What Is the Cutting Phase in Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilder showing results after the cutting phase.

To build the body of your dreams, you need to increase your muscle mass and decrease your body fat percentage. Cutting is the latter half of the equation and allows you to show off that new muscle tone to its best advantage.

While the bulking phase helps you build muscle mass but has one serious downside. As you’re eating additional calories, your body fat percentage will increase, too. Cutting is a measure that bodybuilders use to offset this effect.

What Is Cutting?

In the simplest terms, cutting entails creating a daily calorie deficit in order to minimize fat and enhance the muscular physique. This requires a careful balancing act, as you wish to maintain your muscle gain but lose the fat.

Bodybuilders use a combination of cardio and lower caloric intake to achieve the results they desire.

It is essential to limit cutting to no more than six weeks at a time at most. It’s also crucial not to starve yourself during this time. Balancing your macronutrients is especially important at this time.

What to Expect

During the cutting phase, nutrition becomes more important than ever. Up to 60% of your caloric intake during bulking should come from carbohydrates. When cutting, the focus shifts to protein.

Aim for the following macronutrient mix:

  • 40% protein
  • 40% carbohydrates
  • 20% fats

With this diet, you’ll be able to train as hard as you like and still have energy.

Will You Feel Hungry?

Yes, there’s a strong possibility that hunger pangs will trouble you at first. As you’re shifting from a calorie surplus to a deficit, it’ll take a few days to adjust. The upside is that you should start to see results within a week or two.

To make the adjustment easier:

  • Schedule your main meals for those times you need the most energy.
  • Pile up the slow-release carbohydrates.
  • Fool your mind into thinking you’re eating more by using smaller plates.
  • Choose nutrient-dense food that’s high on the satiety index.
  • Bulk out with fiber-rich foods to keep you feeling full for longer.

Does Cutting Affect Your Metabolism?

The other potential downside is that dropping your intake too low could slow your metabolism. Your body may perceive large drops as a threat and lower the rate at which it burns calories.

If this happens once or twice, it’s manageable. Repeatedly starving your body, however, interferes with the resting metabolic rate. When you go back to eating what you usually would, you’ll gain the weight back and pack more pounds.

When considering your dietary needs during the cutting phase, think about what happens when you finish this stage. What dietary plan will follow it? Ideally, going back to normal eating shouldn’t entail an excessive calorie increase.

Your Cutting Cheat Sheet

Plan your day around your busiest periods. You might, for example, have an eating plan that divides up the macronutrients as follows:

  • Breakfast: Make it rich in protein and starchy carbohydrates, so you have energy for the day ahead.
  • Snack: Eat a high-protein snack with fat for better satiety.
  • Lunch: Mix a carbohydrate and protein.
  • Snack: Choose a high-protein snack with additional carbohydrates to get over the mid-afternoon slump.
  • Dinner: Round off your day with a high-protein meal with fats to help you feel full.

It’s important to focus on your protein intake here to maintain your muscle mass.

Increasing the Calorie Deficit

There are two primary strategies for creating a calorie deficit: exercise and diet. A balanced combination of the two is vital if you hope to achieve optimal results. Exercise will help you maintain muscle tone, while diet provides you with the nutrients you need for energy.

It’s also important to:

  • Consider HIIT training to keep your metabolism up.
  • Play sports and remain active to rev up your metabolism for longer.
  • Increase the amount of protein you eat.
  • Look for other ways to boost your metabolism, such as drinking coffee.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure that you don’t develop insulin resistance.
  • Eat meals and snacks at strategic times during the day.

The Potential Downsides

No one formula will work for every person. Finding the right blend of macros to fuel exercise while creating a calorie deficit may prove tricky. Cutting directly impacts the hormones within your body, so you’ll need to monitor these carefully.

Cutting increases the levels of catabolic hormones and decreases the levels of anabolic hormones. If not properly managed, the altered hormone levels could result in the loss of muscle mass.

How Do I Know Whether the Macro Split Is Off?

You’ll know that you need to tinker with the plan if:

  • You feel weak and underfed. This usually points to a badly balanced dietary plan.
  • There’s not much change in the levels of fat. You’ll need to reconsider your exercise schedule and diet to create a greater caloric deficit.

If you are battling to work out what went wrong, consider speaking to a personal trainer or dietician for professional advice.

Cutting: The Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An excellent way to improve tone while maintaining muscle gain
  • Allows you to create a shredded look
  • Relatively simple to determine whether the program is working
  • A short-lived stage

Cons

  • You may feel hungry
  • Determining the actual macros you need might take time
  • There’s a possibility of developing metabolic slowdown

What Can You Eat?

Make sure that you have the following ingredients on hand to provide you with long-lasting energy and nutrients:

  • Quinoa
  • Unrefined oats
  • Brown or basmati rice
  • Chickpeas
  • Sweet or russet potatoes
  • Black beans and other legumes
  • Home-made pumpkin puree with no added sugar
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Reduced-fat cottage cheese
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Chicken filets
  • Shrimp
  • Lean red meat
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Squash
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes
  • Protein powder
  • Almond flour
  • Almond milk
  • Nut butter
  • Chicken broth
  • Cocoa powder
  • Stevia
  • Coconut oil

Are You Ready to Get Cut?

Now that you have a better understanding of what cutting is, it’s time to get to work. Check out the other articles on our site for more information on preparing the foods on the list in tasty, healthy ways.

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