Bodybuilding Cutting Diet – What To Eat To get Shredded

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

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Let’s admit it – One of the main reasons we all train is to look good naked.

At one point or another, you saw someone who had an amazing physique with fine, classic, well-flowing lines and you said to yourself “Damn, I wanna be like that!”

Well, the truth is most of those people went through years of bearing the fluff.

Generally, developing an aesthetic physique requires you to go through a period of solid mass gaining, which inevitably also leads to fat gains.

Sooner or later, you will have to shred that fat and reveal what’s beneath it.

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In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about shredding fat in a healthy manner.

Note that our actionable tips can be utilized by trainees of all levels.

Whether you’re a more advanced trainee who just wants to get shredded, or a beginner with little to no muscle who’s looking to lose fat, our tips will help you do just that.

Without further ado, let’s start by answering a couple of questions

Why do people get fat?


Well, there are a couple of reasons why people get fat, but it always comes down to one thing – Energy balance.

As you should know, we are living biological systems, that require a certain amount of energy each day to maintain weight in space, as well as proper functioning of all bodily systems.

That number is called “Total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE)

The TDEE is individual for everyone, as it depends on many factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Non-exercise activity
  • Exercise output
  • Thermogenic effect of food

What we’re trying to say is that everyone has a different job, physical parameters, daily activities, etcetera.

For us humans, the measure for energy is the “calorie” and logically, it comes from food.

So, everyone requires a different amount of calories DAILY, to MAINTAIN their weight.

Meaning that if we know that number and consistently consume at that rate, we will just maintain weight.

People get fat however, when they systematically exceed this daily requirement of their bodies.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a certain food group or macronutrient that makes you fat.

To put it bluntly, you can eat burgers everyday and still lose fat, by just staying BELOW that maintenance level.

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The same is true vice versa – You can gain weight from eating apples if you consistently stay ABOVE that maintenance level.

Ultimately, as we already mentioned, the change in weight is strictly tied to your energy balance, or in other words, the ratio between energy burnt and energy (food) consumed.

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How the body loses fat

cutting diet

It is an objective truth that your eating habits play a KEY ROLE in the control of your weight.

An objective truth is something that is correct, whether you believe it or not.

What we’re trying to say is that if you are someone who has some fat to lose, there is no magic pill or supplement that will help you do that.

You will have to change your habits:

  • Eating habits
  • Activity habits
  • Sleeping habits
  • Bad habits (Smoking, drinking, etc.)

With this article, our goal will be to explain how to do just that and create your own, individual plan of action, tailored specifically to your individual needs.

So, how exactly does the body lose fat?

Well, it is pretty simple actually – All fat is, is an energy storage, that’s it.

As we cleared out, when you systematically consume excessive quantities of food, which are well above your maintenance needs, you gain weight, no matter what food creates that surplus.

That is to say that the body stores the energy it doesn’t need for later, instead of just getting rid of it.

The stored form of energy in excess is the adipose tissue, also known as body fat.

To use up that energy and get rid of it, all we have to do is create a sustainable, negative energy balance.

What this means is that we have to systematically and consistently consume less calories than we need to maintain.

This will put us in the so-called “calorie deficit” which in turn will allow the body to tap into those energy reserves.

Here’s a good image that represents the differences in energy balance and how they affect weight:

total daily energy expenditure

How to eat to lose weight

Okay so now we can say that calculating your daily energy needs is the first and most important part of the process.

As we mentioned, the body is a closed biological system, which simply means that there are certain laws of thermodynamics that apply to that system.

And so, knowing that one bad meal cannot get you fat just like one good meal won’t get you fit, we have to create something sustainable.

But what is sustainable fat loss?

Well, the process of fat loss has to be done in a healthy manner.

We now know that the TDEE is responsible for maintaining weight, but also the physiological functions of the organism.

That is to say that if we severely deprive the body of food, we will hinder vital processes and our health will decline.

On top of that, it is an important note here that when the body is in a deficit of energy, it burns fat but also lean body mass.

