It seems like everyone wants to know what the Best Meal Plan For Cutting fat. I suppose this is because most people that are trying to cut fat are doing it wrong and need some help. The good news is that we’ve done the work for you, so you don’t have to spend your time wondering what the best meal plan for cutting would be.
THE ULTIMATE CUTTING WORKOUT & DIET PLAN
Whether you are looking to cut weight for summer, a fitness event, or simply to achieve your ideal body mass index (body fat percentage), we guarantee this cutting workout and diet plan will get you there. This guide has everything you need to know about cutting and it even lays out what you need to eat and a workout program for you to follow. Our ultimate goal with this cutting plan is to help you lose fat while maintaining muscle.
WHAT IS CUTTING?
In the world of fitness, especially bodybuilding and strength training, the term cutting refers to losing weight while retaining as much muscle mass as possible.
Really, the key point is at the end of the statement above. For a cut to be truly successful, the trainee must be able to restrict muscle loss. If not, you are not really “cutting”, rather you are simply losing weight.
So, the goal of any good cutting workout & diet plan, ours included, is to take pounds off the scale while maintaining pure muscle mass. That means the pounds must mainly be FAT. To do that, we must eat at a slight deficit and continue weight training (and for most, up the cardio).
There’s obviously more to cutting, but before we get intothe how of cutting, let’s go over some frequently asked questions about cutting, as we are sure many of you reading this will be wondering the same things.
FAQ ABOUT CUTTING PHASES IN FITNESS:
Here are some of the most common questions we get about cutting…
CAN I CUT WITHOUT LOSING MUSCLE?
While the goal of a cutting phase is to lose fat while maintaining muscle, a little muscle loss may occur along the way. HOWEVER, as long as you cut using a reasonable deficit, keep your protein intake high, and continue lifting weights, muscle loss will be very negligible. Most people make out the whole “losing muscle when cutting” to be a bigger deal than it really is. In fact, it’s pretty hard to lose a significant amount of muscle as long as you aren’t on a starvation diet, doing super long cardio sessions (marathon long), and/or doing a strict cutting plan for way too long (like all year round, which is obviously not sustainable).
All in all, you really don’t need to worry much about muscle loss when cutting. If you follow a plan like ours, you will certainly maintain most of your muscle mass. Also, it should be noted, the slower the fat loss, the less likely muscle will be loss. A slow and proper cut should see little to no muscle loss. Of course, don’t expect to gain muscle (or strength) on a cut, as that simply goes against science (calories in vs calories out – you can’t gain weight on a deficit).
We will get into the details of what your diet and workouts should be further below.
SHOULD I BULK OR CUT FIRST?
It depends on the individual.
As cutting is more than just losing weight, it’s about losing fat while maintain muscle mass as best as possible, bulking is more than just gaining weight, it’s about building muscle (while hopefully not getting too fat **cough cough** clean bulk FTW).
Now, back to the question…
If you are a beginner, who isn’t skinny or very overweight, then you honestly don’t need to worry about bulking or cutting. You will see good results as long as you train hard and eat a healthy diet. The worst thing you can do is succumb to paralysis by analysis.
If you are a beginner who is considerably overweight, then the first thing you should do is obviously lose fat, so following a cutting plan is the way to go.
Where people get a little confused is when they are in the middle…the infamous, SKINNY FAT. If you are skinny fat, you could go either way. Some recommend putting on muscle first, others recommend cutting.
Is it possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
According to this study, where a group of young men were able to lose 7 pounds of fat while gaining 3 pounds of muscle within 4 weeks by following a strength training program and increasing protein intake while at a caloric deficit, IT IS. This is especially true for beginners.
In terms of body composition, you will look a lot better with considerable muscle at a lower body fat percentage than without. So, if you are seriously lacking muscle, then just focus on gaining muscle and don’t worry about belly fat yet. Plus, the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn when resting and newbies will shed off that belly fat even on a clean bulk.
FOR EVERYONE ELSE…
If you are intermediate to advanced, then you probably already know what to do, but to answer the question…
A healthy body fat percentage for men is anywhere from 10-17%. However, athletes may be a little lower, especially during their respective season, and as you get older, being on the higher side (even around 20% BF in your 50s) is fine. So, if you are simply worried about your health, then do a cut if and when you are above ~17% body fat percentage. If you simply want to look leaner, then do a cut until you reach your body fat percentage goal. Most people do this in the lead up to summer, at which time shirts come off often. For most men, being around 10-12% will look great, so you can plan a cut to this body fat percentage.
