A bodybuilder’s physique takes more than just lifting weights. A delicate energy balance has to be maintained so that they can be as lean as possible to make their muscles stand out as much as possible. You also have to cycle between bulking up and cutting fat to get the most visible gains.
Cutting can be tricky because it’s very easy to do it wrong, for instance cutting too quickly or cutting without consuming enough calories for your body to maintain its new muscle mass. Eating the right amount of whole foods is crucial for maintaining a healthy body while you’re building muscle. Even if you’re not a bodybuilder, cutting is a vital part of getting to a healthy body weight and fit physique.
Read on for the full rundown on cutting, how it works in tandem with bulking, and ten of the best tips bodybuilders use to take their cutting programs to the next level.
(Note: Want our elite trainers to help you in your bulking and cutting journey? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)
What is Cutting?
Just like people try to burn off pesky body fat to reach their weight loss goals, bodybuilders cut to stay lean. The goal is to avoid covering up muscle mass with body fat. Picture a standard linebacker and you have exactly what bodybuilders are trying to avoid.
Cutting is not something you can do at the gym. While exercise does burn some calories, your diet has the greatest impact on your energy balance and that’s why it’s the best way to create a calorie deficit.
Why Do People Hate Cutting?
The short and simple reason why people dread cutting programs so much is that it’s just not that much fun. Cardio and counting your macros and caloric intake are stressful and require near-constant attention. Plus, cheat meals and other things that help us stay happy are much harder to plan and deal with on a cut.
Another reason so many people hate cutting is that they’re doing it wrong. With the right mindset and a cutting program that’s tailored to your body and goals, cutting doesn’t have to be miserable. It’ll also be much more effective that way.
Bulking & Cutting
You can’t have one of these without the other if you want toned visible muscle. The trick is to balance bulking and cutting so you can build muscle and lower your body fat percentage without putting on too much pesky fat or cutting so much that your body uses your hard-won muscle gains for its energy needs.
It’s also vital to have the right mindset about both bulking and cutting. Stressing out over either one is guaranteed to lead to mission failure.
(Note: You can download the Fitplan App for free on Google Play!)
How to Bulk
So many people wrongly think bulking is an opportunity to gorge on dairy-based protein shakes and greasy high-calorie foods. The fact is, though, saturating your body with fat and calories is only going to harm your muscle gains.
Not all bulking is equal. There’s clean bulking on the one hand, where you give your body the nutrients it needs to build muscle and use compound exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups to exhaust your muscles and get hypertrophy to kick in. On the other hand, you have dirty bulking, which some people use to gain weight fast with the mistaken idea that that will be better for building muscle.
Helpful Hint: Follow our Power Shred Fitplan during your bulk-up period for some huge muscle gains!
Even if you’re diligently adhering to your workout routine, your body isn’t guaranteed to use those calories to build muscle. Too much fat and sugar in your calorie intake will make your body store energy as fat cells.
Clean bulking is essential for clean cutting. If you bulk up with junk food and sugary drinks, your cutting will be much harder. Your body adjusts to what you give it, so if you suddenly go from a high-calorie intake to a strict healthy one, you’ll shock your system. It might even feel like a huge hangover and the odds of you experiencing cravings for the junk food you ate when you were dirty bulking is very high.
Macronutrients & Cutting
You should always be counting your macros. Adjust your calorie intake and nutrient levels based on your goals, of course, but make sure you’re aware of what you consume and how much of it.
The same nutrients are going to be necessary whether you’re bulking or cutting, although at varying levels. You might consider lowering your carb intake during the cutting phase, for example. Your protein intake should always be high so that your body has the building blocks it needs for huge muscle gains.
Crash dieting and fad diets like the no-carb trend that completely eliminate a macronutrient will be disastrous for your body in the long run. Sure, you probably will shed some pounds if your carb intake is at zero, but your body will adjust to that and in all likelihood use muscle mass as an energy source to compensate.
Can You Have a Cheat Meal & Still Cut?
Experts are divided in their opinion of the cheat meal. Some claim it will provide your body with helpful hormones like leptin, which regulates metabolism, neuroendocrine function, and energy homeostasis. Others say it will completely derail an otherwise healthy dieting plan.