And by lean body mass, we don’t mean just muscle mass, but rather everything else besides fat – Bone tissue, organ tissue, etc.

How to preserve muscle while cutting

Alright, needless to say, we need to preserve as much lean body mass as possible.

Otherwise, health will decline, metabolism will slow down and in the long term we are headed to a metabolic disaster.

Now, there is no magic supplement that will help you preserve that lean body mass, but again, it’s all about tweaking your nutrition and training habits.

The most important part of a diet is making it sustainable and adherable to.

To put it simply – You have to create a moderate deficit in your diet and also grant the body sufficient protein intake.

Losing about ~1% of your bodyweight per week has times and again been shown to be optimal for health.

In terms of calories, that would be a daily deficit of no more than 500 calories.

What this means is that if your body requires 3000 calories per day to maintain its weight, you’d be aiming at 2500 calories per day to get to a healthy rate of weight loss, with no negative impact on health.

With this approach, instead of a decline in health, you will substantially impact your body composition and improve it.

NOTE! The more weight you have to lose, the bigger the deficit can be. If you are overweight or obese and need to lose, say 50 pounds, you can cut out up to 30% of your TDEE and still preserve LBM. The more you lose from then on, the smaller the deficit becomes, as you get back into a normal body composition.

If however, you are just chubby or skinny fat with just 10-15 lbs to lose, then cut out no more than 15-20% of your TDEE to create a deficit, that will allow you to lose 1-2 lbs per week.

How much should I eat when cutting?

Okay we got the fundamentals down – The body requires a daily amount of energy to maintain weight and functions.

If we consume more than that amount systematically, the body will simply store the unused energy in the form of fat.

To lose that fat, we need to systematically consume less than our daily maintenance needs, in a manner that will allow for a gradual rate of fat loss, that won’t lead to drastic declines in health

So, how should we approach this? Well, step by step.

  • Step 1 – Calculating maintenance (TDEE)

First and foremost, let’s make sure we know how much energy our bodies require to maintain weight.

There are many formulas for each of the variables that determines the TDEE, however, we won’t make it hard for you.

These formulas are also well-integrated in online TDEE calculators that give you a number with a proximity of 100-200 calories.

Ultimately, using those calculators, you will have to further monitor the change in weight and make adjustments to the diet plan accordingly – Decrease food if rate of weight loss is too slow, increase food if it is too high (more than 1-2 lbs/week)

We highly recommend this calculator –

Something else you can do to get an approximate number of your TDEE is multiplying your weight in pounds, by 16 to 19, depending on your activity levels.

Again, taking that baseline, you will have to monitor and adjust further to hit the golden environment.

“B..But my calculator told me this and I am not losing weight…”

Note – Don’t take the calculators TOO seriously because again, they give an approximate number.

Right after step 2, where we discuss calculating macros, we’ll let you know how to do your monitoring and adjustments.

  • Step 2- Calculating macros

Okay, once we have the TDEE down, we have to calculate the most important aspect of our nutrition plan, which is namely the protein intake.

As you may or may not know, the word “Protein” is derived from the Greek word “Protos”, which means first/primary element.

Protein is responsible for and plays key roles in many physiological processes, and for active trainees, it is a key component of proper muscle recovery and retention.

Optimal protein intake depends on how well trained the individual is (how much muscle mass they have), meaning that a more muscular physique would require more protein to be maintained.

However, protein intake can be as low as 0.8g per lbs and as high as 1.2 g per lbs.

We have now taken care of the most important macronutrient that is the primary factor for body composition, along with the total energy balance.

Once we have the protein intake down and calculated, we have A LOT of room to play with carbohydrates and fat.

Then again, it is important to remember that no extremes should be reached, as the goal is balance.

Note that excessive absence of dietary fats in a diet, may result in worsening of many physiological processes and ultimately lead to hormonal disbalances & dysfunctions.

Furthermore, the absence of the third macronutrient, carbs, has been shown to hinder sports performance, as well as make the musculature visually flatter.

This is exactly why fat must always be at least 20% of your daily energy intake, with the goal being healthy fats.

