With spring approaching rapidly, the bulking season is coming to an end for most people. The cutting season is on the horizon and everyone wants to know how to do it effectively.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything there is to know about getting down to 10% body fat easily and effectively. Let’s go.
The Most Important Aspects of a Successful Diet
To lose fat, you need to cover a few fundamentals:
Aspect #1: Adequate Calorie Intake
To lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit. Meaning, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns every day. The composition of your diet doesn’t matter. You can eat oreos and Doritos every day and still lose weight.
Don’t believe me?
Professor Mark Haub went on a 10-week diet that consisted of Doritos chips, sugary cereals, twinkies, and Oreos. Despite the common belief that you need to eat “clean foods” to lose fat, professor Haub proved to everyone that calories are the most important factor for weight loss.
So, what was his trick? He restricted his calorie intake to 1800 per day.
What’s more, Haub’s bad cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his good cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent.
First, calculate caloric intake (step-by-step tutorial)
You can use an online calculator for this job, but I find that most of them are highly inaccurate and mostly geared toward very overweight and obese individuals who aren’t very active.
An alternative to finding your TDEE is using the two formulas below. They’ll give you a good idea of what your starting calories should be.
First, let’s calculate your BMR:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 * weight in pounds) + (4.7 * height in inches) – (4.7 * age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 * weight in pounds) + (12.7 * height in inches) – (6.8 * age in years)
Alternative formula for kilos and centimeters:
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 * weight in kilos) + (1.8 * height in cm) – (4.7 * age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 * weight in kilos) + (5 * height in cm) – (6.8 * age in years)
Let’s do an example calculation using the first formula:
26 years-old-guy, who weighs 182 pounds and is 6 feet (72 inches) tall.
BMR = 66 + (6.23 * 182) + (12.7 * 72) – (6.8 * 26)
BMR = 66 + 1133 + 914 – 177
BMR = 1936 calories.
This is roughly the number of calories your body burns every day just to keep you alive.
Now, to get our TDEE, we need to use the Harris-Benedict multiplier for the BMR value that we have. Here it is:
- If you are sedentary (little to no exercise): BMR * 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise 1-3 times/week): BMR * 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 times/week): BMR * 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 times/week): BMR * 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise & physical job): BMR * 1.9
Now, for the sake of our example, let’s assume that our guy from above is moderately active. So the calculation would go like this:
1936 calories (BMR) * 1.55 (moderately active) = 3000 calories TDEE.
This is roughly the number of calories you would need to eat every day to maintain your current weight.
Once you know your individual TDEE, a good rule of thumb is to put a 500 calorie deficit and eat like that for a few weeks.
Why exactly 500 calories?
A pound of fat contains roughly 3500 calories. When you set a deficit of 500/day, that is 3500/week, which in theory should make you shed 1 pound of fat per week.
Of course, some glycogen, water and muscle mass will be lost in the process and you likely won’t lose exactly 1 pound per week.
Aspect #2: Proper Macronutrient Split of Your Calories
Once you know how much calories you should eat to lose fat, it’s time to split them between the 3 macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats. Macronutrients are the components that make up food.
Each macro has a certain amount of calories per gram. Protein and carbs have 4 calories/gram and fats have 9 calories/gram.
Calculate protein needs
Protein comes first and there’s no surprise here. It is very important for muscle growth and muscle maintenance during a cut.
Adequate intake of protein in combination with regular strength training ensures that little to no muscle mass is lost in the process. What is more, protein is very satiating. When you eat fewer calories every day, you’ll feel hungrier, but consuming enough protein can counter that effect.
As far as protein needs, 1 gram per pound of body weight is enough. If you weigh 190 pounds, eat 190 grams of protein. If you feel very hungry throughout the day, eat as much as 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.
The only exception to this rule is for very overweight and obese people. If someone weighs 260 pounds and has a considerable amount of fat to lose, they would benefit much more from eating 0.6-0.7 grams of protein per pound of weight.
It is much more achievable and just as effective.
Calculate carbs and fats
If you don’t want to track all 3 macronutrients, you can stop here with the calculations. Eat adequate calories, track your protein intake and eyeball your carbs and fats balance.
But, if you do want to be more precise, read on.
Eat between 0.3 and 0.6 grams of fats per pound of body weight or at the very least, 15% of your calories.
And get the remaining calories from carbohydrates. Depending on how much or how little fats you eat every day, your carb intake will likely fluctuate a bit from day to day. This should be mostly personal taste and what helps you feel maximally full and satisfied with your diet.
If you fare better on a higher fat intake, eat more fats. If carbs are what helps you feel more energized and happy with yourself, eat more carbs and fewer fats. Simple.
