Well, we've already determined that dieting can be an arduous process, and most certainly restricting your caloric intake when you are used to eating massive meals takes a lot of determination and some planning.
Perhaps one of the most asked questions in bodybuilding is "how can I get abs?" closely followed by "I need to lose some weight around the waist. What do I do?" The funny thing is that people think that exercise alone can help them achieve this.
Repeatedly I reply that cardio and a good low-calorie, low-carb diet will form 80-90 percent of the workload here and not so much their training and supplementation.
So here is a short list of things to watch when planning your next cutting diet :
1. Thou Shalt Eat Less
This makes a lot of sense since gaining weight involves eating more calories than you expend, obviously eating less calories than needed to maintain your mass will form the cornerstone of a dieting regimen. A rough estimation would be that you are aiming for under 10 calories per pound of lean bodyweight.
Meaning if you weigh 220 with 10 percent body-fat, a cutting diet would be based on 200 pounds and your overall intake is 2000 calories. Now if you tend to stock body-fat easily this number can be a little lower, and if you have a speedy metabolism, often times a little higher will work best in preserving lean mass. Only when your total amount of calories drops below your maintenance line will the adipose storage of the body be called upon as back-up fuel and be burned to help you survive your low-calorie ordeal.
One conclusion you could draw from this is that cutting is not immediately the healthiest thing in the world and should not be maintained for long durations of time.
2. Thou Shalt Work Into It
Although everyone is eager to lose fat as soon as they can, and the sooner the better, don't jump into a low calorie diet. I applaud your vigor, but it's best to take it slowly now and save your vigor for when the dieting gets really hard : when you've been starving for a while. It makes no sense to drop from 4000 to 2000 calories all at once.
Your body will take this as a sudden threat to the system and start storing body-fat in a hurry to be able to survive more sudden drops. This means that any kind of cheat day you have , or any calorie consumed above maintenance on any given day will be stored as body-fat for later use. This is a bit counter-productive. You need to gradually decrease the amount of calories, like 250 cals per week.
This will just seem like you are taking in a little less food and give the body time to adjust to the new amounts every time. This way, when dropping below maintenance chances of storing more body-fat have severely decreased.
I know I mentioned this when bulking as well, well it applies just the same here. You can't make sudden changes when training. You won't double your maximum bench press overnight. So why would you rush something as crucial as your diet?
Do things gradually, make the changes over time so the body can adapt to new circumstances and situations. In the long run it will save you a lot of hardship. You spend less time one a starvation diet, and though the losses will come slower, they will be lasting and you won't have to spend an extra 2-3 weeks shedding fat your gained because you were too hasty. And extra 2-3 weeks you would be spending on a starvation diet.
3. Thou Shalt Get the Right Amount of Nutrients
Just as with bulking, not only the amount, but what you are getting will play an important role in your progress when cutting. For starters your high-carb days are over. Invariably on any diet the amount of carbs should be restricted because an overdose of carbs is readily stored as fat and in times of deprivation fat-storage increases.
Also carbs spike insulin, and insulin increases sugar cravings, wanting you to take in even more carbs. This is vicious circle best avoided by simply restricting your carb-intake. Moreover, by letting the amount of carbs drop below the daily amount of protein will cause the body to produce cortisol. When bulking cortisol is your enemy, here it is your friend you love to hate.
Cortisol will increase glycogen storage and decrease blood sugar, but at the same time prohibit glycogen from being used as fuel. That means it will switch to burning protein and fat instead. The latter is what we are looking for, the former is an unwanted side-effect.
Protein consumption stays important. The percentage of protein will increase in the diet, but since calories drop the actual amount will be the same or slightly less (1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight).
Keeping enough protein will be essential to maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, avoiding catabolism by allowing the dietary protein to be burned instead of it being robbed from muscle protein and to repair any damages suffered from training or cardio.
Not only that, you'll want to keep a steady supply of protein throughout the day to avoid muscle being burned at the most catabolic times of day. That means at least some protein every 2.5 hours. The protein remains the most important part of your diet and is now also the larger part of your diet.
