Whether you’re a dedicated gym rat who spent the winter months hitting the weights hard, skipping cardio, and chowing down for the sake of packing on muscle, or you lived out these past few months bundled up on the couch with a takeout container in-hand, it’s time to face the music: Warmer months—and the infamous ‘cutting season’—are just around the corner.
For many bodybuilders and casual exercisers alike, cutting season means it’s time to clean up that diet, break a sweat, and switch up your supplement routine to shed body fat and lean out for the summer. Here are seven expert tips to help you switch gears and get shredded.
Tried And True Training Tips
We’ve heard 100 times that ‘abs are made in the kitchen’—and while proper nutrition is crucial for shedding fat, the gym is often the easiest place to start turning up your burn. Keep the following three guidelines in mind to ensure your workout routine is as fat-loss friendly as possible.
1. Superset Compound Movements
To maximize your calories burned per minute spent in the gym, focus on compound movements that incorporate several muscle groups, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, pullups, and pushups, says Sofia Rodriguez, M.S., C.P.T. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns (even at rest), and the easier it is for you to shed body fat.
“To really activate your anaerobic energy system and burn more calories, super-set your exercises and take little to no rest in between sets,” she adds. Hit all your major muscle groups at least two to three times per week, and keep in mind that you may not be able to lift as heavy as usual if you’re cutting calories.
2. Focus Cardio On HIIT
To keep your precious muscle intact while shedding as much fat as possible, focus your cardio routine on high-intensity interval training (HIIT), recommends James Grage, co-founder and owner of BPI Sports. HIIT workouts, which are shorter and more demanding than your standard steady-state cardio sessions, burn more calories both during and after your session. Plus, research shows they’re particularly effective for attacking belly fat. Throughout your shred, shoot for three 30-minute sessions per week.
3. But Don’t Do Too Much Cardio
When your body doesn’t have enough of its usual energy sources, glucose or glycogen (energy in the blood or muscles from sugar and carbs), to fuel your workouts, it may break down the proteins in your muscle tissue into amino acids to convert into glucose, Grage says. This muscle breakdown is called ‘catabolism,’ and it is not what you want when you’re trying to cut body fat after building muscle for months.
As appealing as cardio may seem when you’re trying to cut body fat, doing too much (especially if you’re restricting calories or sweating without food in your system) can trigger this muscle protein breakdown and sabotage your results. In fact, one University of Tampa study found that the more cardio participants did per day, the more muscle mass they lost. However, when they limited cardio to 20 minutes or less per day, they minimized declines in muscle mass and strength. So as tempted as you may be to go cardio crazy during ‘cutting season,’ stick to those three 30-minute HIIT sessions!
There’s no doubt that a successful shred depends on a solid nutrition and fitness foundation, but there are a number of supplements out there that can support your muscle-sparing, fat-crushing efforts. The following four are our experts’ top picks.
The most abundant amino acid in the body, glutamine not only fuels our immune system, but it also regulates muscle protein synthesis for muscle recovery—and it’s especially important when your body is under the stress. To support your muscles during cutting season, Rodriguez recommends adding a glutamine supplement to your routine. Take between two and five grams twice daily—one dose after your workout (to help ward of muscle breakdown) and another before bed (to support muscle-building as you sleep).
Another amino acid, l-citrulline increases your production of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels and improves the circulation of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients your muscles need to perform during your workouts and recover afterward. That extra blood flow goes a long way; one study found that just two and a half grams of citrulline a day helped healthy, active men improve on a cycling time trial.
You’ll see citrulline in various doses in all sorts of training supplements, and while you’ll benefit from smaller amounts, experts often recommend up to six grams before exercise.
Research has shown that BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)—especially leucine—support muscle growth by directly stimulating the muscle-building process. Unlike most aminos, which are metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are metabolized in skeletal muscle, so your body can break them down quickly for fuel. Keeping a steady supply in your system can discourage your body from breaking down muscle for fuel as you cut. Grage recommends supplementing with anywhere from 10 to 40 grams per day (depending how hard and often you work out).
4. CLA + Carnitine
“Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that helps the body use stored body fat for fuel and supports lean muscle mass,” says Grage. In fact, studies show that CLA can reduce body fat without impacting muscle mass. “Carnitine, meanwhile, is a fat transporter that shuttles freed-up fat cells to the mitochondria so they can be used for energy.” These two supplements work well together by encouraging your body to utilize more fat for fuel and preserve lean muscle.