By Juan Rojas
You’ve spent all winter bulking up, hitting the gym hard, eating big, you look at the scale and you’ve put on a few pounds. You can tell a lot of it is muscle because your shirt sleeves don’t seem to accommodate your arms anymore and your pants can’t go up your quads. Although you put on some nice muscle mass, you see that your abs aren’t very visible, and even though you don’t look like the Michelin man, you've put on a few pounds of unwanted fat. Summer is coming up and you want to show off that hard earned muscle you gained, but how can you go about doing it?
When generalized, cutting seems like an easy process, you just gotta eat less energy than what your body burns, but is this really the best mindset to have going into a cut? When we go into a cutting phase your goal should be to MAINTAIN AS MUCH MUSCLE MASS AS POSSIBLE WHILE BEING IN A CALORIC DEFICIT REQUIRED TO BURN FAT. But, how can you do this in the most effective manner?
“Lose 10 lbs. in 10 days”
Quotes like this are very popular in the supplement industry now in days, everybody wants to achieve quick, easy results. But in order to maintain as much muscle mass as possible, this should not be done fast. According to Dr. Donald Hensrud, you should not lose more than 1-2 lbs. maximum a week(there is an exception and this is if you are obese). Although this seems very slow, it is the best in the long run. A pound of fat may not sound like much, but look at a picture of a pound of fat, and don’t tell me that you wouldn’t be happy getting this amount of fat off your body:
Studies have shown losing body weight quickly, meaning you’re at a large caloric deficit, will make your body burn muscle as opposed to fat. This also goes to show that, although the scale indicates progress, an even better indicator is the mirror. Don’t measure your progress based on the reading of a number, but more on what you look like and how your body is changing.
How do I make sure to lose 1-2 lbs. a week?
This can be done by determining your Basic Metabolic Rate(BMR), this is the amount of calories you burn per day by just existing on this planet. On top of this you can add your activity level for the day and this will give you a total number of calories you can use in order to determine how many calories you burn per day. This is approximately calculated based on your activity levels, your age, your height and your weight. You can determine this number with many websites online such as this one: http://caloriecount.about.com/tools/calories-burned.
Once you determine this number, you must subtract calories from it in order to reach your desired weight loss. 1 pound of fat contains roughly 3,500 calories, so in order to lose 1 pound of fat a week, you must burn 500 less calories than what you ingest each day (7 days x 500 calories = 3,500). So for example somebody who burns 3,000 calories daily, should aim to only consume 2,500 (3,000-500). This number changes as your body weight changes and it must be reviewed and adjusted as progress begins to halt.
What kind of diet should I follow?
There are many diets out there, some do keto (high fat very low carb), some diet with moderate carbs and low fat, some do paleo, some do intermittent fasting, IIFYM etc. I will not go into detail on which is better and why because many different things will work differently on different people. I’m sure everyone can agree that keeping protein intake high (1-1.5 g /lb of bodyweight), is ideal to maintaining as much muscle mass as possible when dieting. But where opinions differ is on the fats and carbs.
In my opinion, a carb cycling approach is the best to take, not only from personal experience with different diets but with the scientific proof to back it. Carb cycling is not a specific diet but more of a template on how to diet. You have high carb days, low-moderate carb days and no carb days. If you have a lot of fat to lose only do 1 high carb day a week (on a major heavy bodypart), if you are leaner you can have more high carb days based on your judgement. If you are interested in carb cycling, read more in the links below:
Carb cycling is a great way to diet because the high carb days allow you to mentally have a break from the intense dieting you are following. Since the high carb days are planned, they are typically at maintenance calories, or slightly above. With this approach you won’t even crave cheat meals, allowing you to not indulge in that large stuffed crust pizza by yourself and adding an extra 3,000 calories to your day.
The other thing about carb cycling is it operates on scientific evidence. When we diet, a hormone that is very important to regulating energy intake and expenditure called LEPTIN, decreases. As leptin levels are decreased, this makes the body want to spare fat. Remember, our bodies are literally fat storing machines; it is much more beneficial for the body to store body fat in order to use it later as energy rather than to keep muscle.
In a study done on 13 individuals who went on reduced calorie diets, all 13 of them had levels of leptin much lower than what they started with. And many studies done on rats have also shown that fasting or reduced calorie diets will decrease leptin. According to Lyle Macdonald he says:
“ interjecting high carbohydrate, high calorie refeeds of varying lengths (anywhere from 5 hours to 3 days) is (currently) the best way to raise leptin while dieting.
One of the interesting (and often missed points) is that, as dieters get leaner (and leptin drops more and more), refeeds need to become larger and/or more frequent. That is, rather than necessarily dieting harder as they get leaner, some people are actually doing better by ‘breaking their diet’ (with specific high-carb refeeds) more frequently.
