What is a Cutting Diet?

What is a Cutting Diet?

Looking to completely transform your body?

Well, you aren’t alone. Pretty much everyone is nowadays, and it’s not a bad thing. Being lean is a sign of good health, and is a common goal for those looking to get in better shape.

That’s one reason why cutting diets are so popular.

But, what exactly is a "cutting diet"? And better yet, how can a cutting diet help you reach your goals?

Basically, a cutting diet is any diet that prioritizes fat loss. It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of deal though, because everyone is different.

In general, an effective cutting diet will be higher in protein, and lower in calories. That’s relative though, because what is low in calories for me could be relatively high in calories for you. So, a cutting plan for one person will look a little different than someone with different goals, lifestyles, genetics, fitness levels, etc.

That said, let’s start by looking at what a cutting diet is, how it works, and a few particularly important details and tips you need to know.

What Is a Cutting Diet?

A cutting diet is simple. It’s a diet plan that gives you fewer calories than you burn every day in order to lose body fat.

So, is it the exact same thing as any old weight loss diet? Almost, but there is a distinct difference, in my opinion.

When it comes to any general weight loss diet, the number on the scale is the most important determining factor of success. A cutting diet is a little more specific when it comes to what the actual goal of the diet is.

When on a cutting diet, the goal is to maintain as much muscle as possible while maximizing fat loss. This is strategic and requires a much more refined diet plan.

However, the results you can get from that refined diet plan are well worth it!

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get chiseled abs, this is how. Having a good base of muscle mass to hold onto while losing fat can leave a very defined and “cut” look.

Hence the name “cutting diet”. But what do these diets consist of?

A cutting diet is lower in calories and higher in protein, when compared to the average weight loss diet that solely focuses on calories. This is because consuming higher amounts of protein every day can help you maintain muscle, while lower calories can help you lose body fat.

That brings up a great question that we get quite a bit here at 1st Phorm HQ ... how many calories is considered "lower" on a cutting diet?

That really depends, but a good rule of thumb is shooting for a 500-calorie deficit per day. The problem is, in order to just subtract 500 calories and find the right number of calories, you need to know exactly what you burn daily.

The thing is ... while that may sound like a simple goal, it’s not an easy number to find directly. That’s why I’ll show you some easy calculations to find the right calorie range for you in a bit.

This number of calories is important, because you don’t want to cut calories too low either ... as that could lead to more muscle loss than you want.

The bottom line is ... it’s all about finding the right balance of those key macronutrients for you and your goals/lifestyle.

How Long Does a Cutting Diet Last?

If it’s for a competition, then somewhere around 8-16 weeks is pretty typical. If you’re cutting as a personal goal with no specific objective in mind, then there is no time frame that you need to restrict yourself to.

It could take you one month, or it could take as long as a year or 2. It all depends on how aggressive your goal is, and how consistent you are in working toward it.

Normally though, I wouldn’t recommend staying in an aggressive calorie deficit for longer than 2-3 months at a time.

The Details of a Cutting Diet

To really complete the cutting diet, you need to count all of your calories and manage exactly how much protein, fat, and carbs you eat.

If you’re unsure how to do this, you came to the right place.

Counting Your Calories

To lose weight, you MUST eat fewer calories than you burn.

It’s simple science, and there is no secret way around it. No pill or hack will help you lose weight without eating less calories than you burn. That’s why it’s important to know how many calories you should be eating every day.

Really, the number of calories you should be eating will depend on a few factors: body weight, body composition, activity levels, and more.

This is why it’s different for every person.

The more you weigh, the more calories you need. The more muscle you have, the more calories you need. The more active you are, the more calories you need.

So, how do you figure out how many calories you need?

You could look into online calculators that use complex equations to give you an estimate.

You could also go to a doctor who can measure how many calories you burn through a process called indirect calorimetry. It’s pretty expensive though, and there are much easier and more affordable methods that can get you close to the same value. For this reason, I like to start with simple calculations using body weight.

First, take your body weight and multiply it by 10. This will give a relatively accurate number for the amount of calories you burn at rest.

This is called your resting metabolic rate. This rate makes up the majority of calories you burn daily, but doesn’t measure all of them.

You also burn calories through daily activity, and through digesting your food. It’s hard to pay attention to the amount you burn through digestion, so I focus on the other 2.

Your resting metabolic rate should be your absolute floor, in my opinion. Do not eat less than that amount, otherwise, you risk losing significantly more muscle mass while cutting.

