How Do You Set Up a Fat Loss Phase?

As the title says, how do you set up your fat loss phases… but here’s the twist: how has it changed over time (and why)?

For me, I started out playing sports and knowing less than nothing about nutrition. When I needed to lose weight for wrestling, I would run stair (in trash bags, of course, because that’s how we did it) and eat rice (because my coach told me the leanest wrestlers tended to be from SE Asia and he was pretty sure they ate rice). It worked, but I’d wager it was more the fact that I was taking myself down to a few hundred calories a day prior to matches.

When I first started caring about how I looked, obviously to impress girls on spring break, I would do the old school bulk/ cut cycles from Arnold’s Encyclopedia. I did fasted cardio every morning, obsessed over eating exactly 40/40/20 macro splits at every meal (not over the course of the day), and did really high volume and high frequency splits. It worked tremendously well, but I could regain it all in one day of beer drinking.

That is pretty much the tactic I kept for years, although the exact macro splits and when I did my cardio might change. Daily cardio, closely tracked macros, and bodybuilding workouts. I was always successful with it, but I also tend to fall off the wagon hard because I’m so hungry by the end. I also have to actually “care” to dive into that; I can’t casually lose weight that way, because it’s tedious.

This last year and a half or so I’ve been trying to focus on food quality and high-satiety foods, both for the reasons mentioned above and because I don’t want my daughter seeing me weigh out and count foods. I would say I’ve been moderately successful. I don’t feel starved and I’m able to carry a decent bodyweight, but I haven’t committed myself to really getting lean either and I think I would have a tough time doing so. I will also add that I haven’t had a real training goal, either, so that’s an unaccounted for variable.

With all the threads popping up lately about “how do I get lean,” as 'tis the season, I’ve seen some of you geniuses talk about what you do to set up those phases and we all have some interesting variances. I would love to hear your methods and the madness behind them!


Great thread idea, and your second paragraph had me laughing.

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We were all about applied sports science in NC in the 90s


Oh hey, I get it! I worked in gyms, teaching people how to do this stuff, if you can imagine. I got free Reeboks, but no training in lifting or CPR or anything else, really. We pretty much just made it all up!

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I think the biggest folly in fat loss is automatically thinking some “diet” that worked for someone else is going to work for you. There is also a confusing crossover of what I would call misguidance when it comes to fat loss for people in “bulk and cut” cycles, and people that are trying to learn better habits for sustainable fat loss.

I have managed to lose just shy of 40lbs in short 10-15lb blasts and am confident I can do that whenever I decide to. That doesn’t mean what I think I know how to do will bring other people results. I am a person who always struggled to put ON the weight in the past. I am well-trained in skipping meals and have become the master of my own method, but nobody elses. Over time I have been able to combat and come out with my own methods to gain weight. I cannot convincingly give good advice to anyone else though.

During bulks I eat breakfast and have a few pints of milk a day.
During cuts I skip breakfast, cut out the milk and walk a whole ton.

Doesn’t that sound easy? It is for me. I don’t boast with me saying that. Even if that is the envy of some, there are other challenges I’ve had to go through in terms of my diet that I’ve posted about here before, that have perhaps conditioned me to find this easier. Everyones struggles are valid when it comes to nutrition and diet answers. I point this out because we all have our own challenges and all anyone can really do is guide you through their own experiences and try to help you tailor it to yourself.

One persons “skip breakfast” could mean “binge eat late evening”.

So I guess my only real vague “tip” I could give anyone is to not marry yourself to something that worked for someone else that is clearly not working for you. For fat loss to work it has to be something you can stick to. If it makes your life a complete hell then it’s probably not the right thing for you to be doing.


I’m certainly no expert and no one should ever take advice from me. I have, however, lost a pretty notable amount of weight in a fairly short time before.

My answer, though, is also not very fulfilling. When I’m cutting weight, I just eat less food. My primary training goal is strength, not bodybuilding. Though I, like most of us, do like to look good and look like I lift. So my training doesn’t change. The goal is always to keep getting stronger.

It is my personal opinion and experience that the amount of strength someone will lose while losing weight is wildly overblown, and we mostly convince ourselves of that ahead of time so it manifests. It is also my personal opinion and experience that switching up to lower intensity/higher rep training will do very little to aid in fat loss. Same with extra cardio, probably until someone reaches very low body fat levels.

