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cutting season tips: man lunging barbell

Kick Off Your Best Cutting Season Ever With These Trainer-Approved Tips

Anyone looking to drop body fat knows it takes consistency, motivation, commitment, and a whole lot of discipline. But that doesn’t mean the infamous “cutting season”—when bodybuilders and other fitness buffs adjust their diets and workout routines to shed body fat and uncover a leaner physique—has to be miserable. 

On the contrary, setting a few expert-approved tips and tricks to autopilot can make dropping fat a less intense endeavor, leaving you with more time and mental space to enjoy the process. Keep up with these best practices for your smoothest cutting season yet.

1. Drink More Water 

Ample hydration supports digestion, satiety, energy levels, mood, sleep quality, and immunity—and it’s also essential for revving your metabolism since the process of burning fat for energy requires water, explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N, L.D.N., C.P.T. Plus, proper hydration is needed to absorb water-soluble nutrients, manufacture hormones, and remove waste and toxins from the body, she explains. “Without water, it would be impossible to break down fat and lose fat mass, and inadequate water intake will cause all of these metabolism-impacting systems to become sluggish.” 

Your goal? Drink at least half your weight in ounces of water each day, says Michels. (That’s 80 ounces for someone who weighs 160 pounds.) “Kickstart every morning with a large glass of water, pack a water bottle when you leave the house, and, if you need reminders on busy days, consider setting a water alarm,” she suggests. 

Read More: 6 Tasty Drink Mixes That’ll Help You Stay SO Hydrated

Not to mention, your body can mistake thirst for hunger, so sipping on a fun drink like sparkling water or tea can also help limit the urge to snack and keep you hydrated until your next meal time, adds Tami Smith, C.P.T., a certified personal trainer, macro coach, and owner of Fit Healthy Macros

2. Ramp Up The Protein

The building blocks of protein are needed for hormone and neurotransmitter production that regulates your satiety, metabolism, mood, sleep, and stress, all of which influence the success of weight loss progression, says Michels. Adequate protein also helps you preserve your muscle mass while you cut, adds Smith. 

To keep yourself in check, aim to get 30 percent of your total calories from protein and include a protein source at every meal, as well as post-workout, says Michels. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that looks like 600 calories from—or 150 grams of—protein. Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds are your best friend, but protein powders, shakes, and bars can also help meet your goals, she adds. 

3. Increase Your Soluble Fiber Intake 

Soluble fiber, which is primarily found in plant foods (think: carrots, green beans, broccoli, avocados, strawberries, oatmeal, flax seeds, and beans) and has a gel-like consistency, improves satiety and aids in blood sugar and cholesterol management, says Michels. It may also aid in fat loss, suggests one study that found consuming 10 grams of soluble fiber per day reduced abdominal fat by 3.7 percent. More backup: Another study even shows that people who ate beans daily weighed less than those who didn’t, despite consuming slightly more calories. 

As such, getting more soluble fiber into your daily diet is an easy way to support your shred. Michels recommends aiming for 14 grams of fiber per every 1,000 calories you eat. If you eat around 2,000 calories per day, that’s 28 grams of fiber.

How to do it? “Make half of your lunch and dinner plate non-starchy vegetables, snack on whole fruit or nuts, and choose whole grain foods and products that offer at least five grams or more of fiber per serving,” suggests Michels. If you’re unable to meet this minimum fiber goal from whole foods alone, you may also benefit most from a soluble fiber supplement, she adds. (Here are a few tips for incorporating a fiber supplement into your routine—and actually enjoying it.)

4. Get At Least Seven Hours Of Sleep Per Night

The hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for regulating your mood, energy, concentration, and physical strength are all produced during sleep, says Michels. Long-term sleep deprivation may also skew your satiety hormones, dysregulate your mood and stress hormones, and tinker with your immune response, she explains.

