Transitioning out of a cutting phase

by | Sep 22, 2017 | Beginning Bodybuilding, Bodybuilding | 0 comments

To be clear, bodybuilding is tough even on the easiest days.  There’s so much going on – meal prep, eating everything, hitting cardio, and attacking your workouts with an appropriate intensity so that your body get a clear signal of what you’re supposed to be doing.  Building muscle, or at least preserving it when dieting.

Having worked with hundreds of clients over the years, I can safely say that one area that people consistently struggle with is transitioning out of a cutting phase, where calories are restricted and the aim is to drop body fat and maintain muscle mass.  This applies to bodybuilders and non-competitors alike – when we cut/diet, there is typically a date that we’re aiming for at which we are “done” – whether it’s show day, or you have a photo shoot scheduled, or it’s a wedding day, or you’ve just arbitrarily picked that date at random.  At this point, the cut is over and then….well, yeah…what then?

Yay, it’s over! Now what?

This is where bad things have the potential to happen.  As you work towards that goal date, a lot of things are happening.  Your diet may be starting to take its toll on your metabolism, you’re doing a fair bit (or perhaps tons) of cardio while still lifting 5-7 days per week.  Your date comes and goes, and your body naturally just wants to exhale – to breathe for one damn minute and enjoy the fact that it doesn’t have to keep that manic routine going any longer.

And to be clear, that peak level of conditioning that you reached probably isn’t sustainable long-term – that’s why it’s called a peak.  But if you drop your routine entirely, you will regress and rebound in a dramatic way that is going to leave your metabolism damaged, your muscles ripe for atrophy, and your mental state is going to take a huge hit as you see yourself quickly fall back and put on pounds that you thought you might have lost for good.

The easiest way to avoid ALL OF THIS is with the presence of a well-thought out long-term plan that you feel passionately about.  Most people who struggle with this transition do so because they place too much emphasis on the one, single event they’re working towards – and once that’s done, they’ve lost direction.  A long-term plan *needs* to be in place and *has* to be bigger than one show, one date, or one event – if you plan on being able to maintain some semblance of the shape and conditioning you’ve worked for and set yourself to continue growing and improving.

From left to right – and NOT back again!

In addition to having a long-term plan in place, there are a few additional things you can do to make the transition easier:

  • A few days out of the gym is fine, but get back in there before the week is out and lift something!
  • I encourage my competitors to wake up and hit a short (20-30) minute fasted cardio session the day after their show – not as penance for anything they ate the night before, but to send a signal to the body that “HEY, there’s still work to do” – it also maintains a skeleton of the old routine and sets the stage for a more gentle transition
  • After your event, take a day off from the diet and just eat what you want – but keep up on your water intake!  Being consistent there can hide a multitude of food sins for a day.
  • Go into your event with an outline of what will be happening in the days that follow – you won’t want to continue dieting at the same level you were on prior to the show, but losing all structure or immediately doubling your intake isn’t a smart move either.  Work with your coach (or yourself) to develop a strategy.
  • I do typically encourage clients to take a day off from caring about following a precise plan, but the next day we should be back to ~50% and working our way up to 80-90% adherence by the end of the week.

Avoiding a painful post-show or post-goal rebound is NOT easy, but with a little planning it’s absolutely doable.  In episode 21 of my podcast, I talked about this more in-depth and got some great feedback from others who commented during the livestream – you can watch the full episode below.