A healthy body fat percentage for women is around 21-31%. Women athletes may be lower, i.e. around 14-20% and women who take fitness very seriously yet not competitively around 21-24%. The same rules for men apply to women. You should cut if you want to reach a certain body fat percentage for an event, summer or just for how you want to look OR if you are above the healthy range.
Generally speaking, most lifters do phases of bulking and cutting as bulking will inevitably come with some fat increase, so to maintain the body fat percentage they want, they will pack on some muscle then do a 8-12 week cut (some even shorter). That said, if you are already happy with your body fat percentage, you can just do a very slow bulk (aka a clean bulk) and you shouldn’t have to worry much about the whole bulking then cutting then bulking then cutting thing.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU CUT FOR?
A cutting diet typically lasts 8-16 weeks, with 12 weeks usually being the best as it allows for a slower cut that minimizes or completely restricts muscle loss.
Can you do a cutting diet all year round?
There would be no point to do a non-stop cut. Once you reach your ideal body fat percentage, then you would want to maintain or build muscle. You obviously can’t keep losing weight forever. Moreover, a cutting workout plan is non sustainable. You simply can’t train hard and eat a deficit for long periods of time, which is why 8 to 12 or 16 weeks is recommended for cutting phases.
Most research shows that you can lose about 1 pound of fat per week, healthily, without noticeable muscle or performance loss. So, in 12 weeks, that’s a lot of fat!
WHEN TO START CUTTING?
This depends on the purpose of your cut.
Are you cutting for a sporting event (i.e. bodybuilding competition), season (i.e. summer) or special date (i.e. wedding)? If so, give yourself 8-12 weeks for a cut. If you have an event July 1st, you should start your cut at the latest May 1st or the earliest March 1st.
Are you cutting just to reach your ideal body fat percentage? If so, then start anytime you want, but in theory you’ll want to have a good foundation of muscle before even bothering with reaching your target body fat percentage.
KEY ASPECTS OF CUTTING:
- SET YOUR GOAL: Before you start, know what you want to achieve. Whether that’s a specific body fat percentage or simply your abs showing very visibly, make it clear so you know what you are working towards.
- TIMELINE: Set a specific timeline to reach that goal. If you know how much weight you need to lose for an event or what body fat percentage you are working towards, then you can plan your diet accordingly. So, set a start and end date. Remember, you can’t cut forever. Cutting is a lot more tiring and difficult than bulking for most, but it’s easier if you do things slowly. So, if you have the time, give yourself something like 12 weeks. If you only have 4-8 weeks, then you can make it work, but you’ll need to plan accordingly. Our cutting guide is for 12 weeks, which is the best, but it can be adapted easily to any number of weeks from 4-16 weeks by adjusting the calorie deficit, which we will make note of when it comes time. Overall, most research concludes that 1 pound of fat loss/weight per week is perfectly healthy and do able with minimal muscle and performance loss.
- DIET:You are going to have to really hone in on your diet during a cut. Obviously you need to be in a calorie deficit. There are two ways to do this: eat less and burn more calories. Also, pick healthy options found on our best food for muscles list. We will break down a clear cut diet plan for you below.
- WORKOUT: Working out is just as important for cutting as you want to minimize or completely restrict muscle loss during a cut. If you were just “losing weight” then you could do so based simply on diet, but this is about losing fat and keeping muscle. We also have a clear cut workout plan for you, with options, below.
12 WEEK CUTTING AND DIET PLAN
Our “Ultimate” workout and diet plan is based on 12 weeks. However, it can be adjusted by simply adjusting your calorie intake, as you will see below.
We chose 12 weeks as this will allow you to have a slow cut that maximizes fat loss and minimizes muscle and performance loss.
While we recommend 12 weeks for cutting, you can adjust the plan to the amount of time you have. We will show you how. The good news is, all of the same rules you are about to read will apply no matter what length of time you choose for your cut, as will the workouts.
CUTTING DIET PLAN:
When it comes to cutting, everything depends on your diet. Your results will be directly correlated to your diet. It doesn’t matter how hard you workout, if your diet is poor, your results will be too.
So, let’s first dig into the diet plan…
The fundamental aspect of your diet comes down to calorie intake. As this is a cut, you will want to be on a calorie deficit.
Since this is a 12 Week Cutting Plan, we will break this down based on 12 weeks.
TDEE Calculator: Before you start, you need to figure out your calorie maintenance level. To do this, you can use a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator. You just plug in your info and it is going to tell you what your calorie maintenance level is. You can Google TDEE calculator and many will pop up.
As you lose weight, you will need to keep track of your maintenance level as it will change slightly.
Note: You will also need a find calculator to count your calories, at least at first. Google Food Calorie Calculator or get an app to keep track nice and neatly.