Fats should be increased, percentage wise, to make up for the loss of carbs. First of all there is the anti-catabolic issue. Fats can be used as an alternative fuel and supplying ample fats for the body to process can teach the body to use fat as fuel more readily, which will aid in the burning of adipose tissue as well.
Secondly raising the amount of fats can make you reach satiety sooner, helping you limit calories, and will decrease carb-cravings, helping you limit your sugar intake. One of the many reasons fat should be increased on a diet. Many people shy away from fats on a diet because they are 9 calories per gram, which is a lot. But if they help restrict overall calories that will aid your diet.
Fats also form cholesterol needed to make steroid hormones such as testosterone and Vitamin D. This too will optimize the protein sparing effect and assure proper repair of damaged tissue. And the fact that fats are also beneficial to hair,nails and skin is a bonus too. The thing to watch here, if you are increasing fats, is that you increase calories from healthy fats such as flax or olive oil, canola, sunflower or safflower oil and fresh nuts. Saturated fats, the kind commonly found in processed foods, increase bad cholesterol, increase the risj of cardiovascular disease and have very little use in the body.
But clean fats, meaning unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats increase the good cholesterol and contribute to health and in this case fat-loss. Taking two tablespoons of a healthy oil prior to a meal three times daily can go a long way in this.
The optimal ratios for cutting are a hot topic of discussion. I usually recommend 40-40-20 (carbs-protein-fats) for the skinny by nature and up to 25-50-25 for heavier individuals. As a given I recommend 35-45-20 to most people, since that will have some effect to some extent on everyone. The important thing to notice is that carbs decrease and fats increase percentually.
The best way to do this is by dropping carbs from your diet when you start dropping calories, that way you'll automatically move into this position since protein and fat will percentually increase to carbs eventhough you aren't adding protein or fat to the diet.
4. Thou Shalt Continue to Eat More Often
Don't think that because you'll be eating less you can go back to 3 square meals a day. Now more than ever is it extremely important to keep getting 6-8 daily meals. This puts an additional strain on you because that means truly tiny meals compared to what you were having before.
But maintaining a constant influx of nutrients is necessary for two main reasons : the first is keeping nitrogen and GH levels high, which counters catabolic effects. As long as there is some food in the body that is not a carb (high cortisol disallows the use of carbs) it can be used to burn as energy, instead of having to resort to the burning of muscle protein. Since the body will favor fat, its best to use protein.
That way you'll still burn body-fat, but when looking to burn protein it will have dietary protein to burn before resorting to catabolism. High GH levels induced by optimal amino acid delivery also makes sure that protein can be used to repair damaged muscle tissue, preventing your workouts from becoming catabolic pitfalls.
The second reason is one of synergistics. Keeping food intake regular increases the metabolic rate, which in turn burns more calories. Combined with the low calories that will encourage the burning of body-fat.
Your energy expenditure from simply digesting increases and along with the anti-catabolic effect on muscle you create a catabolic effect on fat. This is called thermogenisis, your system works faster and blood pressure increases to process a constant intake of nutrients. Body temperature rises and the amount of calories being burnt increases.
5. Thou Shalt Use a Fat-Burner
This is a big controversy for many. The thing with fat-burners is knowing how effective they are or are not. You seem to have two camps.
One which is content accepting that they do not work, are harmful beyond belief and absolutely unnecessary. The other camp tends to accept that the fat-burner is the what-all of diets and that you can't even think of cutting down without one.
And you see where I'm going with this : they are both wrong !
The most effective fat-burners today operate on ECA : Ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin. This is a proven stack with wide scientific backing. Usually there are more ingredients in these products like carnitine, chromium, HCA, yohimbe, guggulsterones and what have you. But all these have limited backing. One study says they work, another says they don't.
Now it's a good fact to assume that they work to some extent but not under all circumstances and most of them truly aren't worth the money. As a result we conclude that the effect of a fat-burner is largely (70-90% depending on other content) based on the effects of ECA and that fussing about which one is better is ultimately pointless.
We all have our favorites, but fat-burners are only a percentage of the result, and the other content is only a percentage of the fat-burners efficacy so which ever one is better, if it brings 1% improvement to our diet, it's a lot.
