How to Follow a Cutting Diet? (Including Meal Plans and Bonus Tips)

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cutting diet

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Summary: A cutting diet is a specific diet that allows you to cut down on your body fat while maximizing your lean muscle mass. But you need to make sure.


It’s the New Year and you want to start it off strong with a great looking body.

Get rid of that extra body fat that accumulated over the holiday season and finally get back to that lean, toned figure that will have you look and feeling your best.

Whether you simply want to shed those last few holiday pounds or are entering a major fitness competition, a cutting diet will help you achieve the incredible body you dream of.

A cutting diet is a specific diet that allows you to both cut down on your body fat while maximizing your lean muscle mass.

The best way to get cut is through combining: a properly planned cutting diet with a quality workout plan.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “abs are made in the kitchen.” And it couldn’t be more true. 

So, regardless of what type of training you’re doing, if your diet isn’t in line, you aren’t going to see the results you want.

So how do you get cut? 

Many questions come up when you want to answer that from: How many calories should you eat a day? What should you eat to cut fat? And what foods should you absolutely avoid on a cutting diet?

Worry not, we’ll get to the bottom of all these questions and more in this article.

Ready to get cut? Let’s dive in!

cutting diet

How to Get Cut: Getting Started on a Cutting Diet

How do you start getting on a cutting diet?

Your cutting meal plan is specific to you and your unique nutritional needs.

Here are some of the questions and things you need to figure out to get you started:

How many calories should I eat a day to shred?

Shredding basically requires you to cut down on your body fat by burning more calories than you’re taking in. 

A simple equation to remember: Calories out > calories in = Weight loss 

The number of calories you need to cut down will vary from person to person. The first step to starting a weight-cutting diet is figuring out your calorie intake.

1. Calculate your calorie intake

The number of calories you should eat per day to lose weight depends on your weight, height, lifestyle, gender, and exercise levels.

There are a number of free calorie calculator bodybuilding tools online.

In general, women need around 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight and 1,500 calories to lose 1 pound (0.45 kg) of weight per week. 

An average man needs around 2,500 calories to maintain his weight or 2,000 calories to lose the same amount.

A consistent, even rate of weight loss — such as 1 pound (0.45 kg) or 0.5–1% of your body weight per week — is best for weight cutting.

If you decrease your calorie intake even further, it’s possible that you’ll cut weight faster but that also increases the risk of losing muscles

This is obviously not ideal for a cutting diet.

2. Determine your protein intake

Making sure you’re getting enough protein every day is crucial on a cutting diet. It’s absolutely critical to do so, otherwise, your body might start using its own protein for energy leading to the loss of muscle tissues.

When you’re on a cutting diet, your diet should consist of high-quality, nutritious whole foods that are low in carbs, and low in calories. At the same time, you’re also working out.

When doing so, it’s important to increase your protein intake because your body needs even more protein in place of carbs and fats to fuel your workouts and muscle growth. 

Moreover, numerous studies have found that a high protein diet speeds up your fat loss by boosting your metabolism, reducing your appetite, and preserving your lean muscle mass. 

Most studies suggest that 0.7–0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.6–2.0 grams per kg) are enough to conserve your muscle mass on a cutting diet.

For instance, a 155-pound (70kg) person should eat 110–140 grams of protein per day.

Before bed, consider including a casein protein source because it can provide a prolonged supply of amino acids for your body to feed off of overnight.

carbs on a cutting diet

3. Determine your carb intake

The next part to plan out is your carbohydrate intake. 

You want to make sure the carbohydrate sources you’re eating are complex carbohydrates. Because this type of carb burns much slower and a smaller portion is converted to fat, as compared to simple carbohydrates. 

Examples of some good carb sources to focus on:

  • Oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Yams
  • Whole-wheat pasta or bread (ensure the word “whole wheat” is in the ingredient list)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Quality carbs will also give you the much-needed fiber and nutrients to help fill you up and keep cravings in check. 

