T Nation

Maximizing Performance, Minimizing Muscle Loss During Cut

I’m currently running the base Wendler 5/3/1 program with two “easy” conditioning days (10 minutes of intervals on stationary bike) and two “hard” conditioning days (sprints), on top of making sure I get at least 20 minutes of easy pedaling on the bike on my off days. I’ve been eating 3200-3300 calories per day for several months (with somewhat unorthodox macros, but macros that seem to have worked well) and, as such, have gone from 155 pounds to about 170. I’m by no means a real big guy at 5’10" and 170 lbs and am by no means fat; however, I have gained quite a bit of fat that I would like to shed while still maximizing workout performance and minimizing muscle loss. Every post I’ve seen on cutting has been intended for bodybuilding, but I am not a bodybuilder and am under no pressure to burn fat excessively quickly for a competition. I would just like to get back into the 9-11% body fat range while not destroying my lifting progression and hopefully preserving muscle mass. As I’ve always been on the feathery side, I’ve always focused on gaining weight and don’t really know how to efficiently cut fat while working out hard.

That being said, what would you guys advise doing with my calorie intake? Should dropping to maintenance work well, or would it be necessary to create more of a deficit? If the latter, what calorie range would you recommend dropping to? Also, what would be optimal when it comes to macros? I assume the standard 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat would be ideal.

Thank you!

I’m no expert by any means, but I would recommend starting with a 10% deficit based on your TDEE, then tapering that to a max of 20% over a few months. You can play with macros till the cows come home, but you’re never going to beat the system, ie…to lose mass (which fat is a type of mass) you have to eat less than you are burning. You can’t out-train your diet.

When I’m trying to cut fat, which is most of the time recently, I’ll keep my lifts in the 3 x 10-15 range, and minimize cardio to around 20min 3X per week. A week before I change up the routine (usually every 4-6 weeks) I’ll increase the cardio.

Keep your protein intake to 1.2g - 1.5g per pound of BW to minimize muscle loss during a cut. 30% of total calories in fat, and the rest carbs.

Seems to work pretty well for me.

1 Like

As I run 5/3/1, which is programmed in 4-week cycles, would an 8-week cut be too long? I’d rather not mess around with changing things in the middle of a cycle, so I’m concerned as to whether I should cut for 4 weeks or 8. I guess it would be best to just see how my body responds to the cut and cross that bridge when I get there, but I’d just like to make sure 8 weeks wouldn’t be too long.

Nah 8 weeks is fine. As a matter of fact, at the end of the 4 week cycle would probably be the perfect time to adjust the deficit down a little more and start bringing more cardio on board.

Okay, thanks! If all is well using only a 10% deficit, would it be better to leave it at 10% after the first cycle or should I bring it down further anyway? Also, I do a few stationary bike “sprint” intervals on my upper body days (Mon. and Thurs.) and sprint on my lower body days (Tues. and Fri.) - would it be wise to cut the bike out for the first cycle as it’s the less important/functional of the two? Since I’m a college student and cashier, I find I’m often forced to be sedentary for most of my day so I also make sure I get an easy 20 minutes on the bike or a long walk on my off days. Should I also scratch that due to the caloric deficit I’ll have?

Sorry I’m full of questions! Like I said, trying to cut fat is new territory for me - it seems my body is hellbent on making me a stick, so I’ve been fighting that as long as I’ve been serious about working out.

4 weeks is a good time to change the deficit. This will keep your metabolism from getting too adapted.

You could play around with the cycling and see how it goes. Me personally, I would just run the bike sprints on the off days only, and start working them in more on lift days as well at the end of the cut (around the 6 week mark). You don’t want to go “balls to the wall” right off the bat. Leave a few tricks in the tool kit to add over time. If you throw everything all in at first, your body will respond but it will start adapting after 4 weeks or so, and then you have nothing else left to throw at it to make it start moving again…

Should I keep doing actual sprints (or hill sprints when the weather is nicer) on my lower body days or should I just sprint on off days and forgo the bike entirely? As I’m preparing for a career in law enforcement, I’m hesitant to stop running entirely for any amount of time as I’ve already regressed some from a fun bout of shin splints and am just starting to get back to where I want to be. As for the bike, that sounds good - I’m not really concerned with whether or not I bike and am happy with whichever is most conducive to reaching my goals at any given time.

You’ll have to determine for yourself on the sprints. That’s going to dependent upon whether or not the sprints are part of your leg workout, or if they are just cardio on top of your workout.

The thing you have to keep in mind is this…When you run a deficit to cut fat, you have to be very careful with how much energy you are expending. If you work too much, your body can start cannibalizing muscle tissue for energy. This can also happen with the wrong type of diet or exercise as well. Too much aerobic activity or the wrong food selections can lead to a more catabolic state in your body. Bad.

Too little, and the small amount of calories that you consume will be adequate to supply your energy needs and you won’t call on your fat stores to fill the gap.

It’s a balancing game that you’ll have to figure out for your own body. Best advice I can give you is to start with a moderate deficit and a steady workout routine with little cardio. It’s always easier to add a cardio session, or cut a few more calories here or there, than it is to start too big and start losing muscle mass.

1 Like

Sounds good, thank you! One last question I thought of: should I gradually work my way from 3200-3300 calories per day to a 10% deficit - 2500 calories - over the course of my upcoming deload week or would it be fine to go straight from 3200 to 2500? I’m leaning towards the former, but a 700-800 calorie change isn’t all too big so I’m not entirely sure.

I would just go for it…

And you’re very welcome!

1 Like