I’ve just finished week number 8 of my Season 1 cut, this is Episode 2 and it’s a follow-up to Episode #1. Just to remind you guys, the planned cutting period is 17 weeks, January 4th to May 1st – which is great timing because on the 1st of May will celebrate the Orthodox Easter this year and there will be some family get together and overeating going on.
So, basically I am halfway through my cut and the results start to show a little bit more than after the first 4 weeks. This cut is part of my 2016 goals – actually the first goal on the list – which is to get down to 10% body fat (or even lower if possible) before starting to lean bulk.
If you’ve been checking out my about page you know that I started working out as an overweight guy – 240 lbs. and about 35% body fat, so I’ve been in a caloric deficit throughout the majority of the time since I started lifting, which definitely hindered muscle growth.
Based on how my bodyweight and body fat percentage evolved since I started working out my estimation is that I’ve put on about 10 – 12 pounds of muscle mass in 1.5 years. This puts me at the bottom of the chart if you look at the muscle growth rate in beginners.
LYE MCDONALD MODEL
|YEAR OF PROPER TRAINING||POTENTIAL MUSCLE GAINS|
ALAN ARAGON MODEL
|CATEGORY||RATE OF MUSCLE GROWTH|
|Beginner||1-1.5% of total body weight per month|
|Intermediate||0.5-1% of total body weight per month|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% of total body weight per month|
You can see why I am so eager to start bulking after I am done cutting. Muscle building happens in a caloric surplus most of the times, and the long caloric deficit has definitely hindered by progress in this aspect, yet I was still able to put on some size. Yes, building muscle and losing fat while being in a deficit is possible for beginners.
So, let’s start off by looking at a snapshot of my current stats, versus week 4 stats and targets.
|Starting point||Week 4 stats||Week 8 stats|
|Planned cutting period: 17 weeks (January 4 to May 1)||Measurements date: 30 January||Measurements date: 1 March|
|Starting weight: 90.6 kg (@ 184cm)||Current weight: 86.8 kg||Current weight: 85.0 kg|
|Starting body fat: 18 % (caliper method)||Current body fat: 16-17 % (caliper method)||Current body fat: 14 % (caliper method)|
|Starting waist: 94 cm||Current waist: 90 cm||Current waist: 88 cm|
|Target body fat: 10%||Target body fat: 10%||Target body fat: 10%|
Average weight loss rate has been at a steady 1 pound per week since the last cutting post, not whacking, but just right considering my moderate/minimal deficit of about 10-15% below maintenance. Waist size has gone down constantly which is a good thing because it means I am losing fat. Based on my measurements and estimations I am now at around 14% body fat, so 4% more to go. I should be 81-82 kg @ 10% body fat at the end of this cut.
Strength has gone up an almost all exercises (I’ve been tracking it since the beginning of this year), which means that I still able to build muscle in a deficit and perform well in the gym. This has to do with nutrition and sleep as well, but more on about it later on.
Tracking things such as calories, macros, bodyweight, body fat, waist size, reps, sets, training routine, and cardio are very important, but evaluating your progress and making decision in terms of nutrition or training should be based on how your body is changing and how it reacts to whatever is what you are doing. Visual changes are the most important. Constantly observe your body from different angles, different lighting and different mirrors to have an accurate view of how you are evolving and make adjustments based your self-image.
Dieting – The importance of refeeding and cheat meals
Lately, in the past couple of weeks (so after being 2 months into my cut) I started to struggle with cravings quite often – once or twice a week. I’ve been really strict and on spot with my nutrition for 6-7 weeks and looks like this has put some stress on me both mentally and physically which is starting to interfere a little bit with my diet.
That’s why I started to introduce refeed days and cheat meals into my diet. I’ve talked about the benefits of refeeding in the past, which is the preferred and the smart way to overeat while in a deficit, without going off track. However, when a refeed day just doesn’t do it for you, maybe you should give cheat meals a try.
The difference between a refeed day and a cheat meal is that with a cheat meal you don’t aim for a specific calorie and macro intake, while for a refeed you typically do.
Cheat meals might not seem to be effective at all in the short term. I weigh up to 3 pounds more the next day (mostly due to water retention), so it’s definitely not working towards weight loss in the short term, but cheat meals can be very beneficial long term.
It all works at hormonal level and has do to with something called leptin.
Long or caloric restriction periods put a lot of stress on us mentally and on our metabolism as well. That’s when carvings and binging happens. In order to control this we need to act smart and reactivate out metabolism by stimulating leptin.
Leptin is a hormone that has the main role in setting the metabolic rate and regulates energy homeostasis. Leptin levels drops in a deficit and increases in a surplus. The role of leptin is to tell the body when to burn off less energy and when to burn off more in order to compensate for the lower or higher energy intake, so that our weight remains more or less the same.