Now, to the numbers…
Rather than just dropping 300-500 calories below your maintenance level right away (which would be about 1 pound per week for the average male), the best way to cut is with a taper, especially considering we have 12 weeks. This will help you to easily adjust to the lower calorie intake and not feel sluggish or let your workouts suffer.
Here is how it’ll look week by week:
- Week 1: Maintenance level
- Week 2-4: 100-200 below maintenance level
- Week 5-8: 200-300 below maintenance level
- Week 9-10: 300-500 below maintenance level
- Week 11: 200-300 below maintenance level
- Week 12: 100-200 below maintenance level
Another way to look at it is:
- Week 1: Maintenance
- Week 2-4: 90% maintenance
- Week 5-7: 85% maintenance
- Week 8-10: 80% maintenance
- Week 11: 85% maintenance
- Week 12: 90% maintenance
- You may need to adjust this depending on your target. If you reach your target before the 12 weeks is up, simply taper back up to maintenance level week by week or even every few days. You may also need to readjust if you change your workouts or your daily activities become more busy than normal.
- Remember, you need to readjust based on new maintenance levels each week (since you will be losing weight along the way, your maintenance level will drop a little). However, don’t stress too much. It’s hard to be super exact with calorie expenditure and intake. Just do your best. You will know if you are in a deficit and if not simply adjust the next day. It’s all an experiment and as you move through your cutting phase, you will really start to understand your body more. People who have done multiple cuts don’t even need calculators or calorie counters.
After the 12th week. Don’t just go back into a calorie surplus and start eating whatever you want. That is, unless you want to just blow right back up and get all that fat back.
After your cut, you should do a maintenance period that lasts around 2-4 weeks. Simply eat at maintenance for a while and let your body get used to it. After cutting, even maintenance will feel great.
When you finish your maintenance period, you can begin to gradually increase your calories.
For those who only have 8 weeks, your taper can look like this:
- Week 1: Maintenance
- Week 2: 90% maintenance
- Week 3: 85% maintenance
- Week 4: 80%
- Week 5-6: 75%
- Week 7: 80%
- Week 8: 85-90%
You could even be more aggressive than this. For example, by week 2 you could be at around 500 calories below maintenance, which will be around 1 pound per week, and then maintain this until week 8. Your workout plan for the 8 weeks will be the same as the one for 12 weeks, so all you need to do is focus on your calories when it comes to the length of your cut.
Your macronutrients are what make up your calories (energy).
The 3 Macros:
Your macros will look different on a cut than they do on a bulk. On a cut, you will be on a high protein diet, since sparing muscle mass is priority.
- Weight Training Days: 32% Protein, 20% fat, 48% carbs
- Cardio Days: 32% protein, 30% fat, 38% carbs
- Rest Day: 32% protein, 40% fat, 28% carbs
If you don’t want to worry about changing things up everyday, you can really just stick to a 40% P, 30% F, 30% C diet or 50%-40%-20% diet.
If you don’t want to deal with too much calculations, the simplest way is to just eat carbs in moderation (mornings, before weight training, early afternoons, and just a little at dinner – all healthy carbs), up your fat intake a little (healthy fats) and increase your protein intake to 1g per pound of bodyweight. So, if you weigh 200lbs, you will want to eat 200 grams of protein each day.
You can always play around with your macros based on how you feel and progress. You may need to decrease carbs or increase fat. But one thing that should really remain consistent is your protein intake of 1g/lb of bodyweight. For the first few weeks as you taper down your calories, you can be at .8-1g, but once you are in the thick of your cut, you will want to be at 1g+ per lb of bodyweight per day. More protein can’t hurt as long as you are eating healthy and keeping your total calories where they should be. There are plenty of ways to add it into a day of eating, including combining it with coffee to make protein coffee.
MEALS PER DAY & WHEN TO EAT
When cutting, it’s best to eat multiple smaller meals per day.
While some people ask about intermittent fasting when cutting, reports are conflicting and we don’t recommend it for two reasons:
- Your macros can get screwy.
- Some people don’t do well working out fasted, which you likely will if you are intermittent fasting.
So, we recommend 4-6 meals per day. i.e. Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Snacks or just all small even meals like you see when bodybuilders meal prep. Make sure to time one of these as a post workout meal in order to support muscle recovery and repair.
Work your macros and total calorie intake into those meals.
No one meal should ever make you super full. Don’t expect to get very full while cutting, but you should feel content after each meal, which is perfectly fine. In fact, this will help keep your metabolism up.
