Leaning Out


I’m sure you get this sort of question a lot, but I don’t remember a clear answer in any TTMJ or board post. I completely understand if this info isn’t something that you disclose to just anybody, so no pressure…

Anyway…I’ve put on a good 30 pounds since starting your program a few years ago (and most lifts have skyrocketed). I have never done a BFA, but I would expect, based on looks, that I’ve increased at least 5% BF up to probably 20% to 25%ish.  At 235lb, I am carrying some extra weight.  I know that I could do a LOT better in the metcons, and eventually on the field, if I trimmed down.  Currently, I consume about 75% of my carbs in the PWO meal, with probably 15% in the pre-workout meal. It’s usually a few cups of milk pre-workout and 1.5 quarts post workout with a piece of low GI fruit.  The rest is low GI vegetables and sugars from nuts throughout the day.  I don’t have a very active life outside of CFFB due to my long-hour desk job, which will change in a year or two.

So, based on all of that, do you have any suggestions on how to cut fat?  I understand that some lifts will drop because I’d lose some mid-section support and likely a little muscle, but I would like to retain what muscle I’ve gained as much as possible.  I’m generally willing to do whatever I can to accomplish this, whether it is through diet or getting off my ass every hour and taking a short walk.  I just need a proven strategy.

Thanks in advance.

Clinton Canaday


Here is the skinny, no pun intended. You are on the right track, you just need to stay away from the sneaky foods responsible for you holding some weight and replace them with better choices.

Ditch the milk, fruit and nuts. Those three together can be problematic in the hunt for reduced body fat.

Here is nice and simple...get all your caloriess for meat, starchy veggies and fat (coconut oil and olive oil). Check my TTMJ post on "Just tell me what to eat."

If leaning out is you goal, cut the calories back to 15 cals per lb of body weight, which should put you around 3500 cals a day.

The standard...1 gram of protein per lb of body weight or around 23% to 25% of your total caloric load. Get this from meat...no protein shakes, milk...straight up animal flesh.

Carbs should be about 25-30% of total caloric load done in the pre/post workout meals. Remember to keep fat to a nil in the pre/post workout meal, as we want things to hit the system fast., as fat slows absorption in the gut. While not advantageous in the pre/post workout meal, this is key in the other meals.

Just to say it again, no shakes. The insulin response from the whey/dairy (lactose) can problematic for leaning out. Avocados are a no-no for leaning out. I learned this from my friend, Josh Bunch, from Practice CrossFit. Keep fats with saturated fat (animal and coconut) and mono-unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil.

Drink 1 oz of water per 2 lbs of body weight. Not staying well hydrated is a major player in the fight to lean out.

Get 8 hours sleep, at minimum.

Limit coffee to 1 cup a day in AM, as too much coffee can cause cortisol release and that can be a problem. Supplement with green tea extract, I take a decent handful in the AM, as this will get shit started right.

Ditch anything responsible for systemic inflammation. Beans, gluten, corn, rice, processed sugars or anything you cannot pronounce.

Start supplementing with BCAAs (10 grams) pre/post workout. Leucine is the key player for an anabolic effect and will keep you from losing muscle.

Lastly, cut the drinking back or ditch all together. And I don't imagine you smoke pot because you have a job, are highly motivated, don't live with your mom and don't steal from your friends, but just for anyone reading, I would like to quote my friend, Jim Wendler, "Don't smoke weed, what are you 16 years old? What the fuck?"

I think this covers it for lean out time. Take a before pix, and a weekly pix and hopefully along the way you will take a pix where you think, “Hey, I am not chubby anymore.” Visual feedback from a pix is great, as mirrors lie.

Hope you can make Tampa seminar, as I will have some new information to drop. The only way I wont be there is if the girls are kicking and screaming.



John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and creator of Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year starter in the National Football League and NFL veteran. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early and retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL and other professional and Olympic athletes. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete and the CrossFit Speciality Seminar: Sports Specific Application. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie or at Power Athlete.

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Posted in Diet, Talk to Me Johnnie, Training | Tagged , , | 70 Comments

70 Responses to Leaning Out

  1. Mike

    First off, love the site and CFFB. Can you elaborate a bit on why avocados are a no-no for leaning out?


