Cutting is way different than ‘normal’ diets. Besides fat loss, you want to maintain your hard-earned muscle mass. This requires a sophisticated nutrition strategy, based on the nine pillars below.
1. EAT PLENTY OF PROTEIN
Eating protein is not only important for muscle growth, but also for muscle maintenance. To protect your muscle mass during the cut, you need to eat a little more protein than normal, namely 1.8 to 2.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (in bulk 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg/d). The principle is that the leaner you are, the more proteins you need, the more you go to the top of the margin (2.7 g/kg/d).
However, do not eat more protein than the 2.7 g/kg/d. After all, this is unnecessarily at the expense of your intake of carbohydrates and fats, which are also very important in the cut.
2. CREATE A MEDIUM ENERGY DEFICIT
You may be tempted to cut a great amount of calories right away at the start of your diet. However, you better don’t. With an excessive energy deficit, there is a risk of loss of muscle mass. You also have to look ahead: under the influence of metabolic adaptation, your maintenance level will gradually decrease, so that you have to create an even lower energy balance later in the cut. The latter becomes very difficult if you use a very low energy balance from the start.
With an energy deficit of 20-25% of your maintenance level, you probably realize the most fat loss while retaining muscle mass. With this deficiency, you lose 0.5 to 1% of your body weight on a weekly basis. For most people, this equates to an energy deficit of about 500 kcal, which can be achieved through a calorie-restricted diet in combination with physical activity (cardio).
3. EAT A LOT OF CARBOHYDRATES
The dose of protein is now clear, as is the amount of calories – see points 1 and 2. How should you distribute the rest of the calories with a view to fat loss and muscle maintenance: high-fat or high-carb?
Scholars are not yet in agreement on this. Coach Mike Israetel mentions the importance of carbohydrates for muscle growth or maintenance, but his colleague Menno Henselmans contributed to a voluminous meta-analysis that shows that the amount of carbohydrates and fats does not matter much for strength training performance. And it is also not important for fat loss, large-scale research shows. So it is basically a matter of preference how high or low you go in carbohydrates and fats. Choose the diet that is easiest for you to stick to.
That said, we prefer a relatively high carbohydrate intake during the cut, as do several renowned coaches. Carbohydrates are important for muscle growth and muscle maintenance for several reasons. In our experience, for example, they are of great importance for strength training performance during a heavy cut.
In short, eat as many carbohydrates as possible, taking into account sufficient proteins and sufficient fats. This means that you eat a minimum of fats: between 0.5 and 1 gram per kilogram per day. In addition, you have the high intake of proteins (~2 g/kg/d). What remains are the carbohydrates (~3 g/kg/d).
Oh, and concentrate your carbohydrates as much as possible in your pre- and post-workout meal (principle 5).
4. EAT AT LEAST FOUR PROTEIN-RICH MEALS A DAY
Don’t worry, you can also achieve good cut results with intermittent fasting. But if you really want to act optimally with regard to muscle preservation, you ensure an even distribution of four to six protein-rich meals throughout the day. Several studies support that advice (more on that in our article about protein spreading).
Unlike carbohydrates, proteins cannot be stored by your body. That while a minimum of proteins (~20 grams) is needed to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, there is also a maximum amount of proteins that can be used in one go to increase that synthesis (~40 grams).
Therefore, divide your proteins more or less evenly over four to six intakes, ie meals with 20 to 40 grams of high-quality proteins, always with three to four hours between meals. You plan your training between two meals (principle 5).
Hopefully unnecessarily: the advice to eat four or more meals a day has nothing to do with your metabolism. After all, it is an old myth that frequent eating increases the metabolism.
5. PLAN YOUR BIGGEST MEALS AROUND YOUR WORKOUT
In the cut, strength training is your most important instrument for maintaining muscle mass, because your body recognizes training stimuli as signals that the muscle mass present is ‘needed’. That is why you have to do everything you can to train as optimally as possible, despite the long-term energy shortage you’re dealing with.
While the importance of meal timing in bulk is often exaggerated, timing of food intake does play a significant role in cut. Because you eat relatively little, it is best to concentrate your nutrition as much as possible around the training.
A meal high in carbohydrates a few hours before training provides much-needed energy. This can also be done by means of a small meal with ‘fast’ carbohydrates, for example a few pieces of fruit.
