Are you looking to cut weight? In this article I’m going to discuss some of the strategies that actually work.
In fact, I’m going to discuss the strategies that I’ve used and found to actually work.
People cut weight for different reasons.
Usually, it’s fit people looking to cut weight in a short amount of time (either weeks or days). Some people cut weight in order to compete below a certain limit (say 155 lbs) in an event. Other people cut weight so that their muscles will be more defined at the beach. There are all kinds of reasons for cutting weight.
What I’m going to do is break down the idea of cutting weight using a specific example.
To cut weight, you need to start by understanding your body.
If you haven’t used an InBody machine or something similar to monitor your fitness progress, you’re missing out. An InBody will tell you with fairly good accuracy the following details:
- Total weight
- Total body fat weight
- Total skeletal muscle mass
- Total water weight
- Percent body fat
It will tell you other things but those are the five things I focus on when helping someone to cut weight. So let’s look at some specific real world numbers (these are mine):
Weight: 196.2 lbs
Body fat: 26.5 lbs
Skeletal muscle mass: 99.0 lbs
Water weight: 124.6 lbs
Percent body fat: 13.5%
With these details in hand, next we need to consider our goals.
Your weight cutting goals
Cutting weight is not an exact science and a lot depends on your overall goals. While you are cutting your body will be in a calorie deficit. When it’s in a calorie deficit it may deplete some muscle. The best way to prevent this is by consuming plenty of protein and to remain on a workout plan.
My goal is to develop a summer body showing more definition by taking my body fat % from 13.5% to 11%. Most men show muscle definition well under 11%. That may seem like an easy task, but let’s put it into perspective.
To drop 2.5% in body fat percentage, I will need to lose almost 5 lbs of body fat. Let’s roll with the idea of 5 lbs in this example since its a round number.
To lose 5 lbs of fat means I’ll need to burn 17,500 excess calories (in an ideal situation where I’m not depleting muscle at the same time).
For each pound of fat that I want to lose, I need to be in a 3,500 calorie deficit. This is why they often recommend only losing 1-2 lbs per week. Still, to lose 3,500 calories in a week, you’ll need to have a 500 calorie deficit every day with no setbacks. It ain’t easy!
To lose 5 lbs of fat, it’ll take me about 5 weeks at a rate of 1lb per week. If I wanted to get hardcore I might be able to lose 5 lbs in only 2-3 weeks but that would require a massive 1000 calorie deficit per day. Something that would feel very uncomfortable. Even 500 calories is going to require that I deal with some hunger feelings.
To sum up my weight cutting situation:
|Body fat||26.5 lbs||21.5 lbs|
Your 3 Options For Cutting Weight
Most people think about getting rid of fat, but when you cut weight you basically have three options to focus on:
- Burn fat
- Evaporate water
- Deplete muscle
If your weight cutting is ultra short-term (say 3 days), you will have to focus mostly on evaporating water out of your body.
For longer term cutting, most people will focus on cutting fat and then if you get fat down below 10% you MIGHT start to consider cutting muscle although very few people want to lose muscle mass. Sometimes though, even that is required for extreme weight cutting (wrestlers, mma, etc).
In my example, I’m going to focus on burning fat.
Like I mentioned above, it takes 3,500 worth of calorie deficit to burn 1lb of fat. I want to lose at least 2.5% body fat to show more of my muscle. For me, that’s about 5lbs of fat. So I have a lot of work to do.
Strategies for Burning Fat
Since I’m not a big calorie counter, I take an intuitive, feel based approach. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what everyone throughout history did until the last 50 years or so (including Arnold and the Ancient Greeks).
Here are some strategies for cutting fat weight:
- Walk at least 3 miles a day (trying for a Zone 2 pace)
- Carry my hunger in the morning an extra hour deep
- Don’t eat any meal to completely full, but just enough
- Focus on proteins with moderate fats but keep processed carbs down
- Go to bed a little hungry (not too much because you want to sleep!
- Keep up with my current workout routine (to maintain strength and mass)
- Hill sprints (twice a week: ten 50 meter hill sprints)
That’s pretty much my recipe. Instead of walking I might get on the stationary bike and stay in Zone 2 for the same amount of time. Adding about an hour of Zone 2 activity per day is a big part of losing weight. In fact, you can get your 500 calorie daily deficit from this alone. Just don’t eat it back!
Other strategies people use for burning fat (I don’t use these):
- Thermogenic supplements
- Appetite suppresants
- 16/8 intermittent fasting (I kind of do this as you can see above, but not hardcore)
- Jogging 3-5 miles daily
- HIIT workouts
The key trick for me in burning fat is to burn excess calories off with excess activity (about 1 hour worth daily) and then to lean into hunger just a little bit. Push as far as you can into morning hunger, and eat a little less for dinner than feeling stuffed.
Some people advocate burning fat exclusively from diet and actually keeping activity equal so that your body doesn’t feel the need to eat more to recuperate. At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference because you won’t lose weight unless you are in a calorie deficit so you will need to find the most comfortable way to get there.
While burning fat is my main strategy for building a beach body, some people cut weight for activities that require evaporating water. Let’s look at those strategies next.
Evaporating Water Weight
Wrestlers, bodybuilders and MMA fighters are the most common weight cutters who use night of and day of water cutting techniques. How do you cut water weight quickly? You either sweat it out or breathe it out.
Strategies for Sweating Out Water Weight
The main strategies for sweating out water weight are pretty obvious:
- sit in a sauna
- wear heavy clothes that make you sweat
- turn up the heat
Strategies For Breathing Out Water Weight
You actually lose a lot of your weight through CO2 exhalation. When you exert yourself, the water and oxygen in your body get used to produce energy. The byproduct is CO2 which you breathe out. The main strategies for breathing out more water weight are:
- HIIT workouts
- Heavy lifting with few breaks
As you have probably figured out, you can combine these two strategies by wearing heavy clothes while working out.
Still, most people cut water weight simply by not drinking water and sitting in a sauna.
The final strategy for cutting weight we’ll look at is cutting muscle weight.
Depleting Muscle Weight
Most people don’t want to lose muscle. But if you’re a fit fighter at 180 and want to drop down to 155, you’ll need to drop some of your muscular frame as well. One benefit of losing muscle mass is that you main gain additional mobility and speed in the process and feel lighter on your feet.
Here are the strategies for cutting muscle weight:
- Stop or minimize resistance training and lifting
- Do HIIT workouts
- Do lots of Zone 2 work
- Eat less than .5 g of protein per lb of body weight daily
- Keep your daily calorie deficit at 500 or below
No matter what, when you keep your calorie deficit low without doing resistance training your body will try to become more efficient by reducing the amount of muscle mass it has to carry around.
As you can see, cutting weight takes time and commitment and will always be a little uncomfortable. Most people start off by cutting fat over the course of weeks or months. As the day of an event approaches, some will cut water weight. And if both approaches have been tried without hitting targets, then some will allow their muscle mass to be depleted.