Cut Phase: How Much to Lose and How to Cut Calories
The sport of bodybuilding can do doubt be very confusing. There is a lot of information out there but above all, everyone is so different that there cannot be one cookie cutter way to do things. There is no magic answer or formula that will do the trick for every one person. AND, from season to season, your contest prep and build phases will also change as your body changes.
In This Post:
- Figure out maintenance calories
- Calculate macro’s
- Calculate goal weight
- Body fat
- Lean body mass
- goal weight
- How to cut calories
- Calorie deficit with cardio, carbs and fat
- Carb cycling
- Track your program
- Plan Ahead
- Reverse diet
Every trainer has their theories and philosophies based on experience and education. And let’s not forget the tools science has given us to help hack our bodies. With that, when cycling through the phases, science and intuition must be considered when embarking on getting buff and getting lean.
With that, there are some things you can do to get started and a few tools to put in your arsenal to try out. First things first…..
1) Get a baseline
If you are just getting into competing and will start cutting soon or, you are coming out of a build phase and you weren’t keeping track of your diet (macro’s- protein, carbs, fat), START! You need baseline maintenance calories to know where you are at.
Macro calculators such as IIFYM.com or Muscle and Strength can be useful but not as accurate as you taking a week or two to track your diet and workouts accurately. Be consistent! If your weight stays the same, you know you can start cutting from there. If you start losing, you underestimated how much you were eating as maintenance. And if you are gaining… well, you know the rest.
Macro’s, or macro-nutrients are the proteins, carbohydrates and fats you eat every day. In general, eating a diet that is 50% carbs, 30% protein, 20% fat is a big general guideline for many bodybuilders including you bikini gals for that matter. Of course this will vary but again, it’s a place to start.
When I set up diets for clients, I tend not to stick to percentages because those percentages could yield a daily fat intake that is too low for my clients goals. And, percentages can become inaccurate when cutting down.
When cutting, you will need to know that:
- Protein yields 4 calories per gram
- Carbs yield 4 calories per gram
- Fat yields 9 calories per gram
30% protein: 2500 x .3 = 750 calories / 4 cals per g = 187 grams of protein
OR allot 1-1.5g of protein per pound of body weight (BW):
If I weigh 140 pounds at a normal body fat level, I would allot myself around 130-150 grams of protein per day. Say I choose 140 gram of protein per day. 140 x 4 = 560 calories. If you are overweight or obese, you will need to place grams of protein just above your lean body mass (LBM) (see LBM section below).
20% fat: 2500 x .2 = 500 calories / 9 cals per g= 56 grams of fat
Fill in the rest of the caloric intake with carbs by using the percentage equation:
50% carbs: 2500 x .5 =1250 calories / 4 cals per g = 312 grams of carbs
Or, taking the fat and protein calories and subtracting them from the total calorie intake.
(for this example using the 1g per pound of BW protein grams from 140 above): 500 x 560 = 1060.
Subtract 1060 from original maintenance calories:
2500-1060 = 1440
1440 is the number of cals left over for carbs.
Divide this by 4.
1440/4=360 grams of carbs per day.
At 2500 calories per day you will have either:
187 g protein, 56 g fat, 312 g carbs
140 g protein, 56 g fat, 360 g carbs
Very general, adjust accordingly.
2) Know your body composition
It is important to know your body composition (how much fat and lean body mass) . For one, as you build muscle, you will weigh more even though your jeans fit way better! Using the scale is a decent way to track progress but its just a number. The mirror and your actual body composition is more important.
a) Get a Body Fat Test
Have your body fat ( BF) tested at your local gym or buy a pair of calipers like these Accu-Measure Body Fat Caliper’s. Make sure the same person takes your body fat over time to be consistent in tracking progress. Other ways to do BF tests are with a bod pod, hydro-static weighing and a dexa scan. So far, I have found a dexa scan to be the most accurate but pictures are really the best form of tracking!
b) Calculate Lean Body Mass
Lean Body Mass (LBM): -all but the fat like muscle, bone, organs and such.
