How to Lose Fat and Get Shredded (Whilst Keeping Your Muscle)
When it comes to building your dream body, many people struggle with the leaning down part.
You see, losing fat is a lot more complex than simply reducing calories.
In order to shred fat and look great naked, there are two essential components that you need to get right:
A. Sustainable and healthy rate of weight loss i.e no crash-dieting
B. Dropping fat while keeping all your muscle mass.
So not only do you need to induce fat loss - it's just as important to make sure you keep all your gains.
Imagine you spent a 6 month bulking period of grinding away at the gym, eating lots of protein and adding quality muscle mass, only to burn away a large percentage of your gains during the cutting phase.
That's no fun.
Well, you can avoid this by simply applying the correct principles of cutting so you burn the fat and not the muscle (...and perhaps even adding new muscle mass!).
So let's get to it and discover the dos and don'ts of vegan cutting.
How do you make fat loss happen?
Cutting, or a fat loss phase, is where you eat below your caloric needs to tap into body fat storages and effectively create weight loss.
Based on the laws of thermodynamics (and hundreds of thousands of cases of weight loss) it's obvious that if you want to lose fat you have to expend more calories than you consume.
There's no getting around this.
Remember we're evolutionary designed to endure long stretches of time without food, not to look shredded effortlessly. Your body will be very reluctant to using body fat for fuel if you don't force it to.
So to lose weight we need to achieve a negative calorie balance, and the best and most reliable tool for this purpose is calorie restriction.
Retaining muscle mass during cutting
As I alluded to above, dropping body fat while retaining muscle mass can be tricky.
A calorie deficit is most certainly not conducive for gaining muscle, here's a couple of ways it inhibits muscle growth:
During energy restriction your body is not going to prioritize muscle growth, and might even start burning lean muscle mass as an energy source.
You need to tread the narrow path of inducing fat loss and at the same time be careful not to waste any gains you've made.
To accomplish this there are certain precautionary principles you must adhere to.
1. Perform strength training
Strength training is an integral part of improving body composition, but during a fat loss phase it beomces even more imporant.
To preserve muscle mass you absolutely have to perform some sort of resistance training.
One study found that during short-term energy restriction there's an acute decrease in muscle protein synthesis. But when these same subjects performed resistance training this negative impact on MPS was attenuated i.e not as significant.
Resistance training also increases total energy expenditure which enhances rate of fat loss.
Bottomline here is:
During a cut, go hard and heavy at the gym to generate muscle growth stimulus to retain lean body mass (and also burn some calories).
2. Eat a high-protein diet
A high-protein diet has been shown to offer many benefits for fat loss and weight maintanence:
This will be discussed further in the article about vegan macros, but a protein consumption of 1.8-2.0 g per kg, or 0.82-0.91 g per lbs, is advantageous in avoiding loss of muscle mass.
3. Cut using a moderately large deficit
You'll experience faster weight loss with larger deficits. But as the size of the deficit increases - so does the percentage of weight loss coming from muscle mass.
Hency why it's advisable to stay far away from crash-dieting and other diets utilizing extremely large calorie deficits.
It will burn through your hard-earned gains at a fast rate.
The sweet spot for cutting down and retaining lean muscle mass is by utilizing a moderate calorie deficit - around 20% less calories than your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure)
In fact there's some evidence that this specific number can be really beneficial:
One study looked at the effects on body composition using either a moderate deficit (20%) vs a larger deficit (30%) in 24 athletes following a resistance training program.
Over the course of 8 weeks the athletes on the moderate calorie deficit saw a 0.7% drop in body fat each week...
... and after the 2 month period a total increase in lean body mass by 2.1%! The group using a larger deficit saw similiar results in fat loss but no significant change in lean body mass.
There's no guarantee that you will be able to gain muscle and lose fat in this fashion - body recomposition is mostly seen in beginners, overweight individuals, detrained athletes and steroids users.
Different individuals will also see varying results due to the genetic component. The graph below shows changes in body composition for 27 women leaning down for a contest. Some gained lean mass, but most didn't.
(These women were cutting down for a fitness competition and reached very low body fat levels, which negatively impacts gains. You probably don't need to cut down to the same level of body fat -meaning you might have a better chance of gaining during a deficit.)
Why you shouldn't be "slow cutting"
Now on the flip side of the coin, it might not be ideal to do a "reverse lean bulk" where you reduce your calories incrementally and lose fat as slowly over the course of several months.
While you probabIy won't lose any gains... it's just going to take too long.
Spending months and months cutting is not fun.
After a while you'll encounter losses in strength, lack of energy and focus, and an increase in grumpiness.
And if you continually neglect your appetite for months on end the risk of saying fuck it and bingeing becomes greater - perhaps even giving up altogether on your fat loss goals.
Furthermore, with a more rapid fat loss regimen you can wake up each morning being visibly leaner than the day before, making it a lot easier adhering to your fat loss diet.
And that's not just my personal opinion or made up hypothesis:
Studies have in fact shown that a rapid initial weight loss is associated with better long-term weight maintenance.
Practical recommendations for cutting
Let's summarize how to lean down and keep all your gains.
Make sure to hit the gym hard.
Eat a high-protein diet.
You want get it done as quickly as reasonably possible by utilizing a moderate caloric deficit of around 20% less calories than your TDEE.
This should equate to a weight loss of about 2-3kg, or 4-6 pounds, per month.
As noted above, this degree of energy restriction has been shown to promote a sustainable rate of fat loss and might even increase lean body mass!