I’d note again that leptin production is related primarily to carbohydrate intake in the short-term, high-fat refeeds aren’t the best way to raise leptin levels. I’d also note that single ‘cheat’ meals won’t impact on leptin levels significantly as leptin doesn’t really change on a meal to meal basis.”
‘Nuff Said on diet.
When training on a caloric deficit it takes more mental fortitude to get to the gym and have your mind take over when you feel like quitting on that 8th rep when you can get 12. Training on a cut is very important because although you will be building very little muscle, if any, you will need to train hard and heavy in order to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. Like the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.”
From personal experience I can tell you not to change your training from when you bulk or cut, it should remain the same. Some people say you need to increase the reps and lower the weight; this is BS, if you drop the weight and increase the reps your body will lose muscle mass. I suggest drinking a carbohydrate and amino acid drink while training, you can go for the expensive ones or just simply mix whey isolate and dextrose sugar.
In order to minimize the effects of muscle loss in the weight room you should be placing most of your carbohydrates and calories around your weightlifting. Dr. Layne Norton mentions this in one of his articles:
- Dietary carbohydrates will provide fuel for the anaerobic pathway, and spare muscle tissue from being converted to glucose for fuel.
- Dietary carbohydrates will cause the release of insulin, which blocks the release of cortisol from the pancreas.
- Dietary carbohydrates will increase muscle glycogen levels which will improve performance and decrease fatigue.
As we can see, carbs are very beneficial around your workout, especially since you will be at a caloric deficit.
Cardio is one of those things that many say is not needed to get lean; all it does is “burn extra calories.” Although it is true, cardio increases your caloric needs; there are many benefits to it, especially with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio. But cardio not only helps you keep your heart healthy, which in turn allows you to become more efficient while you train due to improved recovery, but it has many more benefits that I could go on forever. Tell me, how many Mr. Olympia competitors, who have perfect diets, perfect training and all the supplements in the world do you see getting on stage without doing some sort of cardio? Not many, if any at all.
Many argue that long bouts of low intensity cardio are the best way to burn fat, because you’re in the “fat burning zone.” But research suggests that being in the “fat burning zone” is not as significant as many play it out to be, you’re in the fat burning zone right now, as you sit and read this article. Research also suggests that total daily energy expenditure is more important as opposed to what zone you’re in.
HIIT cardio seems to be more effective for fat loss, even though you may be burning less calories during the session, depending on how long you go. HIIT training is a form of cardio in which you switch between intervals of maximum effort, and low effort. For example, speed walking on a treadmill at 3.0 mph for 1 minute, and sprinting at 8.0 mph for 30 seconds, then you repeat. A study was done on 2 groups of individuals doing cardio 4-5 times a week, one doing 30 to 45 minutes of low intensity cardio for 20 weeks, and the other doing HIIT cardio for 15 weeks. The number of calories burned by the low intensity cardio group was more than double of the HIIT group, but the HIIT group lost 9 times more fat, why is that?
This is due to the fact that HIIT increases your metabolic rate, thus making your body burn calories, not only when you’re doing the exercise, but afterwards when you rest. The problem with steady pace cardio is that the more you do it, the more efficient your body becomes at burning fat, so you have to keep doing more and more, this is why many bodybuilders start with small sessions at the beginning of their contest prep and end up doing up to two 60 minute sessions a day!
This is evident by comparing a sprinter to a marathon runner. Marathon runners do slow steady cardio for hours on end and look at their body, compare them to a sprinter who does short bouts of an all-out maximum effort, and tell me which body you’d prefer.
Now I know cardio is not the funnest activity to do, and many will say “I’m overtrained because I did HIIT”, you’re overtrained because you’re a pussy, you need to get in the gym and train. HIIT will have you gasping for air and really taking the best out of you. A proper combination of both high intensity and low intensity cardio should be done for you to get the best results of fat loss!
What supplements will help me lose the most fat possible? Although there are many great fat loss supplements that have ingredients that will help you lose fat more effectively, they tend to cost more than a limb. Do these supplements help? Yeah they do, if your diet and training are in check they will help you feel better, reduce hunger and help your body be more effective to utilize its fat stores, but you can do great without them as well. Many people like using the ECA stack (ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin) which tends to be quite cheap and aid with energy and fat loss.
Other supplements I strongly recommend in order to maintain as much muscle mass as possible are BCAA’S, whey protein if you’re not getting enough in your diet, glutamine and a fiber supplement if you are on a low carb diet, because your body will be full of $#*% if you don’t, literally.
Getting shredded is much more complex than “reducing calories”, is not only fat loss with what we’re concerned with, but more importantly the maintenance of the muscle we currently have. Remember, you need to take your fat loss slow, follow a proper diet, train hard and heavy, do your cardio, and take your supplements. Getting rid of the winter fat you may have put on will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Keep training hard and results will come!
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