Building a lean and muscular physique provides a clear demonstration of the hard work and dedication that you have put into your own body. Moreover, it shows the care, respect, and commitment that you have for your own body.
But I think we could all agree that, at certain times, building and maintaining a lean physique can be very hard work.
At those times it can feel like a somewhat endless cycle of bulking and cutting. During our bulking phase, we eat in a caloric surplus, attempting to build muscle mass, and accept the fat gain associated. In a similar fashion, during our cutting phases, we eat in a calorie deficit to ensure fat loss, and we accept that some of our hard earned muscle will be lost forever as a result.
But what if I told you that this didn’t have to be the case?
What if I told you that we could take certain measures to promote fat loss without losing any (or almost any) fat?
Now while you might think that this sounds too good to be true, I can guarantees that it is not. While undertaking a large bulk and then a severe cut is a common practice within the health and fitness industry, that does not mean that it is the only (or the best) way to go about it.
In fact, by implementing the three keys outlined within this article, you can guarantee healthy, sustainable fat loss, while also maximizing your retention of muscle mass.
They say patience is a virtue. Whether that is in fact true or not could be debated at length, but when it comes to losing fat while maintaining muscle mass, patience does hold particular importance.
One of the biggest mistakes I see when people commence a cutting phase is they are way too aggressive. They cut their calories way too severely, without making any real changes to their macro-nutrient breakdown. While this will unquestionably lead to relatively rapid fat loss, it also promotes the loss of muscle tissue.
A much better option is for us to take our time (and be patient…) and implement a very slight calorie deficit to allow gradual fat loss, while also reducing the risk of any associated muscle loss. For most, this would equate to a daily energy deficit of 250-500 calories (which is quite small I know) – which should allow fat loss at a rate of 0.5-1 pounds per week.
It is also important to note that during a deficit of this nature, it is integral to increase protein intake slightly, as a way to further promote muscle sparing. Normally 1.2-1.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight will do the trick. This protein should be spread evenly throughout the day, allowing the constant and gradual uptake of amino acids into our muscle tissue throughout the day’s entire duration.
Check out Heather’s 7 Day Jump Start Meal Plan.
Now most of us typically train exactly the same all year round, irrespective of whether we are in a bulking or cutting phase. While this in itself is not inherently incorrect, it is by no means the most effective way of going about our training – particularly when in a calorie deficit (such as that seen when we are trying to lean out).
What we should do instead, is prioritize strength based rep ranges. This means lifting heavy loads for 3-5 sets of anywhere between 1 and 6 repetitions.
Heavy strength training requires a HUGE amount of work to be performed by the nervous system, in which it needs to recruit a HUGE amount of muscle mass to allow the completion of movements under such high loads.
This recruitment actually creates a demand for that muscle mass, resulting in the body prioritizing the maintenance of that muscle mass (as it is receiving regular use).
As an added bonus, heavy strength training is incredibly demanding, and as result can promote additional fat loss through a large increase in our daily energy expenditure.
The exercises that we should be performing in this fashion are large, compound, multi joint movements, such as squats, deadlifts, split squats, presses, and rows. These movements allow us to use the most absolute load, and as such create the greatest demand on the neural system.
Additionally, these same movements also require the integration of multiple muscle groups, and as such use a HEAP of energy and create MASSIVE metabolic demand. This can further contribute to fat loss over time by both increasing our energy expenditure during any given session, and increasing the energy required to recover from a given session.
In this industry it easy to be swayed by the clever marketing of supplement companies, in which we fall into the trap of truly believing we need a particular supplement to see progress. In turn, we can become somewhat reliant on that supplement (mentally or physically).
In reality, there are only a few supplements that have shown to be effective for use during a cutting phase, and as a result I only recommend three core supplements to help you lean out.
A good quality whey protein powder provides a very simple (and low energy) method of increasing our protein intake throughout the day. This becomes increasingly important during a cutting phase where our protein intake need to be higher to promote muscle retention (as mentioned earlier in this post).
Second up, we have Agmatine. Agmatine is a relatively new supplement that has been shown to improve focus and mental clarity. This can go a very long way in improving our ability to perform a solid gym session, even in an energy deficit. By improving the quality of our training, Agmatine can help us burn more energy during our session, which is essential to leaning out.
Creatine monohydrate is the third and final supplement that I recommend on a regular basis. Creatine is one of the most well researched supplements on the planet, and its supplementation has shown to improve muscle growth, work capacity, and strength development. As such, supplementing with creatine can allow us to perform more work during our session (which can lead to increased fat loss), while also improving the results of our training.
It is important to note that supplements should be nothing more than just that – supplements.
While they can add to a solid diet, they cannot replace a bad one. As such, it is integral that our diet is on point before we introduce these into our schedule.
So, in conclusion, fat loss does not have to come with any associated loss of muscle tissue, nor should we accept that it should. By implementing smart dieting strategies, prioritizing strength based rep ranges during our training, and supplementing smartly, we can promote fat loss while retaining all the muscle we gained in a bulking phase.
Now I admit that this is no quick fix – which it shouldn’t be – nothing worth achieving ever came easy, and I believe that a lean muscular physique is certainly worth achieving!
All you need is hard (and smart) work, and dedication.
Author: Luke Cafferty is a fitness junkie, personal trainer, and blogger. He’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong and well-rounded physique. Check out more of his work at www.StrengthAuthority.com or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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