  2. I contacted Chuck Norris for support, “There is a decent amount of omega-6 linoleic acid in avocados. The medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil are immediately sent to the liver and turned into ketone bodies for fuel.”

  3. Good, simple info. Saving this. Thanks John

  4. Clinton

    Thanks for the post, John. You do a lot for a lot of people and ask so little. Very rare.

    I’m curious about the working out part of this. I saw on the “Weight Gain & Female Athletes” TTMJ post that you said to scale back the metcons. How does the SWOD and DWOD, in terms of volume and intensity, apply to leaning out?

  5. Follow the program and drop the hammer. There is nothing fancy to say, pull up your skirt and go for broke.

  6. JWILD

    John, thanks for the great straight forward advice as usual, I wish this was facebook so I could like that last comment from you.

  7. AV

    NO WEED? What about the eating a lot and getting a ton of rest? These are critical aspects in training.

    On a serious note though, what is really wrong with it? I think it actually helps me a lot cause I can sit down after a big training session eat and then get some serious sleep. I don’t really ask this in a “your wrong” way but more in a curious way. I really think it helps training. I am 5’8″ 185ish, eat upwards of 3lbs of wild animals a day and sometimes that shit sucks. Eating for function and eating to get really strong and fast gets really fucking impossible sometimes. Weed is really an easy route to eating a lot of food (please understand I do not blaze and then hammer 16 pizza’s, I am very strict with what i eat) and getting some great sleep.

    I am not trying to start some pro/ con weed debate but merely ask this as if weed were seen as a supplement. I would never “prescribe” this to my athletes but it can’t be all bad right? I would just like some info breaking this down.

    I have honestly wanted to ask you or Mr. Norris himself before but always considered this to be such a dumb question that I just never really did it. Now that the subject has been broached, I would love to hear your thoughts…

    I actually trained at Balboa with you 2 weeks before the SoCal regionals. I feel like a complete burnout writing this questiuon but hopefully you realize I am very serious about training and think weed really isn’t the worst option out there…

    Just a thoughgt

  8. Brent K

    No nuts fruit or milk?! I eat all of that every day! Noooo!!

  9. Mike Hollister

    Avocados high in n6? Lame. Though I think the bigger problem there is that they are a gateway food to high n6 corn chips.

    Giving up avocado is like giving up bacon. I’ll take a lil extra fish oil to balance the n6 and accept my suboptimal-ity.

    Good fluff-free post on getting lean.

  10. Brent K

    Hey john, would this be 15 cal/lb @ current or Target bodyweight

  11. I am sure it is the handfuls of chips that accompany the guacamole that causes issues. I never said to give up avocados but if leaning out is your goal…

    And total body weight.

  12. Uwem

    Totally stealing this. Great stuff. Would you do anything different for women?

  13. Ryan

    so eating guacamole every day for the last 18 months could be the reason why I can’t drop the midsection fat……..hmmmm

  14. Brent K

    Please correct me if I’m wrong on this, but since all the gluten and anti-nutrients in rice is found within the brown brand of the rice, wouldn’t “organic” non bleached white rice be a good way to add some starchy calories to your diet? Hitting numbers over 75 grams of Carbs a day is difficult without using things like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and rice.

  15. Tempi starks

    I agree with everything John is saying! My trainer haas said over an over not to have shakes..your body dose not have to work to digest it.

  16. Timothy

    Hey John, I’m a skinny, weak 135 lbs at 5 11. After a week and a half and 5 workouts on Starting Strength, I’m not 140 lbs with 45 lbs added to my squat (which is a low 110 lbs). However, I am always looking into the future. I know this is very far down the road, but when I pack on muscle and size appropriate for my size, should I slim down? Am I a better power athlete with more fat? Is when I reach weekly progressions a good time to lean out?

    Thanks. Your blog is helping a skinny, weak 18 year old turn his life around.

  17. Josh

    I 2nd the weed thang! I bust my ass in the gym harder than anyone else consistently, sprint hard in the water, on the bike and track. I make consistent gains and have achieved my goal on gaining weight and now slimming out all at the age of 36…and I smoke almost daily. I enjoy beer but weed works for me.

  18. The Swanson

    What is it about coffee vs green tea that causes a cortisol issue? Caffeine? Or some other element?

