If you don't want to lose the gains you worked hard for, but want to get lean then you have to learn how to cut! A cutting phase is the opposite of a bulking phase. It involves cutting back on the number of calories you eat in order to obtain a calorie deficit for weight loss, more specifically, fat loss, to occur.
We emphasize fat loss because when weight loss occurs it can come from fat or muscle. When you're regularly weight training to build muscle mass, the last thing you want is to lose muscle after working so hard to build it - that's counterproductive! So, when you're exiting a clean bulk (or just wanting to lose fat in general), you want to make sure you enter a cutting phase very carefully...
Why should you cut after bulking?
Anyone can enter a cutting diet plan to lose body weight or fat, but its especially beneficial for those getting out of a bulking phase to do so. Bulking involves a calorie surplus in an effort to gain as much muscle mass in a few months. Unfortunately, whether you go on a lean bulk or do a dirty bulk, fat gain is unavoidable. So, after ending one it's ideal to enter a cutting phase to lose the excess fat gained and to get leaner so the muscles you've developed really pop out!
However, to some it may be counterproductive to cut because doing so can lead to losing muscle. That's why strategizing your cut is crucial! Going on an extremely restrictive, low-calorie diet can lead to more muscle loss than fat loss. To prevent that from happening, you have to strategize and make sure your cut gets you the results you want - a reduction in body fat, and maintaining (and even building) lean muscle.
Who else could benefit from a cutting diet?
Bodybuilders and weight lifters who are done bulking aren't the only ones who could benefit from cutting... Anyone looking to lose body fat or weight can! You just need to make sure that a cutting diet is right for you.
Are you overweight? Or just trying to lose 5-10 lbs? Or do you want your abs and other muscle groups to pop out more?
Cutting can be beneficial for everyone, but you don't want to cut if your body fat percentage is really low. So, we suggest dictating whether you should enter a cut based on your body fat percentage...
- Men with more than 15% body fat can safely enter a cut.
- Women with more than 25% body fat can safely enter a cut.
If you're below that, consider starting a bulking diet before cutting!
How to cut the right way
Although to enter a cutting phase you need to be in a calorie deficit and burn more energy than you take in, you don't need to drastically reduce your calorie intake and deprive yourself of your favorite foods. The main idea behind a cut is to lose fat and preserve as much muscle as possible. Going on a very low calorie diet with massive amounts of cardio will only lead to more muscle loss, and less fat loss - and overall poor health.
The key to entering a cut is to eat enough that you're providing your body with the essential nutrients needed to work at optimal levels and to prevent losing the muscle growth you worked hard for, but not going over your daily calorie intake that it causes weight gain.
Finding that balance is hard, but here are some tips to help ensure your cutting effectively...
Find the ideal caloric deficit
You want an aggressive deficit to help you lose fat in a few months... but that doesn't mean it has to be a drastic, and reckless, deficit. You have to find your sweet spot - a calorie deficit big enough to produce fat loss, but not so big that it causes muscle loss and possibly even binge eating!
So, how much should you cut back on your daily calories?
To lose fat at a consistent pace, and avoid muscle loss and other adverse effects of low-calorie diets, set your deficit at 20-25%. Meaning eat 20-25% less than your maintenance calories.
To avoid doing the math yourself, and so you have a more accurate deficit, use a macro calculator to calculate your macros! A macro calculator takes into account your activity level, current body weight and fat, fitness goals, and so much more. This helps give you a better estimate on how many calories you should be eating to reach your goals, but not only calories! It'll also detail how many macronutrients you should be eating, which brings us to our next point...
Track macros, not only calories
Calorie counting is the go-to weight loss method, but its not effective if you're trying to lose weight and change your body composition. Counting calories works because it helps keep you on track with your deficit, however, it's not ideal to pick the foods you eat based on calorie density. The nutrient density of the foods you eat are even more important than the amount of calories because those are the nutrients that help give you energy, improve muscle recovery, and help keep you overall healthy!
Tracking your macros will allow you to to stay on track with your calorie intake, but also ensure that you're eating enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats to sustain your high-intensity training! Basically, it'll help you prioritize a nutrient-dense diet that helps maintain your muscle-building efforts, but also help you achieve your fat loss goals.
Fill up on protein
Although your main goal isn't to gain muscle, you should still prioritize protein and keep your intake high! Remember, you're trying to preserve the muscle mass you've gained, not lose it. Increasing your protein intake is the best way to do that, in fact, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in a recent clinical trial that showed just that! They found that a daily high protein intake while being in a calorie deficit helps preserve muscle, especially when combined with resistance training.
