don’t mean by this that you should do the same boring exercise or dietary routine every day.  In fact, the book talks about that.  But what I do mean is that I despise the idea of the “bulking” and “cutting” phases, as I mentioned, that so many weight lifters go through.  Clarence opposes this viewpoint and attacks the extreme form of it:  yo yo dieting as it is called.

With my personality I want to do this same thing day in and day out and I don’t want to gorge for a month and then starve for a month – that just is not my personality.  Finding Clarence’s philosophy was an incredible relief.  (Frank Zane had a somewhat similar philosophy by the way:  he just tweaked his protein/carb ratio a little.)

These three points are actually a small part of this great book that discuss his diet and recipes, his exercise philosophy and routines and almost of all of the foundation that a man needs to get started on his way to building a great physique, regardless of his age.

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