Now as I already hinted at, fat-burners are not crucial. They can speed up the results a lot. How much depends entirely on what you have to lose. The more you have to lose the more it is in your interest to get a fat-burner. But for a bodybuilder carrying less than 15 percent body-fat it never adds more than 20% early on, to 5% or so in the final stages of your diet.
Everything hinges on cardio and diet. But fact is, the fat-burner makes me diet down in 10 weeks instead of 12, so I'm not about to pass up on it. The main point is to make sure that you get the right mix of ECA at the right times of day, usually two to three times depending on content and whether or not it is a time-release component.
In conclusion the use of fat-burner must be standard and it should rely on ECA. You can diet down without a fat-burner, no matter what any company says, but they are helpful. They don't shed the pounds overnight, no matter what any company says, but in our game every little bit helps.
Now I advise the use of these products mainly in the final 6 weeks of a diet. I don't endorse long term use of a product containing ephedrine.
Ephedrine raises cathecholamines which turn glycogen back to glucose. Since glycogen is the main energy storage of the body that leaves you utterly depleted. Now ECA gives you energy while on it, but then you come off and there is no glycogen to replace it. This can lead to fatigue, lustlessness and even severe depression after you finish a cycle.
ECA stacks also increase your blood pressure and the result is often dangerously high blood pressure to the point of cardiovascular risk. These are all good reasons not to stay on these products very long. As long as you are aware of your own condition no life or health threatening risk is attached to using these, but be aware of possible consequences if you do not check in with a clean bill of health.
6. Thou Shalt Take Care of Post-Workout Nutrition
Forget all that crap about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, post-workout nutrition is a lot more important. When dieting you are in a catabolic state most of the day.
When you work out you add to that catabolism because you expend more calories and because you are damaging muscle tissue that needs to be repaired. Now that's tough since you are already pulling all your resources to spare the muscle you have. And if you are not careful the damaged muscle will be burned and become smaller instead of larger.
So you need to make up for the calorie expenditure. The days of weight gainers are now over, because they are too high in carbs and on a carb-deprived diet when cutting, that will only make you gain fat. So you need something purer, like a protein powder. Now don't make the mistake of thinking that 50 grams of whey will solve your problem. Whey burns fast and you'll be lucky if you absorb 25-35 grams of that amount.
A different protein doesn't cut it either. To be accurate you need a protein blend. In my opinion the perfect blend for someone who is cutting, post-workout or otherwise, is a mix of 70% micellar casein and 30% of a whey protein with a high Biological value like ion-exchange or cross flow micro-filtration whey. 50 mg in some water or a 2 cups of skim milk will do just fine. The whey acts fast and has a high content of all the amino acids you need to speed up recovery, assuring instant repair, and the casein burns slow releasing its amino's steadily into the blood assuring a positive nitrogen balance and prolonged recuparation for up to 3 hours.
This is imperative to prevent muscle loss after training, but maintaining a positive nitrogen balance obviously has its uses during other times of day as well. The most catabolic times are in between meals, so a sustained release of protein in that time frame will decrease the chance or catabolism setting in.
Another welcome addition to post-workout nutrition is one or two tablespoons of flax or olive oil. This will give you proper amounts of clean fats to restore the burnt fuel and help digest the protein provided you took it right before your shake. Because the fat provides the expended energy it is less likely that muscle-protein will be robbed to make up for the lack of available fuel.
Avoiding simple carbs is important during a diet, because in carb-deprivated states the body can't handle an influx of fast carbs, but post-workout many make an exception to restore the lost glycogen. We are talking about a fraction of the amount of protein, say 10-15 grams. This may help but is not a total necessity.
There is some room for variation and experimentation of course, this is not carved in stone. The important thing is not so much how you do it, but that you do it...
7. Thou Shalt Eat Less Calorie-Dense Foods
In my article concerning the commandments for bulking I stated that the use of calorie-dense foods is important if you want to pack on the most weight with the least amount of effort because less calorie-dense foods would fill you up without adding any useful calories.
