How to Maintain Muscle While Cutting

by Jason Stallworth

March 10, 2020

You’ve spent several months packing on muscle mass. Now it’s time to show it off by leaning out and getting those striations.

But the problem is you don’t want to lose that hard-earned muscle you gained. And that often happens when you’re in a cutting phase.

The good news is that you can indeed preserve muscle when you’re leaning out. And I’m going to show you 10 ways to maintain muscle while cutting.

To be transparent, these aren’t ‘hacks’ or ‘tricks.’ Rather, they’re just simple methods that when used together will help you keep your gains. Because the last thing you want is to be ripped and skinny!

**The absolute best supplement for maintaining muscle mass during your cutting phase is Instant Knockout.

This formula was originals created for MMA fighters and now bodybuilders are using it. You can learn more about Instant Knockout here. <<–this will open a new tab so that you don’t lose this page.

1 – Don’t Stop Training Heavy

heavy dumbbell rows

Many bodybuilders and weightlifters make the mistake of shying away from lifting heavy when cutting. They think that you have to lift light to get ripped. But that’s not necessarily the case.

It’s true that your strength may drop some when you decrease calories (which we know is required for cutting). However, that doesn’t mean you should only train with light weights.

You should still push yourself in the gym lifting as heavy as possible. This will help you preserve that dense muscle mass.

Here’s how your workout should look when cutting:

  • 1st exercise: go heavy, 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • 2nd exercise: go moderately heavy, 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps
  • 3rd exercise and beyond: lift lighter weights to go for the pump, 3 sets x 10-12 reps

**To get ripped faster, you can implement the techniques I’m going to give you in #2 below for your 4th and 5th exercises.

There’s another post I have that gives you a complete workout and meal plan for cutting. You can read more here: Workout and Meal Plan for Cutting

2 – Make Your Workouts More Intense

cable flyes crossovers for shredded chest

One sure way to burn more calories during your workouts is to make them more intense. And you can do that using the techniques below:

  • Supersets – This is going from one exercise to another with minimal or no rest between those sets.
  • Rest-pause – Do a set, rest 10-15 seconds and do another set using the same weight.
  • Drop sets: Do a set, immediately reduce the weight about 30% and do another set (you can repeat this 2-3 more times to really exhaust the muscle).
  • Giant sets – Similar to supersets but you’ll incorporate at least 3 exercises in each giant set.

What do these techniques have in common? They all keep you moving in the gym. There’s little to no rest and this will keep your heart rate up, turning your body into a fat-burning machine.

As I mentioned in the first tip, do these techniques towards the last half of your workout (you could do them for the entire workout for smaller muscles, such as arms). Remember, you still want to lift heavier weights for those initial exercises.

If you’d like to learn more these techniques I have another post that goes in depth here: 7 Weight Training Techniques to Increase Intensity

3 – Eat Protein 6x a Day

food - low carb eggs sausage broccoli

It’s obvious that you’re going to have to reduce calories when you’re goal is to get ripped. And you may already be aware that carbs is the one macronutrient that you’ll need to cut the most.

But the one thing you don’t want to cut is protein. Here are 3 simple reasons why:

  • The amino acids in protein are what will help you maintain muscle
  • Protein is going to help you feel full, longer
  • Higher protein helps eliminate cravings for sugary foods which will destroy your goal for burning fat

Let’s go even deeper and take a look at a sample cutting meal plan. Of course, you’ll need to figure out your macros but this is a great starting point for a basic high protein, moderate fat, and lower carbohydrate meal plan:

Meal 1Whole eggs, sausage,
Meal 2Whey protein shake with almond milk,
peanut butter and blueberries
Meal 3Chicken, rice, spinach and cauliflower
Meal 4Almonds or cashews with Greek yogurt
Meal 5Sirloin steak, shrimp, and a sweet potato
Meal 6Cottage cheese

If you’d like to dive deeper into the best macronutrient ratios for preserving muscle while getting ripped, read my post: 3000 Calorie Clean Bulk Meal Plan

4 – Take ZMA Before Bed

Whether your goal is to cut or gain you need to ensure you’re getting quality sleep every night. This is crucial for building muscle as well as boosting your metabolism according to WebMD’s article ‘Sleep More, Weigh Less.’

Fortunately, there’s a natural sleep remedy that also has many other muscle-building benefits. It’s a patented blend of micronutrients called ZMA.

The ZMA formula consists of:

  • Zinc: 30 mg
  • Magnesium: 450 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 10.5 mg

What’s so special about this formula and how does it help you sleep better?

The specific blend of zinc, magnesium, B6 helps your body produce more hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. It’s actually the first supplement created to help bodybuilders and athletes recovery as many nutrients, especially zinc and magnesium are depleted during exercise.

One of the additional benefits of ZMA is it helps you sleep deeper.

You can get the original ZMA formula from the creator’s brand Snac here on Amazon: Get Snac ZMA on Amazon

5 – Do Cardio After Weight Training

There are 2 mistakes many make in regards to cardio when getting cut:

  1. Too much cardio
  2. Letting cardio take precedence over lifting weights

It’s common for bodybuilders to double up on cardio when getting ready for a competition. And they are okay losing some muscle towards to end to get into extreme condition.

But the majority of weightlifters don’t compete. And doing too much cardio will certainly eat into your muscle gains.

You also don’t want your cardio to take precedence over lifting weights. The way you can avoid that is to either do your cardio right after you lift, or do it at another time of the day. Don’t do your cardio before you lift because that’s going to take away energy (unless you’re just doing a quick warmup, which would be fine).

