The cutting phase is a term bodybuilders use to describe the period of dieting leading up to a competition. While bodybuilders spend most of the year eating excess calories to build muscle, when a competition is looming, cutting calories is vital to help shed body fat and get as lean as possible for the stage.
Be Mr. or Ms. Moderate
A moderate approach to fat loss is best, according to the Sports Dietitians of Australia website, as cutting calories too quickly will result in muscle loss. On a balanced cutting diet you should consume between 13 and 17 calories per pound of body weight, notes bodybuilder, coach and nutritionist Dr. Layne Norton. You also need between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Fat should make up 17 to 28 percent of your calorie intake, with the rest coming from carbs, Norton adds.
Cutting the Carbs
Some bodybuilders prefer to go for a lower-carb approach, known as a ketogenic diet. This involves keeping carbs very low during the week -- to roughly 30 grams or below -- with higher protein and higher fat intakes, followed by high-carb, low-fat foods at the weekend. Dr. Mauro DiPausquale writes in "The Anabolic Diet" that this approach helps to optimally burn fat while retaining muscle mass. Typical low-carb diets are often high in unhealthy fats, however, which may pose risks to your health, warns Harvard School of Public Health. You could, however, switch to a keto diet with mainly lean meats and get your fat from oily fish, nuts and seeds instead, which would be healthier.
Fighting the Fat
As an aspiring bodybuilder looking to cut calories and get lean, you may be tempted to opt only for low-fat foods. While this does enable you to keep a higher carb intake, which may help your energy levels, going too low with fat can also be detrimental. Low-fat diets aren't as satisfying, according to Harvard, meaning you could be left feeling hungry. Additionally, healthy fats such as oily fish and nuts play an important role in hormone production and overall health.
The Best Approach
By far the most sensible, effective approach to take when cutting for a competition is the one that fits your lifestyle and preferences. Avoid anything drastic by keeping carbs, fats and proteins in your diet and eating a variety of foods. Always check with your doctor before starting a cutting diet phase. As you progress, lose body fat and get lighter, you will need to reduce your calorie intake to keep losing fat. While the number of calories you need to eat and the quantity of food will vary from person to person, a sample cutting diet might be an egg white omelet on an English muffin with watermelon and kiwi for breakfast. At lunch, have a whole-grain wrap with tuna, olive oil, a large salad and a handful of walnuts, with ground turkey, mixed vegetables and a baked potato for dinner. Snacks could be cottage cheese with peanut butter and blueberries, a protein shake or crackers with sliced turkey, avocado and reduced-fat cheese.
- Sports Dietitians Australia: Fact Sheet: Body Building
- Simply Shredded: The Ultimate Cutting Diet – Devised by Pro Natural Bodybuilder Layne Norton
- The Anabolic Diet; Mauro DiPasquale
- The Harvard Crimson: Low-Carb Diets May Negatively Affect Health
- Harvard Health Publications: Low-Fat, Low-Carb, or Mediterranean: Which Diet Is Right for You?