How to Put It All Together With Eating
The numbers from above have laid out the groundwork. Now, it’s time to tie them neatly with food.
The best way to go about it is to follow a flexible dieting approach. With it, your goal is to hit your macros for the day but with a more balanced and “adult” approach to nutrition. You get 80-90% of your calories from whole, nutritious foods and the rest are left for your treats.
Whole foods are normally higher in volume, slower-digesting, and very filling. When calories are limited, eating mostly whole foods will help keep you full and satisfied with your diet.
If you aim to hit your calories and macronutrients with mostly crappy foods, you’ll be mostly hungry and have energy spikes and crashes throughout most of the day.
Aspect #3: Proper Training
When you’re bulking, you can get away with a lot of training because you are eating a lot of calories that help you recover. However, when trying to get to 10% body fat, you need to be more methodical with your training.
Since you’ll be eating in a caloric deficit and your recovery is going to be compromised, trying to maintain the same training style is going to do more harm than good.
Reduce training volume, maintain/increase intensity.
Keep lifting the same weights you usually do but reduce the total number of sets you are doing. Your main goal is to maintain your strength on the key lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc.).
As you go further and further into your diet, remove a set here and there but always focus on maintaining your strength.
Thanks to the reduced training volume, your workouts will be fewer and shorter and you’ll be able to put most of your focus on strength. For example, if you’re able to squat 315 lbs. for a set of 8 at the beginning of your cut, ideally, you should be able to do it once you’re at 10% body fat.
On the other hand, if you try to spread yourself too thin by focusing on many things, you’ll likely lose more strength and muscle while dieting and increase the risk of injuring yourself by overtraining.
How to Track Your Fat Loss Progress
Tracking your fat loss progress is crucial. If you don’t do that, you can’t know if what you’re doing is right or wrong. Without further ado, here are the best ways to track progress:
Your daily weigh-in can fluctuate up or down based on tons of different factors. But if you weigh yourself every morning on an empty stomach and take the weekly average, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what is going on.
For example, on week 3, 4, and 5 of your cut, your body weight weekly averages changed as follows:
- Week 3 average: 186.5 lbs.
- Week 4 average: 185.4 lbs.
- Week 5 average: 184.7 lbs.
But on week 6 and 7, your weekly averages stopped going down:
- Week 6 average: 184.8 lbs.
- Week 7 average: 184.7 lbs.
If your body weight stagnates or slows down for more than two weeks, take it as a sign that you need to change something to keep the fat loss going.
Next to body weight tracking, taking the occasional progress picture is a great way to see visual changes.
We see ourselves in the mirror every day and noticing progress can be difficult. But if you take a weekly set of 3-4 progress photos and compare them over the weeks, you’ll clearly see changes.
But to make progress pictures accurate, you need to take them under the same conditions, using the same poses at (ideally) the same time of the day.
That way, you can most accurately see the changes in your body. It wouldn’t serve you much if you take progress pictures in the evening, after a big dinner one time. Then, the next time during broad daylight before eating anything.
That alone can make a huge difference in your appearance.
3.Performance in the gym
Once you have a good idea of your progress thanks to body weight averages and progress pictures, it’s time to take a look at your performance in the gym.
Whether you’re using a simple notebook or a smartphone app, writing down your numbers and tracking them from week to week is important to make sure that you’re on the right track.
If you’re maintaining or slowly improving your performance while losing fat, that’s great. But if you’re rapidly losing strength, it’s probably a good idea to decrease the caloric deficit a bit.
As we already discussed above, maintaining your strength during a cut is very important, because:
- It indicates that you’re doing a good job at keeping your muscle mass;
- It allows you to jump into the next bulking phase strong and better able to build more muscle mass.
How and When to Make Adjustments to Your Diet for Ongoing Progress
Long-term change in body weight is one of the best ways to track your fat loss progress. But to be able to accurately track your body weight and not be influenced by day to day fluctuations, you should to daily weigh-ins.
Measure your body weight in the morning, on an empty stomach, after going to the bathroom 4 to 7 times per week and calculate the average.
Then, compare week to week and see what the trend is.
Because your metabolism will gradually adapt to the lower calorie intake, you need to see when your body weight stagnates. At that point, you can either reduce your calories by 100-150/day and track for another week or two or introduce (or increase) cardio.
For example, if your fat loss stagnates at 2500 calories/day, you can either drop them to 2350-2400/day or start doing cardio twice a week for 30 minutes.
Each time your fat loss stalls, either increase cardio a bit or decrease caloric intake. That way, you can continue to lose fat efficiently.
And if you’re interested in supplements that can help you along the way, we’ve got you covered. We recommend starting with the following muscle-building essentials:
If your interested in learning more about the how-to’s of building muscle, check out our free articles: