- Your cut strategy depends on how aggressive your bulk was (and what your goals are)
- Decrease your daily calories by 10-15% and keep protein high
- Training on a cut generally includes less volume and more intensity to maintain muscle and strength
So, you’ve had your last orange juice and tuna shake (yes, that is a thing – YouTube “Brian Shaw”), and it’s finally time to cut! But how do you cut after bulking without risking your gains?
Well, to cut after bulking without losing muscle mass, it’ll depend on how much fat you currently have. It’ll also depend on your genetics and your overall goal.
Now, yes, that might sound like I’m dodging the question. So keep reading, and let me explain what I mean!
What Is Cutting & Bulking?
Cutting and bulking – terms that are more synonymous with bodybuilding and/or fitness than chicken breasts and white rice. Because some people will often try to bend the rules (of thermodynamics), we’re going to do a bit of literature education.
Bulking is when you spend a number of months in a calorie surplus while training with a lot of resistance to build the most amount of muscle mass. You’re supposed to gain a bit of fat in this phase. However, the older and more experienced you are, generally, the less fat you wish to gain in this phase.
Cutting refers to a period of weeks or months where you’re in a calorie deficit in order to burn as much body fat as possible. You’ll still train with resistance, but you might throw a bit of cardio in there as well to create a bigger deficit. You’re also at risk of burning muscle in a cut if you do it wrong (and I’m gonna teach you how to do it right in a moment).
Keep in mind these two do not go together at the same time. That means you have to make a conscious decision that you’re going one way or the other – cut or bulk. (This excludes newbies who are doing a recomposition.)
So, Why Do We Cut & Bulk?
Well, because we want the most amount of results in the least amount of time. There’s an expression, “Trying to bulk without gaining fat is like trying to drive 200mph but still get 30mpg – not gonna happen.”
You have to take a (calorie) standpoint and focus on one goal. This will allow you to build a ton of muscle, teach you about cutting and the difficulties you’ll face, and allow for more relaxed time periods in your life.
Of course, there are some who believe “main-gaining” is a thing, a mishmash of maintaining and gaining at the same time. But there’s very little evidence for this.
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Ending a Bulk – Analyze
So, you’ve stopped bulking, you’ve put on a few pounds of weight over the course of multiple weeks or months, and you’re looking to get shredded. Well, hold your horses there! We need to understand where you are currently.
What I mean by this is that – due to genetics and how the bulk went – some people might be in an even better position to start cutting than others. If we all went down the same pathway at all times, we wouldn’t all get the same results.
So, first, let’s identify which of the following people you are:
Person A Had the Perfect Bulk
They spent a good amount of time eating a lot of food, and they got dirty strong as well. They kept doing some cardio to keep their cardiovascular health in order, and they’re actually not that fat right now. They didn’t cheat a lot on the diet, and there’s still some muscle definition in there.
Person A is in a much better position due to how much fat they’re carrying right now. Again, this might be due to genetics or because they just bulk better. Person A will need to go into a maintenance phase first – a period where you simply try to maintain this new body weight.
Why? We can think of three reasons:
- It gives you a bit of a mental break from pushing calories either way.
- It might give your digestion a break before loading up on high-fiber foods when cutting.
- It would also be a good idea to deload your training at this time.
This isn’t essential, but many coaches do use this method because it seems to yield better results. After spending 3 – 4 weeks at your maintenance calories, you’ll start your cut.
Person B Did Not Have the Greatest Bulk
Either they always gain fat due to genetics, or their diet isn’t as good as it could’ve been. Regardless, they might be a tad too overweight right now, which is about >18% body fat for most gents and >23% for the ladies.
They won’t go into a maintenance phase immediately. Why? Well, being that fat isn’t the healthiest thing, overall fitness should still be about health.
They would need to follow these steps:
- Bring the body fat down to around 15% and 20% for males and females, respectively.
- Then, go into a maintenance phase for 3 – 4 weeks.
Now that the maintenance phase is done, let’s move on to the cutting phase.
Cutting – Diet
Dust off the old treadmill – it’s time to do some cardio. Well, not yet.
First, grab a piece of paper and do a bit of math. See, we need to plan how long this cut is going to take before we do anything else. A good cutting plan will have you lose between 0.5 – 1.0% of your total body weight per week.
If you’re person A from before or you tend to lose fat quite easily, a cut might take 12 – 14 weeks. If you’re person B or genetically don’t lose weight easily, it might take 14 – 16 weeks.
One more thing before we get into the calories and training – make sure you’re ready.
If you’re only looking to get around 10 -12% body fat, you needn’t worry that much. If you’re looking to get below 8%, make sure you have the resources to invest your money, time, and emotions. A cutting (to that extent) isn’t easy, so cutting when you’re in exams isn’t smart.
Finally! We get to your diet! Alright, so you’ve spent 3 – 4 weeks at maintenance, and you know exactly what your current calorie intake is as well as your macro split.
Let’s make some adjustments:
Calories need to drop by 10 – 15%. The higher your maintenance is, the higher this initial cut can be. For example, if your maintenance is only 2200, 15% is a lot, and you’re going to feel it very quickly. On the other hand, if your maintenance is 4000, you’re less likely to feel a 15% reduction. These calories need to come from carbs and/or fats.
Protein needs to remain high. In fact, some belief in pushing protein higher when cutting weight due to the body being slightly worse at utilizing protein when cutting. Thus, you can aim for 1 – 1.2g per pound of body weight.
Carbs will change due to the drop in calories. You might go for options that are also higher in fiber due to it helping you feel fuller for longer. This means maybe opting for oats instead of cream of rice. As calories get really low, you might also want to partition more of your carbs around your workout to help with energy.
