So you have finished your offseason and gained lots of quality muscle while shoving your face full of food. Energy levels were high, you felt like you could lift more weight every time you went to the gym, and you probably were in a pretty good mood all the time. Well, that’s all gone now. The 12-16 week cutting phase is about grit.
A certain amount of suffering is required to get to contest level body fat. That being said, it shouldn’t feel like torture and assuming you followed proper bulking protocols (i.e., you didn’t gorge and get FAT), only the last couple weeks are a real struggle.
Bulking is very straightforward and tougher to mess up than the cutting phase. Many bodybuilders go to extremes and end up sacrificing large amounts of lean muscle just to lose the last couple pounds. This causes metabolic damage and a rebound effect making your body more likely to store fat once you stop dieting. Others mistakenly underestimate how difficult it can be to obtain these freakishly low bodyfat levels and end up coming in soft. If you are going to suffer, you want it to be worth something. So follow this cutting guide and hit the stage looking ripped and full.
When dieting for a show, it’s important to not jump off the deep end and cut calories drastically right away. This will not only result in muscle loss, but your body will partition more nutrients to fat storage since senses “famine’. So instead of calories fueling your muscles, they’re going to add to your fat stores. The first step is to gradually reduce calories to about 12-14x your body weight. Many competitors, including this author, prefer to implement intermittent fasting during the cutting phase.
This provides many benefits including more satiety, release of growth hormone, cellular repair, release of adrenal hormones that increase metabolism, and increased insulin sensitivity. The preferred method of intermittent fasting pre-contest would be 16-18 hours fasted with three meals in the feeding window. Fasting is not a requirement, many people make it to the stage looking great having never skipped a single breakfast, but it is worth trying for yourself.
When cutting, protein makes up a larger portion of the diet than during a bulk. When consuming a caloric surplus, your body is in a positive nitrogen balance and not at risk of catabolizing muscle tissue. Aim for 1.3-1.6 g’s of protein per pound of body weight during the cutting phase. Protein should come from lean sources such as wild caught cod, grass fed sirloin, chicken, and turkey breast. The fattier sources you ate during the bulking period are ok too as long as you don’t go over your caloric target.
This is probably the most mishandled macronutrient during the pre-contest phase. People tend cut dietary fat out almost completely, yet it is vital to maintain healthy hormones levels and can help keep your mood elevated. No one wants to be around a hangry bodybuilder. Aim for .3-.5 gs of fat per pound of body weight. Many competitors look and feel much better going on the higher side of fats while consuming fewer carbohydrates, so experiment with different ratios to see how you look and feel. The fat sources should be coming from your animal proteins and healthy oils used in cooking.
Once again we come to the most polarizing of the three macro nutrients. Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to carb intake during a cut. Any ripped keto practitioner will tell you carbs are the devil, and you need to cut them to almost 0 to get stage ready. Meanwhile, someone else may be able to consume the vast majority of their calories though carbs all the way up until the last couple weeks of prep and come in shredded. Both protocols work, but only for their specific body. More and more research is coming out showing that individuals have different tolerance levels for carbohydrates.(1) This means some people can eat more carbs and store more of it as muscle glycogen while others are likely to store it as body fat and perform better on low carb diets.
Every person has a gene that allows them to produce the enzyme necessary to digest carbohydrates, but some people have more copies of this gene leading to better partitioning of carbs. This is why it’s so important to listen to your body and test different ratios of fats and carbohydrates instead of blindly following the ripped guy’s advice from the gym.
Once you have calculated your fat and protein totals, it’s time to figure out the carb requirements. Let’s use an example of someone starting their cut at 200lbs.
|Caloric Requirement||200×12=||2400 Calories|
|Total Calories From Protein And Fat||300×4+ 80×9=||1920 Calories|
|Total Calories From Carbohydrates||2400-1920=||480 Calories|
This 200lb individual would be eating 300 gs of protein, 80 gs of fat, and 120 gs of carbs. Remember it is not absolutely vital to track every single bite of food every day, but it is very important to know roughly how many calories you consume and where they come from. There is much less room for error on a cut than during the bulking stage. Stick to low GI carbs during this phase such as boiled sweet potatoes (overbaking turns them into a high GI carb), oats, and ancient grains. Any high GI carbs included should be eaten post workout.
During the cutting phase, supplements become more important. This is because you consume less of the most important supplement of all, food. During a bulk, you get plenty of nutrients to sustain growth and healthy hormone levels, but during a cut, your body needs a little more help to maintain muscle. In addition to the products used during a bulk, consider adding these items
Sheer Total Multivitamin: When in a caloric deficit, your body desperately needs its vitamins and minerals more than ever. And since you won’t be able to consume the calories that come from food, a multivitamin can ensure you maintain healthy levels throughout contest prep. This will help your body perform optimally and fight harmful side effects of nutrient deficiencies.
Sheer Thermo: This product contains green tea catechins and yohimbine HCI. Both are proven to help burn stubborn belly fat. It also has ingredients to increase your energy levels and elevate mood, two things very beneficial when in a depleted state.
Sheer BCAA’s: You need all the help you can get to preserve your lean muscle when preparing for a show. The lack of stored glycogen and glucose in your body makes your muscle tissue a prime target to be broken down for energy. BCAA’s help prevent this tissue breakdown and also help regulate elevated cortisol levels. Sip on this prior to and during your workout to fight against catabolism.
During this phase, you need to scale back the volume dramatically. The best way to preserve lean muscle during a cut is to lift heavy weights for low volume, with ample rest between sets. Keep sets in the 1-8 range with 1.5-3 minutes rest in between. You simply don’t have the fuel for crazy supersets and “pump workouts,” these will only break down muscle tissue. Exercises should consist primarily of compound free weight movements while hitting each body part 2-3 times a week. Also, don’t be afraid to take more rest days during a cut if you feel like your body needs it. Recovery is vital during contest prep to maintain healthy hormones.
There are two types of cardio you will need to perform during the contest prep: HIIT and fasted LISS. Most everyone is familiar with HIIT training and its benefits. HIIT should be performed 2x a week for 10-20 minutes throughout prep. LISS stands for low-intensity steady state. This is when you are not overly exerting yourself, and should be at about 60% of your maximum heart rate. Examples could be hiking, walking an incline on the treadmill or leisurely biking. Performing LISS in a fasted state mobilizes body fat for fuel. You should implement this 1-5x a week, ramping it up as you get closer to the show. Length should be 45-90 minutes. It’s important to keep the intensity low to use fats for fuel Be aware if you are performing steady state cardio at a moderate intensity you are burning muscle instead of fat.