Diet is the most important factor during fat burning cycle (cutting). Without it our fat loss will be very small if any – no matter how hard we train.
In this article I’ll try to explain briefly how we gain and lose fat and what to eat or rather how to eat to burn it – a simple guide for anybody who wants to lose some weight to uncover muscles and show the real definition of his/her body.
How does our body stores fat
Our body fat is nothing else but energy saved for later. Loads of energy saved for later. Body stores it mostly underneath our skin when we consume too many calories and not perform enough activity. In other words we are getting fat when we eat too much and do too little.
This is actually a good thing. Our body saves fuel for later – for the time we could not have food. It does it to survive. The only problem is that in a modern society we eat all the time, very often just for pleasure and usually too much. There is no time that we actually go hungry for too long or too many days.
Fortunately with the knowledge about our bodies we can reverse this process and burn some fat to look better, feel lighter and be healthier.
How does our body burn fat
First and foremost we have to understand the most important things about fat loss:
- Our body’s ‘favorite’ source of energy is carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes).
- When we cut down on eating carbohydrates our body starts burning fat – the stored source of energy.
- The more carbs we eat the more body uses it as a fuel. The less carbs is consumed the more fat is used.
So basically our body starts using fat as energy (burns it) when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates.
How to burn fat – the diet
Common sense would tell us that we should stop eating completely to burn fat and generally this would be true. However if we stopped eating or started fasting our body would be burning fat but also along with muscles which isn’t a good thing. Our hard earned musculature would be simply slowly getting smaller and we don’t want it. What we are trying to achieve is to keep muscles big and get body fat low.
The only way to burn fat and spare muscle mass that we’ve built is to start a right diet – eat a bit different.
The simplest fat burning (cutting) diet for bodybuilders, athletes but also for general population is low carbohydrate, high protein diet. It is also simply called low carb diet.
Basically it consists of the same food we ate to build muscle mass only in a different proportions or ratios. The amount of carbohydrates will be simply cut down. We will eat around:
- 50% Protein (meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese) – to maintain muscle mass;
- 30% Carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread) – for energy to lift weights;
- 20% Fats (oils, nuts, seeds) – for wellbeing and health.
Most of our meals will consist of proteins. Their function is to maintain muscles that we’ve already built. They also fill our stomach up so we feel full, not hungry.
The biggest change will be in consumption of carbohydrates .We will have to cut them down at least in half or more. People with slow metabolism might need to eat even less of them. We can’t cut them completely though. Carbs still serve us as a fuel to lift weights and help in recovery.
Fats have to be under control. We have to eat them to feel good and be healthy. Avoiding fatty acids during diets can leave us weak, depressed, hungry or even sick. They are essential weather we want to build muscle, burn fat or just live. The only downside is that they contain many calories. That’s why we have to keep them under control. We can’t eat too much fats during diet because it might slow down or even stop the fat loss.
Good habit during dieting is having some salad or vegetables with each meal. First of all they fill up our stomach, so we feel that we actually eat something, because without much carbs our meals are smaller. For second they provide vitamins and other microelements essential for general health.
Besides that we have to completely cut out sugar and junk food like sweets, crisps, pizzas, chips or other ‘take-aways’ and sugary drinks. Some people recommend drinking sugar free drinks during diet however most of these types of sodas contain more other chemicals that are generally not good for us. For this reason I recommend drinking water. Tea or coffee is also allowed however without sugar.
So generally we load half of a plate with protein (meat, fish, eggs), little portion of carbs (rice, potatoes, pasta) and add some vegetables and a bit of oil to make a meal big and healthy. Keep fats under control – calories have to be under maintenance level to burn fat.
How much to eat – proportions of macros
Here are different ratios of macronutrients for muscle building vs cutting:
|50% carbohydrates||30% carbohydrates|
|30% protein||50% protein|
|20% fats||20% fats|
And macros according to weight for people who prefer to count them:
|Per lbs of bodyweight||Per kg of bodyweight|
|Around 0.5-1g carbs||~1-2g|
|1 g protein||2g|
|No more than 0.5g fats||No more than 1g|
Again, don’t be so precise with these calculations. This is just a guide. People less active or with slow metabolism rate will have to cut down carbohydrates even more – to below 0.5g per lb. of body weight (less than 1g per kg) where guys more active or working hard on a building site for example may need to increase them. It simply depends from individual.
