Cornerstones to a Cut: 8 Variables You Can Manipulate to Get Lean
Lose fat sustainably without the "fad diets" and dogma
Over the course of the last six years, I've embarked on a cutting phase at least once a year. Some attempts ended in dismal failure, while others achieved success briefly, only to see me revert to the same habits that initially led me to this knowledge. Nowadays, it seems like everyone has discovered the magic formula, especially the Instagram influencers and coaches who proclaim, "[this] is all you need to do!" However, my experience has taught me that there are actually several essential steps to maximize the results of your cutting phase.
If you were to ask a bodybuilder at your local gym, they'd likely respond with something like, "It's all about calories in versus calories out, bro—can't defy the laws of thermodynamics!" While Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) is one factor of a complex equation, it's influenced by other factors as well, including some physiological responses that we may not fully understand yet. Ironically, many bodybuilders champion CICO as the ultimate solution, yet they still resort to taking asthma medications like clenbuterol as a fat burner. If CICO is the ultimate answer, why the need for such extreme measures?
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Furthermore, most of these individuals rely heavily on carbohydrates as their primary fuel source while depriving themselves of adequate fats, which are crucial for maintaining healthy brain function. I do believe that carbohydrates have a place in one's diet, but not necessarily year-round. I'm convinced that the circadian rhythm plays a significant role in metabolism, and we should pay close attention to it. In nature, carbohydrates are typically only available during the harvest months of summer and fat and protein are typically only what is available in the winter months (depending on where you live obviously). During the winter months, our bodies are naturally inclined toward a "scarcity" mindset, not "harvest."
Consuming carbohydrates during the winter will stimulate the mTor pathways, signaling growth, creating a circadian mismatch and causing downstream issues. Putting aside circadian rhythms, carbohydrates are more effective at stimulating the mTor pathways, which promote cell growth, compared to the AMPK pathways that trigger autophagy. So, why would I choose a food source that promotes cellular growth as my primary energy source during a cut where I am trying to effectively shrink my body?
The ketogenic diet serves as a much better starting point for fat loss, because it promotes autophagy and signals scarcity to the body. It is my recommendation to leverage the ketogenic diet during the winter months, but this outcome can still be achieved during the summer months as well.
All of the variables I am going to describe below should be approached with a “progressive overload” mindset - constantly adjusting so that the body never fully adapts to the stimulus.
What variables can I manipulate to reach my goals?
1. Calories: The first and most fundamental variable is your caloric intake. In a ketogenic approach, it's crucial to maintain a caloric deficit to promote fat loss while preserving muscle mass. This requires careful monitoring and adjustment of your daily caloric intake, ensuring you're consuming enough to fuel your workouts and recovery but not so much that you hinder fat loss.
Yes, CICO does matter, but it is only part of the equation. Gradual reductions such as 50-100 calories per week over a longer period of time will yield more sustainable results and won’t be as drastic to your life. These reductions should come strategically from certain macronutrients.
2. Macronutrients1: The distribution of macronutrients is another key factor. In a ketogenic diet, the majority of your calories should come from fats, with moderate protein and minimal carbohydrates. This macronutrient ratio promotes ketosis, a metabolic state where your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
Natural Pro Bodybuilder Robert Sikes will start his cut around 75% fats, 20% protein, and 5% carbs (carbs coming in bits and pieces from foods like avocado). He will then reduce fat by 5g and add 5g of protein week-over-week. This effectively reduces calories by ~50 calories each week. Once he reaches his “protein threshold” he will start reducing calories from protein. Ketones are highly anti-catabolic, so he emphasizes keeping fat high to maintain a good state of ketosis.
3. Training Intensity and Weight (Progressive Overload): Progressive overload is a cornerstone of effective resistance training. By gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts, either through heavier weights or more repetitions, you can stimulate muscle growth and strength gains. Even during a cut, it's important to maintain, if not increase, your training intensity to preserve muscle mass.
It will be difficult to maintain these variables in a cut as you are depriving yourself of the necessary nutrients to sustain prolonged intense exercise, but the mind must prevail here and at the very least sustain intense training, never sliding backwards.
4. Cardio: Cardiovascular exercise is a valuable tool for increasing your caloric deficit and enhancing cardiovascular health. However, it's important not to overdo it, as excessive cardio can lead to muscle loss. Incorporating a mix of low-intensity steady-state (LISS) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can optimize fat loss while minimizing muscle catabolism.
Slowly increasing intensity and duration over a long period of time keeps your body stay in a state of “shock” and the gradual changes never allow it to adapt to the stimulus, thus allowing the fat loss to continue.
5. NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis): This refers to the calories you burn through daily activities outside of formal exercise. By increasing your NEAT, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking more, you can burn more calories throughout the day, further supporting your fat loss goals.
Start tracking step counts - this is going to be crucial at the end of a cut because this is one of the easiest variables to manipulate. An extra lap around the neighborhood each day is easy and will add to that overall caloric burn.
6. Cold Thermogenesis via Cold Water Immersion (CWI): CWI can aid in recovery and potentially boost fat loss. By immersing yourself in cold water, you can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness, promoting faster recovery. The cold exposure may also increase your metabolic rate, further supporting fat loss.
This is a powerful tool that few are aware of in the context of fat loss. CWI stimulates the production of brown fat. Unlike white fat, which stores calories, brown fat burns energy and produces heat. It's often referred to as the “good” fat because of its potential to help burn calories and combat obesity. This is beneficial because brown fat can help increase your metabolic rate, which in turn can aid in weight loss and overall body composition.
Shivering is key and is indicative of cold-thermogenesis - the process in which the body is forced to heat itself up due to the extreme cold external stimulus. This results in a surprising caloric expenditure.
Cold exposure has been shown to increase leptin sensitivity, which can help regulate hunger cues and potentially aid in weight management.
7. Contrast Therapy with Sauna and Cold Plunge2: Contrast therapy, alternating between heat (sauna) and cold (cold plunge), can enhance recovery, muscle growth and fat loss. The heat promotes blood flow and nutrient delivery to your muscles, while the cold reduces inflammation and muscle soreness. This combination can optimize your recovery and performance.
The science behind this method is rooted in the body's physiological responses to different temperatures. When you expose your body to cold temperatures, as described above, it induces a process called cold-thermogenesis. This is your body's way of generating heat to maintain a stable internal temperature.
On the other hand, exposure to heat increases your heart rate and circulation, which can help deliver nutrients to your muscles more efficiently. This can aid in recovery after intense workouts. Heat also induces sweat production and thermogenesis, which can help rid the body of toxins and promote a higher caloric expenditure.
By alternating between hot and cold, you're essentially giving your body a workout without the physical exertion. This can boost your metabolism*, aid in weight loss, and enhance your overall recovery.
*I often find myself starving after a few rounds of contrast therapy. I also lost 5lbs of fat in 6 weeks of doing contrast therapy 2x/week when I first started, without changing anything in my training or diet.
8. Pharmacological Intervention: While I don't advocate for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, there are legal supplements that can support your goals such as Rouwolscine, CLA, caffeine and peptides. Exogenous ketones can be a nice addition to help mitigate appetite as well.
Another factor that will influence this process is, as you burn fat, the toxins and pathogens that lived inside your cells get released into the blood stream and dumped into the gut. This can create gut dysbiosis which can lead to digestive problems and wild cravings - specifically sugar cravings. The bacterial invaders live on glucose and will literally steer your appetite towards sugar and carbohydrates so they can continue to survive*. Taking some herbal tinctures or supplements may be a nice addition to prevent this phenomenon. This is my go-to now: ParaX.
*I have experienced this every single time I go on a cut.