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What Is Cutting in Bodybuilding? How Do You Cut After Bulking?

For bodybuilders, the cutting phase is a crucial step in achieving a lean and defined physique. But what exactly does it involve?
What Is Cutting in Bodybuilding? How Do You Cut After Bulking?
Photo by Anastase Maragos / Unsplash

Here's a video made by us on cutting in bodybuilding.

Ever wondered how bodybuilders get so shredded that their muscles are extra defined and their veins pop out of their arms and chest?

The truth is, getting shredded isn't as hard as people make it out to be. Losing body fat and defining your muscles happens when you utilize this one tool: cutting.

If you've heard of bulking, you're probably familiar with the term cutting. They are mere opposites of each other, heads and tails on a coin.

Cutting in bodybuilding is deliberate weight loss targeted at losing body fat while retaining muscle to achieve a lean physique. This is best done through a proper diet; lifters must be in a caloric deficit to cut weight and get shredded!

Cutting is a simple concept, and anyone can do it! However, that doesn't mean it's easy. The two following tools are great to have in your tool belt:

  • Caloric deficit
  • Cardio

Read on to learn more about how to properly cut, including how to put yourself in a calorie deficit and the best cardio to do for fat loss. Follow along closely and you'll be one step closer to the physique of your dreams!

Caloric Deficit

Easily the most important part of navigating a cut is being in a caloric deficit. For lifters who don't know what that is, allow me to explain.

A caloric deficit occurs when eating below-maintenanceknowledge, calories. In essence, someone in a calorie deficit expends more calories than they consume; this leads directly to weight loss.

Burning more calories than we consume means we're using up more energy than we're gaining. Over time, the body must pull from our fat reserves to make up the difference.

This is how cutting leads to fat loss, similar to how excess calories are stored as fat when in an excessive surplus.

It's that easy: eat fewer calories than you need! However, there are many things to consider.

Cutting is made much easier when gymgoers are equipped with the proper knowledge, like how to track calories, how big the deficit should be, and what exactly to eat!

How do I track my calories?

Tracking calories is crucial to cutting in bodybuilding. Without knowledge of how many calories we're eating, we cannot truly assess whether we're in a caloric deficit.

Calories can be tracked through food tracking apps for the most accurate records. Our favorite apps are MyFitnessPal, MyPlate, and Lifesum. These are free apps that allow users to track calories along with macronutrients.

The trick to cutting is accuracy. Many people trick themselves into believing they're in a caloric deficit when in reality they're eating at maintenance or even above that!

Our three recommendations are great because they're free, they let you track your calories and macronutrients, and they even have the added feature of barcode scanning.

Download whatever you fancy and play around with it a bit!

Bonus tip: getting a food scale is immensely helpful on this journey. Weighing out food portions, while viewed as overkill by some, is the only way to be 100% accurate without fail.

How big should my calorie deficit be to keep my muscle?

Now, how much is too much? Anybody can starve themselves, but cutting at just the right amount is pure science.

To start cutting your caloric deficits should not exceed 500 calories less than your maintenance calories. Beyond that, lifters are likely to lose just as much muscle as fat!

First of all, what even is maintenance? How do you find your maintenance calories?

Your maintenance calorie number is how many calories you burn per day, on average. It's a baseline for you to then adjust your caloric intake, in this case, down to minimize body fat.

As far as calculating your maintenance calories, head on over to the TDEE calculator and just plug a few numbers in!

After calculating maintenance, subtract 500 calories to lose body fat and retain muscle. This ensures you won't feel sluggish from lack of food but will still be fat-burning.

A smaller rather than larger calorie deficit is also preferable for habitual reasons. Restricting often leads to binging that has the potential to undo all your hard work.

What should I eat during a cut?

Equipped with the knowledge of how to track food and how to properly calculate a cut, what are the best foods to eat during a cut?

Foods eaten when cutting in bodybuilding should be low-calorie and high in protein. A high protein intake is key when deciding to start cutting; it's necessary for muscle growth and helps to keep lifters feeling satiated after meals.

Of course, how much you eat is extremely important, but what you eat should receive the same attention.

Gymgoers could eat unhealthy foods and still lose fat, but it's much more challenging to remain in a cut and feel full. In addition to this, greasy and sugary foods make you feel like trash anyway.

Aim to eat low-calorie foods that are high in protein. Eating carbohydrates and unsaturated fats is still important, so don't neglect them. Simply eat them in smaller portions.

Here is a rough diet plan/list of options for what lifters in a cutting phase should be eatting:

  • Salmon
  • Leafy greens
  • Chicken breast
  • Eggs
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Rice cakes
  • Avocados
  • Quinoa
  • Rice (White or brown)
  • Fruit
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Lean beef
  • Shrimp
  • Multi-grain bread
  • Mixed nuts


The second tool for cutting in bodybuilding is cardio. Some love it, some hate it, but it's here to stay.

Cardio is an excellent tool for successfully cutting in bodybuilding. While cardio doesn't directly cause weight loss, it helps place lifters in a caloric deficit by burning extra calories.

In the bodybuilding community, cardio gets a bad rap. It's a shame because it's a great tool that can be used to speed up the process of a cut.

Cardio itself doesn't cause people to lose weight. Let's clear that misconception up here and now: it's simply a tool to burn more calories, placing lifters into the caloric deficit necessary to lose body fat.

Cardio excels at burning fat because it's aerobic exercise, meaning oxygen is included and needed throughout the workout. An elevated heart rate and increased oxygen intake require more energy, in turn burning more calories.

What is the best cardio for cutting?

Luckily, there are a plethora of fun cardio options that go overlooked by the fitness community. Cardio doesn't have to be a dreadful experience!

In fact, it doesn't even need to be intense. Adding a half hour of walking into your daily routine is a super duper easy way to burn some extra calories.

The best cardio for cutting is one that you like to do! Six Pack Center recommends trying the following ten ideas for fun cardio:

  • Swimming
  • Riding a bike
  • Walking your dog
  • Hiking
  • Boxing or kickboxing
  • Playing pickup basketball
  • Jumping rope
  • Dancing
  • HIIT class
  • Rock-climbing

Do I have to do cardio to lose weight?

Many gymgoers and bodybuilders want to know if they absolutely must do cardio to lose weight.

No, cardio isn't mandatory for losing weight. It simply makes losing weight easier by burning extra calories!

If for some reason you can't find a cardio activity that you enjoy, it's okay. Cardio doesn't have to be done to lose weight, it's just an excellent aid throughout the process.

However, we highly recommend you do some sort of cardio even if it isn't for weight loss. The American Heart Association recommends everybody perform 75 minutes of vigorous cardio activity or 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity per week.

If not for weight loss, do cardio for your health. The benefits far outweigh the pain of running for a half hour. Improved heart health and lowered risk of cancer are just a few of the amazing effects of cardiovascular exercise.