Now the aim is to restrict our calories and adjust our diet, so the opposite holds true too. Its time to consume less calorie-dense foods and chow down on the things that will get us full without adding real calories to the diet. Things like vegetables are true life-savers. They contain 80% water and a ton of fiber. Fiber aids the digestion and doesn't get absorbed.
Water has a diuretic effect. It reduces body stores of water and helps us process other foods. Vegetables are also rich in vitamins and minerals to be used as anti-oxidants to keep us healthy on these low-cal starvation diets.
It's obvious that red meat with a ton of empty calories is something you will reduce in your diet and attempt to replace with leaner forms of meat protein like the white of chicken and several sorts of fish. Tuna leading the way because of its amazingly high protein content, but don't exclude other fish either.
Replacing a few meals with vegetable soup increases water intake and has an added diuretic effect. Protein powders are a great way of getting extra protein without adding carbs or fats to the diet. By consuming things that are not so calorie-dense we tend to reach satiety much sooner, with which we reduce the need to add extra, often fattening, calories.
That makes it easier to maintain a strict diet and less likely that we would need a cheat day. Cheat days aren't the devil personified per se, but they do set us back a bit. So they are best avoided.
8. Thou Shalt Not Avoid Fats
The greatest mistake many people who are trying to lose weight make is to associate body-fat with dietary fat. But in fact 75% of body-fat is the result of excess processed carbs and only about 20% is the result of fats, and even in that case we are talking about saturated fats.
But I always urge people to eat healthy unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats from clean oils and fresh nuts. These fats are more readily used as fuel for the body and less likely to be stored as body-fat. In fact when dieting down it is important that you increase fat intake, at least percentage wise. To increase the amounts of fatburning hormones like cortisol and cathecholamines we have to deviate from burning carbs.
That means decreasing carb intake to a point where blood sugar becomes drastically low and cortisol locks up the remaining glycogen and cathecholamines turn some glycogen back to glucose. The result is that you have to switch to burning protein and fat instead.
So you need to increase the amount of healthy fats to replace the energy you lose on carbs. Moreover the intake of these fats stimulates the burning of fat as fuel, and that includes body-fat. That makes it more likely that in catabolic times you will burn fat from adipose storage than that you will burn protein robbed from muscle tissue, which leads to muscle catabolism.
For overall health it is important that you maintain a good fat intake. First of all because protein is now the larger part of the diet and with the decrease of carbs we can no longer speak of a protein-sparing diet. So all that protein must and will be used in the body, so it's a bonus to have enough fat around to ensure the absorption of that protein in the stomach.
Fats, as explained in the nutrient paragraph, are also a good source of all fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E and K. These vitamins will also help fight free radicals and decrease your catabolic state while maintaining your health. What's great about fats on a diet is that consuming a fat makes you reach a satiety level much sooner. It also decreases carb cravings, which are a huge problem for most people.
Lack of carbs makes you cranky and weak and you crave more carbs every hour of every day. Fats will help you combat this to an extent and decrease overall caloric intake despite the fact that it has the highest caloric content of any nutrient. Its pure concentrated energy designed for those of you living on a fixed intake.
And lastly fats store as cholesterol in the blood, and cholesterol is the base compound of steroid hormones including testosterone and Vitamin D.
So the last thing you want to do when dieting is avoid fats. This would not only be counter-productive, but may be hazardous to your health. Note that we are talking of clean fats here, as using saturated fats would have an opposite effect at increasing bad cholesterol and increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems. But when dieting fat is your friend as well as your enemy.
It's a 9 calorie per gram friend that will help you get rid of your flabby, waist-clinging foe.
9. Thou Shalt Drink Plenty (Still)
Water remains one of the most important things, bulking or cutting. We are made up of 60+% of water, and with sweating and pissing that needs to be replaced almost constantly.
Water has an additional benefit when you are trying to cut up, because providing the body with more water works as a diuretic. If the body realizes it is getting water on a constant basis, several times a day and more than enough, it will give up on trying to hold on to water.
The body retains water in tissue for future. If its getting water when it needs to, it won't store as much water, because it can get by. If you don't drink enough odds are you will store more water. And if you do that you can have 0% body-fat, you'll still look bloated and you still won't be able to see your abs because of all the subcutaneous water covering your body.