Now, the key is to factor in your daily activity properly. At 1st Phorm, we find this through your daily average step count.

If you average less than 10,000 steps per day, then shoot to stay around your baseline at 10x Your Bodyweight.

If you average 10,000-15,000 steps per day, then we’ll add 10%. Do this by multiplying your body weight by 11 instead of 10.

If you are very active, and get 15,000-20,000+ steps per day, then we’ll add another 10%. In that case, you’d multiply your body weight by 12 instead of 10 or 11.

So, if I’m 200 pounds and want to lose a little weight, depending on my activity level, I would set my calories to:

200 x 10 = 2,000 calories
200 x 11 = 2,200 calories
200 x 12 = 2,400 calories

Is this a perfect calculation? Of course not. But, it can give you a good starting point.

If you start rapidly losing weight and are starving, then maybe you need to bump the calories up another 10-20%.

There is no perfect way to figure it out. You will have to adjust your calories over time regardless of where you start.

So, find a good starting point, then make your adjustments over time as needed.

Always Hit Your Protein Goal

High protein intake is crucial if you want to maintain or even build muscle while on a cutting diet.

Otherwise, you may end up losing more muscle than you have to. In either case though, it’s hard to know exactly how much protein to eat when there are so many theories coming from all over the place.

For example, the RDA for protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you do a simple Google search, this will pop up, and lead you to believe that is all you need.

But the truth is, that number is just the bare minimum amount of protein you should eat in order to prevent malnutrition and a negative nitrogen balance in the body. Not to mention, if you exercise on a consistent basis or plan to, that amount is way too low to support recovery from the increased level of activity and strain on the body!

Studies show that 2.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight helps maintain more muscle and is superior to eating even 1 gram per kilogram (1).

Higher protein intake not only reduces muscle loss when losing weight, but it also puts your hormones in a more favorable position for weight loss (2).

With so many different recommendations out there, it’s hard to give a “one-size-fits-all” approach. I’ll make it simple though.

Studies have been done on very high protein intakes and low intakes. Low protein intake is associated with more loss of lean tissue, like muscle (1).

High protein intakes as high as 3.32 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight (1.5 g/pound) showed no negative health effects (3). High protein also helps with losing weight that isn’t coming from lean tissue (2).

Based on those studies, and helping thousands of people earn results through higher protein diets throughout my career so far, it’s pretty clear to me that higher protein is the way to go.

Here’s a good and simple rule of thumb to follow that has never steered me wrong: Don’t go lower than 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal body weight, and it’s perfectly fine to go higher. So, if you weigh 200 pounds and want to lose 15, shoot for a minimum of 185 grams of protein per day.

On an actual cutting diet, this can help you maintain more muscle while losing more body fat.

You will also need to know that every gram of protein gives you 4 calories, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Maintain Your Fat Intake

If you're starting a cutting diet, you are most likely going to reduce your fat intake overall, but it's important to remember that you can’t cut out fat completely.

Not eating enough fat can affect the production of hormones, like testosterone and IGF-1. Without those hormones, your body will struggle to maintain muscle mass, and it’s just not good for your overall health.

The World Health Organization recommends keeping fat intake at a minimum of 20% of your total calorie intake (4). Personally, I don’t think going by percentages is the best way to go though, as that can be tricky to calculate on a daily basis.

See, the most important factor is getting enough fat to cover your basic needs without causing you to overeat calories. For your basic needs, here’s a good rule of thumb for a minimum amount of fat to eat per day.

Males should eat no less than 50 grams of fat per day. Females should eat no less than 40 grams of fat per day.

That should be enough to cover your basic needs. But remember, that's the minimum, so don't go lower than that.

In general though, as long as you hit that minimum amount of fats on a consistent basis, hit your protein goal, and end up in the correct calorie range … you’ll be fine.

Also keep in mind, every gram of fat you eat will give you 9 calories, and this is more than protein and carbs. You’ll need this info for the next section.

Maintain Your Carb Intake

Many people wrongly think they need to cut out carbs on a cutting diet. That’s not true at all.

When it comes to increasing performance in your workouts, carbs are the best source of fuel! Intense exercise requires a high output of energy, and it’s quite demanding.

Carbs give your body the energy you need at the speed you need it.

When it comes to a cutting diet, high-intensity exercise can help you maintain more muscle while burning an increased amount of calories. Therefore, cutting carbs out of your diet isn’t necessarily the right answer.