To maximize your shut-eye, Michels says to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. These tips can help make that happen:

  • Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Minimize light at night. Dim your lights in the evening and stop using electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime since the blue light from electronics reduces melatonin production which helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • Lower the thermostat. Keep your bedroom between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Sip mindfully. Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed and limit alcohol within three hours of bed.
  • Wind down. Stop your social scroll and establish a calming nighttime routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
  • Consider supplements. If you need extra support, consider a sleep supplement like magnesium glycinate, lemon balm, and/or melatonin.

5. Find Little Ways To Move More

Exercise activity thermogenesis (a.k.a. the calories you burn working out) ups your overall daily energy expenditure and supports your cutting goals, says Michels. In fact, just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week has been found to aid in weight management and decrease the risk of chronic disease, she adds. 

As such, squeezing some extra movement into your week is an easy way to move the fat loss needle. Cardio promotes a greater caloric burn, but strength training is also crucial since it builds muscle mass which then requires calories to maintain, explains Michels. So you’ll benefit from parking further away from the store and finally organizing all of those heavy boxes in the garage.

Read More: 5 Strength Moves Everyone Should Do

You can also assess how many minutes you’re currently exercising for and gradually increase it week by week. Maybe you opt for that 45-minute strength video instead of your usual half-hour or tack another mile onto your go-to running loop. Every extra minute counts. If you’re unable to conquer 30 or 60 minutes of exercise at once, break it up into shorter mini-sessions, Michels suggests. 

6. Make Some Supplement Swaps

It’s always a good idea to run any new supplements by a healthcare provider (especially if you take prescription medication), but the below supps may boost your progress during cutting season, according to Michels. 

  • Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). The flavonoid EGCG is commonly found in green tea and may help support metabolism and trigger the breakdown of fat molecules, says Michels. Studies also confirm that moderate consumption of green tea may reduce waist circumference and overall body fat mass, so supplemental EGCG is a convenient way to reap these metabolic benefits, she adds.
  • L-carnitine. L-carnitine is an amino acid touted for supporting fat metabolism and a healthy weight, says Michels. 
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is a fatty acid found in meat, dairy, and sunflower oil that supports weight management by helping reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass.
  • Capsaicin. Capsaicin, a compound found in spicy peppers, is known for its healthy metabolism and appetite control effects, but supplemental capsaicin may be helpful if you can’t tolerate spice in your actual meals, says Michels. 

One way to reap the benefits of some of these supplements without having to think about it too much? Swap out your usual pre-workout formula for one created specifically for those sweating to get shredded, like C4 Ultimate Shred Pre-Workout, or a thermogenic supplement like EHP Labs OxyShred Thermogenic Fat-Burner.

7. Plan Your Meals And Eating Schedule

Decide how many times a day you’re going to eat and set a general time frame for each meal based on your goals and calorie intake, says Smith. This keeps you structured and consistent, so you know what to expect from your day and when to expect it. “If you’re too random with your meals and meal timing, you may find yourself in situations that make hitting your targets difficult,” she notes. For example, without a plan, you may fall 50 grams short of your protein goals or accidentally go significantly overboard on calories, both of which can ultimately slow down progress.

It’s also helpful to plan your meals with the help of a food tracking app and eat similar meals throughout the week so you can do all of your math once and then rinse and repeat, Smith recommends. This majorly reduces the mental load of meal planning, food shopping, and tracking throughout the rest of the week.

8. Choose High-Volume Foods 

When you’re in a calorie deficit (when you consume fewer calories than your body requires to stay at its current weight), Smith recommends incorporating lots of high-volume foods like fruits, veggies, low-calorie popcorn, cauliflower rice, and egg whites, instead of calorie-dense foods like nut butter, granola, processed snacks and desserts, and fatty meats like sausage. 

Why? They’ll fill you up without loading on the calories, priming your body to turn to fat stores for energy without leaving you feeling deprived, Smith explains. Whether you add a handful of chopped lettuce to your sandwich or toss extra berries into your Greek yogurt, these low-calorie foods will beef up your meal and keep you fuller for longer.

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