I once lost 40 lb in 4 months with no loss of strength and not 1 step of cardio. This is merely my experience.

I am probably wrong.


As i read back my reply, I’m not sure I answered the intent of your question. Sorry.

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I absolutely agree with this from the muscle perspective as well. I think it’s one of the main ways we all sabotage our fat loss phases: as soon as we get a little flat, we panic and overeat or abandon the plan or add in a bunch of fatiguing stuff.

You definitely did! It’s mean to be a discussion.

For sure, but we have to start somewhere, for long enough, to see what does or doesn’t work for us. I think that’s the value of everyone sharing their experiences - we get to see a lot of experiments and to which we personally relate.

That’s the win!

Ha - I think that’s all any of us do!

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OUTSTANDING thread idea! So much to be gained.

100% this! Self-fulfilling prophecy. People go into fat loss expecting strength loss and they get it. Go in expecting victory? You get THAT! Alongside that, I like to remind people that NUMBERS dropping is not the same thing as strength dropping. Strength isn’t just how much weight you lift: it’s your capacity TO lift. Many things can impact numbers, to include pre-workout nutrition, stimulants, leverages, etc, and one of those factors is sheer bodyweight. Mass moves mass: it’s why strength sports have weight classes. When you lose 40lbs, you’re literally not the same lifter you were before: you need to evaluate yourself fairly. Make use of a coefficient to compare your current numbers to your previous and see if your strength is remaining the same PROPORTIONALLY. Most often: it will be.

For myself, I did things backwards for a while. I would decide I wanted to lose fat, and I would eat in a manner that would support that, and then I’d try to train away all the fat I wanted to lose. This is burning the candle at both ends: I’m taxing my recovery by not eating enough AND I’m digging heavy into my recovery with too much training. When I was 18, I wanted a six pack, and tried to do it by running 16 miles a day the entire summer. I never got that six pack, but I DID learn that I could binge eat 4 of those giant Costco cookies in one sitting because I was absolutely starving from all that work!

Eventually, I learned to flip the script: have nutrition support training! When I’m training HARD, I’m eating big, and therefore, I grow. When I ramp DOWN the training, I ramp down the eating…and I get lean. Getting lean is a thing we do when we are training LESS, because we’re not in a state where we can grow. Dan John’s “Easy Strength for Fat Loss” is a great example of a program to run while getting lean. Otherwise, I keep volume low and intensity ends up being high: it’s a time for heavy weight and few reps. It’s also a time for LOW intensity cardio: lots of walking, ideally, outside in the sun. During gaining? That’s when I push stupidly hard conditioning.

Much like @TrainForPain, I’ve been plagued with all consuming hunger for over 30 years. I thought it was just something I had to live with, and so I did, and much like him, I could get crazy stupid lean…and then go on a multiYEAR long junkfood bender once the read for being that lean went away. Getting on the Velocity Diet was a gamechanger for me, because I really learned the benefits of Protein Leveraging ala Dr. Ted Naiman. When we take in enough protein, we can be satiated. When we avoid protein, we are hungry.

So no more trying to “fit my macros” with junkfood that ends up spiking my insulin, has me starving, and compels me to snack every 30 minutes. I have the Velocity Diet as a baseline and carnivore as my guide for when I eat solid food, and I am so full of protein and animal fats that I don’t feel any need or desire to eat “off menu”



you’re not.

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20k steps per day. (8k of these steps fasted)

two gallons of water per day. not negotiable.

400g of protein from lean meat only. (chicken breast, tuna, 99/1 turkey, 96/4 Piedmontese ground beef, Piedmontese lean steak, egg whites)

100g of carbs (rice, potato) on training day only.

all the cauliflower, broccoli, and spinach you want.

one spoon of metamucil daily

you are only allowed to train 3x per week M-W-F
30-45 minutes in and out.

1 set per exercise

Only take long enough to catch your breath between sets

DB bench 10-15reps

Dips BW failure

DB raise 10-15reps

Pull-ups failure

DB rows 10-15reps

Hammer curl 10-15reps

Rdl 10-15reps

Squat 15-20 reps

Calf raise x 20

Adductors x20

db bench can be incline, decline, flat, barbell. doesn’t matter

squat can be leg press, hack, sissy, doesnt matter

same for all, it is the movement pattern and the order that matters not the specific movement of that type.

do this for 4 weeks. take 1 day and eat whatever you want just log it. then another 2-4 weeks depending on goal.


