So, all the hard lifting and eating has finally paid off, and you’ve gained a nice amount of new muscle mass. Now, all you need to do is lower your body fat levels to let it show through!
But – you might ask – how does one do that?
The answer to this lies in a process called “cutting”.
What is cutting?
Cutting is a term used by bodybuilders that refers to a method of dieting. The aim of this kind of diet is primarily to lose fat, but also to preserve as much muscle mass as possible along the way.
Although carrying out a diet can be tricky at times, the simplicity of the formula behind cutting may surprise you.
Here’s a quick breakdown of cutting fundamentals, to help you achieve that extra muscle definition in no time!
1. Simple math: Calorie counting
As you may have seen in a previous article, the majority of dieting really just boils down to simple math:
To lose weight, the number of calories you burn needs to be greater than the number of calories you eat, on any given day.
A great starting point for this is to aim for 500 calorie deficit. What this means, is that you will look to burn 500 more calories than you consume each day.
(Calories burnt – calories eaten = 500 calories)
To keep track of the calories that you eat or burn each day, there are some handy tools you can use online:
1. To calculate how many calories you burn daily, try this TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculator. It will estimate how many calories you burn a day, including any exercise you perform. You will only need to calculate this once, unless your routine changes.
2. To calculate how many calories you’re eating each day, I recommend the world-famous MyFitnessPal. If you haven’t heard of MyFitnessPal, it’s an easy-to-use food diary. It has a huge database of nutritional information, which is at your fingertips with a simple search or scan of a barcode. MyFitnessPal will tell you how many calories are in each item of food you consume, and even give you a macronutrient breakdown. These numbers can be very useful, as I’ll explain later.
Cardiovascular exercise can be a useful tool for increasing the “calories burnt” side of the equation, and can be done in your preferred way.
Both low-intensity cardio (such as jogging) and high-intensity cardio (like sprints) are effective for this.
2. Preserving muscle mass
Although losing fat is our main goal here, another key area of focus must be on preserving your hard-earned muscle.
There are two main actions you must take to preserve muscle mass:
1. Consuming adequate protein
2. Making sure you continue to perform resistance training.
For your protein requirements, a rough but useful guideline is 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, per day.
If you work in kilograms rather than pounds, the equivalent of this is about 2g protein per kilogram of bodyweight, per day.
Weight training should be performed in the same style as you used to gain muscle in your previous phase.
Continuing to stress your muscles will ensure that your body prioritises the importance of strength and muscle, which will maximise weight loss from fat stores rather than lean mass.
3. Tracking macronutrient intake (Advanced)
A more detailed version of calorie counting includes specific amounts of the three individual macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
A particular ratio of these will give you the best results.
Luckily for you, the TDEE calculator linked above will automatically choose this ratio, and MyFitnessPal automatically tracks them for your food intake.
This means that all you need to do is worry about is hitting those numbers each day.
The magic of tracking your calories and macronutrients is that you can eat almost any food that you enjoy throughout the day under one condition: you hit your calorie and macronutrient targets.
Of course, to do this you won’t be able to get away with eating a fast-food only diet. What it does mean, however, is that you’ll be eating smart. This gives you the ability to make plenty of room for daily treats which are usually reserved for “cheat days”, and still make steady progress.
Flexibility in your food choices plays a key part in sustainability, and can keep you both sane and motivated to continue until your reach your goals.
Sample cutting diet plan
To give you a rough outline of what a typical cutting diet looks like, here’s a free meal plan that you can base your own diet on.
Note that the toughest part of cutting is keeping your protein intake up, while watching your fat and carb intake.
The best way to achieve this is to plan out your meals, and make sure that each one has a substantial portion of meat, fish, or other protein source.
Also bear in mind that all portions will vary with your individual calorie and macronutrient targets, so you’ll need to adjust the quantities of each food according to your individual needs.
The post-workout meal can be moved to whichever time your workout may be.
Try to position your treats around workout time (before or after is fine), as they are likely to involve simple carbohydrates. These simple sugars will be best utilised at this time.
Oats with berries or low-carb fruit + protein shake.
Snack: nuts/yoghurt/fruit/beef jerky/cup of milk/other.
Meat or fish, with small portion of rice or sweet potato + fibrous vegetables (such as broccoli or green beans).
Snack: nuts/yoghurt/fruit/beef jerky/cup of milk/other.
You can make this meal a treat, especially if you are working out around this time.
Meat or fish, with small portion of rice or sweet potato + fibrous vegetables (broccoli or green beans)
Treats: either have a small one around workout time, or have anything that fits your left-over calories.
Time to cut!
Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get your own cutting plan going.
Here’s a summary checklist, to make sure you’ve got everything you need:
1. I’ve calculated my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) – Yes/No?
2. I’ve set up my calorie and macronutrient targets in MyFitnessPal or another calorie-tracking app – Yes/No?
3. I’ve got a resistance-training plan, similar to the one I used in my mass-gaining phase – Yes/No?
4. I’ve got a good idea of what my meal plan will look like, with enough protein spread out over my meals – Yes/No?
Go through the list, and get everything ready. Once you can answer “Yes” to each of these items, you are ready to go!
Always remember that patience and consistency are key in the game of building a better physique – slow and steady wins the race.
For more nutrition tips, make sure to check out our other articles here.