That said, make sure you're eating a high protein diet to maintain your results and keep you full and satisfied at the same time. Always prioritize whole foods, but protein can be hard to nail on the daily, so if you're having trouble hitting your daily protein intake consider getting a high-quality protein powder! Protein powders can contain up to 30 grams of protein per serving, so you can easily increase your intake with just one scoop. Plus, finding a great tasting one can be a game changer! Just avoid protein powder supplements with potentially harmful fillers, and one that has at least 20 grams of protein per scoop - like 373 Lab's Protein Powder!
Save your carbs for post-workout
You don't have to give up the carbs to lose fat! Carbohydrates are a very important macronutrient for many reasons, one of them being that it helps replenish your glycogen stores which is the body's main fuel source. However, if you want to have a positive impact on body composition then make sure you're eating healthy carbs and try to consume them after or before your workouts.
Carbs are metabolized differently throughout the day. So, the carbs you eat in the morning, before, or after your workout are going to have a different impact than if you were to consume them before bed or when you're being sedentary. Consuming carbs when you're using less energy, like late in the evenings or on rest days, can cause them to be stored as fat instead of being used up for energy.
So, if you want to prevent fat gain during your cut, then be smart about when you consume your carbs. Aim to eat them in the daytime, before or after your workouts. We suggest saving most of them after your workout because they'll help replenish your glycogen stores which helps improve muscle recovery thus helping prevent muscle loss! But stick to healthy, and mostly unprocessed carbs. Fill up mostly on complex carbs like potatoes, whole grains, quinoa, and other leafy greens and fruits!
Come off of your cut periodically
A calorie deficit, no matter how small, can lead to potential problems. Aside from muscle loss, it can cause reduced recovery, hunger, fatigue, and even negatively affect your metabolism. Dieting can really affect your mental health, and impact your training performance, so to help you achieve sustainable results in a way that doesn't deprive you - take a break!
You can take a break from your deficit by using refeeds or calorie cycling throughout your cutting phase to help prevent all the adverse effects mentioned earlier. Here's how you can do that...
- Refeeds: A refeed is a planned day in which you increase your calories. This can be done weekly or bi-weekly to give your body a temporary break from the calorie restriction. Just plan your refeeds carefully to avoid. Increase your calories to maintenance, but fill up on healthier foods opposed to only unhealthy stuff.
- Calorie cycling: This method involves cycling your calories so that they're slightly higher on your training days, and lower on your non training days. Research has linked calorie cycling to helping with weight loss by improving peoples abilities to stick to a diet, reduce hunger, and reduce the negative hormonal and metabolic effects from a normal weight loss diet.
Maintain your regular strength training routine
You might not be training for muscle gain anymore, but that doesn't mean you should ditch the heavy weights! Despite popular belief, weightlifting is one of the best fat-burning workouts you can do.
Strength training helps you build muscle and strength. Well, building muscle mass helps increase your resting metabolism which helps you burn calories for up to three days after your workout! So, if you're not lifting weights and only doing cardio then its time to switch gears and start prioritizing the weights! For those who are already strength training, then continue to keep up with your usual workout routine.
Avoid doing excessive cardio
Lifting heavy weights is great for maintaining muscle, burning calories, and losing fat, but don't neglect cardio either! Cardio keeps your cardiovascular health in good shape and helps you burn extra calories which can help with your caloric deficit.
Many think HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is the best type of cardio to do to burn fat, and don't get us wrong, it's great. But it's not the only type of fat-burning cardio! If HIIT is too high-impact and intense for you, stick to steady-state cardio like inclined walking or cycling. It interferes less with your high-impact lifting sessions than HIIT does, and it still burns plenty of calories!
Find the cardio workout that you like best and aim to do it 2-4 times a week for at least 20-40 minutes.
In summary, a cutting phase doesn't have to be miserable and overly restrictive. Following our tips above will ensure that you're achieving your fat loss goals effectively and in a way that isn't going to drain you, make you tired, or cause muscle loss.
Who are we?
We're 373 Lab Supplements – hello! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), and with a team filled with fitness enthusiasts, we've worked hard to bring a trustworthy supplement to the market!
Supplements that are designed to help you achieve your fitness goals by giving you only the nutrients you need – no unnecessary fillers or additives! Whether you're bulking or cutting, or simply maintaining, we have the supplements you need to help make your journey an easier and healthier one.
Find what your pantry is missing at 373 Lab Supplements.