I’m with @cdep89 : what works seems to be highly individual.

I’ve tried to get lean maybe four times. The first couple I tried the Leangains approach, ketoish with carb refeeds on the weekend–I think we called them “Rages” back then. I felt fine, but made zero progress in the gym.

The last time, last year, I ate less and less, until I was eating, like, 1400 cals a day. I ran into a lot of issues with so little food. In the end, I lost weight but stalled hard, didn’t look much better, and felt terrible.

This time around, I spent two weeks establishing my maintenance calories at 6,000 steps per day. I started eating at maintenance, then added steps. At each stall, I’ve added 2,000 steps or cut 100ish daily cals. I’m up to 14k steps, still eating a fair amount, leaner than this time last year, and I feel wayyy better.


everything works.

the individual part of this is in what you are willing to tolerate and adhere to over a period of time.

your fat loss phase is not to make progress in the gym it is to cut fat. the gym is to maintain your muscle and send that we need this signal only.

how did the macros breakdown?

how many calories is this for you?

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I totally forgot I meant to go one degree deeper on this.

I’m a big fan of the phrase “you don’t get leaner by just eating less of the food that got you fat in the first place”. I feel like DIFFERENT food needs to be consumed. And, as a non-calorie counter, this really makes things simple, because I don’t change the AMOUNT of food that I eat: just the composition.

With only 2 macros to play around with, it’s pretty simple for me. When I’m gaining, I start introducing fat into the diet via cheeses and fattier cuts of meat. It means, when I no longer need that energy, I switch to leaner cuts/protein sources (egg whites vs whole eggs for example) and simply eliminate the dairy that I had introduced.

…which I guess CAN be seen as a version of food reduction, but I still see it as a swap: in place of the cheese/dairy, I’m eating more lean protein. And if we think of protein as 4 calories per g and fast as 9 calories, a 1 for 1 swap is going to necessarily cause a deficit.


If we’re talking getting lean and maintaining muscle, I respectfully disagree. How we handle small vs large caloric deficits, our response to carbs vs fats, our reaction to adrenaline and cortisol, and metabolic adaptations are probably different.

Leangains was supposed to be the best of both worlds, a way to build strength and muscle and lose fat at the same time. By all accounts on Reddit, it works for some. In fairness, maybe with some more tweaking, I would’ve been more successful with it. I liked the lifestyle.

Depending on the day, roughly 180 grams protein, up to 100 grams of carbs, 35-40ish grams of fat.

Around 2500


Awesome stuff folks!

Another point I forgot in my own “journey”: I don’t really think you’re in a fat loss phase, per se, until under 15% bodyfat (or Internet 10%). Above that, you don’t need to really make any decisions: just lift and eat.

I guess that’s semantics, because really the goal would be losing enough fat to get into the “it matters” range, but I don’t think you have to really worry about any nuance until you’re seeing some definition.


The first time I leaned down was with Dairy Queen Malts, Double Quarter Pounders and Taco Bell’s Beef Grilled Stuff’d Burritos.

Why? Because there was a lot of protein, and I could track the macros very precisely. (Convenience helps, too.) I weighed myself morning and night, and after a bit of data and a bit of math figured out the exact deficit I needed to lose each pound.

(Technical note: There’s a relationship between the slope of the bodyweight and the average deficit, so you can basically figure out your actual BMR and manipulate around that.)

It worked.

But, uh, now I eat real food.


That’s pretty awesome. You felt like you dialed it in that you could see your maintenance calories by lbs/ body weight?

I’ve always been so impressed by your ability to build or cut without ever explicitly tracking. It’s borderline magic to me.


Loving the thread, well done @TrainForPain for getting this rolling.

I don’t have a lot of science to add to this. Like some of the other posters my natural state is to be fairly light and lean (just seeing how skinny my kids are is a reminder of what is hiding under my bulk).
If I want to lose weight I just eat a bit less and move a bit more. And if I want to gain I eat like it’s my job.
That being said I have not been properly lean for a few years now. As I get older I deff feel like it’s harder to effect the change when I want to.

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