What Is a Cutting Diet?

Nadia Santiago
Male body builder flexing on stage

A cutting diet is a plan both female and male bodybuilders use to prepare for physique competitions. The goal is to lose body fat and water weight, enhancing the appearance of their muscles for a sculpted look on stage. Since the diet can last anywhere from two to five months, it takes focus and dedication to cut.

Cutting Philosophy

The biggest reason bodybuilders need a cutting diet plan is because there is a fine balance between losing body fat and losing muscle. Your muscles need more energy in order to grow, which is why competitors eat more, or bulk, in the beginning stages of competition prep. Many use a macronutrient calculator, like the one on the IIFYM website, to figure out how much they should be eating. More food equals bigger muscle gains during and after workouts. This also means more fat gain. Hence the need to lean out, or cut, during the final stage of prep. If you cut too quickly by drastically reducing the amount you eat, you may lose the muscle you worked so hard to gain. A slow cut helps to increase the amount of fat lost while reducing the loss of muscle.

How It Works

Cutting involves four major changes to one's diet.

  • Eliminating sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as bread and sweets
  • Reducing overall calories by decreasing consumption of fat, grains, and starches
  • Increasing intake of lean protein and fiber rich vegetables
  • Manipulating water intake to the effect of dehydration in the final weeks before competition

The exact numbers of macronutrients or calories you consume during a cut will depend on your current weight, your basil metabolic rate (BMR), and how much body fat you have to lose. According to a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a safe and effective plan should result in a maximum of .5 to 1 percent of body weight lost per week.

Should You Try Cutting?

Cutting is a diet strategy specifically created for looking good on stage. It's a great plan for those who intend to participate in a physique competition, but it may not be the best option for someone who is simply trying to lose weight and look great. Even bodybuilders find cutting to be difficult in the following ways.

  • Restrictive - It leaves little flexibility. Eating out is discouraged, and meals must be prepared ahead of time in order to stay on track.
  • Time-consuming - Some spend four to six hours or more each week on meal preparation. Due to the decrease in calories, you also have to eat more often, up to six times a day, in order to sustain your energy levels.
  • Unsustainable - A cut cannot be continued for an extended period. You will start losing muscle due to insufficient fuel reserves. Studies actually show that while cutting is a successful method of leaning out for competition, the positive effects are purely cosmetic. Cutting can have negative effects on one's health, resulting in nutrient deficiences and digestive issues among other problems. Because of this, researchers recommend cutting diets be monitored by a professional.

Most bodybuilders stop cutting immediately after their competition. The cut truly is for show and once the competition is over, most gain a significant amount of weight and body fat back. If this is your goal, go for it! But if you're looking to get in shape, a 30 day challenge or an ongoing balanced diet may be a better option.

Practical Lessons for Non-Bodybuilders

Even if a cutting diet isn't right for you, there are ways to implement some of its lessons into the way you approach your own diet.

  • Reduce processed foods and introduce more vegetables. They are less calorie dense and more nutritious.
  • Prepare some of your meals ahead of time to stay on track.
  • Aim for steady, not fast weight-loss. The last thing you want is to regain weight or body fat after all the hard work you put in. So aim for a plan you can stick to for the long haul.

Choose the Right Path for You

Cutting takes time, effort, and hard work. If your goal is to tighten up your physique for a competition, you might want to consider trying this type of diet. If you do decide to go this route, seek professional guidance. If your goal is to lose weight and get fit, adopt a healthy diet and exercise routine to achieve it.

What Is a Cutting Diet?