The transition from bulking to a cut can be a difficult one. Improper knowledge of nutrition has made life hard for many athletes seeking to lose fat. Fortunately certain foods exist which have become staples in almost any cut cycle, due to their nutritional properties. As the old saying goes: “abs are made in the kitchen.” No matter what kind of diet you use to achieve your goals (keto, traditional, etc.), an understanding of what these foods have to offer will greatly benefit your cut.
Different goals will require different diets. For example, a bodybuilder prepping for a show may diet differently than someone who is just preparing their body for vacation. Whatever your reason is for dieting, understanding the components of your meals will help greatly. Let’s take a closer look at five foods in particular, their nutritional profiles, and what exactly makes them so helpful. Afterward we’ll examine a few basic general tips for staying on top of your diet.
#1 – Chicken
Ask any number of bodybuilders what their go-to source of protein is and many will say chicken. Chicken is an excellent source of protein, with very little fat and no carbs either. Chicken meat also provides all of the essential amino acids. Each ounce will typically contain around 7-9 grams of protein with one gram of fat, totaling somewhere around 50 calories. As with all meats, it is essential to weigh your portion size after cooking rather than before. Chicken’s low sodium content is notable as well. At the end of the day any type of meat will contain the protein you need, but chicken’s leanness is its greatest attribute by far. Chicken protein is also thermogenic, which causes the body to burn extra calories during the process of digesting and metabolizing it. It’s also a highly versatile food and will easily pair with almost any other foods you’re consuming on your diet, making the goal of getting all-out shredded one bit easier. Remember to remove the skin, as this will slightly reduce the number of calories consumed.
#2 – Rice
You almost can’t say the word chicken without rice coming right after it. As an excellent source of carbs, rice is highly favored among bodybuilders. 1/3 cup will typically contain somewhere around 70 calories, with 15 grams of carbs. By its very nature rice is easy to partition into absolutely any serving size you need, making it a convenient choice for anyone chasing after a lean physique. When it comes to white rice vs. brown rice, the decision is yours alone to make. Brown rice comes with a higher fiber content but at the cost of adding extra calories. Both will contain roughly the same number of carbs, and white rice will contribute to a quicker insulin spike after consumption. Rice is also an ideal carb component for meals after working out. Your body uses muscle reserves of glycogen as fuel during a training session, and needs carbs to fill them back up afterwards. Unfortunately, not all carb sources are equal in this respect. Some evidence indicates that fructose-based carb sources replenish glycogen stores in the liver before replenishing the muscles, which is exactly the opposite of what you want after a workout. Rice is a starchy food, meaning it is made up of the simple sugar glucose, which is much more ideal.
#3 – Peanut butter
Even though you’re on a cut you’ll still need healthy fats to maintain your muscle, and that’s where peanut butter comes in. Peanut butter serves as an excellent dense source of fats, with one tablespoon alone containing around 15 grams, at the price of 200 calories. These fats are typically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which have the added benefit of being healthy for your heart. Peanut butter also contains numerous micronutrients such as folate, magnesium, resveratrol and vitamin E, all of which further help to benefit overall cardiovascular health. When purchasing peanut butter, quality is key. Rather than buy cheaper forms, make sure to choose organic brands (if you open the lid and there’s a thick liquid on top, you’re good to go). Larger brands of peanut butter usually involve larger amounts of saturated fat, so organic is always the way to go. Its cheap price combined with nutrient density makes it an excellent choice for athletes trying to get ripped.
#4 – Oatmeal
An alternate and comparable source of carbs would be oatmeal. ½ cup (one serving) of oatmeal contains slightly fewer calories and carbs than a similar serving of rice. While it doesn’t exactly pair with chicken as well as rice does, oatmeal can easily be substituted by the athlete who wants a varied diet or has grown tired of rice. In addition oatmeal has a far more moderate glycemic index rating, meaning it is digested and metabolized at a slower, steadier rate. It’s a source of dietary fiber as well. This helps greatly by improving your digestion, with the added benefit of keeping your appetite somewhat lower by making you feel full for longer periods of time in between meals. B vitamins, iron, zinc, and other minerals can be found in oatmeal too. It also contains phosphorus, which is helpful for encouraging healthy bone strength and maintaining metabolism. Remember, carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy. Even though you’re reducing your caloric intake, having a clean source of carbohydrates will help you quite a bit.
#5 – Tuna
There’s no better source of protein out there if you’re looking for a combination of convenience and price. Canned tuna is an extremely common (and very lean) source of protein. With around 150 calories and 30 grams of protein, tuna is an excellent addition to any diet. Its high omega-3 content packs added benefit for your heart’s health. When buying tuna, try and avoid any kinds that have been canned in oil as they will contain quite a lot of extra fat. Tuna canned in either brine or water is preferable. Tuna’s typically cheap price is very attractive as well. Just like chicken, tuna is very flexible with other foods. Make sure to purchase farm-raised tuna whenever possible. Farm-raised tuna are typically harvested at an earlier age than wild tuna, and therefore have a much lower mercury content. For those concerned about this mercury, studies have stated that a can of tuna per day is an absolutely fine amount for almost anyone. Those who want to increase their tuna intake should do so over the course of several weeks in order to allow their kidneys to slowly adjust over time.
While cutting, certain standards must be maintained throughout the diet. First and foremost, maintaining a constant caloric deficit is essential. Depending on each person’s goals, deficits of between 100-500 calories per day are typical. To decide just how much you should be eating, assess your activity level and your goals. Do your best to determine how many calories you’re burning per day, then base your diet on that and the amount of time you plan on taking.
One essential key to successfully maintaining a diet is to ensure variety in what you eat. In fact, one of the main reasons people don’t diet in the first place is because they assume dieting means loss of choice over what they eat. In fact the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If you correctly maintain a caloric deficit while consuming adequate amounts of macronutrients, the details of your diet are your own to control. Make sure to switch up what you eat from time to time in order to keep from being tempted to cheat.
Hunger is obviously the most common reason people fail or cheat on their diets. To keep hunger at bay, make sure to stay hydrated at all times. Water contains no calories, meaning you don’t have to worry about drinking too much and going out of a deficit. Water (like fiber) will keep you feeling fuller longer. It will also keep your workouts more efficient during a time when many feel the need to slack off on training intensity. Most importantly, water is essential for digestion. No athlete will be able to reap the full benefits of the food they consume when they’re in a dehydrated state.
Remember that carbohydrates will be the main macronutrient you manipulate on your cut. This is because they are your body’s usual source of energy, and as long as carb intake remains above a certain level your body won’t dip into its fat reserves for fuel. Make sure to divide your calories up into many smaller meals each day rather than a few large meals. This ensures that your metabolism runs more efficiently and allows it to burn off extra calories throughout the day.
You can choose from any number of paths to achieve your bodybuilding and fitness goals. What matters most at the end of the day is that you stay motivated and stay consistent. Give your body plenty of time, and keep your mind focused on the end goal. Whatever route you choose to take, the results will be worth it!
Written by Trent Wozniak