Whether you live at the gym or on a YouTube fitness channel,  you’ve probably heard “abs are made in the kitchen” at some point. The  trope may be overused, but it’s also very true. If you want a bod like  Gal Gadot’s or Kumail Nanjiani’s (like, WHAT?), you’ll need to be as  dedicated to your diet as you are to your squats. Enter: the cutting  diet.

Lose to win

The  objective of a cutting diet is to “cut” body fat while maintaining your  musculature. The technique is popular with bodybuilders and fitness  enthusiasts who are looking to get as lean as possible without losing  muscle mass.


Cutting  isn’t a long-term lifestyle. It’s a phase that typically lasts 2–4  months. It’s usually timed around a bodybuilding competition, an  athletic event, or any occasion where you want your physique to be *chef’s kiss.*

The diet tends to be low in calories, with most of the calories coming from carbs and protein, and it always involves weightlifting. Weightlifting is key: It helps prevent muscle loss when you begin to cut calories.

Bottom line:

Cutting  is a low calorie, high protein, temporary diet phase that also includes  weightlifting. The goal of cutting is to get as lean as possible  without losing muscle mass.

First, flex your brain

Is the term “macros” unfamiliar? Don’t worry — you already know what they are!

Macronutrients — aka macros –– include protein, fat, and carbohydrates. A cutting diet often involves getting a certain amount of calories from fat versus carbs, which is where counting macros comes into play.

To determine your ideal macronutrient breakdown, you must first figure out your caloric needs.

Do the math

Fat  loss occurs when you consistently eat fewer calories than you burn. But  a cutting diet isn’t just about reducing your caloric intake. The  source of your calories matters too.

The number of calories you  should consume each day depends on your height, weight, lifestyle,  gender, and activity level. It’s also important to keep in mind that  while a larger calorie deficit could help you lose weight faster, research shows that dropping weight too quickly could result in muscle loss.

A slow, even rate of weight loss often works best for cutting. Studies have found that losing 1 pound (or 0.5 to 1 percent of your body weight) per week may be most effective.


Since  you’re consuming fewer calories and exercising routinely while cutting,  your protein needs will increase. Luckily, studies have found that a  high protein diet can reduce appetite, boost metabolism, and even help preserve lean muscle mass.

Pro tip:

To help ensure that you’re shedding pounds, not muscles, aim for 0.7–0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or 1.6–2 grams per kilogram). Translation: Someone who weighs 155 pounds (or 70 kilograms) should eat 110–140 grams of protein a day.


Too  much fat will obviously hinder your ability to lose weight. But not  consuming enough can impact your body’s ability to produce hormones like  testosterone and IGF-1, which help preserve muscle mass.

Pro tip:

Experts recommend 15–20% of your calories come from fat while cutting. One gram of fat contains 9  calories, so a person on a 2,000-calorie regimen should aim to consume  33–67 grams of fat each day.

If  your workouts tend to be intense, stay on the lower end of the fat  range — this will allow you to get more of your calories from carbs.


Love ’em or hate ’em, carbs may help preserve muscle mass while cutting. This is because your body actually prefers to use carbs, not protein, for energy. Also, carbs help fuel your performance. (Hello, carbo-loading.)

Pro tip:

To  determine your carb intake, subtract the calories that should come from  protein and fat from your overall calorie count. The remaining calories  should come from carbs. Divide that number by 4 (because carbs provide 4  calories per gram) to figure out how many carbs you should eat each  day.

For example: If the 155-pound (or 70-kilogram) person  mentioned above is on a 2,000-calorie cutting diet, they should eat 110  grams of protein and 60 grams of fat. The remaining 1,020 calories can  come from carbs (about 255 grams of carbs, to be specific).

Bottom line:

Your  caloric and macro needs depend on your height, weight, gender, and  activity level. Accurate calculation is crucial to a successful cutting  diet, so break out that calculator.

Cheat meals and refeed days

There  are pros and cons to cheat meals and refeed days, which are totally  optional. If you incorporate either into your diet, be sure to plan them  carefully.

Cheat meals,  which are occasional deviations from your plan, are meant to ease the  strictness of cutting. (After all, you still have a life outside the gym  and the kitchen.) But if you have difficulty with moderation, these  special meals may sabotage your weight loss efforts or promote unhealthy  eating habits.

