The “Toned” Myth


It’s something you hear all the time when people talk about getting in shape.  Maybe you’ve even said it yourself!  “I don’t really want to get big, I just want to get ‘toned.'”  Today we’re going to talk about why that’s a silly phrase, and what exactly we mean by “toned.”  We’re also going to talk about how you get the look you want.

Let’s look at Cloud Strife up there.  Cloud’s a pretty damn strong dude.  But he’s not packing Donkey Kong or Duke Nukem muscles.  He’s got a small frame, relatively small muscles, and he doesn’t look like a crazy, vein-bulding bodybuilder.  This is the type of aesthetic that a lot of people are shooting for(not to stereotype, but this especially applies to women).  But “toned” is a really dumb word to describe it, with a lot of bad science and connotations behind it.  So what do we mean when we say “toned?”

Looking “toned” is having a bodyfat percentage low enough to have your muscles visible, with muscles big enough to not look anorexic, but small enough to not look like a bodybuilder.

Really, that’s it!  You want to not look like a musclehead, but you still want people to be able to see your muscles decently, you don’t want any hanging fat, unpleasant bulges, or cellulite dimples.  This is a good goal!  Unfortunately, the information for how to achieve this look is wildly inconsistent, and typically deals with lifting small weight crazy amounts of times, doing excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise, and cutting all fat out of your diet.  Why is this method bad?

Your body’s size and shape is determined more by what you eat, than by what you do.

You will not “get big and bulky,” in life without eating properly for it.  Period.  Your muscles can only grow so much on a certain diet before they plateau.  Have you ever seen what a bodybuilder eats in a given day?  They need to generate such a caloric surplus to maintain their muscle mass that they literally take in more calories in one meal than I do in a full day.

So how do we get the “toned” look?

First off, lift weights.  Seriously, trust me on this, the best way to change your metabolism(which is what you’re REALLY doing when you’re getting in shape), is to build muscle.  This does not mean that your muscles will get grossly huge(especially if you’re a girl), this means that your muscles will get a little bit bigger, a lot more dense, and a lot stronger.  Their energy requirements will increase, which means your body burns more calories just maintaining itself, and your metabolism will change.

You will lose more weight lifting heavy weights three times a week, than you will jogging/walking for half an hour five times a week.

“But Dan!” you say, “I thought my body’s shape was determined by what I eat!”

“This is true, fair reader,” I reply, “But without building muscles, your body doesn’t have an engine to power with the food you eat!”

Once you start building your engine, now you’re in business.  You’ve got your muscles humming, and they want some fuel!  This is good, they need fuel!  But what should we eat?  Well, you want to pack your body with as much nutrition per calorie as possible.  This means lean proteins(trimmed chicken, red meat, fish), power-packed fruits and veggies(broccoli, cabbage, kale, apples, bananas, oranges), high-fiber carbohydrates(beans, whole grains), and fats(nuts, avocado, olive oil).  “FATS?!” you say, “I don’t want to get fat!!”  Well, it’s time to have a discussion about that, too.

Good fat vs. bad fat.

Believe it or not, some fat is healthy, and your body needs it.  If you don’t get the right fat balance in your body, your body will go into survival mode because it thinks it’s starting, and will start packing on all the fat stores it can, from whatever you feed it.  This is why people suffering from anorexia frequently gain weight during the first month or two of their illness.

“Good fats” are unsaturated fats.  These should make up anywhere between 10% and 30% of your daily calories.  These fats come from sources like fish, nuts, avocado, olives, and flax seed.  Consuming these fats helps keep your heart healthy, your cholesterol low, and your muscles happy!

“Bad fats” are saturated and trans fats.  These typically come from animal sources, and should make up something under 7% of your daily caloric load(the fats, not the animal sources themselves).  These fats come from dairy, eggs, poultry, and red meat.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat these things, it just means you should have your meats trimmed of fat and skin, and you should limit your intake of dairy and eggs.  Also, stay away from processed sugar foods like donuts and the like, because these typically contain bad fats as well.

Finally, you want to make sure you are taking in slightly less than your recommended daily caloric load, that is, the amount of calories that your body needs to maintain its current weight.  You can out a rough estimate of this number by using an online calculator(just google “Caloric Intake Requirements”), which you use as your ballpark, and then start tracking your progress to see how you’re doing in regards to this number(frequently you have to tweak it a bit based upon your individual body’s needs).

So there you go.  I hope I managed to clear up a few myths, and set you on an easier, healthier, and more scientifically sound method of achieving that “toned” look that you want!  Tomorrow we have a new game character series beginning, and that should finish us out for the rest of the week.  Until then, make sure to like the Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, and go follow the Tumblr as well, and, as always, continue to be awesome!

Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace

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3 thoughts on “The “Toned” Myth

  1. Nic says:

    Saturated fats aren’t really bad. So long as the animal you’re eating had a healthy diet (grass fed beef for example), every edible part of it is healthy. You should have all kinds of fats from: nuts, avocados, fish, mammal meat, reptile meat, poultry meat, game, oils (olive, coconut, etc…).

    Stay as far away from trans fat though. Nobody wins from that.

    • DaRatmastah says:

      Very true, sorry if I vilified it a bit. I believe leading medical opinion says you should still be getting more poly- and mono-unsaturated fats than saturated fats, though.

    • Super Power Man says:

      Grass-fed/organic/free-range is a myth created by low-carb paleo-diet promoting snake oil salesmen. Factory farming started in 1926. Before that everything was grass-fed. First observations between consuming animal products and cancer were found in 1600s. Also there’s been studies of populations that ate only grass-fed: more meat consumption = more heart disease.

      Wanna get lean and toned like Cloud and me (9% body fat)? Eat tons of carbs, low fat, and stay away from animal products.

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