LBM = Your Body Weight – (Your Body Weight x Your Current Body Fat Percentage)
A person weighs 144 pounds at 18% body fat
144 lb x .18 = 25.92 lb fat
144 – (144 x .18) = 118.08 Lean Body Mass
This person has a lean body mass of 118 pounds and 26 pounds of fat.
3) What’s your goal weight?
Now that you know your LBM and how much fat is on your bod, you can calculate your desired goal weight. If you are just looking for a beach body, 10-15% is a good goal range. If you are competing, you will need to have chosen a division to compete in ( See Divisions Explained) as each division requires different levels of leanness. Each person may compete at differing body fat levels due to how they carry weight and lean out but this will get you started.
Desired body fat ranges for each division for women:
- Bikini 12-15%
- Figure & Fitness 10-12%
- Physique 8-10%
- Bodybuilding 8-10%
Goal Weight Calculation:
LBM/ (1-desired body fat %) = goal weight
Bikini Body: 10% Body Fat
118.08/ (1 – .10) = 131.2 pounds
Need a 13 lb weight loss
Figure Body: 5% Body Fat
118.08/ (1-.06) = 125.6 pounds
Need an 18 lb weight loss
4) Cutting Calories
The cut phase into a show, as stated above, can be very intuitive even though it may be science driven. Everyone will react differently to their program but you can at least start somewhere. (See my Contest Prep and Weekly Updates)
Once you have determined your maintenance calories and the amount of fat you must lose you can decide on how much time you will need to lose it.
Aim for 1-1.5 pounds of weight loss per week. You must cut slowly. Your body will adapt to your program as you go along. If you cut too fast you may plateau only having to cut even more calories and add more cardio. This can be really brutal to an already challenging endeavor. Aside from the torture of dieting harshly, you can loose that hard earned muscle in the process.
Cut 50-100 calories per day each week with either cardio or decreasing calories. Your body composition and weight loss will dictate how and when you cut. It may be weekly or 2x per month for example.
Protein will essentially stay the same throughout the diet as you manipulate carbs and fat, mostly carbs. Total calories shouldn’t get below 1200 ish as you have to take in a certain amount of nutrition at the very least to function. Now, for those in contest prep, 2 -4 weeks before peak week, some competitors may need to go below 1200 for an extra push to get extra lean but hopefully not! Fat shouldn’t ever go below 25-30 grams a day for females and 40-50 g for males.
NOTE: We are talking cut phase here. In an off season, you want your calories as high as possible, and fat to be 50-60+ grams for females and 80-90+ gram for males with protein set around 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Fill in with carbs as shown in the sections above.
I do want to add as a side note that this is for a bodybuilding diet with the specific goal of fueling your muscles for max effort in the gym. There are many other diets that may work better for non-competitors looking to be fit and to look good naked! 😀
Back to cutting…..
- Protein yields 4 calories per gram
- Carbs yield 4 calories per gram
- Fat yields 9 calories per gram
Cut 50-100 calories per day each week by taking away carbs, fat or adding cardio. When cutting calories, know that fat contains 9 calories per gram. If you cut fat one week, decreasing fat by 5-10 grams equates to 50-100 calories. Cut fat first from meals that are around your workouts.
If you cut carbs, carbs have 4 calories per gram. For a 50-100 calorie cut, decrease daily carbs by 10 – 25 grams. Cut carbs first from meals away from your workout. For example, if you workout in the evening, cut carbs from morning meals. Keeping carbs around your workouts will be important as your calorie deficit increases. You will need that energy to get a good workout in.
Calorie deficit with cardio and calories
During my build phase I don’t do much cardio so that when I hit a cut phase, my body will respond well. For the beginning of my cut phase, I might add 2 HIIT sessions of 4 intervals for week 1. Then for the following weeks I might do something like this:
Week 2: decrease carbs by 20 g of carbs (4 calories to 1 g carb- 20 x 4 = 80 calories down).
If my weight loss is in a good spot, I will then
Week 3: decrease fat by 5 grams (9 calories per gram of fat- 5 x 9 = 45 calories)
and so on….