The majority of your carbohydrate intake while cutting should mostly come from vegetables.

Eating fruit during your cutting diet is great. But for the efficiency of nutrients, make sure you eat fruits an hour or so before workouts.

This is when you’ll need a faster-releasing source of carbs, which is usually obtained from the sugars in fruits.

Which leads us to the next section, when should you eat carbs?

Carbohydrate timing

The timing of when you eat carbs is important if you want to succeed with your cutting diet.

Since carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel, you’ll want to have them when you’re going to be most active and most likely to use up the energy they give you.

This means eating larger amounts before and immediately after your cutting workouts when your body is recovering. Generally, eating the majority of your carbohydrates around your training and in the morning is the best approach. 

Later in the evenings, you’ll want to start tapering down your carb intake and focus more on vegetable sources.

4. Determine your fat intake

The last macronutrient to consider is “fat”. 

If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, don’t I want to be reducing my body fat?

Yes, but here’s the kicker: fat (from foods) and what translates into fat in our bodies are two different things.

Your body needs some healthy fat to maintain its immune function, and vital organs, keep good cholesterol levels, and keep up a healthy appearance of your skin and hair. 

So including fat in your diet is a necessity!

A variety of healthy fats also help regulate your insulin levels and will keep you feeling more satisfied after a meal than if you had just eaten carbohydrates and protein alone.

Since you’re going to reduce carbs, it’s recommended to increase the amount of protein and fat in your evening meals. 

This will set your body up for optimum fat burning throughout the entire day, as well as maintain your insulin levels and growth hormone (GH) levels — a hormone that helps you maintain your muscle mass.

A good ratio of macronutrients in a day would be 30-50% of calories from carbs, 30-40% from protein, and 20% from fat.

Here’s an example:

Breakfast, pre- and post-workout, lunch: protein and carb

Mid-afternoon snacks, dinner, evening snacks: protein and fat

We’ve also provided examples of cutting diet plans in the section below to better help plan your diet. 

With that in mind, we’ve listed options for each meal below. Feel free to mix and match between the options and experiment with what’s best for you.

Cutting Diet Plan Examples

Cutting Diet Plan Examples

Breakfast options (select one from the below each day)

  • 5 Egg whites
  • Half cup of old fashion oatmeal
  • A quarter cup of fresh blueberries
  • A cup of brown rice
  • 6oz of chicken breast
  • 3 large scrambled eggs
  • 2 slices whole-grain bread
  • 1 large banana
  • 1.5oz of whole-grain porridge
  • 2 pancakes made of whey protein

Morning snack options

  • 1oz almonds or any nuts
  • Any single piece of fruits
  • 1 cup edamame beans

Lunch options

  • 1 slice of chicken breast with a cup of broccoli and brown rice
  • 1 cup of white rice with vegetables
  • Steak salad (6oz of beef sirloin, spinach, red onions, cherry tomatoes, and low-fat cheese)
  • 8oz tilapia with vegetables

Post-workout snack options

  • Apple and almond butter
  • A handful of almonds
  • Protein shake
  • Greek yogurt
  • An avocado

Dinner options

  • 8oz lean beef with a cup of rice
  • A slice of medium grilled chicken with half baked potatoes
  • 8oz cod white fish with a cup of vegetables
  • 8oz round steak with mixed vegetables
  • 6oz sweet potato
  • Salad with olive oil and lemon juice as dressing
up your water intake

Bonus Question #1: How Can I Lose Fat Successfully on a Cutting Diet?

1. Up your water intake

For starters, water helps stave off hunger. Having a few glasses before a meal will fill you up even though you’re consuming fewer calories.

The added hydration will also give you energy during workouts, so you’ll be able to push a little harder and ultimately burn more calories.

Drinking water, as opposed to soft drinks, means you won’t be adding unhealthy calories to your already restricted-calorie limit. 

Essentially, water is a ‘free’ drink whereas sugary drinks cost you precious calories that you could’ve eaten as a nutritious meal instead.

