For anyone looking to maximize muscle growth fast, bulking is the way to do it. You’re increasing your food intake to create a caloric surplus, whereby the extra energy goes directly to fuel gains in the gym (i.e. muscle growth and repair).
When doing a bulk, it’s usually combined with a heavy resistance training program built around compound moves—squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.—to maximize hypertrophy and strength gains.
But the thing with being in a caloric surplus and gaining muscle and strength during a bulk is that you’re also going to accumulate fat. How much usually depends on your caloric surplus and how long you bulk for, but it’s generally unavoidable.
Once you’ve built up your muscle mass, it’s then time to let those gains shine—and that’s where we cut. We cut back on the calories to wither away the layer of fat that’s accumulated over your newly built muscle mass.
If you’ve never done a cut before, we’re giving you everything you need to know about cutting and how to do a proper cut without losing muscle mass.
What Does Cutting Mean?
Many professional athletes and fitness competitors follow a cycle of bulking and cutting to build muscle and shed fat. When done the right way, a bulk and cut cycle is a great way to increase muscle mass and lean out quickly but done the wrong way, it can lead to significant muscle loss (we’ll talk about that soon) and metabolic dysfunction.
In general, there are two main goals during a cut:
- Hypertrophy (muscle growth)
- Fat loss
If you want to build muscle, your body needs something to build off—and that’s a caloric surplus. When you’re trying to maximize muscle growth, you need to consume more than you’re burning so that extra energy can be put towards the muscle growth and repair required with high-intensity resistance training. Some fat gain is inevitable during a bulk.
Fat loss, on the other hand, requires a caloric deficit (i.e., you need to burn more than you’re consuming). Athletes go through a cutting cycle, where training increases and food intake decreases to shed the layer of fat that develops over muscle tissue.
As a result, you’re altering body composition and increasing muscle definition 1. Ideally, the goal of a cut is to shed fat while maintaining maximum lean muscle mass, which is usually accomplished through a nutritionally imbalanced diet that cuts carbs. However, there are more effective ways to cut than extreme dieting.
But that’s where things can get blurry. If you’re not cutting property, it’s easy to lose everything you just worked so hard for.
The Problem With Cutting: Muscle Loss
Once the bulking cycle is done, athletes hone in on their diet and exercise program to shed the unwanted layer of fat accumulated over their muscle mass. But the big problem with cutting cycles is that if you cut too aggressively or aren’t following an appropriate training program, you may lose muscle besides fat.
A lot of people choose to approach cutting the wrong way because they’re under the impression that the more restrictive diet is, the more fat they’ll lose—but that’s not the case. A good cut is more about strategy than anything else.
Following an extremely restrictive, low-calorie diet doesn’t provide your body with the building blocks it needs to function optimally and retain muscle, which means it starts to break it down. You need a solid strategy that reduces body fat while holding onto muscle mass to prevent that from happening.
Simply put, you need to watch your macros and ensure you’re consuming enough protein (and some carbs) to support muscle protein synthesis (or at least limit breakdown) and hormonal balance.
Going to the extreme with a cut can also cause other issues. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance showed that extreme fat loss in bodybuilders can also cause a drastic drop in heart rate 2.
A slower than average heart rate can result in fainting, high or low blood pressure, and even heart failure. On top of that, it can also cause testosterone levels to tank, and testosterone is needed for muscle growth.
Some level of body fat is needed to facilitate hormonal functions as well as energy production, so when you drop too much fat, you’re also going to experience fatigue.
That said, after weeks or months of bulking to maximize muscle growth, chances are you don’t want to lose it to a bad cut. So, the goal of any good cut is to preserve muscle mass while maximizing fat loss.
Here’s how you can do that.
7 Steps To The Perfect Cut
1. Find The Right Caloric Deficit
Most diets can contribute to a cutting phase as long as you have a big enough calorie deficit. All food contains calories, and some are better to consume during a cut which will make the process easier. But regardless of what you’re eating, calculating your calorie deficit is the first place to start when doing a cut.
Decide how much weight you want to lose and at what speed. For most people, 0.5-1kg per week is good to start, which means you’ll need to be in a deficit of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories, So, if you were consuming 3,000 calories per day, you’ll scale that back to 2,000 to 2,500 calories daily.
While it may seem tempting to drop as much fat as fast as possible, slow and steady wins the race with fat loss. A 2017 study showed that slow, consistent weight loss was more effective in altering body composition, while another study 2014 study found that losing 0.5-1% of bodyweight per week was the most effective method to lose fat and retain muscle mass 3, 4.
2. Clean Up Your Diet (+ Track Your Macros)
Diet plays a huge part in how successful your bulk and cut will be. While you need to be in a caloric deficit to shed fat, you still need to be consuming (and tracking) all of your macros.