Overall, multiple small meals will keep your digestive system working strong and it’ll boost your metabolism. Moreover, you shouldn’t eat few a few hours before bed (unless its a protein shake to get your protein level/calorie level where they need to be). By doing this, each day you will have around 11-12 hours of fasting (last meal to first meal of next day), which is good too for fat loss.
The most important thing is you eat the right amount of calories, you get plenty of protein, and you eat healthy foods…and, of course, that you feel good!
You’ll want to eat healthy, unprocessed foods when cutting – Nutrient dense foods. They will give you the best bang for your buck and help you to feel full because you can eat more of these foods while staying at your required calorie intake.
What should you eat when cutting?
- meats like chicken, grassfed beef, salmon, pork, lamb
- protein powders such as whey, hemp, rice, and peas
- nuts and seeds
- avocados, olive oil, and olives
- whole grains like brown rice and pasta, oats, whole grain bread, barley, and quinoa.
- leafy greens.
- Berries and different vegetables
Your diet can be rich, just be sure its not processed garbage and it works with your macros. Also, try to avoid liquid calories, because they add up fast and they don’t keep you full! Water is your best liquid friend on a cut. Milk is ok too in moderation.
What foods to avoid while cutting?
- Most Sausages & Bacon
- Sugary drinks
- Most Fruit Juices
- Fried Foods
- Processed Foods & Cheeses
- White Bread
- Candy, Cookies, Cakes and Other Junk Food
- Beer and any high calorie alcohol
Essentially, if you think it might be unhealthy, it likely is…
If you are out partying and must drink alcohol, then stick to whiskey, vodka, tequila or gin, STRAIGHT, and of course don’t overdo it. But a couple is fine. Be that as it may, even these will add up in calories. Whiskey is about 70 calories per shot. Vodka 64 calories. These are not carbs either, this kind of alcohol is essentially its own macro, so it’s providing completely useless calories.
What foods help you lose fat?
Some foods are said to even help you lose fat! “Fat-burning” foods like:
- Fatty fish: Cod, Salmon, Anchovies
- MCT Oil (use in moderation)
- Coffee (use in moderation)
- Green Tea
- Apple Cider Vinegar
What should I eat for breakfast when cutting?
Most breakfasts are high in carbs, but what you want to do when cutting is eat a breakfast high in protein.
The amount you eat will depend on your current bodyweight and how much calories and macros you need for the day.
Here is a sample breakfast when cutting:
- Whole Eggs & Egg Whites
- 1/2 Cup Oatmeal with Raspberries
- 1 Cup Spinach
- Protein Shake
What should I eat for lunch when cutting?
Here is a sample lunch when cutting:
- 200g Chicken
- Leafy Greens or Broccoli
- Whole Grain Bread with Avocado
What should I eat for dinner when cutting?
Here is a sample dinner when cutting:
- ~200g Salmon Fillet
- Kale Salad with Goat Cheese and Seeds
- Rice with Olive Oil
What should I eat for snacks when cutting?
The best snacks when cutting will be high in protein and fats. But sometimes you just need to put something in your stomach, so we will include that as well. Fiber is going to be your friend too during your cut.
- Protein shake with natural almond or peanut butter
- Greek Yogurt with Berries and Half Scoop of Protein
- Pickles & Steak Slices
- Carrot Sticks
- Hummus and Celery
- Sunflower Seeds
- Boiled Eggs
- Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts
A lot of bodybuilders will simply eat 4-6 small meals rather than the normal three bigger meals and snacks, for example:
- Meal 1: 6-10 egg whites, with ½ cup of oats.
- Meal 2: 150g chicken or fish, with ½ cup oats, 2 – 4 tspn natural peanut butter.
- Meal 3: 150oz chicken or fish, with 1/2-1 cup of brown rice, 2-4 tspn natural peanut butter.
- Meal 4: 2 scoop protein powder with 1–½ cup of oats (preworkout or coffee before gym)
- Meal 5: 200g chicken or fish, with 10oz sweet potato (post workout).
- Meal 6: 250oz chicken, with ½ cup of brown rice, 2-4 tspn natural peanut butter or almond butter.
There are so many ways to go about your diet on a cut, intermittent fasting included. All that really matters is your stay below your TDEE and you get enough protein. Also, that you are feeling good and can hit the weights relatively hard!
Great Food Combos for Losing Weight
When it comes to slimming down, two (or more) foods can be better than one. That’s because each has different nutrients that work together. As a team, they can help you fend off hunger, stay full longer, and burn fat or calories better than they would solo.
