Nutrition And Single Digit Body Fat - Best Personal Training and Trainers in Dubai UAE - Abhinav Malhotra AbhiFit

Nutrition For Single Digit Body Fat

Even though many fitness enthusiasts and in particular bodybuilders (who get to single digit body fat regularly) are light years ahead of the game when it comes to nutrition and supplementation, little things can creep into the optimal nutrition mentality that have no place. In this article we answer some of the questions related to nutrition for Single Digit Body Fat.

What Is Body Fat?

Adipose tissue, otherwise known as body fat, is a connective tissue that extends throughout your body. It’s found under your skin (subcutaneous fat), between your internal organs (visceral fat) and even in the inner cavities of bones (bone marrow adipose tissue).

What Is the Role of Body Fat?

Body fat is an important source of stored energy. When we can’t get to food for an extended time, fat tissue releases hormones that control metabolism and appetite and affect insulin sensitivity. Macrophages, neutrophils, and eosinophils are some of the immune cells found in fat that play both anti-inflammatory and proinflammatory roles. Fat cells also secrete proteins and build enzymes involved with immune function and the creation of steroid hormones.

How Much Fat to Have and How to Measure?

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, healthy body fat percentages are based on age.

  • For people aged 20 to 39, women should aim for 21% to 32% of body fat. Men should have 8% to 19%.
  • For people 40 to 59, women should fall between 23% to 33% and men should fall around 11% to 21%.

Body fat is measured with various methods that range in accuracy and have limitations. Combining two or more methods, if possible, may give better estimate.

In one method, a person can estimate their body fat percentage by measuring the circumference of different parts of their body.  In another method skinfold callipers are used to measure body fat, but accuracy can vary significantly based on body fat levels, how you’re using the callipers, and other factors. Measuring body fat is helpful in health and fitness calculations but do bear in mind that at the best it is still just a guestimate.

What Is Single Digit Body Fat (SDBF)?

As mentioned above, for people aged 20 to 39, men should have 8% to 19% body fat. Any number below 10 is a single digit. Therefore, single digit body fat levels are somewhere between 6-10%.

Who Is Single Digit Body Fat (SDBF) For?

People dieting for different shows, doing photo shoots is becoming a thing. For many of us, aesthetics matters a lot, and a single-digit body fat percentage elevates aesthetics. If one is intent on achieving visible abs or would like to get shredded, he also would aim for single digit body fat.

Where to Start?

Any discussion on fat always comes back to calories. Aiming for single digit body fat you want to lose weight. Adherence to a calorie deficit is the most important factor for fat loss.

The starting point for a SDBF diet will vary with how much body fat you have to lose. It’s commonly accepted that 1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. Therefore, a reduction of 500 calories a day — or 3,500 a week — should mean losing a pound of fat.

You have to assess your physique and know how much fat you need to lose. Once you have decided how much you need to lose you can aim to lose between 0.5 and 2lbs per week but perhaps double that in the initial week or two. The general rule of thumb is that you can lose approximately 1% of body weight per week so 2lbs for a 200lb guy.

What Affects Rate of Fat Loss?

The hierarchy of fat loss starts with energy balance i.e. calories in diet and then we have micronutrients, protein being the most important one. And then all other things such as sleep and meal frequency making a very little bit of a difference.

Hierarchy of Fat Loss - Best Personal Training in Dubai UAE - AbhiFit

It has been observed in some people that if they don’t sleep then their hunger goes way, way up. However, this isn’t true for all individuals, and for many people hunger just doesn’t seem to change.

Does Body Composition Hierarchy Make a Difference?

The body composition hierarchy is slightly different from rate of fat loss hierarchy. However, it stays the same all the way at the bottom. All that changes is that Meal frequency becomes a little bit more important because the body composition is not just about body fat but also about muscles.

Body Composition Hierarchy - Best Personal Training in Dubai UAE - AbhiFit

And therefore, in a natural scenario, changing body composition isn’t going to make a big difference.

