How to Maintain Muscle While Cutting

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Want to Get Shredded?  Here are 7 Tips to Make it Easier

Learning how to maintain muscle while cutting and losing fat is very important. When working so hard in the gym to add muscle mass to your frame you certainly don’t want to be losing it when you do finally decide to lose weight and get shredded.

Knowing how to maintain muscle while cutting and losing body fat is not as hard as it may sound but to do it you will need to pay close attention to what I call the big five.

There are 5 main areas you should focus on if you want to maintain muscle while cutting and losing fat. These 5 areas are training, nutrition, the timing of your nutrition, cardio and rest. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

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1. Keep Your Training Consistent

Now, to maintain muscle whilst cutting and dropping body fat you don’t want to be slacking on your training. You’ve been training hard and intense to build the level of muscle you currently have, what makes you think that you should suddenly switch up your training techniques in order to maintain muscle while cutting?

The bottom line being, what built you the muscle is what’s going to help you maintain muscle. Just because you are cutting and looking to lose fat does not mean you suddenly need to switch up your whole weight lifting routine or take it easy.

A lot of people looking to cut and lose fat will change their training up by lowering the amount of weight they lift in order to bang out more reps. They change from a 6-12 rep range to a 15-20+ rep range and add in more machine work to their routines in order to ‘shape’ and ‘define’ the muscle.

The truth is you can’t shape and define a muscle, shape, and definition of the muscle is determined by how much muscle you actually have, your genetics and your body fat levels.

Using more reps and more machines are not going to be any more effective in your training just because you are cutting.

Keep the weight as heavy as possible and lift in the rep range of 6-12. Carry on adopting the principles of progressive overload in your routine and do not go backward in your training just because you are maintaining what you have. Without this type of stimulus being applied to your muscles, your body will have no reason to keep hold of the muscle it currently has so make sure you’re lifting heavy and intense like you were when trying to build muscle.

2. Maintain Proper Nutrition

Nutrition is extremely important when attempting to maintain muscle when cutting. Many will say training or nutrition is number one when it comes to building or maintaining muscle but in truth, they go hand in hand.

Without training, you are not providing the body with a stimulus to grow. On the other hand, a similar statement can be made about nutrition. Without proper nutrition you are not providing your body with the nutrients it needs to grow and recover either. Both are as important as the other.

When you are maintaining muscle your diet will need to be in check in order to allow your body to hold on to your muscle tissue whilst in turn burning as much fat as possible. For this to happen you will need to tweak your diet slightly.

Ensure you eliminate alcohol from your diet as you should know by now, alcohol, and weightlifting do not mix. Since you’re looking to maintain the muscle I will presume you have built up a decent level of muscle mass. In order to do this you would have been eating in a calorie surplus (taking in more calories than your body needs to put on weight).

The first thing you will need to do when dieting down and cutting body fat is to adjust your calories. When I say adjust them I don’t mean drop half of your daily calorie intake I mean eat between 200-500 fewer calories a day.

Do not drastically cut your calories or you will end up losing a significant amount of muscle tissue. That’s not what we want! To begin with I would start off with a smaller number such as 200-300 fewer calories a day. If its working and your dropping 0.5-2lbs a week stay with this number until you plateau and then either knock off a few more calories or perform more cardio. We will talk more about the importance of cardio later on.

Don’t forget to eat something before you go to bed.

This is important as you don’t want to be going hours without anything in your stomach so be sure to eat something before you go to bed, preferably something slow digesting. Check this article out what to eat before bed to preserve muscle mass if you need help on deciding what to eat before bed.

3. Keep a Close Eye on Protein Consumption

When you have your calories adjusted one very important macro-nutrient to pay close attention to is protein. Protein synthesis is important for gaining muscle. Protein is a key component in any weight training diet and will help you build and maintain muscle mass.

Check out the best protein foods to build muscle if you need help knowing what foods to consume in your diet. When maintaining muscle you may want to slightly increase your intake to help ensure your body does not use protein as an energy source, helping to save valuable muscle tissue.

Lean Proteins

It’s hard to say how much protein would be deemed appropriate when looking to maintain muscle and drop body fat but it’s safe to say that 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is going to be a safe bet.

Some may even get away with 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you want to be totally safe, your best bet is to take in a little more, if you’re not too worried and find it hard to get so much protein into your diet each day shoot for 1g per pound of body weight and see how your body reacts.

If you think your maintaining muscle while dropping fat at 1g per pound of body weight then, by all means, carry on. In my opinion, I would probably say 1.5g+ per pound of body weight is going to provide better results but sometimes the only way you can learn is from personal experience. Just remember this, there must be a damn good reason why professional bodybuilders take in so much protein when dieting down for a show.

We’re talking a lot more than 1g per pound of bodyweight here. These guys have the most intelligent and knowledgeable coaches behind them so be sure to think about your protein intake carefully if you’re trying to maintain muscle while cutting!

4. Carb Intake When Maintaining Muscle

Carbohydrates get a bad name these days and because of this a lot of people will attempt to cut carbohydrates from their diet. When maintaining muscle while cutting do not cut out all carbs from your diet. This is very important.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and without them, our bodies begin to feel tired, drained and lazy. Now when you’re dieting down and dropping body fat it can be a good idea to reduce your carb intake. Not eliminate them completely but to reduce them. Reduce them as much as you can in all other meals except for the following:

  • Breakfast
  • Pre-Workout Meal
  • Post Workout Meal

These are the 3 most important meals for carb consumption when maintaining muscle while cutting. Breakfast will provide you with the energy you need to get you through the day and up to your pre-workout meal.

