Simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle. Can it be done?
Generally speaking, bodybuilders and certain athletes find themselves going through two training and dieting phases each year: bulking and cutting. For bodybuilders, bulking is a joyous time of the year as they get to basically eat a selection of nice tasting foods, which whilst being healthy for the most part, still are made up of slightly unhealthier choices, with plenty of cheat meals thrown in for good measure.
When bulking, the idea is to build up a calorie surplus so that you basically consume more calories than you’re able to burn off.
This is primarily how muscle mass is grown. Whilst bulking however, it is important bodybuilders still keep an eye on their daily macros because if they consume too many calories, not only will they build muscle, they’ll also find themselves gaining a fair amount of fat in the process, and that is not ideal.
The second phase, they find themselves in, is one which is enjoyable, yet difficult and stressful at the same time – cutting, or fitness cutting as it is sometimes referred to as. At Project Swole we like to refer to this cutting phrase as a shred, as in Project Shred.
The idea behind fitness cutting is that they attempt to lose as much fat as possible, whilst maintaining or building as much lean muscle mass as possible. When fitness cutting, a bodybuilder’s primary goal is to become as lean, defined, vascular, and shredded as possible. If these sound like your goals, take a look at our handy fitness cutting guide outlining everything you need to know.
The Fitness Cutting Guide
Get your diet in order
The first and most important aspect associated with any new cutting routine is to change your diet and get it in order by eating as healthily and as cleanly as possible. Whereas before when bulking, you may have enjoyed a weekly cheat meal, even cheat day, along with plenty of mayo, butter, and various other condiments with your food, when you’re cutting you will need to keep your calories low, your fat content moderation, and your foods as clean and healthy as possible:
Protein – Protein is a vital component of any fitness cutting routine, and indeed any bulking routine too for that matter, and the reason for this is that protein is essential for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. When cutting, make sure you get your protein from clean sources such as:
- Lean grass-fed beef
- Lean red meat
- Organic eggs
- Cottage cheese
- Protein supplements
On top of that, make sure you consume at least 2 grams of protein for every pound that you weigh, so basically to work out how many grams of protein you need each day, you simply take your weight in pounds, and double it.
Fats – Some bodybuilders avoid fats when cutting because it can seem counterproductive to consume fat if you’re trying to lose fat, but studies have found that healthy fats are incredibly good for us and can actually help us to lose body fat.
Healthy fats boost brain power, they communicate with fat burning enzymes in the body and convince them to utilize more fat cells and body fat for energy, and they boost the metabolism so that we burn more calories. As well as that, they also improve our mental health and joint health in the process. Healthy fats include:
- Natural nuts
- Natural nut butters
- Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel
- Whole eggs
- Grass fed butter
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
Carbohydrates – When cutting, many bodybuilders tend to taper themselves off of carbohydrates, especially when leading up to a show or looking to really strip away unsightly body fat. For example, six weeks out they may begin on 120 g of carbs per day, 4 weeks out they’ll drop down to 90 grams per day, 2 weeks out they’ll drop to 60, and then after that they may even go as low as 20 per day. Going low carb can help to strip body fat, but it is difficult, both physically and mentally. If you do consume carbs whilst cutting, try not to pair them up with fats so for example you may have a high fat, low carb breakfast and lunch, then a high carb low fat dinner in the evening. Avoid simple and refined carbs and go for choices such as:
- Whole meal bread
- Brown rice
- Whole meal pasta
- Sweet potatoes
- Starchy vegetables
Supplements – Whilst cutting, supplements can also prove useful, especially if you use them wisely. Don’t go mad with supplements and be wary of hidden sugar/carbs in some of them. Here’s a look at some common and popular supplements for fitness cutting routines:
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
- Omega 3 supplements
- Pre-workout supplements
- Fat burners
Training – As far as your training goes, don’t buy into the hype created by magazines that tell you there are specific training programs that can help you build lean muscle.
All muscle you build is lean, the only difference is that when bulking, as well as lean muscle, you also gain body fat which covers the muscle and hides definition. For optimal training results, stick with a routine that works for you, work each body part at least once per week, look for around 8 – 12 reps per set, cut your resting periods between sets in half, and above all else, make sure you get enough cardio in on a weekly basis, with between 3 and 4 proving especially beneficial.