In the last couple of years, my love for bodybuilding has grown enormously. I have experienced several cycles of "cutting" and "bulking", in which I have learned invaluable knowledge on how to lose weight. With a "cut" meaning to shed body fat. And a "bulk" meaning to gain weight and muscle. My experience has helped me debunk several myths on the topic of losing weight and preserving muscle mass when dieting.
During each "cut" (see photo below) I had the task of losing 30lbs and achieving a six pack, whilst maintaining my muscle mass. Losing muscle during this process was my biggest anxiety.
My First Cut
In order to achieve my goal, I lost weight gradually, aiming for 2lbs max per week. This slow weekly weight loss allowed me to keep my calories fairly high at 2,000, yet still burning fat.
I also kept my protein intake high, consuming one gram of protein per lb of bodyweight, spaced out evenly throughout the day, across six meals. This high protein intake approach was adopted to keep my body in a positive nitrogen balance, with amino acids constantly fueling my muscles. This was to prevent breakdown and loss of muscle tissue.
My weight lifting schedule was also kept constant, keeping strength high and the muscles a reason to stay the same size. Exercises, reps and rest was changed now and then, but the frequency of sessions was kept constant with lifitng on a four day split. This split consisted of the following:
- Day 1: Chest and triceps
- Day 2: Back and biceps
- Day 3: Shoulders and traps
- Day 4: Legs and calves
Then day 1 would be repeated in similar fashion.
Foods eaten were strictly "clean", meaning unrefined, healthy and nutritious. No foods contained "empty calories" such as fizzy drinks and chocolate. From researching, I was aware that consuming sugar would raise insulin levels, and decrease testosterone levels. This would have created an unwanted hormone balance, that would in theory blunt fat burning. I always knew that high testosterone levels were effective for cutting body fat, and insulin was being known for storing fat in the body.
I achieved a desired six pack look and lost all the weight I needed by counting calories, sticking to my diet and weighing myself each morning. However, it wasn't easy. I had to consume endless amounts of tuna, eggs and protein shakes to meet my protein requirements. And I set myself the challenge of creating an easy, yet succesful strategy
when it came to my next "cut".
My second cut
Before my second cut, I did a lot of research and thinking of easy weight loss strategies. I first thought of prisoners that had gone through crazy transformations inside, going from skinny to jacked. Then I thought of their diets. There would be very little chance they could keep to the rule of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So then I began to question this "protein" rule, which everybody else in the fitness world swears by.
Another topic that got me thinking, is how some people can eat junk, yet still remain at a low body fat percentage. Surely all the insulin released from eating junk foods would result in increased body fat? Real life evidence suggested not.
I questioned how healthy eating correlated with weight loss even more so when I read that a doctor named Mark Haub lost 27lbs in two months on a "twinkie diet". His diet included junk foods such as twinkies, doritos, oreos, powdered donuts and sugary cereals. The conclusion of this news made it evident to me that weight loss is purely
about calories in vs calories out. If the calories in was less than the calories out, then weight loss would occur.
Thus with these thoughts in mind, I decided to scrap protein intake of around 200 grams a day. Instead I would consume less than 10 grams each day. Plus I would incorporate junk foods every day in my diet, but still eat in a calorie deficit.
My theories were proved true. I lost weight in almost identical fashion to the first cut, despite eating crisps, chocolate and pizza on a daily basis (as opposed to brown rice, potatoes and tuna). I achieved sub 10% body fat, revealing my six pack. I also maintained my muscle mass, just as well as my first cut.
This proved to me that protein intake did nothing for preserving muscle, and in fact, the most important factor in retaining my muscle size was to eat in a small calorie deficit.