A meal with a lot of protein (immediately) after training ensures that muscle protein synthesis is facilitated in the hours when it is highest. In addition, it is fine to put some carbohydrates in that meal. The possible anti-catabolic effect of post-workout carbs has not (yet) been scientifically proven, but if it does not help, then it does not harm. Moreover, after your workout you are probably very hungry, or more so than at other times of the day.
An example of meal timing in the cut:
16.00 Meal with 30 g proteins and 100 g carbohydrates
19.30 Meal with 40 g proteins and 50 g carbohydrates
6. DON’T SNACK TOO MUCH
Can you snack during the cut? Yes, but you are making it unnecessarily difficult for you. Snacks, savory or sweet, are usually high in calories, while they have a relatively low satiety factor. As a result, a single pizza or Mars eats a good chunk of your calorie budget, while your (tasty) appetite is hardly satisfied by it. In fact, snacks usually taste like more.
It is therefore best to limit snacking during the cut to a minimum. The best way to do this is not to go to the supermarket hungry, so that your kitchen cupboard is free from tempting refreshments. Even though you can in principle ‘just’ fit it into your macros.
Coach Menno Henselmans says about this:
The good news is: you can put a pizza into your macros, the bad news is: you’re going to be crazy hungry.
Ideally, you should mainly eat (healthy) food with a high degree of saturation during the cut. The foods below score the highest on the Fullness Factor (FF) ranking of the American food analysis company Nutrition Data. This formula is based on the amount of calories, protein, fiber and fat per 100 grams of product. These products therefore give a feeling of fullness and at the same time they are often nutritious and contain relatively few calories.
The most satiating foods according to the FF (descending), with the number of kcal per 100 grams of product in brackets:
bean sprouts (75 kcal)
watermelon (37 kcal)
grapefruit (45 kcal)
carrots (33 kcal)
oranges (44 kcal)
fish, roasted (120 kcal)
chicken breast, roasted (165 kcal)
apples (54 kcal)
sirloin steak, roasted (165 kcal) )
porridge (375 kcal)
popcorn (376 kcal)
baked potatoes (122 kcal)
low-fat yogurt (39 kcal)
bananas (86 kcal)
brown rice (111 kcal)
spaghetti (350 kcal)
white rice (96 kcal)
7. DON’T DIET TOO MUCH
You create an energy deficit in the first place by means of a calorie-restricted diet. But keep in mind that eating less is in principle catabolic and that you get fewer micronutrients (vitamins , minerals and fiber) because of it. By being more active, you burn more calories, which means you can eat more. Your diet is therefore easier to maintain, plus food is anti-catabolic and ensures that you receive valuable nutrients.
You can be more active without risks by having more spontaneous movement (i.e. by boosting your NEAT), walking and/or doing cardio without overdoing it. And don’t forget that with strength training you also burn some calories (~200 kcal per 30 minutes).
8. DON’T DIET FOR TOO LONG
The longer you are cutting, the greater the chance that you will lose muscle mass in addition to fat.
This is partly due to the fact that you have less and less fat reserves (great, because the goal of cutting), while, due to the metabolic adaptation, you have to eat less and less to be able to lose fat. And the less energy your body has at its disposal, the greater the risk that muscle proteins will be broken down to get energy.
On the other hand this is due to “diet fatigue”, which is primarily due to the depletion of glycogen stores (which means less energy for your workout) and hormone values increasingly unfavorable (allowing you eg get more hungry and are less energetic). This has negative consequences for your training performance and for your recovery capacity.
In addition to the increasing risk of muscle loss, you will lose fat less and less quickly during your cut and end up on plateaus faster and faster. And you have to almost starve yourself if you want to break through such a plateau.
The solution lies in a refeed or, better yet, a diet break. That is not the same as cheat days, but a conscious diet strategy.
There is no hard rule, but cutting eight weeks in a row seems a realistic maximum to us.
9. APPLY REVERSE DIETING AT THE END OF YOUR CUT
Reverse dieting is the principle where after the cut you increase your calorie level in steps to your normal maintenance level.
If you were to increase your calorie level all at once, you would probably gain weight (quickly). This is because your maintenance level in the cut, under the influence of metabolic adaptation, is a lot lower than normal. Reverse dieting gives your body time to reverse metabolic adaptation.
For successful reverse dieting you need a calorie app.