Cutting season is in full effect, which means many fitness fanatics are shifting their workout and nutrition strategies in order to shed body fat while maintaining (or building) that lean muscle. Nailing your summer shred requires striking a sometimes tricky balance—but, with a little fine-tuning of your routine, it’s totally possible. Here, fitness and nutrition pros break down some of the most common shred saboteurs so that you can troubleshoot your approach and see progress asap.
1. Cutting calories too drastically
In a hurry to get shredded, you might be tempted to slash a large portion of your calories from your diet. After all, the overly simplified formula for losing body mass is to burn more calories than you take in. However, it’s important to keep in mind that when you lose weight, you can’t specifically drop just fat—and actually lose fat, muscle, and water.
Because of this, you have to adjust your intake with care. “The body requires adequate nutrition to maintain a revving metabolism,” says Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., a nutritionist at the The Vitamin Shoppe. In order to support gradual fat loss without compromising muscle mass, she recommends aiming for a deficit of 350 to 500 calories per day.
Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake
To help support your muscle growth and feel satiated for longer, she also recommends focusing on adequate protein intake and conscious carb consumption. For protein, shooting for 0.7 grams per pound of body weight per day is a good place to start. (That’s 108 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds.) And as for those carbs, Row House and STRIDE coach Josh Honore, C.P.T., suggests eating most of your carbs within a four-hour window of your workouts to ensure you’re fueled enough to train hard. (Otherwise, make sure to limit how many of your carbs come from refined sources—like white pasta and bread—as much as possible.)
2. Not taking sleep seriously
As much as hitting the gym and fueling properly impact your summer shred in major ways, adequate quality rest is an equally important pillar—and one that often gets overlooked. “The production of many of our hormones and neurotransmitters are regulated by adequate sleep, including those that modulate mood, energy, physical strength, immune response—all of which impact shredding success,” says Michels.
One example: Research shows that during deep (non-REM) sleep, the body secretes a growth hormone to repair your muscles and make them stronger, which is a must if you’re creating micro-tears in those tissues with strength training.
On the flip side, a lack of sleep can mess up your appetite and cause you to eat more by decreasing the production of the hormone that tells you when you’re satiated while also increasing the hormone that escalates your appetite.
3. Letting Stress Get The Best Of You
There’s no denying that obstacles and speed bumps are a part of life. However, chronically high-stress levels can impact your metabolism and ultimately mess with your muscle gain and fat-loss goals. If you can’t kick the actual stressor to the curb, you’ll have to find ways to manage it better, says Michels. “Add a stress-relieving practice to your days, such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or a gratitude journal, to aid in bringing down stress hormones,” she suggests. While yoga might not build muscle mass the way pumping iron does, it can certainly play a part in your summer shred.
4. Going overboard on “cheat days”
“Cheat days” may be a common practice for many bodybuilders and fitness lovers, but that doesn’t make them any less controversial. “If your cheat day blows the entire weekly caloric deficit that you worked so hard for, then it’s not serving you,” says Michels.
Her recommendation? Assess why you feel the need to have such intense cheat days in the first place. “If you’re taking the day off because the week is overwhelmingly restrictive, then find some tweaks in your routine that make it more sustainable,” she says. (Check out these five signs of a sustainable weight-loss plan for more insight on whether you might want to adjust your approach.)
5. Not focusing on muscle failure
The most common training mistake Honore sees when people are trying to build muscle is a lack of sufficient stimulus—basically, not lifting until you hit failure and can’t churn out another rep. “Building muscle relies heavily on the progressive overload principle,” he says. “Volume is key to maximizing stimulus in order to grow and that stimulus has to get very close to muscular failure very often.”
The SparkNotes? If you can bang out reps while half-paying attention, you’re not lifting heavy enough. And, even if you do have an appropriately challenging load, you’ve got to keep working until you’re toast.
To avoid fatigue, Honore suggests doing three to five weeks of high-volume training followed by one to two lower-volume weeks, in which you dial back your reps, sets, or load by half. “The extra energy saved is where the body cashes out on your work and major gains take place,” he says. From there, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to level up in your next block of tough weeks.
6. Doing excess cardio
Though cardio is often a go-to for those wanting to drop fat, slamming away on the treadmill with as much intensity as you put into your deadlifts may not be conducive to getting shredded. Instead, when you do cardio, Honore recommends sticking with low-intensity, steady-state cardio, such as walking on an incline or light hiking. “Growing muscle requires a lot of resources from the body and these forms of cardio are best suited to minimize competition for resources,” he says. To prioritize muscle, save your best efforts for the weight room!