Avocado and Dark Leafy Greens
A spinach or kale salad is low in calories and high in nutrients, but it can leave you wanting more. To make it more filling, top it with avocado. It’s likely to be more satisfying since it has a kind of good fat (monounsaturated) that staves off hunger. Bonus: Avocado also helps your body absorb more of the veggies’ disease-fighting antioxidants.
Chicken and Cayenne Pepper
Chicken breasts are known to be good for weight loss, and for good reason. One breast serves up 27 grams of protein for fewer than 150 calories. Protein takes longer to digest, and that can keep you full longer. Spice up this dinner staple with a rub or sauce made with cayenne pepper. It may boost your calorie burn and make you less hungry.
Oatmeal and Walnuts
A simple way to slim down: Eat the rough stuff. Simply adding more fiber to your diet can lead to weight loss. That’s because your body can’t break down fiber, so it slows down digestion and takes up space in your stomach. With 4 grams of fiber per cup, oatmeal can be a good source. Walnuts can add about another 2 grams, plus satisfying protein and crunch.
Eggs, Black Beans, and Peppers
Start your day with this protein-packed scramble. According to research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, people who had eggs for breakfast ate less for the rest of a day than those who had a bagel. Black beans and peppers make this morning meal even more filling, thanks to a double dose of fiber.
Bean and Vegetable Soup
Add a broth-based vegetable soup to your lunch or dinner. The liquid fills your stomach, leaving less room for higher-calorie foods. One study showed that people who started with soup ate 20% fewer calories during a meal. Stirring in beans, such as chickpeas or black beans, can give it more staying power because they’re high in protein and fiber.
Steak and Broccoli
Too tired to hit the gym? This meal can help you out. Beef is rich in protein and iron, which your body uses to build red blood cells. They take oxygen to your organs, so falling short in those can zap your energy. Broccoli is the perfect side, because its vitamin C helps your body take in iron. A half-cup of this veggie has 65% of all the vitamin C you need in a day.
Green Tea and Lemon
If you need a pick-me-up, brew some green tea. The low-calorie drink is packed with antioxidants called catechins, which may help you burn more calories and fat. One study suggested that drinking 4 cups of green tea every day may lead to decreases in weight and blood pressure. To make it even healthier, add a squeeze of lemon — it helps your body absorb them.
Salmon and Sweet Potato
Fish is often called “brain food,” but it’s also good for your waist. Its omega-3 fats may help you lose body fat, and salmon is a top source. Plus, one 3-ounce serving packs in 17 grams of protein. Serve it with a baked sweet potato for a filling yet light meal. A 5-inch-long spud has 4 grams of fiber and just 112 calories.
Yogurt and Raspberries
This creamy treat may help turn up the fat burn. Research suggests that people who get more calcium and vitamin D as part of a weight loss plan shed more fat than those who don’t. So, look for a vitamin D-fortified yogurt, which serves up about 35% of all the calcium you need in a day. Top it with half a cup of raspberries for sweetness and 4 grams of fiber.
Mushrooms and Ground Beef
You can eat burgers and lose weight — the key is to swap at least 50% of the meat for chopped or ground mushrooms. With only 16 calories a cup, they can lighten any dish made with ground beef without skimping on flavor. They may also help keep your blood sugar levels steady, which helps curb cravings.
Olive Oil and Cauliflower
At just 27 calories a cup, cauliflower is a diet-friendly food. It’s also low on the glycemic index (GI), a measure of how much a food raises your blood sugar. One study showed that low-GI vegetables led to more weight loss than starchier ones, such as peas and corn. Drizzle chopped cauliflower with olive oil and roast it — this brings out the flavor, and olive oil’s fats can curb your appetite by making you feel full.
Pistachios and an Apple
Need a midday snack? This combo offers protein, healthy fats, and fiber to fend off hunger. With about 160 calories for 50 of them, pistachios are one of the lowest-calorie nuts. Plus, they’re usually packaged in their shells, which can slow you down and keep you from munching mindlessly. The apple adds sweetness and crunch to your treat, along with 4 grams of fiber.
Fish, Whole-Wheat Tortilla, and Salsa
One of the top reasons weight loss efforts fail is taste. Eating bland foods at every meal can lead to a junk food binge. So it’s important to have healthy, flavorful dishes in your lineup. Fish tacos are a perfect example: Make them with white fish for lean protein and a whole-wheat tortilla for fiber. Top them with some salsa for extra vitamins.
Dark Chocolate and Almonds
Swearing off sweets sounds like a good way to drop pounds, but it can backfire. Nixing them altogether can lead to overeating. With about 7 grams of sugar per ounce, dark chocolate is one dessert you can feel good about eating. Pairing it with high-protein almonds keeps your blood sugar levels steady, and that can keep you satisfied longer.