Welcome to Part 2 of this feature series focusing on tips and tricks on getting cut for summer or before a competition, where we look at a variety of factors that can affect your cutting success. Previously in Part 1, we examined what becoming “aesthetic” and getting ripped meant in terms of body composition, fat mass, lean mass and weight changes. We also offered some tips to achieve more successful cutting. Part 2 will examine more closely food intake as well as physical and mental changes that occur during cutting periods and offer you some of the best tips to reaching your ideal aesthetic and ripped physique.
Getting Ripped Diet
Previously in Part 1 of this article series, we saw that getting cut meant following a strict diet and one that was much harsher and more meticulous than your typical bulking diet. Surprisingly, most advanced trainers and bodybuilders still tend to consume plenty of calories even during cuts ranging anywhere between 2200 calories to 3200 calories a week or two out of competition for an average 26-28 year old at 175-180cm and 85-102kgs. Average calorie reductions per week range from roughly 40 calories to 100 calories. These might seem low, but remember most trainers will be increasing their energy expenditure quite substantially during cuts. There are two main schools of thoughts for caloric changes during cuts:
- Gradual Reduction Method – This method involves modest weekly reductions, usually in carbohydrates and/or fat of about 5-10g.
- Higher Calorie Reductions Method – This method involves larger caloric decreases of between 300-500 calories every 3 weeks.
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to ensure that you track your weight changes weekly and even bi-weekly to assess how your methods are working for you. There are no hard and fast rules for nutrition and macronutrient changes during cuts; other than a decrease in carbs and fat intake and an increase in protein consumption. The key to a successful cut is to accurately and meticulously track your energy intake and also weight changes so you can make the necessary alterations in a timely fashion and before weight/fat loss stagnation hits.
Cutting Tip No. 1 – Consume 50% of your daily carbohydrates around training time (25% pre-training and 25% post-training). This ensures a good majority of your carbohydrate intake will either be utilised during training or assist with glycogen and muscle recovery.
Top 3 Food & Nutrition Mistakes When Cutting
1. Eating the Same Thing Everyday – Maintaining a balanced but varied diet will ensure greater compliance to a cutting regimen. Pick different protein sources such as meat, fish, chicken, pork, lamb or kangaroo, just to name a few.
2. Cutting Out Carbs Completely – You should still be having some carbs each day; otherwise you start to risk using your body protein stores as energy. The initial phase your cutting diet should be around 35-40% carbohydrates, dropping to about 30% closer to competition.
3. Not Paying Attention to Carbohydrate Quality – Fatigue will set in during your cutting period, especially as your calorie and carbohydrate levels start to decline and energy expenditure rises dramatically. Avoid this by using carbohydrates with a lower glycaemic index and load to help provide more gradual energy levels and avoid slumps from dramatic changes in blood sugar levels.
Cutting Tip No. 2 – Divided doses of protein throughout the day are much more conducive to muscle gain and maintenance than big boluses (servings) of protein consumed 2-3 times per day. Aim to have at least 20-25g of protein around 5-6 times per day and always once before your workouts and once afterwards.
Getting Ripped & Performance
Getting cut and ripped doesn’t come without some negatives. Bodybuilders and advanced trainers cutting down will sacrifice physical performance in the pursuit of aesthetics and a physique that favours extremely low body fat levels. If you want to truly be successful in achieving your ultimate ripped physique, you need to be prepared to be happy with poorer physical performance in terms of strength, power and aerobic capacity, even with good maintenance of lean muscle mass. Below are some graphs detailing performance decrements from 6 weeks to 1 week prior to a competition for a natural bodybuilder:
As you can see from the graph above, strength tends to decline quite steadily over 6 weeks with the biggest losses seen in the lower body. This is despite the fact that the subject consumed more than enough protein. Further extrapolation of results showed that although lower body strength decreased the most, upper body strength takes the longest to recover.
The above graph shows us the power decreases during a period of cutting. Critical Power is the highest average power you can sustain for a period of time and is a good measure of endurance performance, whilst Peak Power is the highest power you are able to generate. Peak power reduced much faster and at a greater magnitude than critical power due to the anaerobic and strength nature of peak power. The subject's critical power suffered less due to increased endurance training, which can alter fuel consumption in a way to maintain or at the very least reduce the decrements in endurance performance. The use of carbohydrates around workout times can assist with maintaining endurance performance while you cut, however probably won't help with maintaining high intensity workout efforts.
This last graph shows the aerobic capacity decrements during a cutting phase. Absolute VO2Peak is a measure of fitness as is Relative VO2Peak, however relative values are more often used as it takes into account weight. For example, if you are able to sustain relative VO2Peaks despite weight losses, it means you're still equally as aerobically fit, even though you have lost weight, which is the ideal situation. While both Absolute and Relative VO2Peak levels decrease over time, for this subject, their relative VO2Peak declined slower, which suggests that he was still able to maintain a relatively high aerobic fitness even though he was cutting, losing weight and most likely fatigued. The key to maintaining aerobic fitness throughout your cutting periods is to continually perform endurance exercise even while you cut, but also interspersing that with high intensity interval training which will help with aerobic fitness.
Cutting Tip No. 3 – Your cutting period is the perfect time to start or amp up your use of pre-workouts, which will help you recover some of your original training capacity. If you are using a fat burner, it might be best to steer clear of the stimulated pre-workouts to avoid excessive intake of caffeine and other stimulants which can impede your performance rather than benefit it. Time pre-workouts use appropriately as you still need to cycle them every couple of weeks.
Cutting & Mental / Mood States
Besides physical fatigue, mental fatigue will start to set in during your cutting period. This will be due to a lack of carbohydrates and calories coupled with an increase in intense and frequent bouts of physical activity. Longer duration cutting tends to result in less distinct changes in mood states; most of which will be mental fatigue and a feeling of inertia as well as a slight increase in tension and anxiety. The latter mood state generally coincides with bodybuilders and trainers preparing for a competition.
Shorter duration cutting routines tend to result in an increase in feelings of confusion and bewilderment, which is due to severe calorie restrictions coupled with a massive decrease in hydration status. New and beginner trainers taking on cutting for the first time may experience a rise in depression and dejection as a result of a disconnect between expectations and physical outcomes. It’s important to remember that cutting and getting ripped or ‘aesthetic’ is an endeavour that takes time to perfect; with the process being easier for some than others. It’s important to be encouraged by any positive progresses rather than be discouraged by any shortcomings and realise that the right cutting procedure for you can take a couple of cycles to perfect.
Cutting Tip No. 4 – Mental fatigue and a decline in positive mood states associated with cutting can be alleviated somewhat with nootropic or cognitive support supplements and ingredients including fish oil/omega 3 supplements, acetyl l-carnitine, ginseng, , gingko, rhodiola, bacopa monnieri, tyrosine and good old caffeine. Well timed rest days, nutrition and supplementation can also help allay mental fatigue and depressed mood states.
More Tips for Getting Ripped
So far in Part 2 of this article series, we’ve looked at the process of cutting, getting ripped and looking more aesthetic in terms of diet and nutrition, exercise and training performance changes as well as mood and mental performance changes. We've seen that physical and mental performance tends to decline and diet and nutrition changes don't always have to be drastic in order to cut. We've also looked at plenty of tips to help minimise some of the negatives associated with cutting and getting ripped so you can be more well prepared the next time you do cut. In Part 3 of our Getting Ripped for Summer Series, we'll look at hormone and other physiological changes that can occur during your mission to look more aesthetic and provide some of the best tips to ensure you are cutting smarter and not harder.