How To Follow A Cutting Diet: Your Ultimate Guide To Cut Weight While Holding Onto Muscle

bodybuilder showing results of following a cutting diet

With the sun setting on the dreary, chilly weather, thoughts naturally drift to the approaching bright summer days and, for many of us, beach season. It also brings the thrill of preparing your physique for that bikini, board shorts, or, if you’re bold, Speedo, you bought months ago. Over the winter, you concentrated on increasing muscle bulk, but it’ll soon be time to bring all that sexiness out of hibernation.

From the outside, bodybuilding appears simple: you eat a lot of food and lift a lot of weights to grow as muscular as possible, right? Well, not quite. The building phase is the first part of the equation. A big portion of a bodybuilder’s prep phase is spent removing fat from their frame in order to highlight the muscles they built in the gym. This is often referred to as the cutting stage.

How to structure your cutting program is one of the most important questions you’ll ever have to answer. In some respects, when to begin is just as essential as how to begin. Since your body and lifestyle are unique, there is no one-size-fits-all response I can give you. The only thing I can do is help you come up with an effective weight-loss strategy that doesn’t leave you scrambling for solutions or making you feel bad about yourself with a miserable crash diet. So first, let’s talk about the difference between bulking and cutting.

What’s the Difference Between Bulking and Cutting?

Bulking and cutting are terms you’ve probably heard before. There are two dietary approaches that can help you improve your body composition. Unless you’re brand new to bodybuilding, you’ve undoubtedly done both.

Bulking is the process of increasing body weight, primarily in the form of muscular mass, by combining strength exercise and a caloric surplus. You want as little of that weight gain to be fat as feasible. Even the most successful bulks, however, will result in some fat gain.

Cutting is the process of reducing – or “cutting” – body fat in order to make muscles more apparent and defined. A cutting diet, unlike traditional weight-loss plans, focuses on retaining lean body mass through food changes and heavy physical training.

Man showing results after following a cutting diet

Bulking is usually simple and enjoyable, but cutting is generally more difficult and unpleasant. After all, most of us prefer to eat rather than go hungry.

What Is A Cutting Diet?

A cutting diet, also known as shredding, is designed to assist people reduce fat while maintaining muscle mass.

The cutting diet is often used by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts as a short-term regimen prior to an event, competition, or as part of their training plan.

A cutting diet differs from other weight loss diets in that it is tailored to each individual, has a greater protein and carbohydrate content, and should be supplemented with weightlifting.
People combine a cutting diet with weightlifting to achieve their goals. Weightlifting helps individuals maintain muscle mass, which helps to prevent muscle loss when calorie cutting begins.

A cutting diet lasts 2–4 months, depending on how lean you were before dieting, and is usually timed to coincide with bodybuilding competitions, sporting events, or special occasions such as holidays.

How To Do A Cutting Diet?

Calculate how many calories you consume on a daily basis

Calculate how many calories you consume on a daily basis

When you eat less calories than you burn on a regular basis, you lose fat.

To lose weight, the quantity of calories you should consume each day is determined by your weight, height, lifestyle, gender, and level of physical activity.

In general, a woman requires roughly 2,000 calories per day to maintain her weight, but 1,500 calories to shed 1 pound (0.45 kg) of fat every week, whereas a guy requires around 2,500 calories to maintain his weight or 2,000 calories to lose the same amount.

A cutting diet works best when you lose weight slowly and consistently, such as 1 pound (0.45 kg) or 0.5–1% of your body weight every week.

Although a higher calorie deficit may help you lose weight more quickly, studies have shown that it also increases your chance of muscle loss, which actually defeats the whole purpose of the diet.

Calculate your protein consumption

On a cutting diet, getting enough protein is crucial.

Numerous studies have discovered that eating a high-protein diet will help you lose weight by increasing your metabolism, decreasing your hunger, and helping you keep your lean muscle mass 

If you’re on a cutting diet, you’ll need more protein than if you’re just trying to stay in shape. This is because you’re eating less calories but exercising on a regular basis, which raises your protein requirements.

On a cutting diet, most studies estimate that 0.7–0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.6–2.0 grams per kg) is sufficient to maintain muscle mass.

A 155-pound (70-kg) person, for example, should consume 110–140 grams of protein per day.

Determine how much fat to consume

Woman calculating the amount of fat to consume while on a cutting diet

Fat is essential for a reducing diet since it plays a significant function in hormone production.

While it’s customary to cut fat on a cutting diet, not consuming enough can have an impact on the production of hormones like testosterone and IGF-1, which assist maintain muscle mass.