The pre-workout meal then provides your body with the energy it needs to get you through an intense weight training session. The post-workout meal is then used to replenish energy stores and to begin the recovery and rebuilding process of the muscle.

Healthy Carbs

Post-workout is a time where nutrients are absorbed and used a lot more efficiently by the body limiting the chances of foods being stored as fat.

So the bottom line on carbs when maintaining muscle while cutting, eat a healthy amount for breakfast, pre-workout and post-workout (providing they fit into your daily calorie intake) and then reduce them as much as you can for all your other meals.

The calories should be lost in your diet from the reduction of carbs in these other meals and not from your three important carb meals; breakfast, pre-workout and post-workout. It’s also worth noting that the carbohydrates in your diet should mainly be complex carbs except for the exception of post-workout. Complex carbs include foods such as oatmeal, brown/wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal spaghetti, brown rice, beans, potatoes, and vegetables.

You may experience food cravings when cutting carbs and lowering calories so don’t be afraid to add in a re-feed day to your diet. The re-feed day allows you to raise your carb intake back up to normal levels and possibly raise your calories slightly. Don’t go overboard though. The aim here is to top the body up and refuel it with the additional carbs it’s been craving for. If you are craving foods you should feel better after a re-feed day motivating you to hit the gym hard the following day and stick to your diet.

5. Don’t Completely Eliminate Fats

Your fat intake should make up roughly 20% of your diet with the rest coming from quality sources of carbs and proteins. Fats are still important to have in your diet even though they boast the smallest percentage in terms of macro-nutrients.

Fats are actually the only way your body can absorb important vitamins such as vitamins A,D,E and K. Fats are split into two main categories, saturated and unsaturated. You want to be getting the majority of your fat intake from unsaturated fats such as fish oil, olive oil, other healthy oils, fish, some vegetables and nuts. These types of fats are referred to as healthy fats and are very good for your body.

6. Don’t Overdue the Cardio

Another key weapon at your disposal when trying to lose fat and maintain muscle is cardio. If you don’t like cardio and shy away from it because its too exhausting tough! Cardio is not only a great way to help you burn off additional calories while cutting but can actually play a key role when you are bulking and building muscle as well. By performing cardio you will not burn off muscle. This is a common misconception of cardio and is not true. Let me tell you something that may surprise you.

Your body is constantly breaking down muscle tissue and rebuilding it. This happens on a daily basis especially when we sleep. The building of muscle is referred to as anabolic whilst the breakdown of muscle is called catabolic.

This process is called protein turnover. Our bodies are consistently switching between anabolic and catabolic states so our main goal is to keep the body in an anabolic state for as long as possible, helping to increase chances of muscle growth and minimize muscle breakdown.

Man and Woman Doing Cardio

When maintaining muscle while cutting it is a good idea to incorporate cardio into your routine. How often cardio is performed is totally down to you. Cardio frequency can range from 2-3 times a week to even 6-7 days a week and can be used to put your body in a calorie deficit if you prefer to eat more.

For example, with the addition of regular cardio to your routine, you can then get away with eating maintenance calories (the amount your body needs to maintain its weight) whilst using cardio to burn off the remaining calories, putting your body in the calorie deficit it needs in order to lose fat.

Say a person’s maintenance amount of calories is 2,500 a day. Instead of eating below this to lose weight and drop fat, with the addition of cardio to their routine they can eat 2,500 calories each day and burn off anywhere between 100-600 calories purely from cardio. This puts their body in a calorie deficit.

The way you choose to do this is entirely up to you but remember, When trying to maintain muscle while cutting, the body does not respond well to a sudden drop of calories. The body will drop weight but a lot of this weight will be coming from hard-earned muscle tissue as well as fat.

Its also worth remembering that by burning calories through cardio, you then have the possibility of taking in more protein to help keep hold of your hard-earned muscle tissue.

200 calories burned on the treadmill relates to a further 200 calories worth of muscle-sparing protein which, depending on the source, can add an additional 50 grams of protein to your diet!

The type of cardio you perform to maintain muscle while cutting can vary. There are a lot of different expert opinions as to which is more effective but when it comes down to it we really have two main choices.

You can either perform low or high-intensity cardio. If you are a lot fitter than the average person why not incorporate HIIT cardio into your routine. HIIT cardio is extremely convenient as it can be performed for shorter durations and fitted into your everyday schedule far easier.

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Low-intensity training will be performed for longer periods of time working at around 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is the type of cardio where you spend anywhere from 30-60 minutes running, on a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair master, exercise bike or any other type of cardio machine you have in your gym.

As you may have guessed, High-intensity training is the exact opposite. High-intensity training is performed at a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate than low-intensity training and will have you working harder but for a much shorter period of time. HIIT (High-Intensity Training) is becoming more popular nowadays as studies have shown HIT Training to burn more calories at rest than any other type of cardio.

This basically means that due to the intensity of HIIT Training, your body is still recovering from it hours later, helping to burn additional calories throughout the day and when resting. The extent of this is still unclear so don’t get too caught up in the hype of HIIT Training. Any type of cardio can be beneficial to you as long as your performing it consistently and correctly.

7. Get Plenty of Rest

Adequate rest plays a key role in muscle growth and development and its no different when you are looking to maintain muscle while cutting. Without the correct amount of rest between workouts and sleep at night, your training is going to suffer. Be sensible and leave enough time between workouts for muscle groups to recover and allow yourself at least 7 hours of sleep a night if possible.

That’s pretty much everything covered when looking to maintain muscle while cutting. Focus on your training, nutrition, nutrition timing, cardio and rest and you will maintain all your hard-earned muscle mass while cutting!

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033492/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544497/

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