What Things You Shouldn’t Focus on For Fat Loss

There are some things that one should not focus on for losing weight, such as cortisol levels, acidity, toxins in body. We list a few below. You will never meet a person who did not lose weight because of the way he walked.

Therefore, do not focus on the following while aiming for SDBF.

  • ‘Toxins’ in your fat cells…
  • The ‘acidity’ of your body…
  • Your cortisol levels…
  • How ‘sluggish’ your liver is…
  • How ‘leaky’ your gut is…
  • Your ‘omega 3:6 balance’…
  • Body piercings…
  • HAMSTRING flexibility…

Ascertaining Your Baseline Diet

The type of diet you choose for SDBF can vary around a few specific themes. The food must be real, whole food. The likes of the Paleo diet is gaining interest, which discourages dairy intake. Similarly, you have options like intermittent fasting which can be useful for much smaller individuals.

Following dogma of 6 meals a day is not necessary and eating 3 square meals a day is in my opinion a mistake; much better to bunch these meals together around training and get the positive effects of a prolonged fast instead lots of mini ones. Or just stick with the tried and tested multiple smaller meals throughout the day.

There are many ways to shred, pick the one that suits you best but do not try anything fancy.

Should You Keep Dairy In?

There is a dogma that has hung around bodybuilding, perhaps due to early bodybuilders reducing dairy intake in the last week to reduce sodium and therefore water in the body.

If you can handle dairy, then I recommend keeping it in and keeping the full fat version in for the majority of your diet.

Dairy has been shown time and time again in numerous studies to be anabolic whilst encouraging the reduction of body fat. Of course, there is also the fact that the full fat versions of milk contain other bioactive components; not least popular fat loss product conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and Vitamin D! So, if you can tolerate it, keep dairy in.

What Should Be Optimal Breakdown of Diet Plan?

You have worked out how many calories you are going to start your diet on. Now you want the optimal breakdown of the plan.

The best practise is to use a food diary; by weighing and writing everything you eat and drink for 3 days and then calculate your intake of calories, protein, carbohydrate, and fat. As mentioned in the rate of fat loss hierarchy above, the most important of these 4 being calories and protein intake. The other option is use one of the many online calculators to work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and then factor in for your daily activity and exercise energy expenditure. This will help you plan.

Most people discover that they can lose pounds of body fat by just removing the junk food while keeping the rest the same. When choosing your starting calorie intake, keep in mind that you need some leeway to cut down and that exceeding your BMR will result in hormone disruption, which could impede fat loss or cause muscle retention.

After taking into account the energy used during exercise, the quantity of energy that is available from food is referred to as “energy availability.” As a result, if you consume 2000 calories and burn 600 calories through exercise, you have 1400 calories available.

According to research, the health of your hormones would suffer if you consumed less than 30 kcals per kg of lean body mass. Thus, you can see that if you start at 2500 kcals and burn 500 kcals, you are already encroaching on this for an 85 kg guy with 15% body fat, which is about 2160 kcals.

However, without dropping below this level, one cannot get genuinely lean. No one has ever been able to accomplish that. So, now we have a starting point.

How Should You Split Your Diet?

Calories are the most crucial of the four mentioned items (calories, protein, carbs, and fat) in the optimal breakdown plan.

Why it’s important to be precise with grammes, percentages, and ratios of these four items? The main determinant of your diet’s effectiveness in natural bodybuilding is how your hormonal profile and, consequently, metabolism respond to the nutritional modifications you make. Regardless of how much protein you consume or how much heavy lifting you do, if your hormones are out of whack or your testosterone levels are low, you will lose more muscle mass than body fat.

Diet: Protein

Diehard bodybuilders will tell you that ‘increased protein is important for muscle retention!’ which is true, however the true answer lies in the detail. A study showed that a greater proportion of protein to carbohydrate is beneficial for weight loss and the retention of muscle mass but the relative amount of protein here was approximately 1.5g/kg!