You want to focus on simple, nutrient-dense foods that will supply you with enough carbs, protein, and fats to support optimal function, fat loss, and muscle preservation.
Get rid of processed meats, refined sugar and carbohydrates, and bad fats—they promote inflammation and fat gain.
Macronutrient ratios are going to differ between people, but here are some general guidelines:
- Protein: 2.3g to 3.1g protein per kg of lean bodyweight
- Fat: 15-30% of calories
- Carbs: Remainder of calories
3. Eat Enough Protein
Protein forms the foundation of muscle tissue, and if you’re cutting protein in an effort to lose fat, you’re going to lose muscle, too—guaranteed. Eating enough protein becomes essential to maintain lean muscle mass, but it also helps to increase satiety and boost thermogenesis—both of which make your cut easier 5.
You also want to focus on when you consume your protein. Although the anabolic window is a topic of huge debate, consuming a meal high in protein post-workout is generally recommended to kick-start muscle recovery.
But at the same time, studies also show that evenly distributing dietary protein throughout the day has the same effect on triggering protein muscle synthesis 6.
Carbs and fats will be reduced as your cut progresses, but protein intake needs to remain high.
4. Time Your Carb Intake
Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source (they break down into glucose), but they’re also the easiest macronutrient to store. That means too many carbs, and you’re going to store fat, not lose it.
But while it may be enticing to cut carbs to lose fat quickly, don’t. Your muscles need carbs to perform and refuel, so it’s more about being strategic with the timing and amount.
The carbs you eat pre or post-workout are put towards energy use and muscle repair, which have a different contribution to body composition than eating carbs before bed. If you want to prevent fat gain during your cut, you have to be smart about when you consume your carbs.
5. Keep Lifting
Just because you want to cut fat doesn't mean you should stop resistance training. The primary training stimulus for muscle growth is progressive overload, which means constantly increasing the stimulus to promote growth and strength adaptations 7.
If you’re not increasing the challenge, your body has no reason to grow and get stronger. The same concept applies to maintaining muscle during a cut 8. If you’re not giving your body a stimulus to grow and maintain muscle mass, why would it?
That means instead of switching to low-weight, high rep or opting for high-intensity circuits to ‘tone’ the body, maintain your current strength training routine throughout your cut, or if you can, increase it. You want to provide your body with a strong enough signal to maintain muscle or build more.
6. Avoid Excessive Cardio
While cutting doesn’t mean you have to forego the weight in favor of all cardio—that’s not an effective way to lose fat—you do want to incorporate some cardiovascular activity. Metabolic resistance training and HIIT programs are highly effective for torching calories and burning fat while maintaining muscle mass.
Studies have shown that HIIT can help increase fat oxidation, reduce various metabolic risk factors, and improve body composition in overweight people. When you compare high-intensity workouts with steady-state cardio, you’re burning more calories in substantially less time.
Long story short, cardio can be an effective crutch to burn more calories, but combining a good diet with a solid strength program will be more effective for fat loss.
7. Supplement Where Needed
There’s no denying that getting through a cut is a challenge and keeping your muscle mass is even more so. Alongside a good diet and solid training program, a fat burner can be your best mate during a cut—and Burn Lab Pro® is the best of the best.
If you’re ready to sculpt your physique and let that muscle definition shine, Burn Lab Pro® will turn your body into a fat-burning machine without compromising existing muscle mass. It’s a cutting-edge formula stacked with five powerful ingredients that rev your metabolism to shed fat, build muscle, and push your body through even the toughest cuts.
Featuring ForsLean® Coleus Forskohlii, Capsimax® Cayenne Pepper extract, HMB, NutriGenesis® GTF Chromium, and BioPerine® Black Pepper extract, Burn Lab Pro® is the safest and most effective fat burner on the market.
Let Burn Lab Pro® be the driving force behind your cut. It’s a ground-breaking fat-burning formula designed to protect and preserve muscle mass—even during a calorie deficit—to support harder, more intense training.
- Lenzi JL, Teixeira EL, de Jesus G, Schoenfeld BJ, de Salles Painelli V. Dietary Strategies of Modern Bodybuilders During Different Phases of the Competitive Cycle. J Strength Cond Res. 2021 Sep 1;35(9):2546-2551.
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- Ashtary-Larky D, Ghanavati M, Lamuchi-Deli N, et al. Rapid Weight Loss vs. Slow Weight Loss: Which is More Effective on Body Composition and Metabolic Risk Factors?. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2017;15(3):e13249.
- Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20.
- Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85.
- Mori H. Effect of timing of protein and carbohydrate intake after resistance exercise on nitrogen balance in trained and untrained young men. J Physiol Anthropol. 2014;33(1):24.
- Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.
- Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.