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  20. Great post! The takeaway I learned from a seminar I attended with Barry Sears is …. if you can’t see your abs… don’t add more fat. Kinda stuck with me as a rule of them. In general we are a fairly high fat society… leaning out is all about finding balance and fueling your system.


  21. Petr

    I would like to add one thing – I always always always tend to get weight (fat that is) when I eat regularly, something like 6 times per day or so. I started to experiment with one big feast in day – fasting all day, after that eat whatever I can during dinner. And it works nicely.
    I’m not saying that’s the only way, also I don’t run on the field all day long, I have only one CFFWOD daily, not more. Also on rest day I tend to bit undereat. Strength doesn’t suffer at all sometimes quite the opposite.

  22. Jonny

    Great post John, like the OP i’ve spent the last year trying to get strong and i’d say i’m around 20% BFP now, want to get back to 15% so think i’m really gonna have to get serious about cutting out dairy and other crapola.

    thanks for all the help.

    PS just watched you in the KC Chiefs hard knocks, good work brother

  23. Tyler

    I’m going to have to argue as far as not eating rice goes.

    Ask any amateur or professional level bodybuilder how they slim down for shows and photo shoots and I guarantee that rice will land somewhere on their list of foods they eat to cut body fat quickly. I’ve been eating rice for at least 3 of my 7 meals per day for the past eight weeks and my BF% has dropped at least a whole percent, if not more by now. In short, I believe rice can rip body fat to shreds if you know how to cycle your carbs properly.

  24. Jamie, the Gimp from Toronto Cert

    When people come to me with questions about stalling, the first thing I tell them is to drop nuts and avocado… Its not that avocados are bad, its that they are terribly high in calories and easy to over eat.

    And like John said, if leaning out is your goal, calories, no matter what Taubes or Dr. Eades say, do count.

    I talked to one girl who was gaining weight on a pure paleo only to find out she was eating 1400 calories in Avocados and 1200 calories in Nuts.

    Kinda hard to lose weight eating 4400 cals a day as a 120 lb woman. 😉

  25. ET

    Thanks for the insights John, the CFFB program is amazing. Im a pro rugby player and my struggle is to find the right post training meal. Our trainers think that recovery shakes are the way to go so most of my teammates reach for the shakes after training or a match. I’ve been just going for a glass or two of chocolate whole milk and maybe some fruit. I’ve heard for the last couple years that whey and dairy for the most part can cause some issues. It helps to not carry body fat so if I can tweak my recovery meal I think that could help. Can you guys help me out with what a good recovery meal would look like? Keep it simple, I’ve been hit in the head a lot, the ratios, etc screw me up, just an idea of what it would look like would be great.

  26. Chuck_O

    You keep kicking my ass! No more avocado’s! Just kidding, thanks for the great read big John!

  27. Clinton

    John is that 10g of BCAA BOTH before and after workout, for 20g total, or 5g and 5g for 10g total?

  28. Scott

    This is some interesting advice John but I had a follow on question. With programs such as this when you talk about doing so and so per pound of body weight would you mean current or goal body weight? Seems like it could be an important distinction when talking about leaning out.

  29. Diego

    So if I’m ditching fruit and milk abd shakes what do I eat pre/post workout? I’ve heard people say that if you are trying to lean out then just do protein post workout. Is that true?

  30. All of these questions have been answered many times in the posts on this site. Click the archives and spend some time reading.

  31. NFL

    To the WEED users…..and really everybody else you gotta see THE UNION. Its a documentary about pot and it is incredibly informative. I don’t smoke pot. However I do have different views on it now…..

    To the rice substituters…..white rice or not its still RICE. So it has no nutrional value. And the science of what actually IS is also still the same. You can’t change science.

    Clinton check out the Get Shredded Diet at t-nation.com….sorry I don’t have all the info but he is a Doctor and used to do bodybuilding. I came across this last week. There is a great pic of a big guy, with his stats. Even if this wasn’t something that interested or was right for you I thought his info was good….

    When you look at Berardi’s stuff he requires 10 cals per lb/bw for his training. He lifts heavy 5 days a week and does low intensity cardio. This is why I up the cals to 15 per lb/bw to take into account 4 heavy lifting days, 2 sprint days and 3 metcon days. He does good stuff.

  32. bleh

    To quote an old wendler q&a

    Will you ever take drugs?