The key to cheat meals is to have them sparingly. They are important for staying positive and motivated throughout a dieting plan or your cutting phase, but if you gorge yourself on processed junk food you could very well see some undesirable results.
Think of a cheat meal as an opportunity to add some nutrients into your diet that you’ve cut out for weight loss purposes. Rather than going whole hog and binging on doughnuts and fast food, try to add indulgent ingredients to meals that would otherwise fit your dieting plan. Add cheese or chocolate, for example.
If you’re going to have a cheat meal, you’re much better off having one that’s still made out of whole foods. You should also take care not to cheat too often and try to have cheat meals rather than entire days that are open for cheating.
Perfect Breakfasts for Cutting
Breakfast is incredibly important for your health all the time, not just during the cutting phase. Your body is in fat-storage mode after all those hours of sleeping without food and a well-balanced breakfast is the perfect way to kick it back into gear.
Give your macro count a head start by consuming at least 10 grams of clean fiber at breakfast. Oats and other whole grains that are already widely considered breakfast foods are a great way to get the dietary fiber your body needs to function well. Just make sure not to rely on processed cereals that can have lots of added sugar content.
Limit foods like bacon and sausage so that your fat intake doesn’t skyrocket. Eggs are fine but try not to eat them every day and boil or poach them rather than frying them in oil.
How to Measure Your Energy Needs
You have to find out how much energy your body expends if you want to build a caloric deficit during your cutting phase. There are a few ways to do so.
Nutritionists have come up with some formulas based on age, current weight, and metabolic rates, but these formulas can be a little complicated and rely on figures that might be unknown to some people. It’s far easier to find an online energy requirements calculator that will crunch the numbers for you.
Daily activity levels are a critical part of understanding your body’s energy needs. Sedentary individuals burn far fewer calories than people who get just a moderate amount of exercise throughout the day. For active people and bodybuilders, the number of calories needed to power their bodies are comparably massive.
Helpful Hint: Get active with our Body Rev Fitplan!
10 Bodybuilder Tips to Help You Cut Properly
Nobody beats bodybuilders when it comes to mastering the bulking up and cutting cycle. Here are some of the most useful tips taken from bodybuilding programs to make your cutting phase effective:
1. Count Your Macros
Macronutrients are always important but they’re even more critical on a cutting diet because your body will be feeling the effects of a limited caloric intake. This includes carbohydrates. Although you might want to cut carbs out completely, they are important for your body to function properly and you still need to include them in your cutting diet in some capacity.
The “if it fits your macros” or IIFYM diet plan can be effective in the early stages of a weight loss journey, but if you’re at the stage where you’ve already managed to build muscles and you want to burn fat to make them more visible, you’ll probably want to avoid IIFYM and base your meals on nutritious whole foods.
2. Keep Up Your Weight Training
Although a calorie deficit may be making you feel a bit drained during the cutting phase, it’s important to keep training your muscles. Compound exercises that target most or all of your body’s muscle groups work best, and they will burn more calories, which is ideal for the cutting phase.
Some people feel inclined to eliminate exercises that they use in the bulking period in favor of extended cardio workouts like running. While that kind of cardio won’t kill your gains automatically, if your caloric deficit is large enough then your body will perhaps start to consume muscle mass for energy. Weight training is a better way to cut.
3. Use HIIT Routines for Cardio
Getting cardiovascular exercise is important during the cutting phase. But just like you should at any other period, you can use intense HIIT workout routines to promote hypertrophy though muscle exhaustion and as a way to get short-burst cardio without losing muscle mass.
HIIT is a great way to build lean muscle mass in general and during the cutting phase it can help pump up your muscles to make them even more visible. The rest intervals of a HIIT workout routine are the perfect time to use isometric exercises to target smaller muscles and improve your balance.
4. Protein Is Your Best Friend
This is nothing new to bodybuilders and people who have been working out for a long time, but protein is one of the most important macronutrients for building muscle. Protein also helps curb appetite, a godsend in the cutting phase when your body will very likely be hungry almost all the time.