Some bodybuilders cut down carbohydrates completely to speed up the fat loss. They consume them only around training time (before and after) for energy to lift weights and for recovery.
Generally protein and fats stays the same and we manipulate the amount of carbohydrates. To burn fat we cut them down, to build muscle we increase them.
Here are few meals examples for diet during cutting cycle:
- 3-5 fried eggs with 1 toast;
- Chicken breast, half a cup of rice and vegetables;
- Steak, 1-2 spoons of potatoes, salad;
- 1-2 beef burgers, spoon of potatoes, salad;
- Fish, half a cup of rice, vegetables;
- Tuna salad.
As a snack you can have some fruit or nuts and seeds. However don’t eat too much of them. Remember that fruit contain carbohydrates so too many of them can destroy our diet. Although nuts are healthy they are also high in calories, so keep them under control. Of course drink water.
Cheat meals and cheat days
Because our bodies will adapt to diet after some time and might slow down burning the fat it is good to confuse it. To do it we can eat a normal meal with loads of carbohydrates in it. This is called a cheat meal.
We can also eat for a full day meals with plenty of carbs in them – that’s a cheat day.
The purpose of cheat meals/days is to give body a break from a diet, confuse it that we eat more again so it will speed up metabolism a bit. It also gives us a mental break. It allows us to have nice, tasty meal and helps in recovery.
Cheat day can be done once a week in Sunday for example. People who lose weight very slowly might have it every other week. Eat a cheat meal no more than once every other week.
Don’t be crazy though. Cheat meals have to be high in carbohydrates; you can’t eat junk food for the whole day and drink coke with it. If you go insane and eat too much crap you will lend up gaining all fat back again.
The general guide for fat loss
The general rule about losing weight is that we have to eat less calories that we burn – below maintenance level. So if we eat for example 2500 cal each day and we are not losing and not putting on any weight this is our maintenance level. When we start to eat 3000 cal e/d (500 above maintenance level) we will gain some weight. When we cut calories down to 2000 (500 below maintenance) we will start to burn fat.
Of course these numbers are just estimation. Some people need 3000 or even 4000 to maintain muscle mass, where inactive individuals require just 2000. Many professional bodybuilders consume over 10 000 kcal each day during off season.
However don’t get confused too much with the numbers of calories. The most important thing is that to make body use fat as a fuel we have to eat less carbohydrates. This is the simplest way to burn fat.
We also burn fat when we perform light activities like walking, slow jogging, doing some work around the house. We use fat as energy even when we are sitting or lying down although not very much of it. Of course we use it when we perform cardio although with light to moderate intensity.
When we do something intense like lifting weights or when we work really hard our body use carbs as energy. That’s why we can’t eliminate them completely – we couldn’t lift as heavy loads in a gym. We need carbohydrates especially around workout time to lift heavy weights and recover.
So here is the general guide about burning fat. The most important things that you should remember:
- Cut down carbohydrates to minimum,
- Eat loads of protein to spare muscle,
- Keep fats under control (eat them but not too much) to not excess number of calories,
- You can eat more carbs around training time (before and after),
- Perform weigh training to maintain muscle mass,
- Do some cardio to burn and speed up fat loss,
- Aim to lose no more than 1lb (0.5 kg) each week (even 0.5lb is good),
- Weight yourself every week the same day at the same time (preferably just after getting up and going to the toilet);
- Have cheat meals and days,
- Measure yourself before diet and then every 2-3 weeks to check your body composition,
Be patient and persistent. Fat loss takes time so don’t be upset if it goes down slow. Make sure that you weight yourself every week and measure your body regularly to see if you are actually making a progress. You can also make some pictures of your body – this is the best way to see the results. Once you cut your body fat to low level your muscles will become more visible. You will actually look bigger and more muscular.
Of course what I’ve written here is very simplified process of burning fat. These processes are actually much more complicated. But generally this is how it works.
There are also many other ways to burn fat. There are low calorie diets, low fat, Atkin’s, ketogenic (no carb) and many more, probably hundreds of them. Many of them work. However from my experience low carb diets are the best not only for bodybuilders but also for normal human beings. This is probably the simplest and the easiest way to burn fat.
Remember that diet is only the part of fat burning process although the most important. To achieve big, muscular physique with very little body fat on in we have to perform also weight training and cardio during cutting cycle.