After you’ve spent the last few months heavily focused on building as much raw muscle mass as possible, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to switch gears and work on stripping off any fat that might have accumulated during the mass-building phase.
Regardless of how careful you are with your diet, you are almost always going to gain some fat when adding muscle, it is how much fat that’s the question. The slower you are willing to build muscle, typically the less fat gain you’ll experience. Likewise, the leaner you are when you initial start your bulking phase, the greater the proportion of lean mass you’ll add.
Either way, once you’re satisfied with the amount of muscle you have, a cutting phase is definitely a good idea to really bring out that definition and set yourself apart from the crowd. So, that brings us to the question of what needs to change to ignite fat loss? What adjustments should you be making to your diet program in order to strip off the fat as quickly as possible?
Here’s what you need to consider.
In order to switch out of muscle-building mode and into fat-burning mode, your total calorie intake must come down. The big mistake far too many people make, though, is dropping those calories too low, too quickly.
They’ll be up eating around 3500 calories a day (to build muscle), then drop them down to 1800. Woah! Your body is definitely going to sense something is up when you do that and will likely start to burn up muscle mass for fuel. Definitely not what you want.
So, the best approach is to reduce back the calories slowly.
As a rough guideline, an approximate intake for losing body fat should be your body weight (in pounds), multiplied by 10-13 calories a day. Note that some people – those who are much more sedentary, will need to bring it down to around 8 or 9 times bodyweight, and those who have very active jobs, may need to be up around 14-15. For most, though, that 10-13 range tends to be the sweet spot.
Start off for a week or two at 14-15 (which represents maintenance for most people), and then adjust downwards as necessary.
The next important thing to consider is your protein intake. When bulking, you actually need fewer grams of protein each day in comparison to when you’re trying to lose body fat. Why?
Basically, when cutting, your body is going to use some of the protein intake you get from your diet as fuel. In order to preserve your muscle mass, then, you want to supply a small additional amount on top of your basic needs to ensure that if the body does burn some up for energy, it’s not going to leave your muscles deprived of the amino acids they need for maintenance.
When bulking, you are supplying more than enough energy to the body, so this is never a concern.
The total amount of protein you’re going to need then when trying to lose fat will depend on how low you’re bringing your calories. A good range to shoot for is between 1.2 grams/lb per day for moderately restrictive diets to 1.5 grams/lb per day for very restrictive diets.
Carbohydrate and Fat Intake
Finally, with regards to carbohydrate and dietary fat intake, these variables are more individualized and can be adjusted towards your own needs. If you do plan to try and sustain more intense exercise though, you will need to be taking in carbohydrates at some point (either before/after your workouts, or else through a carbohydrate load once a week).
Some individuals tend to respond better to higher carbohydrate diets, while others do best with a lower carbohydrate diet.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re opting to use a lower carbohydrate diet is that much of the initial weight you do lose will be water weight, therefore do not expect the same rate of weight loss to continue as time goes on. A good way to determine whether you’d be better off using a higher or lower carbohydrate approach is to ask yourself how you feel after a very carbohydrate-heavy meal.
Do you typically feel sluggish and like you could go to sleep? If so, chances are a lower carbohydrate diet is a better approach for you. On the other hand, if a high carbohydrate meal leaves you feeling energized and ready to go, you can probably handle taking in a higher percentage of your total calories as carbohydrates. At the end of the day though, it really is that total calorie value that is going to most affect whether or not you lose weight, therefore it will be the thing you really want to pay attention to and get in line.
Finally, one specific dietary fat consideration is essential fatty acids. These really offer a wide variety of health benefits and help with insulin sensitivities rates, therefore at the minimum you want to be sure you’re getting 3-6 grams a day. This can be accomplished through taking fish oils (the method that’s most common), or ensuring you are eating a diet rich in fatty fish or flax seeds.
So, to summarize, when setting up a fat loss diet, these are the steps to take:
• Get your total calorie intake in line.
• Ensure you are getting slightly more protein than you would need for maintenance to ensure you have extra in the situation protein is used for energy
• Make sure you are taking in enough essential fats.
• Play around with your carbohydrate and fat intake until you find a balance that makes you feel most comfortable on the diet but stays within your calorie allotment.
If you follow these steps, you should find that you experience the best fat loss success. Always remember that what works perfectly for one person may not work best for you, so it’s really important to always be looking at how your individual body is responding and making adjustments as necessary.