Fats are also extremely important. That’s because fats serve a vital hormonal role, and reducing these too much might actually do you more harm than good. Aim for 0.3 – 0.6g per pound of body weight.
Should your foods actually change? For the most part, not really.
You might not have the odd McDonald’s to make up the calories like you did when bulking, but other than that, there won’t be many changes. Some carb sources might be swapped out for higher fiber versions, and you might also go for leaner proteins at some point.
Your calories would drop every time your weight loss stalls, too. You can reduce them by 200 – 300, depending on how aggressively you’re cutting.
Cutting – Training
Obviously, you should be training pretty damn hard when cutting. But how hard is hard enough? How much volume? Cardio? Rest times?!
Relax, I got you, buddy.
Firstly, you should still aim to remain strong or get stronger. There’s a definite link between the biggest and most muscular people on the planet and how strong they are. This is why you need to plan very carefully.
First off, the split. Which of the following is best?
- Full-body split every other day
- Push Pull Legs (PPL)
- Upper Lower
- Pro bodybuilder split (one or two muscles per day)
Well, the best one is the one you can sustain. Remember, you’re cutting now, so at some point, you might introduce some cardio as well. And depending on how lean you plan to get, that might take 45 – 60 minutes extra per day.
If you’re not able to spend 2 hours per day exercising, the pro split might not be for you. If you don’t like training on Sundays, then full-body might need to be adapted for you. Yet, the things that you really need to focus on are volume, intensity, and recovery.
As you’ll have less food in you (energy), you’ll quickly come to notice the amount of work you can do in the gym (with good form) drops. This is something we cannot avoid, but we can help the body to retain muscle mass.
Volume & Intensity
Your volume refers to the number of working sets you are doing per session or per week. This can be for all the muscles together, but it can also be viewed as the amount of volume you do per muscle.
For instance, your total volume per week is 50 sets. Your quad volume is at 12 working sets per week.
So why does the volume change as we cut? It has to. You have less glycogen stored in your body, and therefore, you might need to do fewer sets because you can’t do anymore.
However, to offset the drop in volume, the intensity might need to be increased. You work harder for a shorter period of time.
For most people, this is the best way to retain muscle mass while cutting. There might be the odd person or two who do well with their regular volume, but most people need to drop theirs. In fact, you might even need to drop it to the maintenance level.
What? Does volume have maintenance?
Why yes, it does! See, there are a few different volume terms that we use, and two of them are “Minimum Effective Volume” and “Maximum Recoverable Volume” – or MEV and MRV, respectively.
MEV refers to the minimum volume you need to do to retain that muscle size. Keyword is “retain.” This means that the “x” amount of sets will not make the muscle grow but is enough to keep it from getting smaller.
MRV – on the other hand – is the most amount of volume you can do without overtraining. Think about all the sets you could do while bulking… It was a lot, right? And you still felt fine. Your MRV was high because your food intake was high, too. Now, you have less food and more cardio, so your MRV will gradually reduce.
For example, let’s say my MEV on my chest is 8 sets per week, and my MRV is 18. A 10-week cut might look like this:
|Week 1||16 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 2||16 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 3||14 Sets on Chest (a reduction of two sets because I was getting weaker)|
|Week 4||14 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 5||12 Sets on Chest (again, if I lose strength, the volume reduces)|
|Week 6||12 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 7||12 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 8||10 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 9||10 Sets on the Chest|
|Week 10||8 Sets on the Chest|
I ended up doing the bare minimum to continue sustaining my muscle mass. You should keep a close eye on strength (I keep a training log book), and if your strength is reducing, you need to reduce volume slightly (since you can’t increase food).
What About Cardio?
Oh, right – cardio.
Cardio won’t magically make you lose weight. Fasted cardio doesn’t burn more fat, either. Cardio is a tool to use, not a saving grace.
Start with around 10 – 15 minutes per day, low-intensity. When fat loss stalls, you can increase this, granted you don’t build up too much fatigue.
Cutting – The Secret(s)
The secret is that it needs to suck slightly.
You’re putting your body in a place where it needs to run inefficiently. Of course, it’s not gonna feel great! That said, once you start feeling like you might be suffering from mental complications (i.e., you begin to dream about food), a refeed day might be in order.
Another trick you can try is supplementing with creatine to keep strength nice and high. Opting for sugar-free drinks is going to save you a lot of calories, too. Learning how to make bland food taste good without added calories is also a great skill to have while cutting.
Prioritizing sleep over most other things is also not spoken about enough. Bad sleep could literally make or break your cut, so try and get as much as you possibly can.
And lastly, try different forms of cardio. Try hiking, try walking your dog, try taking your significant other on a walk as well – just maybe without the leash. The point is you need to move. Whether you do time cardio or just aim to increase your NEAT by taking your steps up to 10 000, you need to burn a few calories.
Don’t forget to take check-in pictures to stay accountable to yourself. And be honest. You’ll be able to see subtle changes over time and begin to see what needs to change, such as “I need more sleep” or “I need a better camera because these look horrible.”
This will also allow you to see your progress. You can then keep them for future reference and see what changes you made to your diet and training in the past and how those reflected in your physique.
So, How Do You Cut After Bulking?
With patience. For most of us, cutting will be a bit easier than bulking and a whole lot faster as well. In fact, many people prefer cutting over bulking simply because getting calories down the hatch is intense.
Cutting is a commitment, and you only need to do a few things:
- Eat the right food and the right amounts.
- Train hard and the right amount.
- Do (some) cardio.
- Sleep (all the time).
And maybe don’t lash out at your boss if he tries to sneak a bite of your refeed meal.
Best of luck.
(P.S., watching YouTube on the treadmill? 10/10 winner.)
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