It may be a little late in the year to be going through a cutting phase for most of you. I understand and can appreciate that most bodybuilders prefer to cut up in the spring and summer and then load on the size in the winter. However, the key to maximizing leanness is to start early. I have taken both the short route and the longer route in cutting up for contests, and I can tell you, the difference in results is worth considering. Many people have inquired about getting ripped, so I'll give you readers some insight on how I dieted and conditioned in order to cut up for my past contests.
My 1st Contest
For my first contest, I began strict dieting about 4 months out, and started cardio training about 2 months out. It seems extreme, and it was, but I was bound and determined to come in conditioned like no other competitor. It was my first contest, and I was not going to be made a fool of on stage! The end result was awesome; I was definitely shredded to the bone; no other competitor could touch me on conditioning. I prepared a little differently for the next contest, starting a diet about 6 weeks out and taking it somewhat easier on the cardio sessions.
Why did I try a different method if the first trial worked nicely? Well, the first contest was drug-tested, and I was told that it is more beneficial to concentrate on conditioning than on mass.
The second contest was non-drug tested, so the emphasis was the exact opposite. I felt that I looked decent for the second contest, but my conditioning could have been better. In the end, it would be ideal to compete with a physique between that of my first and second contests.
Well, what goes into a cutting phase, you ask? A perfect cutting phase consists of an ideal diet, mediocre cardio program, specific supplementation, timing, and, above all else, consistency. You have to be consistent with what you are eating, when you are eating, when you are doing cardio or training, and when you are taking specific supplements. Timing is very crucial, and that means getting up early in the morning, 7 days a week is a must. I will consider each of these points and try to steer you in the right direction.
Note that I didn't say you had to train with a certain style. The way you workout should not change depending on the phase that you are in. As a bodybuilder, your ultimate goal should be to promote muscle mass, therefore your training style should continue like normal through a cutting phase. However, if you are doing cardio, when you train is an issue. You definitely want to train once you have had a couple of meals after a cardio session. If you are doing two cardio sessions, train right in the middle between the two sessions.
When I say an ideal diet is needed, I am referring to what you eat, how many times per day you should eat, and when you should eat. Whether you are trying to cut up or bulk up, eating 5 times per day is ideal. It may sound like a lot of food at first, but you will quickly adjust and find that you are hungry before it is time to eat again. Your meals should be spaced 3 hours apart, which means that you will need to be awake for at least 12 hours out of the day (this should not be a problem for anyone). Your protein intake should be the same with each meal, about 30-50 grams per meal, depending on your body weight. The carbohydrates and fats is where the strategy lies. Fats should definitely be consumed in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While these are excellent fats and can help melt away fat, they still release 9 kcals for every gram. Therefore, try to eat fats in moderation, taking in small amounts at every meal.
Carbs are a bit more complicated. There are two methods that I feel are perfect for a cutting phase. The first method works like a rotation, where you consume a specific amount of carbohydrates for an allotted time. It breaks down as follows: you will have low, moderate, and high carb intake days. It would be ideal for you to do 2 days of low intake, 2 days of moderate intake, and then 2 days of high intake. You can choose your own order, the one I chose is arbitrary. In order to establish what constitutes low, moderate, and high intake, you will need to find out some information about yourself and then do some calculations.
First, find out your resting metabolic rate, taking daily energy expenditure into consideration, and then determine how many calories you would need to eat in order to maintain your present body weight. From there, determine how many daily calories you will be taking in from your protein and fats (which should be a set amount). Next, subtract the daily number of calories from protein and fats from the number of calories that you need in order to maintain present body weight.
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After you obtain that value, divide it by four and you will end up with the grams of carbs that you should take in on a moderate intake day. To determine what constitutes a low and high day, simply add or subtract 50-75 grams from your moderate intake. Finally, take the number of grams of carbs that you will be eating on a specified day (low, moderate, and high), and divide it by the number of meals that you will be eating. This will tell you the amount of carbohydrate that you need to take in at every meal.
An alternative approach, one that I prefer, is to not have high, low, and moderate intake days. Instead, everyday has the same pattern. Take in less and less carbs at every meal. I like to eat about 75 grams of carbs for my first two meals, then 50 grams for my third meal, 25 grams for my fourth meal, and 0 grams for my last meal. I replace the diminishing carbs with fresh vegetables instead. I have found that both methods result in similar outcomes, and the second method is much easier to work with. For specific foods, take a look at my article entitled "Strictly for Beginners." In there, you will find a list of foods from each group to choose from.
I recommend a mediocre cardio program only if your diet is strict. I have no problems with dieting strictly only because I know the alternative is to burn off more calories by doing cardio instead! However, the best way to lose fat is via interval training, not the long distance time consuming crap that I'm sure you've heard about. You can accomplish in interval training what you can with high duration work in much less time (both during a cardio session and in the long term cutting phase). As a result, I recommend doing cardio about a month or two after you start your diet (depending on the quality of your diet).
Interval training is characterized by periods of work, followed by periods of rest. In order to set up an interval training program, you will need to manipulate either the time of your work period or rest period. During the work periods, you should be doing pretty high intensity work. An example of a work period is running 400 meters at a set time. The time of a work period depends on the distance at which you are traveling. I'll use running as an example for simplicity.
If you are running for 50 to 200 meters, you should be running that distance within 5 seconds of your best time, for 400 to 800 meters, your time should be within 4 seconds of your best time, and for distances over 800 meters, your time should be three to four seconds off of your best time. During a rest period, you are simply waiting for the next work period. The amount of rest time is also dependent on the distance of travel. I'll continue with the running example: for less than 400 meters, your rest period should be three times longer than your work period, for distances between 400 and 600 meters, your rest period should be twice as long as your work period, and over 800 meters, your rest period should be as long or half as long as your work period.
Pretty crazy, huh? Read over this information carefully, and make sure that you have a good grasp of what you are doing before making up this kind of program for yourself. Also, your cardio sessions should only be about 15-30 minutes. I have found that I get my best results when I do two sessions of 15-20 minutes. I break the sessions up, doing one before breakfast, and the other before my last meal.
Supplementation is the easy part. Before you begin to ask, NO, there is no magic pill that will melt away fat. Fat reducing supplements work by mobilizing fatty acids in the blood for you to use as fuel during exercise. Caffeine and ephedra are both excellent at doing this, and I highly recommend them. I think that caffeine is safer because there has been more research done on it than ephedra. Take one dose right when you get out of bed and then another dose either before your workout session (if it is the afternoon), or in the afternoon, on an empty stomach.
Also, taking creatine, glutamine, and protein powder is a great idea in order to stimulate muscle growth, even through a cutting phase. Take creatine about 3-4 times per day, glutamine 5-8 times per day, and protein following your resistance training session. You'll definitely need to stock up on a multivitamin, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Take the multivitamin with breakfast and C & E throughout the day in order to keep free radicals to a minimum.
Well, there you have it. If you follow the plan that I have laid out for you, the results will be there in the end. It is a slow process, but the benefits are much better, safer, and longer lasting than the crash diet method. When you see the final result depends on your starting point and how well you stick with everything. The program is extremely difficult at first, but I think that you quickly adjust. Doing the cardio later in the cutting session makes adapting a lot easier! Remember, consistency is the key!