The absolute leanest I ever got was when I used Alex Azarian (RIP) for a prep.
It was exactly what you described 16 weeks of bland ass food , hrs and hrs and hrs of cardio a week , totally tanked sex drive for the last 3/4 of it , two cheat/refeed meals the whole prep which made me sickas hell for the next 24hrs , absofuckingluty worst blood panels I've ever had after.
I was in great condition but not being a national level competitor , knowing then what I know now I absolutely would not have done it.
I think that most guys that know they could never get to a national show are not willing to suffer through a hard prep and some just don't have the mental or intestinal fortitude to push through the suffering.
If you want to get on stage with everyone else that is fighting for a pro card you gotta be willing to be hungrier , do more cardio and pose way way more than the next guy.
I too used Alex one summer. 14-16 sets per day, more for legs. 5 days per week he had me doing 45 minutes stair climber or 6% incline walking if my quads were trashed. I got sub 10% that summer. I got to eat two sushi rolls once every 14 days or so.
Did the hardcore badasses like Mike Francios diet on bland ass food, no cheat meals and get diced? Hell yeah.
Can you still get diced and not live life like a robot? Hell yeah.
Suffering for suffering's sake gets you no where and doesnt guarantee you a damn thing, so remember that.
Also, because i'm very tired of listening to people say how great yesteryear was—let me remind you that open bodybuilding was choice #101 in 1991 and is now choice #1001. Half the guys people talk about as being crisp and hard and dry cheated on their diets all the time and were the genetic freaks at that time. Stop using those 1% black guys as THE LOOK. They ate McDonalds and still killed the competition. Secondly, those freaks at that time did open bodybuidling because that was the only option. If you happen to have 1% genetics and want to get into fitness in 2020, you dont choose open bodybuilding. You choose mens physique, classic all that shit. Men's open BBing RIGHT NOW is filled with dudes with OK genetics pushing the drugs and food as hard as possible HOPING they look 1/2 as good as Flex Wheeler.
just too many short cuts these days. there is no secret ppl. no secret way of training and no secret drug. just hard work and consistency. just like ronnie said, everyone wants to be a bodybuilder but no one wants to put in the damn work. oh you dont like doing 1 hour of cardio a day? hey dont get 68 lbs over your contest weight in the off season. you shld always be in striking distance of your show weight all year round. 'i needed to gain size in the off season, thats why my bodyfat is so high now' hahahaha keep telling yourself that, i guess gaining size included the big macs you would eat every day and the late night pizzas before bed right?