    No. And you will be damned if you are going to let some weed or coke screw up your test, anadrol, fina and halotestin cycle that you’ve been running since 1999. Damn hippies are ruining this country with their excessive drug use

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  34. Luke

    I LOVE the comments on nutrition posts… everyone trying to “trick” the system. Good stuff… concise prescription; easy to follow.

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  36. Steven

    Okay, after some minimal number crunching and a looking at what I am eating I am just not eating enough… thanks for that insight… corrections to be made…

    Thanks for the insight on the avocados… gone and done…

    Thank you for being such a wealth of information and sharing with us it is greatly appreciated…

    Back to ye olde tanren…

  37. I hope everyone saying they have to give up these foods now have the same goal of leaning out as Clinton does. Otherwise, keep eating your face off.

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  41. Thanks for the link to BodyBuilding.com.

    I got a good comment sitting in the cue from one of the guys on BB.com. I have not had time to give it it’s due attention, as the guy some work in and it deserves a rebuttal.

    What I enjoy most about the internet is everyone is 6’5″, 280 lbs, 3%-5% body fat, olympic gold medalist, 10 year starter in the NFL, Jay Cutler’s trainer partner and diet guru. And even better if you have a cool handle with a 1000+ posts you are the yoda of training and your gym name is Dagoba.

    I will get it to, but today I am sitting at a bar in Dublin, headed to belfast tomorrow for work on Sat & Sun.


  42. Clinton

    NFL, I’ll check it out.

    John, I did a food analysis with FitDay and noticed that I’m lacking in some nutrients from the diet, especially Vitamin D. This is after consuming milk every day for a long time. I also noticed that my energy levels are lacking even though I’m getting 3500 cals a day with approximately the right proportions of macronutrients. I’ve read that Vitamin D deficiency has an impact on insulin in a negative way, to the point that A1C tests aren’t even valid if you’re deficient. So, should I supplement with Vitamin D? What happens if I don’t in terms of leaning out, given the lack of energy?

    Clinton ~ seriously? stop thinking so much. if you are fearful of being low in vit D, go sit outside in direct sunlight with your shirt off. 20 minutes of direct sunlight is needed to healthy vit d levels and a tan is a good thing. remember even fat looks good tan.

  43. ryan

    this post is very helpful.

    1 question tho, i am in the army and have a pt test coming up and want to “lean out ” to make the 2 mile run a little easier and pass “tape”.

    how early should one start the lean out process in general?

    i understand it depends on the person and how lean you are trying to get.

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  45. EddieB

    Anyone ever heard about the max amount protein one should eat in one meal? 30-40g?

    bullshit. It is lie predicated by hucksters.

  46. Steven

    First week reflections….

    result: down 7lbs… feel very very good…

    Again John thanks for the for the platform to engineer from… just awesome what you put this out there…

    Now for random nonsense…

    I am not W&M but did some general numbers and am tweaking as I go but staying within the relevant ranges in each of three areas… was eating the right foods but not in the right quantities… not even close.. was not fueling the mountain (best song by Devil Driver, if life only had walk out music)… to be honest I had bit of a mental block eating this much food… not sure why just did… had to break out the super enzymes for the assist…

    As John noted in the post there may be things working against your specific goals and you are unaware of it (Avocados, f.e.)… Always nice to have someone to remind us to maintain a beginners mind… so it was good to do an in-ven-tory and get things more to the basic and keep what will help and not hinder…

    Final thought is that the BB.com thread was some of the funniest things I have read in a long time so thanks for that link…

    This has gone on long enough… back to the tanren… everyone wreak havoc on their work…

  47. Steven

    First week reflections….

    result: down 7lbs… feel very very good…

    Again John thanks for the for the platform to engineer from… just awesome that you put this out there…

    Now for random nonsense…

    I am not W&M but did some general numbers and am tweaking as I go but staying within the relevant ranges in each of three areas… was eating the right foods but not in the right quantities… not even close.. was not fueling the mountain (best song by Devil Driver, if life only had walk out music)… to be honest I had bit of a mental block eating this much food… not sure why just did… had to break out the super enzymes for the assist…

    As John noted in the post there may be things working against your specific goals and you are unaware of it (Avocados, f.e.)… Always nice to have someone to remind us to maintain a beginners mind… so it was good to do an in-ven-tory and get things more to the basic and keep what will help and not hinder…

    Final thought is that the BB.com thread was some of the funniest things I have read in a long time so thanks for that link…

    This has gone on long enough… back to the tanren… everyone wreak havoc on their work…

  48. JaredE

    John, incredible stuff!! I love the CFFB programming, and TTMJ is the perfect compliment.

