Whether you want more ab definition to show off at the beach or more energy to play with your kids in the backyard, shedding body fat tends to take a larger priority when warmer weather hits. During cutting season, you may adjust your diet and workout routine in the hopes of getting leaner—but reducing calories and ramping up physical activity can come with hunger, cravings, and other not-so-fun side effects.
Fortunately, you can make the process a whole lot less miserable with the right tips and tricks. In fact, a few simple food swaps can go a long way in trimming away calories, feeling more satiated, and satisfying cravings. Here, I’ll break down some of my top food swaps for a successful—and dare I say easier—cutting season. (Let’s be honest, nothing about leaning out is easy, but every little bit helps, right?)
1. Fatty Proteins For Leaner Options
You know that eating protein is important for building and maintaining muscle mass. While cutting, we hope the body weight we lose comes directly from body fat but, unfortunately, we likely lose some muscle mass in the process. One way to attenuate the amount of muscle mass lost during a cut is to eat a high-protein diet.
Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake
Although it is important to eat protein while cutting, it’s even more important not to consume too many calories. Choosing fatty protein options like sausage, salami, and bacon will likely lead you to consume more calories while taking in lower amounts of protein. When cutting, I recommend swapping out these types of meats for leaner cuts in order to consume maximal amounts of protein while controlling your total calorie intake. Some good options are chicken breast, lean ground beef, and lean ground turkey.
2. Highly Processed Snacks For Fresh Fruit
While cutting, it’s common to experience sugar cravings. This is because when we attempt to cut weight our body’s hunger signals ramp up, which may cause us to seek out highly-palatable and easy-to-consume foods, such as sugary snacks, which are typically highly processed.
Obviously, these are less than ideal for a few reasons. Not only do highly-processed foods offer very limited nutritional value, but they also do not aid in satiety very much—and satiety is particularly important while cutting when calories are low and hunger is high.
Fresh fruit can be a great, relatively low-calorie way to satisfy your sweets cravings (and also get in tons of nutrients). Some of my favorite fruits during cutting are apples, kiwis, and oranges. I enjoy apples for their higher fiber content and portability, oranges for their low calorie content and vitamin C levels, and kiwis for their low calorie content and great taste! Although these are some of my favorites, really any fruit you enjoy will do.
3. Sugar-Laden Beverages For Calorie-Free Drinks
Ever heard the saying “don’t drink your calories”? It’s really good advice, as most people already overconsume calories as it is. It’s tricky advice to follow, though, considering that in today’s food landscape, many of the beverages we see on store shelves are jam-packed with unnecessary added sugar, which adds tons of calories to every serving. In fact, it is very easy to consume several hundred extra calories per day just from sugar-sweetened beverages, which is a pretty easy way to destroy your cutting efforts.
Obviously, water is a great zero-calorie option that will keep you well-hydrated and feeling your best. If you’re not quite ready to drink only water, though (a lot of people aren’t), try switching from sugar-sweetened beverages to zero-calorie versions of drinks you enjoy. Some of my personal favorites are zero-sugar lemonade and root beer.
4. Frying For Lighter Cooking Methods
This swap can apply to a bunch of different foods, as it’s really all about how you prepare your eats, which can make a big difference in the ultimate impact of your meals. After all, the cooking methods you choose can potentially add hundreds of calories to your meals. For example, deep frying a potato versus baking it on a sheet pan can turn a relatively healthy food into one that’s calorie-dense and not-so-great nutritionally.
In general, use cooking methods that require less added fats during cutting season, as the resulting meal will contain far fewer calories. Baking and boiling are generally two great options. An air-fryer can also be really helpful here, if you’re willing and able to spare the cash and counter space for yet another kitchen device. This popular contraption can provide crispness that feels similar to traditional oil-based frying without requiring all of the extra fat. As such, it can provide a satisfying eating experience for far fewer calories than actual frying.
5. Sour Cream For Greek Yogurt
As odd as it may sound, non-fat unflavored Greek yogurt makes for an excellent sour cream substitute! While sour cream provides little to no protein and is relatively high in fat, Greek yogurt is packed with protein and comes in nonfat or low-fat varieties. While they might not taste exactly the same, it’s tough to tell the difference between Greek yogurt and sour cream once other ingredients get involved. My favorite use of this substitution is when I make Mexican food at home.
One of my go-to’s during cutting season is an easy taco salad that combines, 93 percent lean ground turkey or beef seasoned with low-sodium taco seasoning, chopped romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, diced white onion, low-fat cheddar cheese, non-fat Greek yogurt, and salsa or hot sauce.
Also, a great thing about Greek yogurt is that it’s versatile! One day it can be your sour cream replacement and the next day you can add fruit, nuts, and a little bit of sweetener to it to make a breakfast parfait.
6. Breakfast Cereals For Oatmeal
Typically, breakfast cereals are full of added sugars and are considered to be highly processed. They do not aid in satiety levels very much, resulting in you feeling hungry soon after eating them. Oatmeal is likely a better choice while cutting as it contains more fiber than standard breakfast cereals, which improves satiety greatly. Not only does oatmeal make you feel fuller, but it also contains valuable nutrients such as fiber, iron, and vitamin B1. To level up your oatmeal, add protein powder, ground flax seeds, fresh fruit, or all three!
7. Regular Pasta For High-Protein Pasta
Made with some type of legume, like beans, chickpeas, or lentils, there are all sorts of innovative high-protein pastas lining store shelves these days. These products are shaped just like some of your typical pasta varieties but tend to have much higher amounts of protein and fiber. This extra protein and fiber can help make you feel fuller than regular pasta and move you closer to your daily protein intake goal. If you’re craving pasta, opt for one of these options.
Implementing these smart food swaps during a cutting phase can make the process of losing body fat more manageable (and even enjoyable!). By choosing lean proteins, fresh fruits, water over sugar-sweetened beverages, healthier cooking methods, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, oatmeal over breakfast cereals, and high-protein pasta over regular pasta, you can decrease your calorie intake, increase satiety, and enhance the overall nutritional value of your meals.
I also want to note that a cutting phase should be taken seriously and done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional like a registered dietitian, who can help create a nutrition plan specific to your needs and goals. Additionally, it’s essential to combine these food swaps with a well-rounded exercise routine that includes a combination of resistance training and cardio to support your overall health, increase energy expenditure, maintain muscle mass, and promote fat loss.
By making these food swaps, you’ll be able to navigate your cutting phase more effectively, stay on track with your goals, and achieve a leaner physique this summer. With all things considered, make sure to enjoy the process, stay consistent, and celebrate your progress along the way.