Another study titled “Increased Protein Intake Reduces Lean Body Mass Loss during Weight Loss in Athletes” can lead individuals to think that more protein = less muscle loss when in reality another study showed that having 2.3g/kg of protein is better than 1.0g/kg which we would expect! So, realistically, in a natural trainer aiming for around 2.2g/kg (1g/lb) will be more than enough as a baseline.

If, after keeping a food diary, you discover that you have been consuming far more than this 2.2g/kg number, say up to 3.5g/kg, you should never just drop straight down to this new level because doing so can result in muscle loss.  Protein turnover is partly governed by protein intake and when a high protein diet is consumed, the enzymes that break down protein are upregulated and by simply dropping the amount consumed drastically it can lead to a negative protein balance and therefore muscle loss. Therefore, you should gradually taper down to this new level instead.

Diet: Fat

The idea of consuming lots of fat, and particularly saturated fat, does not sit well with many and unfortunately this really is the wrong way to go about things. Bear in mind that I am not recommending a very high fat diet i.e. a ketogenic diet, but you may know that sex steroid hormones, such as testosterone are actually made from cholesterol. On top of this we have the fact that in numerous studies, consuming a higher fat diet has led to increases in testosterone levels.

Further to this we see that actually the ratio of fatty acids within this total fat intake could be an important determining factor. Intakes of saturated and monounsaturated fats are positively correlated with increased testosterone levels whilst the ratio of saturated fat to polyunsaturated fat is also a predictor; so as saturated fat intake goes down and polyunsaturated goes up, we get a decrease in testosterone.

At one point of time there was belief that saturated fat, out of all the fats, was the most likely to be stored as body fat whereas unsaturated fats were perhaps more likely to be incorporated into cell membranes etc. While on some level this might be true, during a calorie restricted phase where carbohydrate in particular is kept low, very little energy is going to be stored in the postprandial state.

So, moving onto the specifics, for best effects, ensure total fat intake is above 30% and ideally sitting around 40% of calories. Of this 40% keep saturated fat at 20% with mono and polyunsaturated fats making up 10% each. This puts the ratio of saturated fat to polyunsaturated fats to 2:1 which is close to, if not at, the proposed optimal ratio.

Diet: Carbohydrate

We are now left with a figure based on our total kcals minus kcals from 2.2g/kg of protein and minus 40% of kcals from fat.

Having this range of carbohydrate consumption is beneficial because it gives us some leeway to increase our carbohydrate intake during training on days when we are working very hard.

Sources of carbohydrates should be sweet potatoes, oats, and rice, in addition to, of course, fruits and vegetables. Moreover, some simple carbohydrates including glucose, maltodextrin, and fructose could be utilized during physical activity.


Supplements use is recommended on a case-to-case basis. The supplements that can be recommended without a doubt during a competition diet are:

  • Vitamin D3: Dosed either based on a blood test or at a standard 15,000IU weekly dose.
  • EPA and DHA supplements dosed at around 1.0 – 1.5g per day which may be manipulated depending on other factors.
  • Protein powder of choice (debatable whether it is a supplement)
  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Beta Alanine dosed daily at 40mg/kg with a possible loading phase of 4 weeks at 80mg/kg.

Please contact me Abhinav Malhotra to learn what I and my team AbhiFit can do for you through personal training and nutrition services. We train kids, teens, adults, elders, athletes and models in Dubai and online across the UAE and around the world. We help our clients achieve their fat loss, weight loss, muscle gain, strength gain, rehab, figure / physique transformation & healthy living goals.

Many female and male clients including kids, teens, adults and elderly people have greatly benefited from Abhinav’s strong experience as the best personal trainer and nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. You can see some of our client transformations here here.

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About Author

Abhinav Malhotra

Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.

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