Add protein to your diet at breakfast so you’re less likely to have cravings and hunger pangs later. At lunch and dinner, protein-rich foods that won’t increase your overall fat intake include skinless chicken breast, fish, beans, soy, eggs, and nuts, among other things. No cutting phase meal plan is complete without these key foods.
5. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water is undervalued these days. It’s bad enough that sedentary people cram processed salty foods down and chase them with sugary juices and soft drinks. For bodybuilders and other active people, failing to stay hydrated can wreck your gains and stifle the creation of lean muscle mass.
Your muscles use water to heal damaged muscles and accomplish hypertrophy. Drinking enough water will also help you avoid the worst hunger pangs and even boost your mood a bit. Skip the sports drinks and replace them with water to preserve some much-needed calories for real whole foods.
Helpful Hint: Learn how to structure a HIIT workout with our High-Intensity Fat Burn Fitplan!
6. Refeed Strategically
Some of the worst effects of a meal plan with a built-in caloric deficit can be avoided by having a refeed meal at the right time. It’s more satisfying than a cheat meal and it will actually help you get through the cutting phase more easily. You can plan a refeed meal or a refeed day once a week or twice monthly, just make sure that it’s well planned out and not an unlimited, open cheat meal.
The human body is incredibly adaptable. It will even adapt to the built-in calorie deficit of a dieting meal plan after some time, which can cause it to become more reluctant to burn energy through NEAT and exercise both. A refeed can keep your body guessing and ensure that it keeps burning fat cells. Plus, you’ll feel a bit better if you’re actually full once in a while.
7. Maintain a High Glycogen Level
Glycogen is a product of glucose and one of your body’s go-to energy resources during strenuous physical activity. Lifters who “hit the wall” during a workout are doing so most likely because they have exhausted their glycogen reserves.
Muscles store glycogen and use it as their main source of energy in a workout. If you want to have more glycogen, you should make sure your diet includes plenty of carbohydrates. You can also have a high glycogen level by following a clean ketogenic diet that will put your body in a keto-adaptive state and cause it to burn fat.
8. Do High-Intensity, Low-Rep Exercises
Lifting large amounts of weight a few times like you might do with a deadlift will encourage the creation of lean muscle mass which will in turn boost your metabolism and help you cut more. This is good news for those days when your calorie deficit is making you feel a bit tired and you don’t want to spend too much time at the gym.
Keeping these strenuous exercises in your workout routine throughout the cutting phase will help prevent muscle loss as well. They’re a great way to lose fat without having to rely on long-form cardio like running.
9. Use the Right Supplementation
You don’t have to rely completely on your diet to get the right nutrients during the cutting phase. Supplements like whey protein and creatine are a great help and they’ll also build muscle strength and promote fat loss. You can add them in as pre-workout snacks or after the workout to replenish your body’s reserves.
Whey protein particularly will help preserve lean muscle mass during the cutting phase. You can mix it into a shake and combine it with other common supplementation proteins such as pea protein or casein.
10. Cut at the Right Time
When should you start cutting? It depends on your body fat percentage and the amount of lean muscle mass you already have. If you don’t have much body fat, you most likely don’t need to plan on a long cutting phase. However, people who are just starting their weightlifting journey and have significant body fat percentages will benefit greatly from a prolonged cutting phase.
People with a bodybuilding competition coming up usually give themselves weeks and months to cut beforehand. It makes their muscles stand out better. For people who are cutting for their own personal benefit, you can take more or less time depending on how much fat you’re trying to lose.
Helpful Hint: Get some cardio and burn fat with our Total Body Jump Rope Shred Fitplan!
The cutting phase doesn’t have to be miserable but there are a few things to consider to make sure it’s effective. Make sure you keep feeding your body the nutrients it needs and focus on refeeding rather than a big cheat meal filled with processed or fatty foods. For serious bodybuilders, eliminating carbohydrates completely will reduce muscle gains.
Some common truths of weightlifting apply doubly during the cutting phase. You have to drink plenty of water and HIIT or plyometrics will still lead to more muscle building while you cut. However, compound exercises done in low reps with lots of weight are best for creating lean muscle mass. Use the 10 bodybuilding tips in this guide to make your next cutting phase as effective as possible.
(Note: Want our elite trainers to help motivate you in 2021? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)