May 09, 2021 10 min read
We all know abs are made in the kitchen, right? While exercise is a vital part of reaching your fitness goals and improving overall health, nutrition should be treated with the same importance.
Whether you’re a bodybuilding professional or just enjoy a frequent gym session, it is likely you have heard the terms “cutting” and “bulking” in reference to dieting techniques.
Understanding the difference between a cut and a bulk is simple. Bulking uses strenuous training and a calorie surplus to maximize mass gain while prioritizing strength and muscle over aesthetics.
However, if you’re looking to get absolutely shredded, a cut may be the best route for you. The process of bulking usually comes relatively easy, but cutting is where things can become difficult.
Though the specifics of each cut vary greatly from person to person, all share a common goal: lose as much body fat as possible while maintaining as much muscle as possible. You might be surprised that losing body fat while attempting to retain muscle gains is no easy task.
What separates cuts from most other diet plans is the personalization of macros and calories accompanied by continued weightlifting. Protein will likely be a big priority and there will be a goal to consume fewer calories than you might be used to.
Much like bulking, training is still very important. However, while training in a bulk will help you achieve massive gains, training in a cut is primarily imperative to minimizing muscle loss rather than to build muscle. You are likely to find a plethora of prescribed cutting plans for you to follow online.
However, these fail to account for your individual needs and biological makeup. While these can be a good starting point for beginners, in the long run your cuts and bulks should be very personalized.
The first hill to climb when doing a cut is simply getting started. Often, it is easy to delay such an endeavor, with the famous last words being “I’ll start tomorrow!” It can sometimes be motivating to build a plan for yourself, outlining your personal goals and timelines.
In your plan, you should determine your maintenance calorie level, or the caloric intake that neither makes you lose or gain weight. Determining your maintenance calories is not easy, and even the averages science has calculated for males and females are shown to be drastically off.
While there are numerous calculators and formulas available online, determining this number may take some experimenting on your own. Your cutting goal will need to be somewhere below your maintenance number, but not low enough that you run the risk of losing substantial muscle.
A good rule is to strive to lose no more than 0.5-1% of your body weight per week.
For most people, this weight loss will happen at a 300 to 500 calorie deficit. Since training is still a priority, you’ll need to fuel yourself with enough energy (calories) in order to efficiently work out, so aiming for the most severe calorie deficit is not always ideal.
After you have determined your daily calorie goal for deficit, you’ll want to determine your macronutrient goals. In other words, what percent of your calories should come from carbs, fats, and proteins. Most bodybuilders in a cut will aim to consume about 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.
This is not only because sufficient protein helps preserve muscle mass, especially in a calorie deficit, but also because without enough protein your appetite will likely increase due to your body’s need for an adequate amount of amino acids. This appetite increase would obviously be very counterproductive for anyone undergoing a cut.
Reaching a sufficient protein intake each day can be quite difficult, regardless of a cut. You can make the process easier by incorporating a high-quality protein powder supplement into your meals.
Most in a cut aim for fats to make up about 15-30% of their daily calorie intake. This would make fats the least-consumed macro of all, but fat should still not be neglected.
Fats help absorb important vitamins and can be a good source of energy. Fats are also imperative for many functions in our bodies, such as the production of hormones like testosterone. Of course, aiming for your fat consumption to come from quality sources, such as unsaturated fats, is preferable for overall health.
This leaves the rest of your calories for carbohydrates, which are essential for fueling those tough training sessions. Many diets aim to eliminate or limit carbs, but for those in a cut, carbs are highly beneficial. Like protein, carbs only 4 calories per 1 gram, making them a good choice for curbing appetite when in a deficit.
If you’re fresh to weight training and dieting, a cut may be extremely difficult, but not impossible. However, for most new weightlifters, a cut won’t be necessary since the sudden increase in activity and building muscle are likely to trigger fat loss.
Furthermore, if you are starting your weightlifting journey at a low level of body fat, a bulking phase might be more beneficial to achieve some muscle hypertrophy prior to embarking on a cutting phase.
Bodybuilders know cuts are not sustainable long-term, so they strategically place them a few months out from an event, such as meets or competitions in which you need to appear as shredded as possible.
Now that we have laid out the basics, the next issue most people find hardest to tackle is determining how long their cut should be. While bulks are easily sustainable for long periods of time for most people, cuts are not. It is important to know a cut that is too short may not yield many benefits, and a cut that lasts too long can be overall very damaging to the body. So where is the sweet spot?
The truth is, there is no definite answer. The length of a cut is determined by your individual goals and needs while being sure to give yourself a realistic timeline. You will need to know your end goals, such as your body fat percentage goal, measurement goals, or weight goal, and use this to formulate your timeline.
For example, if you’re aiming to lose about 1 lb per week and want to lose a total of 15 lbs, then you’ll obviously need about 15 weeks, or roughly 4 months, to complete your cut. If you are starting at a higher weight with a higher body fat percentage, you may be able to safely lose more than the recommended 2 pounds or less per week.
However, as you lose weight, your progress will naturally begin to slow down. However, if you are not at a higher body weight, a deficit that results in 2 pounds per week or more lost puts you at risk for losing far more muscle than necessary. Furthermore, the longer the cut, the more muscle mass is lost overall since it is impossible to avoid muscle loss, so keep this in mind.
Most bodybuilders do not exceed cuts of 4 months but usually do at least 2 months. This is because you will need enough time to provide decent results but not overextend yourself with a long-term restrictive diet. Our bodies are highly adaptable, which can result in a long-term cut being unsuccessful.
If your goal seems unachievable, it may take two cutting phases with a bulking phase in the middle to reach your goals in a healthy manner and on a sustainable level. It is not out of the ordinary to be doing bulk phases and cutting phases on a loop, of course with some rest phases.
In the end, you’ll want to choose a timeline that works best for you and is not too difficult to maintain (though, like most diets, cuts do require some determination and dedication).
Additionally, keep in mind goals for a cut are typically physique-focused rather than prioritizing numbers such as weight, which can have no real meaning in the end, so it may be helpful to track body fat percentage or body measurements rather than the number on the scale. Tracking your weight in tandem with another measurement may be best.
While cuts are a common method for fat loss, there are numerous pros and cons to engaging in one. In order to successfully complete a cut, it may be helpful to know what to expect.
In addition to the obvious fat loss, there might be some hidden benefits that can help you determine if a cut is right for you.
Of course, as with any diet, there are some downsides to look out for. While these may not be inherently bad, being aware of their potential presence can make the daunting process of a cut much easier.
When it comes to cutting or bulking, it is typically the former that proves hardest for most. While there is no magic way to successfully complete a cut other than true discipline, there are some things to remember that may help you along the way:
Knowing how long to cut for maximum results is just one part of a much larger whole. Reaching your goals requires both knowledge and execution. If you’re asking the question of how long you should cut, it is likely you are going at it for the first time. Nothing good comes easy, so be prepared for less-than-ideal scenarios along the way.
Doing a cut is vital to getting shredded and reaching the muscle definition you’ve always dreamed of. It can be difficult to endure a cut on your own, which is why many people utilize the plethora of that are available to anyone looking to get jacked.