Let’s say you’re not overweight, but you’d like to be leaner, in the 8-10% body fat range. Depending on where you’re at now, you think you can lose the excess fat in 3-8 weeks. In bodybuilding, this is called a “cutting phase” but these guidelines will help just about anyone.
First, what training will best help you achieve this goal? Answer: As high volume as you can recover from. This will be less than mass or “bulking” phase volume.
Being in a calorie deficit means your ability to recover from training isn’t as good as during a bulk, but you should strive to do as much as possible to provide the strongest signal to the body to retain muscle. High training volumes also help to create a calorie deficit. You might also include some form of cardio to increase the calorie deficit.
Now, what nutrition best supports this goal?
- Calorie deficit
- Protein sufficient to maintain muscle mass
- Increased fat intake compared with mass phase. Why? Because risk of hormonal disruption is higher in a calorie deficit.
- Carbs should be high enough to support training with high volumes. Set them as high as possible while still losing fat.
Protein preserves lean tissue when dieting and has the highest effect on satiety (the feeling of being full) of all the macros. Those are two good reasons to consume slightly more protein during a diet. Research suggests anything between 2 and 3.1g/kg as effective during cutting phases. Most people do best with 2.2 to 2.5g/kg. (To do the math for yourself, 1kg = 2.2 pounds.)
Base the exact amount on your eating preferences. The key to a successful diet is your ability to adhere to the plan.
The risk of hormonal disruption is increased during prolonged low-calorie dieting phases. To mitigate this, increase your fat intake. This isn’t an excuse to go full Atkins and start chowing down avocadoes wrapped in bacon and dipped in butter. Just be mindful that you need to be in a caloric deficit while consuming sufficient fat to not feel like a bag of crap the whole time. Eat 1g/kg of fat per day.
Whatever calories you have left over will be spent on carbs. Maintain more than 2g/kg for as long as possible to allow productive training.
How to Track Progress During a Cutting Phase
- Aim to lose 0.5 to 1% of bodyweight per week. For a 215 pound guy, that means to aim to lose roughly 1 to 2 pounds per week.
- When progress stalls, lower calories by 250-500 per day (lower end of scale the smaller and/or leaner you are).
- Use the scale, progress pictures, and body composition measures like skinfold readings to guide your adjustments.