So drink, get plenty of water. And water really is the best choice here. Juice, milk, alcoholic beverages, all of them contain calories you don't really need to add at this point. Especially in the latter parts of your diet.
Another related issue is avoiding the conditions that may create water retention. Certain products will raise estrogen levels or agonize the effects of existing estrogen.
Estrogen affects the retention of water. So does another hormone called aldosterone because it reabsorbs sodium and sodium holds water too (so do carbs, but we already covered that).
hormones and steroids that are not DHT derivatives and can consequently aromatize to estrogen are a high risk. Nandrolone can even agonize aldosterone AND aromatize.
Alcohol is equally bad, because it is a potent estrogen agonist, and it is really vicious too because it increases water retention and fat uptake. So be careful of such conditions. .
10. Thou Shalt Attempt to Prevent Muscle-Wasting
You spent all this time bulking up, attaining a desirable weight in muscle and now you want to show it off by shedding the flab. The last thing you want to do is shed all the muscle off along with the flab as that sends you back to square one.
Sounds obvious, but when you think about it that is what you are doing. To promote an optimal environment for fat-loss you need to create an anabolic condition in the body. Through a combination of fat loss agents, a low-calorie, low-carb diet and some extra cardio work you are making the body increase its metabolic processes (burn more calories than normal) and promoting the making of catabolic hormones like cortisol and cathecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine).
These hormones usually react to low carb conditions brought on by a high energy expenditure, a low carb intake or both, as is the case here. As a result they will restrict the use of carbs in their own way and shift you to burning fats and protein.
Dietary fats and protein in the first place, which has no real effect. But in between meals they will switch to body fat and body protein. Body-fat is sort of the point here, its what we are targeting. We want the body to start burning that as it increases the adipose layers in the body. Body protein however is any form of tissue.
That means its actually burning part of the body and starting at the most dispensable part : the muscles. In other words, in attempting to lose body-fat, you invariably risk losing muscle. The key of this commandment is to limit that loss to an absolute minimum.
The first component here is making sure adequate protein from dietary sources is available at all times during the day and part of the night to keep the body from burning its own protein. We eat 6-8 times, in small meals since we have to limit calories. \
That means an extreme focus on protein is needed in this case. And even in between meals, a hardboiled egg, some milk, a piece of cheese, a bit of protein powder, its all beneficial. An easier, though costlier solution is to use glutamine. 60% of the skeletal muscle amino acid pool is made up of glutamine, converted from essential amino's or glutamic acid.
Nowadays however we are able to isolate, sell and use glutamine in pure form. The body, when catabolic has a high affinity for glutamine and hence is likely to rob it from muscle tissue. So the best way to avoid initial muscle loss is to give the body what it wants : more glutamine to burn. Taking 5 grams of glutamine in between meals is more beneficial than you might ever imagine.
Another option is to use HMB, but that is possibly even more expensive. HMB is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine which plays a key role in muscle growth. Part of that role is reliant on the action of HMB which keeps the leucine from shooting itself in the foot.
It keeps muscle protein from being burned, much in the way cortisol keeps glycogen from being burned. This means while the burning of fat is increased a lot, the burning of protein is increased only slightly, thereby limiting fat loss. The problem is that for a proper effect you need to use 3 doses of 2-3 grams each in between meals and that is a lot of money.
As last resorts its also best to start the morning off with high-protein foods and go to bed with slow digesting form of protein such as casein which will cover you for the initial hours of sleep.
Cutting sleep is not an option as muscle retention is also largely based on GH output, and that is greatest during sleep. So you need to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. And cover your bases. Use more protein around more active times of day : workout and cardio and anything else that taxes the system and causes it to burn more calories.
Obviously this is not the extent of the cutting process, but these ten points provide and easy-fix guide to the most common pitfalls of the cutting diet, and can serve as a quick reference guide to optimizing your diet. It should be used as such.
I hope it may be of some use to those of you seeking fast results and are willing to make the dietary effort to do so. In any case, Good luck!