Therefore, a sudden spike in caloric intake will trigger a spike in leptin level which will do what it’s referred to as a “metabolic reset”. It will bring the metabolism up to speed again. But this is not the only benefit of a cheat meal.
Leptin levels also regulate “happiness” levels, which will make you less cranky and suppress appetite, so you will avoid binging.
The cheat meal guide
So far cheat meals sound great, but you should use cheat meals as an excuse to start eating anything you want all the time. Cheat meals and refeed days should be planned and should be used in exceptional occasions. These are diet techniques and should be used accordingly.
Here are the cheat meals guidelines I follow:
- I use cheat meals only when I my appetite is extremely high and I am very likely to binge eat
- A cheat meals refers to one meal only
- I try to keep my cheat meals high in carbs, but still eat anything I want
- I don’t have more than one cheat meal per week
- I don’t include cheat meals in the first part of my cut/diet. I first included a cheat meal in week 8
- Usually I have my cheat meal over the weekend at dinner – this is a good way of still having a social life when cutting.
Calories and macros
On average I’ve been eating 2,000-2,100 kcal a day which puts me at a moderate deficit of about 300 kcal, which is only 13-15% below my maintenance level. Hence the moderate fat loss rate of just 1 pound per week. The cheat meal was not taken into account, but up till now I had just one cheat meal on week number 8, so there’s not such a big influence.
I had refeed days as high as 2,500 – 2,700 kcal which were taken into account though.
Macro distribution was quite decent, with special attention to protein intake which is now around 2 grams per kilogram, after I started to supplement with 1-2 scoops of why protein per day. For me that’s about 170-175 grams of protein / day.
Carbs usually stay within 200 grams a day and the fats are around 60-70 grams.
Training – Getting stronger on all major movements
The changes in my training routine since week #1 have been minimal. I started doing calves on back day instead of legs day and I also added 1-2 high intensity cardio sessions per week.
Here’s how my 5 days split looks like.
Day 1: Legs & Abs
- Squats: 4-5 sets
- Leg curls: 4 sets
- Stiff legs: 4-5 sets
- Leg press: 4 sets
- Abs: 4 sets
Day 2: Chest & Cardio
- Incline/Flat bench press: 4-5 sets
- Incline dumbbell press: 4-5 sets
- Dips: 4 sets
- Dumbbell flyes: 4 sets
- Cable cross-overs: 3 sets
- HIIT: 4-6 intervals (13-19 minutes)
Day 3: Back & Abs
- Pullups: 4-5 sets
- Deadlift: 4 sets
- pulldowns: 4 sets
- Seated cable rows: 4 sets
Day 4: Arms & Abs
- Straight bar bicep curls: 4-5 sets
- Seated dumbbell curls: 4 sets
- Z-bar bicep curls: 4 sets
- Close-grip barbell bench press: 4-5 sets
- Skull crushers on incline bench: 4 sets
- Dips/Cable pushdowns: 4 sets
- Abs: 4 sets
Day 5: Shoulders & Cardio
- Seated dumbbell press: 5 sets
- Standing lateral raises: 6 sets
- Bent over rear delts flyes: 4-5 sets
- HIIT: 4-6 intervals (13-19 minutes)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
I’ve been tracking my strength on the first exercise I do per each muscle group (the ones with bold) and I noticed an increase in all of them, which is definitely a good sign. Here are some examples.
On the squat I’ve been able to add 5 kg / 11 lbs. to the bar while doing the same volume (reps and sets). There’s an influence of my bodyweight that has gone down a bit, but it’s still an increase in strength.
On the incline bench press I’ve added 5 kg / 11 lbs. as well, but the volume decreased with 1-2 reps per set.
On the bicep curls I’ve gone up from 45 kg / 100 lbs. to 50 kg / 110 lbs. but I’m doing a couple of cheat reps at the end of each set.
I’ve been getting stronger on the pullups, but here by bodyweight has an influence as well, but I’ve been getting stronger on the deadlift also.
On triceps and shoulders I haven’t seen any remarkable increase in strength, but it didn’t go down either. Overall I am happy with how the workouts are going.
All my attention and focus is on nutrition because this is where I feel like I might drift away and this is what I think could be doing better. Gatherings in our family involve a lot of food and a lot of overeating so I definitely need to have my attention on nutrition. On top of that, I’ve already been in a deficit for over 2 months now and that starts to build of some stress I guess. I definitely need to make good use of those refeed day or cheat meals.
Other than that, I will probably make no changes to my training routine, calorie intake or macros, but we’ll see how things go and adjust from there on.