In the quest for optimal athleticism (via improved body composition) I work through a schedule of cutting, maintaining and massing. The end goal of this process is to become a bigger, stronger and more dynamic athlete.
Whats the point?
The Purpose of this process is to ensure that I am bringing the best version of myself to training and competition and giving myself as much of a physical advantage as possible. Each phase has a specific goal attached to it and is part of the larger process. Lets take a brief look at each phase:
This is not like ‘cutting’ for competition there is no particular water or carbohydrate manipulation – the process of cutting in this sense is all about losing body fat. Ideally brining the fat levels to new lows whilst maintaining your current muscle mass.
Often overlooked, maintenance exists to double down on your progress and make sure it actually stays around! How many times have you seen people lose weight, only to gain it back (and more) within a month or so. Maintenance allows your body to adapt to its new fat levels and solidify your progress.
Commonly referred too as ‘bulking’ this process is the deliberate gain of weight in order to increase muscle mass. You won’t just gain muscle! You will gain fat alongside it – but some research does suggest entering this phase leaner will help you to gain a little less fat and more muscle.
How long did I diet and what were the results?
My current cutting phase lasted 8 weeks from January 19th to March 13th. Over the course of this time I lost 4.2kg (9.2lbs) – I didn’t take a body fat reading as often they are incredibly inaccurate – so instead I took measurements and pictures to track fat loss. My starting weight was 83.7kg (184lbs) and my end weight was 79.5kg (174.9lbs) – this equates to just over 1lb lost per week on average.
Did it go smoothly and linearly?
Ummmm Nope. It definitely did not, I had to make several tweaks along the way, gradually reducing calories as my body started adapting to the deficit and my energy levels decreased. My weight loss to start with was actually quite slow, which can really hurt motivation (and it did). Previously my weight has dropped very quickly, however lockdown really hurt my activity levels. I wasn’t on my feet all day with clients in the gym and I was unable to grapple multiple times per week – this resulted in me having to be a lot harsher with nutrition which really was an eye opener.
Myself and a lot of athletes I work with tend to be able to cut on a lot more calories than our general population counterparts due to our busy training schedules (some athletes I work with train 3x per day) so having the enforced restrictions of lockdown was a huge barrier to overcome. Simply this was dealt with by an ever increasing step count and ever decreasing calories lol – it was tough but as the results started to happen I got a boost of motivation that would carry me through another tough day.
What did my training look like?
One of the key factors during a cut is to preserve your muscle mass! If you’re too strict too quickly, or if you train incorrectly you could be sacrificing hard earned muscle during your weight loss. To protect against this I ate adequate protein (about 1g per lbs of bodyweight) plus worked out with weights throughout my cut – this was especially hard as energy levels dropped.
Typically I trained weights 5x per week – I trained at home and had access to a barbel with a max weight of 50kg and some dumbbells. This was a less than ideal set up (especially for leg training) but it forced me to be innovative and really concentrate on methods to make all of my exercises suitably challenging. I trained using my Hybrid approach, aiming to include key compound movements as well as accessory movements to help specific grappling areas.
Outside of my weight training I did a minimum of 10,000 steps per day – again a challenging feat due to restrictions. I got out and walked whenever I could and some nights even saw me walk on the spot in front of the TV (watching grappling instructionals) in order to get my quota completed (rock&roll!!)
What about Cardio?
I didn’t really do any… Once or twice I jumped on the bike (exercise bike) for a slow 30 mins but I decided not to include too much cardio into my program. The main two reasons for this were firstly my energy levels. I still have work to do (online) and two young children and a partner at home – I can’t afford to just train into oblivion and then be a zombie for the rest of the day. The weight training plus steps was more than enough to make wrestling my daughters tough let alone pounding the pavement with sprints. Secondly as I wanted to preserve as much muscle as possible I wanted to avoid any divergent adaptations from doing cardio. Now this is unlikely to be a big issue, but I felt it best not to include it just to be sure to hold on to as much muscle as I could.
Did I use Keto? Low carb? Carnivore?
No I just stuck to a calorie deficit, made sure I hit decent protein and then partitioned the rest of my calories into carbs and fat. I made sure I had a fair amount of carbs to function and to make sure I had energy to work out and thats it. No foods off the table, no restrictions and no magic.
I have a very sweet tooth, so one thing I did was eat chocolate every day! Now I wasn’t smashing down family sized bars but I could get enough in to keep me on track.
There are two hypotheses about eating ‘tasty food’ during a cut phase. One states that eating tasty food can lead to more cravings, weakened willpower and the likelihood of eating more and thus de-railing your diet. The second theory would suggest that having a little of what you want actually keeps you on track and allows you to re-focus on the rest of your diet.
Personally I find both theories have legs and will suit different individuals – however in my experience most people work better with option two – a little bit of tasty food. I know I do.
One thing I am proud of is my willpower – I know if I set my mind to something I will stick to the rules and goals I have set out – one of these being if I can have one small chocolate bar and no more – I will just have one. Now willpower is finite and everyone will crack, however willpower can be trained and ‘exercising’ it is a useful task.
– I was cold – a lot
– However well you plan being in a deficit sucks – embrace the suck
– My energy got low – sometimes it was so low even watching a TV program felt like a chore
– I became very food focused, I would think a lot about food and when and what I would be eating next
– It’s frustrating – my weight loss was slow and not linear – this often made me upset and stressed
– Cutting effects mood – my patience was a lot less and may stress was a lot higher
– I slept poorly – as the cut progressed my sleep was negatively impacted – not ideal with already low energy levels
– You can still apply progressive overload and train hard – I was proud I still trained hard 5x per week
– Steps take planning, I made mistakes early on with this and catching them up can be a challenge
– The hardest part is next – I won’t make the mistake of binging now my ‘cut is over’ – This is the toughest part for me as you really want to indulge on all of the things you’ve missed – however – just like with the cut I will make a plan and stick to it (I did eat a pizza and ice-cream the day after tbf)
Overall I am happy with the progress, The cutting phase was successful in what I set out to achieve. It was a harder process than previously and I did have moments of regret and moments where my resolve was tested.
I am really hoping that next time I enter a cutting phase life will be somewhat back to normal. My daily activity will be high and I’ll be back on the mats rolling daily.
I think this will make the whole process a little easier and hopefully will allow me a little more to eat.
If you’re thinking of entering a new dietary phase I strongly recommend making a detailed plan and if possible getting some professional advice. I understand the process and have decent nutrition knowledge but throughout I had the advice, guidance and support of two of my fellow coaches Matt and Leigh who helped every step of the way.
This aided me hugely with decision making, macro adjustments, will-power and accountability. Having their support and guidance make the whole process a lot more manageable.