Now, if you prefer high-fat foods, and like low-carb better, then do it. There isn’t anything wrong with it, and your results won’t necessarily suffer.

If it hinders your workouts, then maybe it’s not a great idea, but everyone responds differently! It’s mainly about what you prefer and can stick to.

Again, protein and calories are the 2 most important factors. So here’s a simple way to think about it.

Find your protein number and how many calories you need to shoot for. Then, choose whether you want your carbs or fats to be lower in terms of the number of calories they're responsible for.

Once you have chosen whether you want carbs or fats to be lower, and the amount of that macronutrient, all you have left is math.

Calculating Your Macros For a Cutting Diet

Let’s say you’re eating 2,200 calories and are shooting for 185 grams of protein. 185 grams of protein x 4 calories per gram = 740 calories.

Then let’s say you decide to go lower fat, but not super low, and want your fats at 65 grams per day. 65 grams of fat x 9 calories per gram = 585 calories.

Now it’s just doing math to find the amount of carbs you need.

740 calories from protein + 585 calories from fat = 1325 calories. 2,200 total calories - 1325 calories from protein and fat = 875 calories from carbs.

Every gram of carbohydrates gives you 4 calories just like protein. So 875 calories / 4 calories per gram of carbs = about 219 grams of carbs.

So, this would give you these macros:

2,201 Calories
185g Protein
219g Carbs
65g Fat

Timing Your Meals

With a cutting diet, it’s not strictly necessary to precisely time your meals. It could help you stay on track though.

Many people end up not eating enough when cutting. I mean, we all lead busy lives and don’t make eating a priority.

Because people are on a cutting diet, they know they need to eat less. So, they use that to make it acceptable to eat even less than they planned.

That’s a BAD idea. Trust me … I’ve done it. It caused my energy levels to tank, and I felt like it slowed my metabolism down more than it needed to.

That, and the cravings for sweets and junk food came in SO MUCH stronger at night. Trust me when I say it’s a bad idea to take it too extreme when cutting.

On a different note, here are some meal timing tips that have helped me fit in all of my meals and really feel my best throughout the entire day:

• Eat 4–6 meals a day
• Divide your protein goal in grams by how many meals you can eat, and hit that number each meal
• Try eating every 2–3 hours to help keep yourself feeling satisfied
• Take a proper post-workout shake, which helps you hit your macro goals and recover ... and then eat an hour later.
• Don’t skip meals
• Use sustained assimilation protein shakes during the day when you cannot sit down for a meal

Eating regularly can keep cravings lower, and reduce blood sugar spikes from eating much larger meals.

Cheat Meals and Refeed Days

It's not uncommon for people who are following a cutting diet to use cheat meals and refeed days. While the overall concept is simple, it's a more advanced type of strategy that's mainly used by competitive bodybuilders.

During these cheat meals or refeed days, you are essentially allowing yourself to eat more than your diet typically allows for either 1 meal or a day. The problem with this technique is ... it's very easy to use this as an excuse to pig out on junk food.

That’s not to say there is no benefit to these cheat meals or refeed days if you actually do them correctly though. Refeed days can be beneficial for boosting your metabolism and improving your exercise performance (5).

What this can do is prevent your body from slowing down your metabolism as much from eating in a calorie deficit. When you eat less food, your metabolism will slow over time for survival. Throwing in more food for a day can trick your body in a way, so that it doesn't slow your metabolism as much.

It isn’t without its risks though.

If you overeat too much on that day, you could kick yourself out of a deficit and into a surplus for the week. In a calorie surplus, you’ll gain weight instead of losing it.

People are also more prone to overeating on cheat days. This is especially true if you’re prone to emotional eating (6).

Now, one meal won’t completely reverse your progress, but it could slow down your progress if you don’t do it right. It can also lead to accepting bad habits and having more cheat meals than you planned.

Personally, I don’t recommend having a cheat meal every week unless you have a coach. They can make sure you’re doing it strategically and not hurting your progress.

The good news is that if you pick up a little weight after a cheat meal or refeed day, it’s most likely water weight (7). For this reason, you shouldn't focus solely on the scale, because most commonly the day-to-day or hour-to-hour fluctuations in weight are usually due to water.

Best Foods For Cutting

When it comes to cutting diets, I always get questions about which foods are best. Well, I would argue that there are no "best foods for cutting". As I said earlier, your protein and calorie intake are ultimately what matter most.