Optimal daily fat intake forms at around 0.35~0.45 grams per lbs of bodyweight.

Once you’ve calculated your protein and fat intake, you give the rest of the calories to carbohydrates.


If you’re 180 lbs (81 kg) and need 2500 calories daily, to maintain your weight, then your macros would be the following:

  • Protein – 170 grams [680 calories] (Can go up to 210 grams, depending on the amount of muscle mass)
  • Fats – 70 grams [630 calories]

With protein (680 calories) and fats (630 calories) we’ve got 1310 calories covered and 1190 calories left for carbohydrates.

1190 calories worth of carbohydrates are 297 grams, because one gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories (1190 : 4 = 297)

  • Step 3- Creating the deficit

Okay, so far, so good- you have calculated your TDEE and after a couple of adjustments you know how much energy and macronutrients you need everyday to simply maintain your weight.

The next logical step is taking out some food out of the plan to create a deficit of energy, that will allow the body to tap into its energy reserve- fats.

As we learned, the highest priority goes to protein and fats, as carbohydrates are non-essential for the body.

When creating the deficit, we have to mainly take out carbohydrates and then again, you can take out some fats if you feel like you need more carbs for daily and exercise activities.

If we take the example we gave with the 2500 calorie maintenance, you can take out 97 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of fat, to create a deficit of about 480 calories.

To make counting calories easier, focus primarily on whole foods and track them in an app.

We recommend FatSecret or MyFitnessPal.

  • Step 4- Monitoring and adjustments

As we already said earlier in this article, the calculations are just approximate, which is exactly why we need to take a baseline and see how it works for us.

Based on the progress monitoring, we have to make adjustments, until we hit a healthy loss of 1 to 2 lbs per week.

Furthermore, the monitoring and adjustments have to be kept consistent throughout the whole process of cutting.

No plan works forever as the body is an adaptation machine.

Dieting as a matter of fact is a form of controlled starvation, to which the body adapts.

The longer you are on a deficit, the more metabolism will slow down and the more your non-exercise activity will decrease, unconsciously.

Monitoring, or in other words observing the changes in your weight, will drastically help you optimize your diet.

The best way to monitor is weighing yourself once at the end of each week.

However, if you want it to be more precise, you can weigh yourself everyday and then, at the end of the week, make an average – The sum of your weight everyday, divided by 7.


You must weigh yourself in the morning, on an empty stomach, before breakfast and after going to the bathroom.

This is your true weight! As food weight, water weight and glycogen weight set in during the day, our weight increases.

Now, after doing the monitoring, you have to do the adjusting.

  1. If your weight is lower than your previous weight by up to 2 lbs, do not make any changes to the diet
  2. If your weight is lower than your previous weight by more than 2 lbs, add some food (Note that in the first week, you might lose up to 5 lbs!!!)
  3. If your weight is higher than your previous weight, decrease food
  4. If your weight hasn’t changed, decrease food

Ultimately, for none-obese people, the goal is a deficit of 500 calories per day. That is the upper limit which would allow for a healthy rate of weight loss.

Here is an image that represents the healthy weight loss rate, depending on the amount of fat you have:

healthy rate of weight loss

To wrap it up

Doing consistent monitoring and adjustments to your nutrition plan is essential, as too big of a loss will result in a slowing of the metabolism, as well as a decrease in mood.

The caloric deficit therefore, has to be sustainable in the long term, as you must still have enough energy for mental, exercise and daily activities, while preserving lean body mass.

What foods should I cut out to get abs?

The truth is that the way your abs look MOSTLY depends on the level of body fat that you have and less on the subcutaneous water retention.

Yes, water retention will certainly give you a bloated look, but if you still have some fluff over your sixpack, forget about it.

That is to say that if you feel like eating a burger with some fries while on a cut, you can feel free to do that.

HOWEVER! You should consume in moderation, as the goal is to stay in the targeted calorie & macro goal, while getting them from quality sources.

As long as you have that in check, at equated deficit of 500 calories and same macro intake, it visually wouldn’t matter if you replace one of your chicken and rice meals with something more “dirty”.

