It’s that time again! Winter bulk is over and we’re all starting to come out of our little cocoons to reveal the butterfly that lays within.
In honor of Christian Guzman’s Summer Shredding series, I thought I’d do a write up about my cutting process. In this post I’m going to walk you through how to setup a cut so that you can retain as much muscle as possible while still shedding body fat.
Although losing weight is simple, it’s anything but easy!
Here’s a quick run down of what’s required to get you on track for a successful cut:
- Assess how much you want to lose
- Figure out your macros
- Pick a training program
- Schedule time for recovery and self care
Let’s walk through each of these steps.
Setting a goal
The first thing you should do is take a realistic look at yourself and determine where you want to be 4 months from now. If you’re overweight or just finished a bulk, a cut will be great for you. But if you’re just starting out at a normal weight and want to get “toned”, you probably don’t need to do a cut.
A problem I see over and over again is someone who is at a healthy weight but unhappy with how they look, so they think the solution is to lose weight. This couldn’t be further from the truth! What ends up happening is they lose what little body fat they had and end up looking emaciated and weak. This is because they didn’t have much muscle to begin with! When they shed that body fat, there was nothing underneath to give them the “tone” that they were going for. So if you’re at a healthy BMI and unsatisfied with how you look, my suggestion would be to either do a small bulk or body recomp (eat at maintenance). I did a write up on how to bulk, so I’d definitely recommend checking that out.
Now for the rest of you, you should set a cutting goal. This doesn’t have to be anything concrete and will most likely end up changing as the months go on and you begin to see what your body looks like at different weights, but it’s good to have a goal in mind to keep you motivated and give you direction.
For some people this could mean a weight goal, a body fat percentage goal, or a measurement goal. Either way, write it down now so that you can track your progress throughout the journey.
Now we get to without a doubt the the most important factor when it comes to losing weight: your diet.
There are a ton of different dieting styles out there, but at the end of the day you should be aiming to burn more calories than you consume. My favorite method for doing this and one that I’ve found is most sustainable for people is macro or calorie counting. I wrote an in depth article about how you can calculate and track your macros, so make sure to check that out if you’re unsure.
The first step to figuring out the fine details of your diet will be to calculate your macros. You can do that with a macro calculator.
Once you have your macros set, all you’ll need is a food scale and way to track. My favorite apps for this are MyFitnessPal and Cronometer. The latter has more focus on micronutrients (more on this later) and it’s been my go to for the last few years.
The last point I want to touch on is recalculating your macros throughout this process. If you plugged your numbers into the calculator, you may have noticed it asked for your weight.
The more you weight, the more calories you require to maintain your weight.
So as you continue to lose weight, your body will need less calories to maintain itself. So say you start at 200 lbs, your calories to maintain that weight are 2500, so you’re eating 2000 calories per day to lose weight. Well now 2 months goes by and you’re down 10 lbs! That’s awesome, but you’ve noticed your weight loss has stalled. This is because you’re still eating the calories required to maintain your 200 lb body. If you run your numbers through the same calculator, all things constant besides your weight, you’ll notice that you now require fewer calories in order to lose weight.
This is totally normal and an often overlooked part of the process. I recommend revisiting your macro calculation every 4-5 weeks or whenever you’ve lost a few pounds.
Contrary to what fitness gurus may have you believe, you don’t actually need to workout to lose weight. Sure, working out will burn some extra calories, but if you’re in a deficit strictly through diet, then working out isn’t actually necessary.
Now that doesn’t mean working out isn’t important, because it is. Once you shed the fat, you want to have some structure beneath that will give you some shape. This is done by building muscle! And how do we build muscle? By lifting weights.
So first things first, you want to pick a workout program. Reddit’s fitness subreddit has a great list of workout programs that you can choose from.
As long as you’re following a reputable program and increasing the weight, reps, or sets (progressive overload) week by week, you will see results. Here are some tips when it comes to your training routine:
– Pick something sustainable (probably not going to be a heavy powerlifting program)
– Make sure you’re lifting heavy enough and frequently enough to maintain the muscle you have (4-6 times a week)
– Don’t get too wrapped up in cardio
Last year I successfully dropped 8 lbs of fat and gained 1 lb of muscle without doing much cardio at all. Cardio is awesome for heart health and should be included in your routine, but you shouldn’t feel like you need to spend hours on the treadmill or stairmaster just to burn fat. At the end of the day, cardio is a tool to increase your deficit.
This can be done in many other non-taxing ways:
– Increase your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis aka walking, cleaning, gardening, etc)
– Add in a short stretching or yoga routine
– Eat a little less (200-300 cal)
Recovery is a very important and often overlooked part of a workout routine. When you’re working out 4-6 times a week, your body is already under a lot of stress constantly trying to rebuild muscle. That stress is then compounded when you’re eating in a calorie deficit (losing weight).
Think of it this way. Your body is using whatever extra energy it has to rebuild muscle from your intense workouts. But now you’re not even giving it enough calories to maintain its weight. Of course it’s going to be stressed out! Often times this stress can manifest in other parts of your life: work, sleep, relationships.
In my experience, dealing with the stress and toll weight loss takes on your mood is often the hardest part of losing weight. You’ll have days where you’re hungry, tired, and overall cranky.
This is why focusing on recovery and mental health is so important during a cut!
Top recovery tips:
- Get enough sleep
This is really the MOST IMPORTANT TIP for recovery. If you’re not getting 7-10 hours of sleep, you’re absolutely doing yourself a disservice when it comes to muscle growth and recovery. About 75% of HGH (human growth hormone) is released during sleep. In a study of healthy men, even just a week of sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours) showed a significant decrease in testosterone and increase of stress hormone cortisol. By not sleeping enough, you’re depriving your body of the essential period it needs to rebuild muscle and even furthering the stress on it with the increase of cortisol.
- Eat enough protein
Another way to make your recovery smoother is by making sure you’re getting enough protein. It’s generally recommended to get around 1 gram per pound of lean mass. For example, if you weigh 160 lbs and a dexa scan has shown that you have 25% body fat (you can estimate this), then your lean mass is 120 lbs. Therefore your protein intake should be about 120 grams. If you go over this of course it won’t be detrimental to your body, but it also won’t benefit you either, so my suggestion would be to keep your protein at this level and then let the rest of your macros fall as you see fit.
- Get your micronutrients in check
Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc) are often overlooked by those that track their macros. This is a HUGE mistake. Yes you can still lose weight without worrying too much about nutrition, but you won’t feel great. I follow a plant based diet, so it’s even more important that I keep an eye on all my nutrients. For this reason, I prefer tracking my food with the micro and macro tracker app, Cronometer.
- Let your body relax
My last suggestion for recovery is to make sure you’re letting yourself relax every day. Now this will differ for everyone, but some popular ways to relax are meditating, reading a book in an epsom salt bath, sleeping in on the weekends, getting a massage, doing yoga, or just lounging on the couch scrolling through Reddit (guilty). Whatever method you choose, it’s important to unwind and have some time to just lay back and de-stress.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully this quick guide was helpful in helping you setup your cut. Make sure you comment any questions below and follow along as I’ll be posting a lot more documenting my upcoming cut.
May the shreds be with you!