Refeed days, on the other hand, are meant to boost  your carb intake (usually once or twice a week). This increase in carbs  can help restore your body’s glucose stores, improve performance, and balance your hormones.

Weight  gain is possible after cheat meals or refeeding, but don’t sweat it too  much. The extra pounds tend to be water weight that’s lost after a few  days of cutting.

Cutting diet: Bodybuilder edition

Cutting  is just one element of a bodybuilder’s in-season eating plan. Before  they start cutting fat, they go through a bulking phase that can last  for months (or even years — whoa).

During the bulking phase,  bodybuilders follow a high calorie, protein-rich diet and an intense  weightlifting regimen to build as much muscle as possible. Once they  reach their muscle mass goal, they often transition to the cutting  phase. This can last from 12 to 26 weeks.

Competitive  bodybuilders are judged purely on their physical appearance, but there  are a few health benefits associated with the lifestyle.

For one thing, they often practice resistance and aerobic training, which can help reduce the risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and other critical illnesses.

They also tend to consume lots of nutrient-dense foods from all different food groups, which may also help reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Macros for Bodybuilders: 101

Calculating  macros for bodybuilding requires a little more precision than, say,  calculating macros for regular weight loss. The first step: Find out  your maintenance calories.


The simplest way to determine your maintenance calories is to:

  1. Weigh yourself at least three times over the course of a week.
  2. Use a calorie tracking app to record everything you eat.

If,  by the end of the week, your weight has stayed the same, the number of  calories you’ve consumed per day is your maintenance calories (it’s  helping you maintain your weight, not gain or lose).

During the bulking phase, you should aim to increase your maintenance calories by at least 15 percent. This means that if your maintenance number is 3,000 calories a day, you should try to consume 3,450 calories a day.

As you gain weight, continue to evaluate and increase your caloric intake (preferably on a monthly basis).

Once  you’ve met your muscle mass goal and your weight is stable, the next  step is to reduce your calorie intake by 15 percent of the amount you’ve  been eating while your weight has been stable.

You should also continue to adjust your calories as you lose weight, like you did in the bulking phase.

During both phases, try not to lose or gain more than 0.5 to 1 percent of your body weight each week. It’ll help ensure you don’t gain too much body fat or lose too much muscle.

Get it right, get it tight

Time for more math!

Now that you’ve calculated your calories, you need to determine your macronutrient ratio.  (If you need a refresher, macros are your protein, carb, and fat  intake.) Luckily, your macronutrient ratio won’t change based on the  phase you’re in.

The following ratios are general guidelines for a  bodybuilder’s needs, but it’s best to consult a registered dietitian to  ensure your goals (and nutritional needs) are being met:

  • 30 to 35 percent of calories from protein
  • 55 to 60 percent of calories from carbs
  • 15 to 20 percent of calories from fat

For  the general population, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range  (AMDR) according to the Institute of Medicine suggests:

  • 10 to 35 percent of calories from protein
  • 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbs
  • 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat

Here’s a breakdown of the macro ratios for both bulking and cutting if your maintenance calorie total is 3,000:
Bulking phaseCutting phaseCalories3,4502,550Protein (grams)
(30–35% of calories)259–302191–223Carbs (grams)
(55–60% of calories)474–518351–383Fat (grams)
(15–20% of calories)58–7743–57

The carb and fat ratios are a bit flexible if these exact numbers don’t fit into your lifestyle.

To eat or not to eat

What  you eat — and don’t eat — is just as important as your training.  Consuming the right foods in the right amounts will give your muscles  what they need to recover and grow stronger post-workout.

Similarly, consuming the wrong foods (or not eating enough of the correct ones) will negatively affect your results.

FYI:  You don’t need to change the kinds of foods you eat depending on  whether you’re bulking or cutting, but the amounts will vary.

The following foods are great for both phases:

  • Meat, poultry, and fish: Sirloin steak, ground beef, pork tenderloin, venison, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia, and cod
  • Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk, and cheese
  • Grains: Bread, cereal, crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, and rice
  • Fruits: Oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, watermelon, and berries
  • Starchy veggies: Potatoes, corn, peas, lima beans, and cassava
  • Regular veggies: Broccoli, spinach, leafy greens, tomatoes, green beans, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, peppers, and mushrooms
  • Seeds and nuts: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds
  • Beans and legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans
  • Healthy oils: Olive oil, flaxseed oil, and avocado oil

…while it’s best to limit or avoid the following foods:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol, especially if consumed in excess, can negatively affect your ability to build muscle and lose fat.
  • Added sugars: Foods and beverages with high amounts of added sugar pack plenty of  calories but few nutrients (think candy, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream,  cake, soft drinks, and sports drinks).
  • Deep-fried foods: Dishes like fried fish, french fries, onion rings, chicken strips, and  cheese curds may cause inflammation and, if consumed in excess, disease.

