Have you ever gone through a cutting phase where you ended up losing much more weight than you though you needed to?
You probably thought to yourself “damn, I could have sworn I put on more muscle than this…”
Well, you probably did…unfortunately, the misinformation circling the fitness industry via blogs, websites, Youtube videos, magazines, books, and your local know-it-alls in the gym, is 100% the reason for your unsuccessful cut.
But don’t worry…I have been there myself and I can assure you that this is not your fault. Lucky for you (and me), muscle memory is real and the muscle lost during your cut will come back quickly. However, at some point or another, you will have to/want to cut again. Be it that your bodyfat is too high, you have an event or photoshoot, or you’re going to compete in bodybuilding. Regardless of your reason, I don’t want you to go through the same disappointment of ending up skinnier and weaker than you had imagined. Instead, I want you to stay full, keep your hard earned muscle mass, stay strong, and get as shredded as you need to without ever looking flat and skinny.
In this article, I want to highlight the 3 biggest reasons that you’re losing muscle while cutting. If you can manage to avoid these 3 muscle-killing mistakes, expect to achieve shredded abs without ever having to worry about your clothes fitting too big in the process.
Old-School Muscle-Killer #1 – Low Carb Dieting
Although low carb dieting can be a quick way to lose weight, it is also a guaranteed way to lose muscle mass.
You see, burning fat is a ridiculously simple matter of energy balance. If we can manage to consume fewer calories than our body is burning, we will lose weight. It really is no more complicated than that. As long as you keep your total caloric intake below the threshold for bodyweight maintenance, you will, without fail, lose bodyfat even while consuming your favorite, high carb foods, regularly.
Maintaining Muscle Mass In an Energy Deficit
Anytime we decrease our energy intake by cutting carbs or any source of energy, the risk of losing muscle is present. But although muscle growth and retention are correlated with energy balance, muscle loss can be prevented by maintaining performance.
Maintaining a high carb intake while lowering your overall intake of calories will ensure that your performance in the gym does not suffer. You see, muscle is extremely metabolically active and when in an energy deficit, it can become your body’s go-to source. If you are on a low carb diet, your performance suffers. So our job is simple, give our body a reason to keep the muscle by loading it with sufficient stress thus forcing your body to maintain the muscle used.
This cannot be achieved to any significant degree if your main source of fuel (carbohydrates) is too low. With that said, keeping your carbohydrates as high as possible is critical when cutting fat while maintaining muscle mass, period.
Old-School Muscle-Killer #2 – More Cardio and Fewer Weights
In most cases, once a trainee decides to “start cutting”, the first thing they do is integrate cardio into their routine. They view cardio as this magical, fat burning activity that is necessary in order to achieve lower bodyfat levels.
First, they cut their calories. Then they add 3-4 days of cardio. And when the fat loss plateaus, they decrease their calories even further and add more cardio. Unfortunately, all this is accomplishing is an unnecessarily high caloric deficit.
The higher the caloric deficit, the lower our energy levels. The less energy we have, the more our performance suffers. The greater decrease in performance, the less muscle our body finds necessary to hang on to.
What you must keep in mind is energy balance. Your goal is simply to achieve a slight negative energy balance (caloric deficit) and cardio should be used as a tool to achieve this.
Instead of throwing in cardio as soon as you begin your fat loss phase, I would recommend that you achieve a slight energy deficit by decreasing your carbohydrate intake by about 15-25 grams. With this slight decrease in energy intake, you will still benefit from high energy levels and thus keep your performance in the gym and you will be in enough of a deficit for your body to burn fat without having to resort to muscle tissue as a source of fuel.
This newly calculated intake should be enough for you to continuously burn fat while maintaining your performance for a few weeks. Once you have hit a fat loss plateau, then and only then should you consider either adding 1 (short) day of cardio (15-20 minutes) or decreasing your carbohydrate intake slightly (15-25 grams)…but never both.
Old-School Muscle-Killer #3 – Changing up your workout routine
For some reason, most people believe that they must change up their workout routine when cutting. The majority of people have been told that when cutting, they should decrease the amount of weight they use and aim for higher reps. The idea is that training for higher repetitions (higher metabolic fatigue) is better for burning fat.
Besides high reps for fat burn being complete nonsense, there is a huge flaw in training this way when cutting. When in a caloric deficit, our muscle tissue is extremely vulnerable and our body is looking for any reason to use it for fuel. Training in high reps is not only going to burn less calories, but the stimulus it provides is nowhere near enough to preserve muscle.
Let’s look at it in the simplest way I can put it…
When you were “bulking”, you were bench pressing 240 lbs for sets of 5. Naturally, your body had to adapt to this heavy load by building new muscle in order to continue to handle its intensity. Now, you decided that because you are cutting, you should aim for higher reps (for whatever reason). So you slap on 185 lbs and aim for 8-12 reps. Your body had to adapt to the heavier load by building muscle, but since the load has decreased significantly, the muscle that it did put on during that adaptation is no longer necessary. Simply put, you don’t need the same amount of muscle mass to push 185 lbs as you did in order to push 240 lbs. Because our body is in a negative energy balance and we are giving it no reason to hang on to the extra muscle, it is wasted.
What I would recommend is quite simple…decrease the overall training volume, continue to train as you did during your growth phase, only focus more on heavy, higher intensity loads. If you can manage to maintain your strength, you will maximize the amount of muscle preserved.
Are you ready to get shredded without ending up back in that scrawny body?
Avoid these 3 sure-fire ways to lose your muscle mass while cutting. Keep your carbohydrates as high as possible, focus on energy balance over “fat burning activity”, and lift heavy shit…it’s really that simple.