How long is a bodybuilding cut?

Diet breaks

Alright, our goal with this article is to give you top-notch advise, so that you can complete a healthy shredding period.

So far, we learned that each of us requires a given number of calories daily, to maintain weight and proper functioning.

We also learned that going under that number consistently and in moderation, will lead to a healthy rate of weight loss.

However, as we mentioned, dieting is a sort of controlled starvation, and while you perceive it as “fuark I’m getting shredded af brah”, the body thinks otherwise.

Dieting pretty much needs to adapt and become more efficient with the food, to maintain its weight.

This is the so-called “metabolic adaptation”.

Metabolic adaptations may sound likea scientific term to you, but to put it
simply- The longer you are in a deficit and the more weight you lose, the less
energy your body burns.

In other words, your maintenance calories decrease, as the body adapts and
becomes more efficient with the food you are giving it.

That is to say that at some point, weight loss will stall and when that happens, we have to further reduce food to lose more fat.

Now, such things are dangerous for the body and its physiology, which is why we have the perfect bypass – Diet breaks.

Diet breaks are a valuable tool that will give you a break from the chains of dieting, which, needless to say, are exhausting, both mentally and physically.

Adhering to a deficit of energy is never just sunshine and flowers, however, the goal with losing fat is to make it as sustainable as possible, rather than looking for a quick fix.

Quick fixes do not work and we should aim to slowly improve body composition and retain it in the long term, without damaging the metabolism.

Irrational dieting leads to the so-called yo-yo effect, where you regain all the weight back after the diet.
That is to a big extent due to the slowing of the metabolism.

Think about it, fat loss is literally priming the body for fat gains!

The body is thinking “Damn, I have been in a deficit of energy for so long, my energy storages are getting depleted! If I get the chance to store some food as fat, I’ll make use of it!”

Aaand when you suddenly start overeating again, you take twice as less time to gain it all back, as it took to lose.

This is exactly why we can implement diet breaks.

Now, a diet break doesn’t really mean saying f#%k it and going batshit on your food intake.

Instead, it means simply going back to maintenance calories- Not more, not less than that.

However, as you have dieted down to a certain weight for some weeks, odds are that your TDEE will have dropped a tad bit.

This is exactly why you have to take your initially calculated TDEE and take 100-200 calories out, to see how it’s gonna work for you.

Note that even during the diet break, we still have to monitor & adjust, as instructed.

Keep in mind, weight fluctuations WILL occur, which is why you shouldn’t stress that.

All we are trying to avoid is massive changes in weight.

When to diet break?

Thinking about it, including a diet break means that your total dieting time will increase.

However, the diet overall will be of better quality and more sustainable long term, rather than exhausting.

Burnouts, both psychological and physiological are something we should never experience during a diet.

Our general recommendations are including a diet break every 2-3 weeks, for a duration of 10-14 days.

REMEMER! Taking a diet break DOES NOT mean ditching your diet. The implication of a diet break is taking a break from the DEFICIT, by just bumping up calories slightly to maintenance level.

Below is an image that shows initial TDEE, deficit calories and diet break calories.

diet break calories

Bottom line

Alright, you lost fat and got lean or shredded, YAY! It is now time to go back to binge eating on pizza and burgers.

Weeelll… Not really.

If you want to lose weight and get in shape… It shouldn’t be something short-term, right? I’m guessing you would like to stay in shape as well.

Many people get the whole fitness thing wrong – Believing in supplements and pills promoted as magic.

People want to lose weight quickly and then act as if they never had the problem in the first place.

Many of those individuals go on to lose weight drastically, then cut back on the diet and gain 100% if not more of the weight back.

Statistically, the majority of people losing weight regain it all back in the next 12 months post-diet.

Losing weight and dieting as a whole is a form of controlled starvation, in which the body adapts by priming all fat-gaining mechanisms.

This is exactly why we must make sure that we are consuming at a moderate deficit, with sufficient fats, carbs and proteins, while also incuding diet breaks every couple of weeks.

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