Certain  foods can slow digestion or upset your stomach if you eat them before a  workout. Try to avoid the following foods before hitting the gym:

  • high fat foods like fatty meats, buttery dishes, and heavy sauces or creams
  • high fiber foods like beans and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower)
  • carbonated beverages, including sparkling water and diet soft drinks

Meal planning

The  makeup of your meals can stay the same during each phase, but portions  will obviously change depending on whether you’re bulking or cutting.

If  the thought of eating chicken and broccoli for months on end makes you  want to throw a barbell out a window, take a moment. Counting macros  doesn’t have to involve eating bland, boring food.

In fact,  bodybuilders should focus on eating a variety of foods and food groups  throughout the day to ensure their nutritional needs are being met.

Bottom line:

Make sure every meal and snack contains 20–30 grams of protein to support muscle-building.

Here’s some #inspo for your meals:


  • scrambled eggs with mushrooms and a side of oatmeal
  • ground turkey, egg, cheese, and salsa in a whole-grain tortilla
  • protein pancakes with light syrup, peanut butter, and raspberries
  • chicken sausage with egg and roasted potatoes
  • blueberries, strawberries, and vanilla Greek yogurt on overnight oats
  • ground turkey and egg with corn, bell peppers, cheese, and salsa
  • eggs sunny-side up with avocado toast


  • venison burger, white rice, and broccoli
  • chicken breast, baked potato, sour cream, and broccoli
  • sirloin steak, sweet potato, and spinach salad with vinaigrette
  • turkey breast, basmati rice, and mushrooms
  • tilapia fillets with lime juice, black and pinto beans, and seasonal veggies
  • tilapia fillet, potato wedges, and bell peppers
  • pork tenderloin with roasted garlic potatoes and green beans


  • salmon, quinoa, and asparagus
  • ground turkey and marinara sauce over pasta
  • stir-fry with chicken, egg, brown rice, broccoli, peas, and carrots
  • mackerel, brown rice, and salad with vinaigrette
  • ground beef with corn, brown rice, green peas, and green beans
  • diced beef with rice, black beans, bell peppers, cheese, and pico de gallo
  • turkey meatballs, marinara sauce, and Parmesan cheese over pasta


  • protein shake and strawberries
  • low fat cottage cheese with blueberries
  • protein shake and a banana
  • Greek yogurt and almonds
  • protein shake and walnuts
  • hard-boiled eggs and an apple
  • protein shake and grapes
  • yogurt with granola
  • protein shake and mixed berries
  • jerky and mixed nuts
  • protein shake and watermelon
  • protein shake and pear
  • can of tuna with crackers
  • protein balls and almond butter

Pro tips

Eating  the right foods, watching your macros, and working out consistently are  most important to a successful cutting diet, but the following tips  will help support your weight loss:

  • Time your meals: Although it isn’t required for cutting, meal-timing can help boost your performance and recovery time.
  • Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods: Non-starchy veggies and other fiber-rich carb sources tend to have more nutrients and can help you feel full longer.
  • Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated can help curb your appetite and even temporarily speed up your metabolism.
  • Meal-prep: Planning and preparing meals in advance not only saves time but also can help you stay on track (and avoid tempting foods).
  • Look out for liquid carbs: Sports drinks, soft drinks, and sugary beverages aren’t as filling as whole foods and may even make you feel more hungry.
  • Go for a run: Incorporating aerobic exercise (like high intensity cardio) into your workout regimen may improve your fat loss.


The  goal of cutting is to maximize fat loss without losing muscle mass.  It’s a phase meant to last only a few months, typically before an  occasion when you want to look lean and mean. You should also follow an  exercise regimen that emphasizes weightlifting.

The diet is based  on reducing calorie intake and following certain macronutrient ratios,  which depend on your weight and lifestyle. If you’re an athlete or  bodybuilder, consider talking to a trainer or medical professional to  see if cutting is the right weight loss method for you.

Source : https://greatist.com/health/cutting-diet