For instance, studies show that cutting fat intake from 40% to 20% of total calories reduces testosterone levels by a little but considerable amount.

However, some evidence suggests that, as long as you eat adequate protein and carbs, a decline in testosterone levels does not always mean muscle loss.

Fat should account for 15–30% of your calories on this diet, according to experts.

Because one gram of fat comprises 9 calories, anybody following a 2,000-calorie diet should consume 33–67 grams of fat each day.

If you exercise frequently, the lower end of that fat range may be preferable for you because it permits you to consume more carbohydrates.

Calculate your carbohydrate intake

Carbs are essential for maintaining muscle mass while on a reducing diet.

Because your body prefers to use carbs for energy rather than protein, eating enough carbs can help you avoid muscle loss.

Carbohydrates can also help you perform better during workouts.

Carbohydrates should make up the residual calories after protein and fat have been removed from the equation on a reducing diet.

Protein and carbohydrates both have 4 calories per gram, however, fat has 9 calories per gram. Divide the leftover figure by 4, which should tell you how many carbs you can eat per day after subtracting your protein and fat needs from your total calorie intake.

On a 2,000 calories cutting diet, a 155-pound (70-kg) person might eat 110 grams of protein and 60 grams of fat. Carbs can take up the remaining 1,020 calories (255 grams).

Do Meal Timings And Frequency Matter?

Protein should be consumed at 3–4 hour intervals throughout the day and within 2 hours of exercise, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).

The ISSN also suggests eating protein with carbohydrates before exercise, after, or both.

The amount of protein required after a workout is determined by the size and timing of any meals consumed prior to the workout.

For bodybuilding, evidence suggests a moderate meal frequency of 3–6 meals per day, each with at least 20 grams of protein.

Refeed Days And Cheat Meals

In most cutting diets, cheat meals and/or refeed days are included.

Cheat days allow a person to have occasional indulgences to break up the monotony of a diet, whereas refeed days are once or twice weekly carbohydrate boosts.

A higher carbohydrate diet has a number of advantages, including replenishing your body’s glucose stores, boosting exercise performance, and regulating various hormones.

Studies reveal that a higher-carb day can temporarily boost your metabolism and increase levels of the satiety hormone leptin.

Even if you gain weight after a cheat meal or refeed day, it’s usually water weight that you lose over the next few days.

Even so, it’s easy to sabotage your weight loss attempts by overeating on these days. Furthermore, these routines may encourage bad behaviors, particularly if you’re prone to an emotional eating disorder.

It’s safe to say, cheat meals and refeed days aren’t necessary and should be properly planned.

What To Eat On A Cutting Diet

A nutritionally adequate and balanced diet is recommended in sports nutrition guidelines.

To guarantee that important vitamins and minerals are obtained through food, a person should have a diverse diet. Essential nutrients are necessary for energy and recovery, in addition to maintaining overall health and well-being.

The following foods should be included in a reducing diet:

  • Lean meat and poultry, oily fish, and eggs are all good sources of protein
  • Beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Milk, yogurt, and low-fat cheese
  • Protein powders such as whey, hemp, rice, and peas
  • Olives, avocados, and olive oil
  • Brown rice and pasta, oats, whole grain bread, barley, and quinoa are all examples of whole grains
  • Leafy greens and various colored fruits and vegetables

People must also ensure that they are properly hydrated.

Tips While On A Cutting Diet

Woman showing off toned abs

Here are some suggestions to help you stay on track with your fat loss on a cutting diet:

  • Increase your intake of fiber-rich foods. Non-starchy vegetables, which are high in fiber, provide more nutrients and can help you stay satiated for longer while on a calorie deficit.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can help you eat less and speed up your metabolism for a short time.
  • Make meal preparation a habit. Preparing meals ahead of time can save you time, keep you on track with your diet, and save you from succumbing to harmful food temptations.
  • Liquid carbohydrates should be avoided. Sports drinks, soft drinks, and other sugar-sweetened liquids are devoid of micronutrients, may cause hunger, and aren’t as full as fiber-rich, whole foods.
  • Consider doing some cardio. Aerobic exercise, particularly high-intensity cardio, can help you lose weight faster when combined with weight lifting.

Take Away

A cutting diet is designed to help you lose weight while keeping your muscle mass.

Calculating your calorie, protein, fat, and carb needs based on your weight and lifestyle is part of this diet. It should only be followed for a few months before an athletic event, and it should be combined with weightlifting.

If you’re interested in trying out this weight reduction diet for athletes, talk to your trainer or a doctor to determine if it’s right for you.

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