The reality of popping ab veins: 8 things I learned from getting ridiculously lean

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

I freaking love ab veins. There, I said it.

Just not all the time. Or not to this degree. My body, mind and life aren't going to be too happy if I try to keep my belly veins popping for too long.

This did not just 'happen'. This is another level of getting lean and it takes time, patience and consistency. The visible veins are the result of planned and nutrient dense eating, tailored training, meticulous tracking and tiny changes across many months.

I'd be lying if I said it's smooth sailing. You can't tap into that last 1 % of results unless you make sacrifices. That said, I didn't find comp prep difficult because I had decided to do it and I had a clear vision of my goal. 'Difficult' is really a matter of perception. Sure, it's demanding as hell and you're absolutely going to feel it both physically and mentally. Sometimes, I'd head out for a stroll and I'd actually feel like I had to drag each leg in front of the other and put my body into it just to maintain a brisk walk. Seriously. Your body is going through some stuff if it's this lean. It doesn't take a genius to realise that this isn't the healthiest thing you could do to your body, but the point of elite competition is to test the limits of your capabilities.

I took this photo the day after a fitness competition. I've never posted it because I honestly didn't think that veins and translucent skin on a female's belly appeal to most people. That's ironic, because I'm so incredibly proud of this physique and all of the time I put into it. I remember looking at my skin, completely mesmerised that I could see through it. Crazy, right?

Here's the reality of a body like this.

The reality of popping ab veins: 8 things I learned from getting ridiculously lean

1. It's not actually that complicated. There's no magic to building a ridiculously lean body. It's mostly about combining simple things in the right order and at the right time.

2. But it is incredibly demanding. Simple is not the same thing as easy. Getting really lean is demanding on your time, your energy, your ability to focus on other things, your training, your mental health, your social life. It can nudge all other things to the side line.

3. Time is your friend. More is better. Don't limit your time frame to an 8 or 12 week 'challenge', or a 12 or 16 week contest prep. The 8, 12, or 16 numbers mean nothing. That may be about right for some people, but it might not be for you. The first time I dropped body fat to be able to see my abs, I did all the right things and it still took 2 months before the scales changed or my skin folds shifted. 2 months, and nothing! Even if you're tempted to choose the path of rapid fat loss, keep in mind that there is a cost to a sudden, huge drop on the scales. The faster you lose weight, the greater the daily caloric deficit required to do it and the more likely you are to lose lean body mass. For a natural competitor or your average Jane or Joe, your priority is to hold on to your muscle! The more time you have, the less lean tissue you have to sacrifice to fuel your body's energy deficit. And if you're setting out to make a fairly big change to your body composition, like losing (or gaining) > 10 % of your weight, you'll make it far easier if you allocate more than enough time to do it.

4. You are going to become a little obsessed. Ok, a lot obsessed. Be ready to not just track your food, but plan your entire day around prepping, eating and thinking about food. A comp prep consumes a lot of your head space. There's going to be numerous times that you'll have to choose training instead of putting in another hour at your day job, sleep instead of a social life, menu substitutions instead of a plate of copious portions and untrackable macros. I'm not saying that you can't integrate flexibility. Of course you can. But realise that even that is planned to some degree if you're aiming for single digit body fat.

5. It should take a while to figure out what your body needs. If your fat loss process is entirely pre-programmed and you just stick to it and don't stop to reassess things, you're not doing it right. Sure, you might stop, reassess and decide that you don't need to change a thing. That's great. You still used your brain and your instinct applied to your body to make that call, rather than just continuing to obey the plan for the sake of it.

6. Be prepared for your training to become secondary to your body composition. It's not an either / or, but there is a tipping point. If you're eating less than your body requires to lose fat, is that optimal for building a leaner and stronger body? No, because you're not telling your body to build tissue, you're telling it to consume its tissue (ideally more fat than lean mass) to fuel the body. It depends on lots of things. The more time you have, the smaller your deficit, the easier it is to find a balance. If you're in a comp prep, the priority is ultimately to connect to the muscle, stimulate it, and direct nutrients out of and then into it. There are many roads to that destination in terms of your training, but at a certain point it's safer to choose exercises that reliably do the trick for you so that you can focus on feeling the muscle contract, even if you have to back off the weight on the bar.

7. Chasing the 1 % is not a balanced state. You are taking your mind and body to its limits. This disrupts your body's happy equilibrium. There are biochemical and hormonal reasons for this. Your body is responding to an unusual cluster of constant stressors placed upon it. Keep that in mind and prepare for it, manage it and stabilise things after the process. That's not to say you shouldn't do it. But if you are going to go all out, make sure that you have strategies for backing right off.

8. For all of this, there's nothing quite like getting (really!) lean. It's an intricate process of problem solving the body that's unique to you. You could put all the pieces together but it still doesn't feel quite right, so you reassess and adjust. Then little by little, you'll notice the results. Yes, it's demanding and a stage body is fleeting, but you'll learn an incredible amount about your mind and body from it.