Now, are there foods that can help you meet your calorie and protein goals more easily? Sure! Are there foods that are "healthier" in the sense that they are more nutrient-dense? Sure again!

However, to say there are foods that are "best" for cutting would be misleading. I would just argue that some foods are going to be a better fit for cutting. Generally, these are foods that are high in protein and lower in calories.

I'll cover some of my personal favorites briefly. Who knows, you may get some good ideas for meals and snacks based on these recommendations!

Lean Protein Sources

Now, I would definitely encourage that lean protein sources should be the core of your cutting diet. By lean, I mean don't contain high amounts of fat. It can be easy to go overboard on your calories by picking high-fat protein sources. Here are some good ideas for lean protein sources you can choose from:

• Chicken
• Turkey
• Cod
• Tilapia
• Egg whites

Complex Carbohydrates & Vegetables

Incorporating a variety of complex carbs and vegetables can help you stay satiated. They can also help you keep your energy levels more regular throughout the day. Let me explain.

Complex carbohydrates are just carbohydrates that will take your body longer to break down. They also typically have more fiber amongst other nutrients. Since they break down more slowly, they won't spike your blood sugar levels as high as simple carbs (AKA sugar) will.

This could help you keep hunger and cravings at bay too. Plus, when you're on a cutting diet, you can feel hungry often. For me, the hunger and cravings can be the most difficult part. That's why I choose complex carbohydrates and vegetables as opposed to simple carbs.

That's not to say you can't have simple carbohydrates on a cutting diet. If anything, they can still serve you well as a quick source of energy for workouts. This is when I'll often have fruit! Yes, believe it or not, most fruits have a lot of sugar which is a simple carb.

So, what are some good vegetables and complex carbohydrates you could try out? Here are some that I always go with:

• Leafy greens (kale, spinach)
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Peppers
• Quinoa
• Whole grains
• Oats
• Brown rice
• Beans

Healthy Fats

As I mentioned earlier, it will still be important to keep fats in your diet when you're cutting. Sure, fats do have a lot of calories. As a reminder, each gram of fat is 9 calories. So, how do we work around this?

Well, even with lean protein sources, you can still get a good amount of fat. If you find that you need to increase your fat intake, this is where you can do some fattier protein sources. Some good options you'd have there would be fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel.

Red meat and dairy are other options you have for getting some more fats in your diet. I personally like lean beef here and there or even low-fat cottage cheese.

You can also add some healthy fats such as avocado, chia seeds, whole eggs (yolks), almonds, and more. Again, just make sure you watch your calories and don't go overboard here. It can be easy!

Now, let's get into some tips that can help you optimize your cutting diet for even better results…

Cutting Diet Tips

I’m not going to act like going on a cutting diet is easy for everyone. It isn’t, and most people will have trouble with it.

Because of that, I want to give you some tips that can help you stay on track! Here’s what I consider to be the top 4…

1. Drink a Lot of Water

Water helps you stay hydrated and healthy. Exercise dehydrates you, so it’s very important to stay hydrated in order to prevent injury as well!

Not only that, but it can help you keep your stomach full and be less hungry ... to keep from unplanned snacking or overeating.

2.Start Preparing Your Meals

It’s hard to make sure you stay on plan if you just wing it every day on your meals. Planning ahead is the key to success!

It may take a few hours a week to do, but it’ll set you up to actually reach your goal. I find that by investing that extra time up front, I also save time throughout the week by not having to worry about what to eat. That also means I don’t spend my time and money trying to order a different meal or going out for lunch & dinner every day.

3. Eat Plenty of Fiber

Fiber plays multiple roles in the gut, and it can help with fat loss too.

It’ll help feed the good bacteria in your gut, and keep things moving regularly. It will also play a role in how full you feel from your meals.

This will help to keep the hunger at bay, and make it easier to stick to your plan.

4. Pay Attention to Sugary Drinks and Sauces

Too many people fall into the trap of forgetting to pay attention to the calories in sugary drinks and sauces.

Because we are thinking about what foods we eat, it’s easy to overlook the other things. However, the calories in drinks and sauces add up quickly.

Let’s say you go to Chick-Fil-A and you decide to keep it healthier with a grilled chicken sandwich. That’s not a bad option, but let’s say you also order a large lemonade and some Chick-Fil-A sauce.

