It’s typical for bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts to go through two main cycles when it comes to building your physique: Cutting and Bulking. It’s a common concept that while bulking, you’re going to be gaining bodyfat – as well as muscle – and your strength is going to increase as well. If the bulk is done properly, this is almost always the case. On the other hand, once you’ve put on too much bodyfat, or are trying to compete in some sort of physique, bodybuilding, etc competition, you’re going to want to shed this fat. This is where the dilemma is presented – how do I keep my strength and muscle while cutting?
This is typically hard, and in most cases, you’re going to see a decrease in strength as well as muscle size. If you’re completing the cut properly, however, the decrease in muscle size will be little in comparison to the effect of being a much leaner muscle has on your physique. There are a few basic concepts to keeping strength and maintaining size as best as possible while cutting and dieting. Here are some steps that can be followed to ensure you’re keeping as much as possible, and there’s a possibility that you could even GAIN muscle and strength while dieting.
#6: Increase Testosterone
Your testosterone levels play a huge role in how well you maintain strength and muscle gains during a cut. This is one of the biggest reasons as to why professional bodybuilders can be so big with such low levels of bodyfat, although, this is through illegal use of testosterone increasing drugs, for the most part. Natural testosterone increasing supplements – while they may not always be as effective as they claim – can be taken to try to keep your levels high. Eating certain foods play a huge role in increasing testosterone. (check out our ‘top foods for increasing testosterone’ article to find out more about these foods). Heavy, compound movements have also been shown to increase not only testosterone, but growth hormone, such as the squat. Any form of intense exercise will also increase your testosterone levels, so train hard! Diets extremely low in fat have been shown to diminish testosterone levels as well.
Sleep is extremely important for recovery. You don’t grow in the gym – you grow while you rest. Getting enough sleep is important to keep your muscles growing, even while dieting. Be sure to also get enough quality sleep. As you may or may not have seen, sometimes sleeping through the night can be extremely hard while dieting. Find techniques to keep you from waking up multiple times during the night so that you can go into a deeper, sounder sleep, and not interrupt the sleep cycles.
#4: Eat Carbs Around Training.
This technique is commonly seen with a dieting bodybuilder that is preparing for a show. Cycling carbs and reducing carbs is a great way to get in great shape. Because, as bodybuilders, we eat a lot more protein comparatively to the other macro nutrients, we may only have certain days where we have little to no carbohydrates. It wouldn’t make sense to eat this small portion of allotted carbohydrates right before sleeping. Eat a portion of carbs before and after working out, when your muscles will make the best use of them. If you’re eating a significant amount of carbohydrates to where this isn’t an issue, then simply save your sugary, simple carbs for this time frame.
#3: Keep a consistent intake of protein/calories.
It’s a general rule to consume protein every three hours. There are some debates on this concept, but it’s generally within good reason to give your body a steady source of protein sources in order to repair your muscles. Even though you’re sleeping at night and you’re not burning as many calories during the day, it’s still a long time for a dieting bodybuilder to go without food. I’d even recommending eating a lean, low-carb protein source before bed, while keeping it in the allotted macro nutrient (protein/ carbohydrates / fat) range.
#2: Don’t cut too fast.
Nobody wants to wait to get the results they want. It’s typical to go on a ‘cut’ that lasts 8-12, to even 16 weeks long, and this is assuming you have moderate body fat levels. Giving yourself an extreme caloric deficit and training too long while doing so will rob your muscles of the nutrients it needs to maintain it’s size. Find a plan that gives your body an adequate amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats – as well as a slight caloric deficit, and ride out the cut. You’ll notice this has a strong connection to the other steps listed in this article, such as being able to have more energy – which in turn, might allow you to lift heavier, ensuring your muscles are still worked adequately and have a reason to continue growing.
#1: A big muscle is a strong muscle
What do I mean by this? Well, just think about someone you’ve seen in the gym putting up a lot of weight. Say, for instance, there’s a guy that’s relatively low bodyfat and can bench press 405 for reps. This isn’t particularly common in most gyms, but there’s a 1 to 1 million chance that this guy is pretty huge. You just don’t see huge people that are honestly weak – and if you do see such a thing, there could be many other factors such as an extremely long, high intensity with low rest workout, they could be dieting, or they could even be lazy. For you to be able to bench press that 405 lbs, you’ll need to have a good amount of muscle on you to do it.
Where am I going with this? TRAIN HEAVY. Just because you’re dieting and in a caloric deficit, why should you train lighter? I wouldn’t recommend training like a power lifter and doing singles and heavy sets of two when you’re in the single digit body fat range, but forcing heavy weight – just like you would do in the off season – is going to give your muscles a reason to stay the size that they are.