Here are a few cardio schedules you can try:

Cardio Schedule 1

  • 6 AM: Cardio
  • 5 PM: Lift weights
  • 6 PM: possible 2nd cardio session

Cardio Schedule 2

  • 5 AM: Lift weights
  • 6 AM: Cardio
  • 7 PM: possible 2nd cardio session

Cardio Schedule 3

  • 5 AM: Cardio
  • 2 PM: Lift weights
  • 8 PM: possible 2nd cardio session

You probably noticed that each cardio session is either done right after weight training or at a completely different time. These schedules also make it easy to double up on cardio if that’s what you choose to do.

6 – Don’t Skip Meals (Meal Prep)

We never plan to fail but we can certainly fail to plan. And failing to follow a meal prep schedule can certainly screw up your metabolism, hindering both fat loss and muscle preservation.

Now, there’s some debate over eating 2-3x a day vs eating 5-6 meals a day. What I’ll say to that is whatever meal schedule you subscribe to, follow it consistently. And either way, you still need to plan your meals.

Here are 3 tips to help you stay on track:

  1. Schedule certain days to cook and prepare your meals
  2. Cook enough food on those days to last for 2-3 days (or more)
  3. Use foods like protein shakes and snacks such as nuts and Greek yogurt for some of your meals (this decreases the amount of food you’ll have to cook)

An example would be to cook on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. And cook enough food on those days to last until your next cooking day.

If you’re using the 3rd tip (protein shakes, healthy snacks, etc.) throughout each day, you may only need 2-3 cooked and prepped whole food meals per day.

bodybuilder meals and recipes

7 – Combine Green Tea, Cayenne Pepper Seeds, and Green Coffee Bean

One of the most efficient ways to get ripped and cut is through natural ingredients. And these 3 pack a powerful punch when used together:

  • Green tea extract
  • Cayenne peppers seeds
  • Green coffee bean

Green tea extract contains catechins, which are bioactive polyphenols. In short, this releases norepinephrine which boosts your metabolism, helping you burn more calories per the International Journal of Obesity review on PubMed: The Effects of Green Tea on Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance: A Meta-Analysis

Cayenne pepper seeds can enhance the way your body stores carbohydrates. This is done by the bioactive alkaloid capsaicin per the Chemical Sense review on PubMed: The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-Analyses of Studies in Humans

Green coffee beans are basically unroasted coffee beans. They help slow the rate of fat absorption through a compound called chlorogenic acid. This compound can also help reduce sugar cravings and even lower cholesterol per the Hindawi BioMed Research International’s article: Consumption of Green Coffee Reduces Blood Pressure and Body Composition by Influencing 11β-HSD1 Enzyme Activity in Healthy Individuals: A Pilot Crossover Study Using Green and Black Coffee

As you can see, these are some powerful ingredients to take throughout the day. This may also help combat that sluggish feeling you get throughout the day when you’re reducing calories. We all know that feeling sucks!

Instant Knockout is a conditioning agent that combines these ingredients with 7 others. It’s widely used throughout the bodybuilding and fitness community for shedding fat.

It’s also designed to help you keep your muscle gains when you’re cutting.

You can learn more about Instant Knockout here.

8 – Don’t Make Drastic Diet Changes

food - steak and beans

Don’t make sudden or drastic changes to your meal plan. This can be disastrous and you will surely lose muscle mass this way.

Rather, make gradual changes each week. A rule to follow is reducing calories by 400-500 each week. And of course, you’ll want to closely monitor your progress.

If you start losing muscle you may have reduced too many calories at one time. So make gradual changes instead to prevent muscle loss.

And your goal isn’t necessarily to eat less. In fact, you may find that you get results just by increasing your workout intensity and cardio without changing your diet.

9 – Keep Your Stress Low

Stress will work directly against your goal of getting ripped and cut. The reason why is because stress increases cortisol, and that can cause other health issues beyond just the inability to burn fat.

Another downside to how stress can impact getting cut is it increases Betatrophin. Betatrophin reduces your body’s ability to break down fat, per Jun Yung, M.D., professor of hematopathology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine: Researchers uncover new details linking stress, fat metabolism

Here are some practical and actionable tips to help you reduce stress:

  • Workout! …I think you’ve got this down already
  • Do yoga and deep stretching – this a dual-impact as it will help clear your mind and help with muscle recovery
  • Meditate – you don’t have to sit in silence for hours; just spend 10 minutes per day to clear your thoughts
  • Listen to positive and motivational podcasts or videos everyday
  • Reduce (and if possible, eliminate) negative people in your life
  • Immediately start your day with gratitude by thinking of all the amazing people and things in your life

10 – Take BCAAs During Workouts

One final and easy way of preventing muscle loss is to supplement with BCAAs, branched-chain amino acids. There are a few reasons for this:

  • The dominating BCAA, leucine, will help you train longer, and harder by reducing fatigue
  • Decreases the risk of muscle damage by increasing protein synthesis
  • Can help reduce soreness from workouts allowing you to train more frequently (remember, this is important for cutting)

The best times to take BCAAs are right before and during your workouts. You can also take them during your cardio sessions. The most effective way to take them is by powder form, mixing it with water so that you can sip this during workouts.

My personal go-to BCAA supplement is Scivation Xtend.

Xtend has a favorable ratio of leucine and also contains the amino acid glutamine, which helps with muscle recovery.

You can get Scivation Xtend on Amazon here.

Don’t Lose Muscle While Cutting

We all train way too hard and put too much effort into your workouts to lose muscle. So don’t’ get caught up into extremes when you’re cutting.

Remember, you don’t want to be ripped and skinny. You want to be ripped and jacked!

Follow these guidelines I gave you and use them together. This will help you keep those hard-earned gains you’ve made over the past several months.

**Also, be sure to check out my premium 12-week Lean Muscle Building Program. This program is designed to help you get ripped in the most efficient way possible.

It also comes with a meal plan and supplement guide.
Click here to start.

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


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