Step By Step Guide To A Lean and Muscular Physique: Part 1 – Building The Foundation


I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of different people from all walks of life. I’ve helped pro football players like Larry Fitzgerald put together a nutrition plan to shed body fat and I’ve written diets for your average Joe who just wants to look better. At the end of the day, everyone has the same goal. We want to be healthy, strong, and content with how we look and feel.  For most, this means having a nice base of muscle tissue and a low enough level of body fat so your muscle actually looks like muscle. Being skinny-fat is like being trapped in purgatory, you’re so close yet so far.

No matter where you’re at today, you have the potential to improve your current situation. The question is, do you have the discipline and the drive to see it through? Hopefully, this will be the catalyst to get you there.  I will give you a step by step guide to setting your goal, tracking your progress, blasting through plateaus and achieving your dream body.  So, are you ready to finally actualize the goals that you have wanted for so long?

Setting a Goal

This sounds like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many people who start a new training/nutrition plan have no real goal in mind.  Sure they want to get leaner or drop some pounds but that isn’t enough for most people. If your goal is vague, your effort will reflect this. If you have nothing to shoot for, you will have no markers to track success by. What meaning does “getting leaner” have if you don’t know where your body fat is or where you want it to be? Very little.

First things first, set a specific goal.  You notice I said goal not goal(s). Sure, you can improve a few things at once, but a lot of times these goals may compete with each other.  For example, I do diets for a lot of power-lifters. Their number one job is to be strong, that’s it. It doesn’t matter how lean they are or how big their biceps are. However, sometimes they get sick of their slightly puffy look and want to showcase their years of hard training.

They hire me because they want to lower body fat without sacrificing any strength. I can certainly get them leaner while maintaining or even gaining strength, but it’s not easy and requires supreme effort. Most people aren’t ready to make that sort of commitment yet. You have a much better chance at succeeding if you focus on one thing at a time.

Before You Start

  • Before you begin, get an accurate body fat reading (DEXA scan or hydrostatic tank) and get your tape measure out and take down your dimensions. Waist, chest/shoulder, arms, legs and whatever else you deem important. This is a great way for you to track progress. If you are trying to add size or width, keep an eye on how much your waist and shoulders are expanding. If they are growing at the same rate, then you need to change something. An inch around your shoulders would be great but not if it came with an inch around your waist as that does not get you closer to achieving a desirable ratio between the two. Remember, looking good is about presenting a physique with certain proportions that is visually pleasing to the human eye. A wide back makes your waist appear smaller. A lower level of body fat makes you look more muscular. Body sculpting is all about illusions. If you are really interested in this I suggest you look up the “golden ratio”. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re trying to get lean and the scale isn’t moving much but your waist is getting smaller, you know you are headed in the right direction.
  • ryah-hugh-golden-ratio
  • I would also advise taking some pictures of your physique each week. This way you will be able to compare to previous weeks. This also helps keep you accountable. The pictures should help light a fire under you. While everyone focuses on the scale, what you look and perform like is what matters most. If you gain 5lbs of muscle while losing 4lbs of fat it’s only a 1lb difference on the scale. Yet that would drastically change your physique. The scale will do very little other than drive you insane. Use your overall progress to track the success of the plan, not your weight. Are you maintaining strength? Are energy levels high? Are you able to adhere to the plan? These are all important questions that you must consider when deciding the effectiveness of your plan.
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                  *Here is one of my nutrition clients, only a 10lb difference on the scale, but huge improvements in his physique.*

  • Make sure that your workout is effective and fits within the goals of your diet. Include variety, use heavy weights and train intelligently. This means you need to control volume and intensity; being able to recover is essential. The two biggest problems I see are people either hopping from program to program too quickly or never including novelty into their training. Things like time under tension, supersets, drop-sets, stable ascending/descending, rest-pause, bands, chains, different joint angles, partial or full range of motion, etc all can be utilized to make sure the body has to overcome new and challenging obstacles. Your training must provide a strong enough of a stimulus to the body to warrant a change or adaptation.
  • Lastly, be honest with yourself. While your diet should make room for some freedom and flexibility, at the end of the day only you know if you are giving it your all. If your body fat is very high, you are not in a prime position metabolically. You have less wiggle room than someone who is already lean as their nutrient repartitioning is likely better. One example is your body’s response to insulin. While lifestyle, diet, and genetics play a role, it’s common to see high body fat correlate to poor carbohydrate metabolism. You may have to be stricter off the bat to really push your body in the direction you want it to go. Much of training/dieting is being able to make decisions based off what you see which is why hiring a coach is helpful. They should be able to notice trends and make the appropriate changes to make sure you are always heading towards your goal.

Factors For Changing Your Physique

Having a kick ass physique requires much more than monitoring calories in and calories out, despite what you’ve been told.  Weight watchers will work fine if you just want to go from “shit” to “suck.”  So let’s assume you want to look amazing, instead of “not fat.”  When you venture into a diet there are a couple of specific goals you are after.

In order to achieve the best body of your life you will want to keep an eye on the factors listed below. This is how I approach building a nutrition plan for my clients. While the specific template they use is unique, custom-fit and limited to them (since they pay for it), I will give you the foundation. The one’s with the asterisks are what I believe are the true keys to your success.

*What you want to achieve during your diet*

  • Gain or at least retain muscle tissue (LBM)*
  • A reduction in body fat*
  • Increased lipolysis (the breakdown of stored fat) and burning of fatty acids
  • Maintain Thyroid Health
  • Improve Hormonal levels/Ratios (testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone)
  • Improve insulin sensitivity*
  • Improve metabolic flexibility*
  • Balance out any deficiencies

All of those look great, right? Build muscle, lose fat, have more testosterone, be able to slam down more carbohydrates; doesn’t get much better than that. Ok, so how do you go about making all of this happen? You have various means that you can implement to improve the success of your diet. By manipulating the variables listed below you’ll be well on your way.

*You can achieve the above results by manipulating*

  • Overall calories (Daily, Weekly, Monthly)
  • Macronutrient/Micronutrient levels (Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates, Fiber, etc.)
  • Nutrient timing
  • Fasting periods
  • Peri-workout nutrition
  • Supplementation
  • Type of Exercise (fed vs. fasted, low intensity vs. high intensity, anaerobic vs. aerobic, etc.)

In Part 2 of this guide, I will start by breaking down the factors above, starting with calories and working my way down. Is knowing all of the information I am going to cover absolutely necessary? Not really, but you are more likely to follow through with your plan if you actually understand why you are doing certain things. Far too often I hear, “well, I wasn’t even sure if what I was doing was right so I convinced myself to quit.” What I hope is that by the end of this series of articles, you will have the necessary tools to build a plan and reach your goals.

5 Responses to “Step By Step Guide To A Lean and Muscular Physique: Part 1 – Building The Foundation”

  1. Ben Coulter

    Great informative read. Im just getting started and wanting to understand where ive made previous mistakes. This is very helpful.

    • Fred

      Ben, I’m glad the article helped. Any questions please feel free to post them up. Thanks.



  1.  Step by Step Guide To a Lean and Muscular Physique: Are All Calories Created Equal? | Fred Duncan
  2.  Guide To A Lean and Muscular Physique: Setting Your Macronutrients | Fred Duncan

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