Alternate adding cardio (MISS or HIIT) one week, decrease fat one week and then carbs another week. Some weeks may be a combo. Add 1-2 intervals onto your HIIT sessions (See this on how to use cardio) or 5-10 min onto MISS sessions. Just make sure you stay sane and don’t get crazy with the cutting. It all adds up in the end big time! If you cut too much too soon, you may end up at a plateau with nowhere to go.
Keep in mind the faster you cut and lose weight, the more muscle you will possibly lose so that when you hit your goal weight, you don’t look at lean as you should because some of that weight was lost muscle.
The amounts you add or subtract will all depend on your weight loss and body composition. BUT a word of warning! There may be weeks that your weight doesn’t drop but you are still leaning out! Or, your body will retain water before your period, then drop when you get it.
Don’t get stuck on the scale! It’s just a number used to track progress and tool to make your initial cut phase plan.
Again, body composition and the mirror will define your end point. 🙂
Also keep in a mind, a weight plateau isn’t a plateau unless the scale hasn’t moved in 3 weeks….
When carbs start getting low you can try carb cycling for an extra push if need be. I personally like to hold off cycling until needed as it can put you in highs and lows that aren’t necessary compared to keeping calories the same daily with a weekly higher carb day, aka: refeed.
Cycling carbs is a method where you have high, medium and low carb days. Some people cycle carbs drastically. For example, a low carb day will be below 50 grams and a high day of 175 grams of carbs. Others cycle carbs with a 30 gram difference between high, medium and low days such as 130g, 160g and 190g of carbs. When cycling, you will look at the total average calories over 7 days when trying to set this up so that you can cut appropriately.
To start, say you are currently at 1400 calories with 150 g protein, 30 g fat and 130 carbs a day. You want to start cycling but you have to remember the rule of cutting 50-100 cals per day each week, so… choose how drastically you want to cycle making sure total cals on a low day are in the 1200 ish range: for this example:
Low day: 70 g carbs
med day:100 g carbs
High day: 130 g carbs
Now, set up your week with high, med and low days.
- Sun: high
- Mon: med
- Tue: high
- Wed: med
- Thur: med
- Fri: refeed day
- Sat: high
What I do is take the total daily cals for the high, med and low day, add them for the week and divide by 7. If that number is a difference more than 50-100 calories below 1400 (for this example), then I need to exchange a low or medium day for a high and so on. In this example above, putting a low day in for this week would have made a calorie deficit change more than 100 calories per day.
As the weeks go on, you switch out the high days for med and low days keeping that daily average cut in mind.
You can get aggressive toward the end with many low days of your prep as long as it isn’t for weeks and weeks on end as that will fry your metabolism.
Make your high and refeed days around muscles groups you really need to build.
5) Track your calories
6) Plan Ahead
Planning meals ahead of time, planning the foods you will eat the night before and making sure you have a plan when you go out with friends or family will help set you up for success. And, many restaurants have their menu online. Check out 9 Essentials Ways to Cut Calories When You are with Your Friends.
7) Track your workouts
I used to track all my workouts in a Google Drive spread sheet so I could access it on my phone. After each set of exercises, I would input what I did and track my progress. You can also write it down in a book as well. Keep track of things that may affect your performance that day like “lack of sleep,” or “getting sick” or “feeling weak today” etc. This will help when you look back and compare workouts. The more experienced you get and the longer you lift, you know how much weight and reps you can do for every exercise possible. Now it’s all in my head but having it on paper is nice to see over time.
8) Reverse Diet
Once you have reached your desired body fat level, you must reverse diet. Reverse dieting is essentially the cut phase backward. You need to take out cardio and add calories to allow your metabolism to catch back up so that you don’t gain excess fat. You will gain some fat back but you can maintain a leaner physique while slowly taking in more calories. This is also a very intuitive process and must be adjusted to the individual as you go! Reverse dieting is a MUST if you want to keep that body and get in those calories to stay healthy!
more on reverse dieting:
Happy Cutting! Be smart and Don’t Forget About Reverse Dieting!
Also check out:
- Contest Prep 2016
- Contest prep 2015 – Calculations and initial plan
- Cut phase 2014
- Build phase 2014
- My weekly cut phase updates
- Competition Guide Articles