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I'm a recreational fitness user. I'm 27, 5'11" tall and weigh 173 lbs. I'm probably around 15-17% body fat now. I'd like to cut it down to about 10%, although I'm a bit unsure of what that would look like. To give a better idea, I'd like to be looking like the guy on the left in the picture below. I think I'm pretty close to the guy on the right now, although I probably have slightly more body fat.

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For such a goal, do I have to go through a whole bulk/cut deal and all that serious stuff? If not, how do I make sure to gain the muscles and lose the fat to transition from the right pic to the left pic? I know this is a very broad question, but I'm just looking for the big picture - I'll figure out the details later.

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You need to stay on a slight caloric deficit while both maintaining a positive nitrogen balance and remaining in an anabolic state. So let's break that down...

  • Slight Caloric Deficit: A TDEE Calculator will give you a rough estimate of where to start, but what you want to do is to lose about 0.5-1 lb of weight each week. Check the scale at the same time each week, and be strictly consistent with your calorie consumption until you hit the goal of losing between 0.5 and 1 lb. Stick with that and adjust as needed when you lose weight. Eventually after you lose enough weight, you'll come to a point where you want the scale to stay the same, and beyond that where you might want it to go up very slightly each week.

  • Positive Nitrogen Balance: This is a simple matter of getting enough protein. Protein is where basically all of the body's nitrogen can be found, and if you remain in a positive nitrogen balance then your muscles are getting everything they need to grow. How much is enough? 0.6 grams per lb of bodyweight is generally enough, but you could do as much as 1 gram per pound of bodyweight if you wanted. Going beyond that is safe, but not necessarily beneficial. Despite that you aren't going to see problems unless you go crazy with it and start doing something like 300 grams a day.

  • Anabolic State: This is a state where your body is rebuilding itself, the opposite would be a catabolic state in which the body is breaking itself down. When you work out you break down the muscles, and when you are resting those muscle are rebuilding themselves bigger and stronger. To maintain an anabolic state you simply need to work out often enough and get proper rest afterwards. Working out five times a week is plenty, but make sure that you work out hard enough to require your body to get into an anabolic state. Working to or close to failure with each set (of any strength training exercise) is key to doing so.

... it's a slow process, but you'll get there. It helps quite a bit to be following a competent fitness program (it takes out all the guesswork, and is more efficient). Just keep your expectations realistic and understand that it is going to take a lot of time. At best, a guy might expect to put on two pounds of muscle a month (everything being ideal), but most of the time, most everyone will fall short of that. Something more like one pound a month is more realistic. So if you lose two pounds of fat in a month and put on one pound of muscle, you'll have lost one pound overall. The scale can be discouraging at times, but if you stick with it and do things the right way, you'll see results with time.

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