Finally, after what was in many places the coldest winter in history, the mercury is rising at last. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and bodybuilders everywhere are thinking the same thing: it’s time to get cut for summer! You’ve been working hard for the past few months to pack on more muscle tissue, but of course you gained a bit of fluff in your bulking quest. Now you want to melt away the adipose tissue and reveal that chiseled statue underneath in all its ripped and veiny glory.
But wait – here’s that nagging voice of doubt in the back of your mind. “Bro, you’re gonna lose muscle if you diet!” That’s not paranoia. It’s a legitimate concern. Dieting can indeed cause you to lose precious lean muscle tissue along with the fat if you aren’t careful. You worked much too hard to build that muscle in the first place, so you’ll be damned if you sacrifice any of it under any circumstances. How do you prevent that unacceptable scenario? Fear not, my friends, I got you!
The absolute worst thing anyone concerned with getting cut while preserving all his or her muscle mass can do is to ‘crash diet.’ It’s enticing to see articles or videos telling you how to ‘Get shredded in 30 days,’ but attempting to rush the human body to do anything rarely ends well. Allow yourself enough time to drop no more than 1-2 pounds per week.
How long will you need? Get a body composition test done to find out just how much lean tissue you have versus fat. Let’s say you are 200 pounds at 20% bodyfat. That means you are carrying 40 pounds of fat. Obviously, you don’t need to lose all 40 pounds as that would take you down to zero percent, but 25 pounds gone would drastically improve your appearance, giving you clean muscle separation and a six-pack. 12 weeks of dieting and cardio would probably hit that sweet spot of getting you far leaner while keeping all your beef! I strongly urge you to start now rather than put if off any longer, because the warmer months don’t last long for many of you.
Keep your protein high
Protein both helps you build muscle and retain muscle mass when calories and carbohydrates are lowered. That’s why it’s so common for competitors in bodybuilding and other divisions to take their carbohydrates way down as they are cutting yet keeping their protein intake high.
Many will even increase their protein intake above what it was in the off-season, since carbs and fats are being reduced. Suffice to say you will want to consume at least a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, with many erring on the side of caution and bumping that up to 1.5 grams.
Do NOT skip meals!
The go-to method for generations of women desiring to lose weight is starvation, typically skipping one or more meals daily and going as long as 6-8 waking hours without any nourishment. This will indeed take weight off anyone, but a substantial percentage of that weight will come in the form of muscle mass along with fat. Regular people neither know nor care about that fact, because for them it’s all about seeing a smaller number on the scale or ‘inches lost’ from problem areas like the hips and thighs.
As a bodybuilder, you want to feed your muscles, not starve them into extinction, even if the goal is fat loss. Do not go more than three waking hours without either a meal or a protein shake. This will stoke the metabolism so you continue burning bodyfat while preserving your muscles.
Don’t go crazy with cardio
You will have to do a certain amount of cardio to lose as much bodyfat as you want to. How much is enough? That’s impossible to say. How much is too much is a little easier to quantify. Most bodybuilders have found that anything over 60 minutes daily results in loss of lean muscle tissue along with fat.
You will hear about people doing twice that amount. Understand that one or two situations are involved there. One, the person is attempting to drop a great deal of fat in too short a time frame, and/or two, they are loaded up on steroids, which do act to preserve muscle in otherwise catabolic environments. After all, most were designed for just that, assisting people like burn patients.
How to know how much you need to do? Start at a baseline of four 30-minute sessions per week. These can be done either first thing in the morning on an empty stomach after having some coffee or EAA’s, or right after your weight training workout. After two weeks, assess your fat loss. If it’s not happening at a satisfactory rate of 1-2 pounds per week, add a fifth session, and so on. Some of you will only need the initial four 30-minute sessions, while others will have to work up to 60 minutes every day, either all at once or broken up into two 30-minute sessions.
As for the intensity, you can choose to do either HIIT style cardio (High Intensity Interval Training), where the sessions are shorter (20-30 minutes) but more intense, or LISS style (low intensity steady state), which is longer but less intense sessions. Both methods ‘work,’ and despite numerous studies there is no evidence that either is significantly superior for fat loss purposes over a period of many weeks. Do whichever one you prefer, and whatever machine you like to use.
Stay fairly lean
Last but not least, this tip is purely for future reference. The number one way to give yourself the very best chance of keeping all your muscle mass while getting cut is to never allow yourself to accumulate too much body fat in the first place. Always remember that whatever fat you put on is going to have to come off eventually, and that will require strict dieting and cardio.
The less fat you have to lose in the first place, the less time you will need to diet, and you won’t ever be in a position of having to do an hour of cardio every day. It does take some discipline to eat clean most of the time even when the weather is cold and you’re covered up, but it pays off in dividends once spring arrives and you decide to get lean. It will take you far less time and effort to go from decent condition to sliced and diced than it would if you started from a fluffier point.
Now you have all the right tools, so get cut and keep all that hard-earned muscle while you do it!