Well if you only pay attention to the sandwich, you’re looking at 390 calories. Seems pretty low, right?

But if you don’t factor in the lemonade and sauce you’ll be off. The lemonade adds 74 grams of sugar and 300 calories. The sauce adds 13 grams of fat and an additional 140 calories.

So, you would be thinking you just got 390 calories, when in reality you just consumed 830 calories.

See how easy it is to overeat when you don’t pay attention to the details?

That brings me to my next point...

5. Pay Attention to The Details

Let me also make it clear that this is just an example. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get the lemonade or ever have sauces. You just need to be sure that the choices you make are in line with your goals.

Remember this — what gets measured, gets managed. If you don’t pay attention to your real calorie intake, it’ll be hard to know where you’re going wrong if progress stops.

6. Seek Help From a Coach

We all need help staying accountable from another person from time to time. This is normal.

It’s easy to talk yourself into going off plan. It’s a different story when you have someone else helping you and rooting for you. Nobody wants to disappoint someone that’s trying to help them achieve something.

The person to help you get results and hold you accountable needs to know what they’re doing. They need knowledge of exercise science, nutrition, and ideally supplementation too.

This is where an app, like the 1st Phorm App, can be very helpful. In the app, you actually get access to your own NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach. They are happy to help you with everything from your nutrition and macros to your workouts and lifestyle habits.

On top of that, you can track your food, get workout programs for your goals, and even measure your progress.

One Last Word About Cutting Diets

Overall, a cutting diet is a way for you to lose body fat without losing much muscle. If you want to see your hard-earned results, this is the best way to do it.

It can be a difficult diet to stick to unless you have discipline and someone to coach you through the challenges and struggles.

If you go to a personal trainer or dietitian, it might cost you quite a bit. Some are over $100 for an hour session or $200-300 per month.

You can get some great help by going that route, but it’s not practical for everyone.

That’s where the 1st Phorm App can be a complete game changer.

It will cost you less than an average meal per month to gain access to every tool we have at our disposal to get you real and long-term results!

I've been using it for years, and it has been a key part of earning the results I've been working toward ... and I'm confident it can help you too.

Inside the app, you'll get access to:

• A certified personal trainer and nutrition coach (sometimes a dietitian) to coach you every day in the app

• A custom nutrition plan and an easy way to log your food to stay on track

• 5x per week live streams about nutrition, training, and supplementation

• Activity and step-counting software

• Progress tracking and body metrics to make sure you get the results you're after

Check out the 1st Phorm App here, and I promise you won’t regret it!

That said, I know we covered a lot of information, so if you have more questions, we’ll be happy to answer them. Reach out to our team at 1-800-409-9732 or by sending an email to CustomerService@1stPhorm.com and we’ll help in any way that we can.

Otherwise, stay disciplined, conquer your mind, and force those results into existence! You’ve got this!

Download the 1st Phorm App

References:

(1) Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb;42(2):326-37. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181b2ef8e. PMID: 19927027.

(2) Moon J, Koh G. Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2020 Sep 30;29(3):166-173. doi: 10.7570/jomes20028. PMID: 32699189; PMCID: PMC7539343.

(3) Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Vargas L, Tamayo A, Buehn R, Peacock CA. A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One-Year Crossover Study in Resistance-Trained Males. J Nutr Metab. 2016;2016:9104792. doi: 10.1155/2016/9104792. Epub 2016 Oct 11. PMID: 27807480; PMCID: PMC5078648.

(4) Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017 Aug 30;16(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4. PMID: 28854932; PMCID: PMC5577766.

(5) Mitchell L, Hackett D, Gifford J, Estermann F, O'Connor H. Do Bodybuilders Use Evidence-Based Nutrition Strategies to Manipulate Physique? Sports (Basel). 2017 Sep 29;5(4):76. doi: 10.3390/sports5040076. PMID: 29910436; PMCID: PMC5969027.

(6) Boggiano MM, Burgess EE, Turan B, Soleymani T, Daniel S, Vinson LD, Lokken KL, Wingo BC, Morse A. Motives for eating tasty foods associated with binge-eating. Results from a student and a weight-loss seeking population. Appetite. 2014 Dec;83:160-166. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.026. Epub 2014 Aug 26. PMID: 25169880; PMCID: PMC4962333.

(7) Murray B, Rosenbloom C. Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutr Rev. 2018 Apr 1;76(4):243-259. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy001. PMID: 29444266; PMCID: PMC6019055.

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