How to Keep Training Performance High While Cutting Weight

Cutting weight is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, you look better with each passing week, and let’s face it:

That’s deeply satisfying.

But on the other hand, dieting often leads to muscle loss and a training performance decline.

The question is, what can we do about it? Let’s discuss.

The Good (And Bad) Of Dieting
Fat loss is an inevitable part of the training journey. Whether you need to cut some weight for a competition or lose fluff after a long and fruitful gaining phase, dieting is important.

The problem is, dieting means reducing your caloric intake, which inevitably limits your performance and recoverability. Sure, you get to lose fat, improve the way you look, and feel great about yourself. But you also feel more tired, recovery occurs more slowly, and you lose strength.

Let’s see what we can do about that.

Three Tactics to Maintain Your Performance While Cutting Weight

1. Trim The Fluff
When eating more food and gaining weight, your body has an abundance of calories and nutrients to work with. Even if you push yourself hard, you can still recover well enough and make good progress.

But, as you diet, your body has less available energy, which means you can’t do the same amount of work and recover at the same rate. So, the best thing you can do is trim the fluff. In other words, reduce your training volume by making smart changes.

Keep the essential lifts in rotation and see what non-essential exercises you can take out for a while.

For example, as a powerlifter, you would want to keep the big three in any of their close variations. But do you really need bicep curls at that point? Exactly. Take such exercises out for a while and make your training more ‘to the point’ and streamlined.

2. Lose Weight More Slowly

Your rate of weight loss will significantly impact how well you can hold onto your muscle and performance in the gym. Simply put, if you want to lose weight more quickly - you absolutely can. But be prepared to lose more muscle and strength.

According to research, the optimal rate of weight loss for strength athletes is between 0.5 and one percent per week. A weight loss rate of about 0.7 percent appears optimal for most people with an average body fat percentage. For example, if you weigh 200 at the start, your goal initially should be to lose roughly 1.4 pounds per week.

3. Consume Your Carbs More Strategically

While eating in a surplus, carb timing won’t play that big of a role in your performance or recovery. There will always be enough fuel to replenish glycogen and keep you going.

But when dieting and consuming fewer grams of carbs, it becomes more important to time them. Specifically:

  • Have some carbs soon after training to kickstart glycogen replenishment and avoid impacting muscle protein synthesis
  • Have a dose of 30 to 60 grams of carbs a couple of hours before training to ensure better performance.

Other than that, go about your carbs as you usually would. If you’re deep into a cutting phase and feel particularly flat, you can even consider some quick carb sources (such as sports drinks) 30-60 minutes before exercise.

July 03, 2021 — Daniel Felstein

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