T Nation

When Your Cut Stalls

'Tis the cutting season. I’ve seen a few threads about progress stalling on a cut and wanted to share some insight and hopefully get a discussion going. I wanted to make a list of the primary culprits I see in the majority of cases, and hopefully some of you who log in looking for advice on stalling will find that one or more of these applies to your situation.

To preface, I am by no means an expert, and this is admittedly purely anecdotal. So feel free to dismiss all of it! I believe it will help many of you though if you’re open to a different perspective. Lastly, this is all geared towards natties.

  • Eating too much
    Starting off with the most obvious, usually you’re just eating too many calories. Stop relying on TDEE calculators. Your weekly adjustments should 100% be dictated by the previous weeks results and the starting point is somewhat arbitrary.

    I understand alot of posters on the forums or fellow “hard-gainers” at the gym will be appalled at how low your calories might get, but they’re not you. And, no disrespect, I usually find the ones claiming your calories are “too low” are not the same guys walking around at <10% bodyfat year round. Getting to that level of leanness is not comfortable and will require some drastic measures, especially if you’ve never been that lean before.

    You’re not gonna go into “starvation mode” just because your calories are below 2000. :slight_smile:

  • Not enough protein
    This could be my most controversial thought, but I feel that 95% of the time our stallers aren’t eating nearly enough protein to optimize their cut. I’m perplexed by the PROphobia that’s emerged on the forums in the 5 years or so I was away. I’ve personally never seen a natty reach sub 10% bodyfat while losing no muscle and holding that weight for awhile unless they hit at least 1g pro per 1lb bodyweight. In my ideal world, everyone on a cut would be hitting 1.25-1.5. :smiley:

  • Too much cardio way too soon
    Typically we have someone who’s been away from the gym and pretty much doing nothing kickstart their fat loss journey not only targeting a caloric deficit but adding way too much moderate to high intensity cardio right away. The problem with this is that not only will it be too shocking initially and could even discourage you from continuing your journey all together, it gives you nowhere to go when you do inevitably stall.

    It’s crucial to establish a foundation first. Cardio is just another tool that you should save for when it’s needed. Looking at it another way, if you can kick start your fat loss journey in the right direction without any cardio AND simultaneously building muscle…why wouldn’t you?

    How it usually plays out is–you lose weight fairly quickly from the spike in cardio, but you’re not happy with how you look and just a smaller version of your current shape. Then when you suddenly switch to more weight training, you’ll have to drop cardio if you want to progress, and you’ll gain weight back fairly quickly since your body has adapted to a high level of caloric output from so much cardio.

    So start with minimal to no cardio, and add when progress halts. It’s conceivable you may start at zero and in your final weeks you’re doing 30 min/day. Won’t you sure be glad you didn’t start there and now you’re having to do double or triple that?

  • Your training doesn’t promote fat loss
    Another potentially controversial point of view…It often seems like it’s promoted that your weight training is some fixed variable in your body recomp process and you should never change it–only your diet–to suit your goals. This has just never made sense to me given how much of a metabolic disturbance weight training can elicit if used properly. It’s perfectly fine to follow the same program as when you were in a surplus focusing on strength or size, but if you could tweak a few things to expedite the fat loss process, why wouldn’t you?

    While I’m not saying everyday needs to be a Crossfit met-con, why not stick to your main heavy lift or two, and rearrange your accessory work into supersets or circuits? Cut down rest on your isolation movements, add a few rounds of KB swings or sled drags, etc.

  • Not ACTUALLY following your "plan"
    This one isn’t so obvious and takes a little digging because people have a hard time being honest–especially with themselves. Very often you’ll see a post about “Why am I not losing weight anymore! I’m eating 1500 cals a day!” only to have it revealed after a little digging that you’ve been eating fast food for the last few weeks while traveling for work. To properly assess your current weekly setup, you have to follow it…then make adjustments. Every other variable is irrelevant at that point.

  • Taking breaks or not making adjustments rapidly enough
    I’ve actually seen this one trending alot lately. Either taking “breaks” from your diet or not dropping calories or making any adjustments and dragging out your plateau over several weeks or even months. Keep that momentum going! The body loves homeostasis and the longer you wait, the more it will adapt to your new set point and further resist dropping any fat when you go finally go back into a steeper deficit or add more cardio. Moreover it just drags the process out and will make you miserable for longer. Wouldn’t you rather complete your cut in 12 weeks and move on to something else?

  • Overcomplicating the process
    In the words of Einstein “Everything should be made as simple as possible , but no simpler. Cutting is already a stressful mindfuck, so don’t worry about IF or nutrient timing or carb cycling, etc.” Ok, I may have embellished part of the quote…

    I’ve only ever adjusted two variables when cutting: 1. daily carbs and 2. daily cardio. Set up some simple criteria for yourself. For example:

    • If I lose >1lb this week, change nothing.
    • If I lose <1lb this week, add 5 min on the bike/day
    • If I don’t lose or gain, add 5 min on the bike AND drop carbs -50g/day

    **worth noting: This only applies to those of you looking to get recreationally shredded. If you’re trying to get stage peeled, the final weeks will definitely require some more micromanaging of these finer details.

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Get the basics in check before going stims like an ECA or YCA or even EYCA stack or Hot-Rox. And I’d only save it for the toughest part. Cycle too or you very well might end up hurting.

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Incredibly well-done and thanks for the write-up.

I am not wholly on-board with the protein point, as much from a mental standpoint as physiological. I think the mindset of “get that protein in” leads to higher fat and calorie consumption/ justification.

If one were to read both our opinions, though, I believe yours holds more water than mine. Incidentally, after you shared that spreadsheet you keep for a cut, I was inspired to make one of my own; thanks for that as well!

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Amazing post! This should be an article!

What do you do if you’re already doing a lot of cardio?

Not trying to lose fat, just wondering- might be good to add to the article

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That’s a good point. I’m assuming all other variables held in check though, primarily first one about being in a true deficit.

Solution: lean cuts of meat, fat free cottage cheese, protein powder, sugar free beef jerky, canned tuna…

Doesn’t my point hold less water actually, cuz it promotes eating less carbs, i.e. less water weight… and I’ll see myself out :upside_down_face:

I’m flattered you referred to this as an article :grin:

I’d say decrease cardio same way as you increased it… slowly taper off dropping maybe 10% a week…that is if you’re goal is to do less. If you enjoy doing alot, keep at it!

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I absolutely see your point here - so really I’m more debating average discipline vs. benefit here, and that’s not the scope of your writing!

Anyway, again, well-written and outstanding advice.

Yeah it reminds me of when medications list “weight gain” as a side effect. I’m always like “Does it actually cause weight gain if you change nothing, or does it just increase appetite?” In the latter case, the side effect is increased appetite not weight gain.

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Just to hop in here, as @jskrabac is not aware of your back history, this advice does absolutely not apply to you @anna_5588

I know, just thought that comment might improve the content of his original advice

There are a lot of ppl who start off overdoing cardio

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There are medications that slow metabolic rate or cause water retention, so “weight gain” is a legit side effect; however, still doesn’t violate CICO (or in the case of water retention, a technicality)

For sure. I just get peeved when doctors can’t tell the difference.

Uh-oh! What have I done? :grimacing:

YES! This one. I’ve been surprised by unintentional bodycomp changes when in particular I include high volumes with short rest periods of explosive lifts that still let you put some iron on the bar. My most notable experience is within a PL context of doing a lactic acid tolerance DE training cycle w/ close variations of the big 3 cycle ala Westside BB. Once my form for some oly variations is more stable I want to try something similar out with those.

You know your doing it right if you wanna cry afterwards :smiley:

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