    I am in the leaning out category of this post, and am definitely going to clean up my diet in accordance with what you have above. My big question is how to get all the fat in?? I know you say olive oil and coconut oil, but aside from drinking them straight up, how do you get it all in if those are the options to stick with (since avocados and nuts are out for the most part)?

    And do you eat ALL carbs ONLY pre/post workout (the 25-30% you mentioned)?

    For the sake of argument, a 220lb male trying to lean out, would be approx 3300 calories/day. Approx 800 protein (23-25%), 950 carb (25-30% pre/post workout), leaving 1550 calories for fat (47%). What is the recommendation on getting 1550 calories of fat in my body, especially since not eating fat during pre/post workout meals? Shots of olive and/or coconut oil with dinner?

    Sorry if that was a bit drawn out, but I just want to do it, and do it right. Thanks again for all of your efforts!! Especially Zombie Preparation, the Apocalypse is definitely approaching.

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  50. Geoff

    Where do eggs fit? Are these a more attractive protein source from a leaning out perspective than milk?

    I don’t even bother to cook eggs if I have less than 1/2 a dozen. Eat them.

  51. jon

    Calories in vs calories out
    go talk to alan aragon stop posting broscience. Lost 70 pounds and lifted 405/525/525 eating what ever I want under maintenance

  52. The food quality will always trump food quantities.

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  55. Joseph Tripp

    @John: ummm, what?

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  57. Anonymous Guy

    Great post. You have brought up a new question for me and my fitness goals now. Is it worth it to be that lean? You have outlined a lifestyle that sounds (like it could be) kind of bland (to many). As much as I love fitness, being fit, etc, I always think quality of life should be > fitness. Also, I have to agree with the one commenter.. I think weed is fine. You didn’t really mention WHY it’s bad to smoke weed while trying to get fit. It just sounds like you’re a weed hater. If you followed every other piece of advice but continued to smoke weed (periodically), you’d probably still lean out nicely. Alcohol, on the other hand, has clear reasons for being bad for leaning out. Anyway, I am going to apply much of this to my lifestyle for a while and see what changes happen! I’m with the dude that wrote the initial question. I’ve been training hard, eating big, and it’s time to cut back on the body fat. Thanks again for your informative post!

  58. bdog

    Good post, however it is tainted by your biased opinions on marijuana use. If you do not know much about a particular topic, then it is best to not pronounce such strong opinions towards that topic: you risk losing credibility on the matters that you are well informed on.

    • Just b/c you like to smoke pot don’t justify that it is a positive and good thing. Pull your head out of your ass and realize hormonal problems it causes for men are pretty severe. However, this is where things get weird. I am completely for a legalizing of marijuana and your ability to decided whether or not you want to smoke it. I think government regulation of things like marijuana are stupid. And I don’t support gun laws. Gun laws take weapons out of private citizens hands. Adults should be able to decided. I don’t support big business. I like what Ron Paul has to say, and think Obama, Newt or Mitt are whores for big biz. I think Monsanto is the Evil Empire and their power and lobbying dollars scare me to death. I think more than 70% of America is disenfranchised with the state of things but has no idea how to stop, prevent or change the current situation. Most American’s don’t like the war but have no idea how to deal with the middle east. Frankly, if we wanted to end it all we should turn it in to a large parking lot.

      I am not sure how to fix the problems of the world. If you want to smoke pot, go for it. But it will not help with performance and the stimulation of estrogen is no muy bueno if you are trying to get better. Not to say that more than a few athletes smoke pot. i have several friends that smoke pot, one in particular I was best man at his wedding. I don’t smoke pot and frankly, could careless whether you do or not.

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  64. Ryan g

    As far as the 15 cals per 1lb of body weight goes are we talkin total body weight or lean body weight? Sorry if this is a silly question. Thanks Johnny!

    • When it says 15 cals per pound of body weight…what did you think that means?

      Does it say 15 cals per pound of lean body mass? No.

      It says, 15 cals per pound of body weight.

      Dont over think…you might hurt yourself.

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