2. Meal prep and cook your own food

If you simply care about the food you’re putting into your body, then becoming familiar with cooking is a matter of necessity. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a master, cooking your own food means you know everything going into it and your body. 

During weight cutting, extra salt or sugar in ready-made meals and fast food can lead you away from getting cut.

Thus, planning and preparing your own food ensures that the food you eat is healthy and high in quality.

3. Proper timing

Proper timing is one very key element in a cutting diet. 

You need to know what types of foods to eat and when. If you follow a proper schedule, it’ll have a huge effect on your performance level and how you feel in general.

The first part you need to take care of is that you’re eating at least 5-6 times a day. 

This will keep your metabolism running more efficiently and help you burn more calories throughout the day. 

It also signals to your body that it’s receiving a steady supply of food and therefore doesn’t need to hang on to its fat stores.

Space your meals 3-4 hours apart and try to eat your first meal as soon as you wake up. Your last meal should be small and about an hour before bedtime.

An example of a good meal schedule for cutting diets is 7 am, 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, 7 pm, and 10 pm. 

Feel free to adjust the meal schedule according to your needs, however, try to keep the meal gaps 3-4 hours apart.

cheat meals on a cutting diet

4. Avoid catastrophizing cheat meals

Sticking to a cutting diet isn’t easy.

Consistently eating fewer calories than you’re spending will be challenging.

Even the most seasoned bodybuilder will fall off the wagon and indulge in over-the-top cheat meals during the week.

If this happens, the key is to not fall into what psychologists call catastrophizing, or thinking the worst. 

What you need to avoid is catastrophizing cheat meals, which means you believe that a cheat meal can ruin the entire day’s or week’s effort and you don’t think it’s worth following the cutting diet that day or week.

It’s okay to cheat once or twice a week, however, make sure that you get back on track immediately the day after. 

One solution when you fall off the wagon is increasing your calorie deficit with cardio.

By doing hard cardio, you’ll increase your metabolic rate and burn even more calories. 

This means that you’ll lose weight faster and can also make up for days where you’ve overeaten and need to burn extra.

5. Increase your lean muscle tissue to help you get cut

Building muscle also helps burn fat. 

The heart of your cutting workout plan should be heavyweight, low rep exercises designed to build your mass and lean muscle tissue. 

Increased muscle tissue raises your metabolism, which again increases the rate you burn calories. 

To put it simply, the more lean muscle you build, the better your cut will go. Ditch the idea of shrinking your body and instead think of reshaping it.


Question #2: What Foods to Avoid While Cutting?

1. Sugar

One of the best ways to cut is to choose low GI (Glycemic index) foods. 

GI is related to a food’s sugar content and how fast it releases glucose in your body. If you haven’t worked out and eat high GI foods then they’re stored as fat.

With that in mind, you should cut out sugary, high GI foods like white rice, white bread, and pasta. 

Replace them with low GI carbs like brown basmati rice, whole grains and fruits like apples and berries. Avoid unhealthy foods such as sugary drinks and any obviously sweet desserts.

2. Fat

There are good and bad fats, but in a cutting diet, you want to try and taper down on all kinds. 

Fat is an inefficient energy source compared to carbs and is what affects your body’s physical appearance of body fat. 

With that in mind, aim for 20% or less of your calorie intake from healthy fat.

3. Excess cooking oil

Cooking oil is very high in trans fat. 

If you’re one of those people who lather it into your pan and on your food, you’re adding more calories than you realize. Cut down on the amount you use each time you hit the kitchen.

The Take-Home Message

Whatever your goals are, there are parts of a cutting diet that you can use if your health goal is to simply eat cleaner, more nutritious food that helps you look and feel your best.

Don’t leave your diet success to chance. 

By educating yourself and being disciplined, you’ll be able to achieve the body of your dreams. 

‘Diet’ does not mean ‘temporary alteration of your life for short-term gain,’ it means ‘way of life.’

— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest

The foundation of a great body is “great health.”

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Michelle Amanda

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