If You've Ever Wondered How A Mini Could Help You Stay Lean While Building Muscle, You Need To Read This Article
"What the hell is a mini cut? It sounds like more bro-science BS."
If that was your initial thought, hold up. Because a mini cut could be the muscle building Holy Grail you've been searching for.
After spending what seems a lifetime trying to lose body fat, your attention turns to building more muscle. And that means more calories, and potentially an increase in body fat. So naturally you're wary of the process. Putting on fat sounds like a bad idea, right?
But, if you want optimal results, it might be necessary. So the idea of keeping body fat in check while you sculpt some perfect pecs and gorgeous glutes, is pretty appealing.
And so enters the mini cut.
Here's A Mini Cut In Action
"Used In The Right Way, Mini Cuts Are Very Effective"
In this article, you'll discover everything you need to know about mini cuts.
- What a mini cut is.
- The benefits of a mini cut.
- When you should use one.
- How to set up your calories and macros.
- How to adjust your training accordingly.
As well as a few extra golden nuggets of information. But more on that later.
First, let me show you what the result of a mini cut looks like in reality. Here's the result of a 4 week mini cut that saw me drop 5.5kg in 4 weeks.
Yes, I did wear a beanie while only sporting boxer shorts. What can I say? It was a bad hair day.
I've used mini cuts successfully in the past, not just personally, but with online coaching clients as well. And I want to give you all my best tips and techniques to use mini cuts within your own programmes.
So make sure you read the full article, don't skip around. And why not bookmark it for later as a quick reference guide?
What Is A Mini Cut?
"A Mini Cut Is A Short, Intense Fat Loss Phase"
Let's start by breaking down the somewhat "bro-sounding" terminology.
A mini cut is not a reference to self-harm as a result of over-zealous paper folding. In fact, the only self-harm involved is the crippling hunger and cravings you might feel if you go too balls (or ovaries) deep into a calorie deficit. Punching yourself in the nutsack suddenly becomes more appealing than another day spent dieting, at that point.
The term "cut" simply means to lose body fat.
So a mini cut is a shortened version of your average fat loss diet.
The clue was in the title really...
But what are the component parts that make a mini cut different to a regular diet? It comes down to two things. Speed and aggression.
Don't worry you're not going to turn into the Hulk on Meth. Speed relates to a short period of time in a calorie deficit (roughly 3-6 weeks). And aggression relates to how big you need to make your calorie deficit.
The two key components of a mini cut are a short period of time and an aggressive calorie deficit.
What's The Benefit Of A Mini Cut?
"As You Increase Body Fat, You Become Less Efficient At Building Muscle"
Building muscle takes time. Truth is, losing body fat is exponentially quicker than making those precious gains. So the longer you can spend building muscle, the better. But the longer you spend in a calorie surplus, the more body fat you start to gain. And that's not ideal.
Although you're eating more calories, you're not exactly happy looking in the mirror, gradually kissing goodbye to your abs with each passing day. Eventually, the muscle building process can become demotivating.
In addition to that, your body also gets less efficient at building muscle, the higher your body fat levels are. This is mainly as a result of a potential increase in insulin resistance , a decrease in testosterone levels, and a negative impact on nutrient partitioning.
So, the more body fat you have, the less efficient you become at building muscle. And you'll also have a longer fat loss phase in the future.
Therefore, a mini cut provides the opportunity to keep body fat levels under control, optimising your efforts to build muscle.
When Should You Use A Mini Cut?
"A Mini Cut Is NOT For Everyone"
A mini cut sounds great. But it might not be for you.
An aggressive calorie deficit can be tough. Physically and mentally draining from the outset.
Therefore, it's important to make a calculated consideration as to whether or not it's the right approach for you.
For example, if you suffer with hunger and cravings while dieting, or have had an eating disorder in the past, avoid mini cuts. The risk of you veering off track, over-eating, and creating a poor relationship with food is high.
You also might be someone leading a fairly sedentary life, who simply can't logically create a large deficit without pushing calories way too low.
Equally, if you're very lean already (sub 10% body fat), this is not the approach for you. Simply because the risk of muscle loss increases significantly.
But if you don't fall into these categories, a mini cut is definitely worth considering. So when should you do it?
The real answer is, "it depends". It depends on your rate of fat gain while in a calorie surplus. The faster you gain body fat, the more frequently you'll have to plan mini cuts.
Here's an example of how I like to structure a muscle building phase that incorporates several mini cuts.
- 12-16 weeks muscle building phase (calorie surplus 5-10% above TDEE)
- 4-6 weeks mini cut
- 12-16 weeks muscle building phase (calorie surplus 5-10% above TDEE)
- 4-6 weeks mini cut
Then it's a case of repeating that process, until you reach the physique you want. Or until you decide to go all the way to Shredsville.
Start by planning a mini cut to be 4-6 weeks long. Muscle building phases should be 2-4 times as long as the mini cut.
How To Set Your Calories On A Mini Cut
"Strike The Balance Between Aggression And Adherence"
Now we're into the nitty gritty. How aggressive should you set your calorie deficit?
Answer? About as aggressive as you can get away with.
The point at which you might start risking muscle loss is in excess of 40%, so make that your absolute ceiling. But don't forget adherence in this equation. Because putting a 40% deficit in MyFitnessPal doesn't mean you'll be able to stick to it. So strike the balance between aggression and adherence. Edging towards 6 weeks might be more realistic, and that's ok.
And if you need help calculating your calorie deficit, you can access the best calorie and macro calculator on the internet, right here.
Putting a calorie target into MyFitnessPal doesn't mean shit if you can't stick to it. Set the most aggressive deficit you can consistently adhere to each day.
How To Set Your Macros On A Mini Cut
"Macros Don't Need To Differ Greatly From A Standard Diet"
With your calorie deficit in place, it's time to turn your attention to macronutrients, starting with protein.
Protein is an important part of your mini cut for both preserving muscle and helping you combat hunger.
Setting protein above 1.2g/kg will ensure you retain muscle, but a higher protein target might be more optimal. After all, hunger is going to be a bitch with an aggressive deficit, so a target closer to 1.8-2g/kg will help keep the bitch at bay. And, as you can still build muscle in a deficit (although unlikely in this situation), you may as well take the opportunity to optimise protein intake (more on that later).
Fat plays an important role in overall health and hormone production. Drop fat too low and testosterone production may decrease, which isn't great for the gains. But there's a balance you need to find.
Because low calories means you'll be lower on energy than normal. And that might make for some shitty workouts. Therefore, you might want to prioritise carbs in this scenario, as they're your body's preferred source of energy.
Keep a minimum amount of fat in your diet, set between 20-25% of total calories.
After you've set protein and fat, the remainder of your calories go to carbs.
Ultimately, you can adopt whatever carb and fat ratio suits you. If you like high fat foods and the Keto diet, a much higher fat % is perfectly fine. Likewise, if your natural food preference leans more towards carbs, then that's cool too.
And in case you missed it, you can access the best calorie and macro calculator on the internet, right here.
Alcohol is a macronutrient, so let's address the drunk elephant in the room.
Calories are precious on a mini cut. And your ability to recover from training and generally feel good about life, isn't going to be quite what you're used to. So wasting precious calories on alcohol isn't the smartest idea. Although, technically, it's possible as long as you account for the calories.
But my advice is to knock it on the head for a few weeks.
Keep protein high (c.2g/kg). Set fat to a minimum of 20% of total calories. And adjust carb / fat ratios to suit your personal preference.
What About Training And Cardio?
"Balls To The Wall Training Isn't Ideal On A Mini Cut"
Fundamentally, you need to keep resistance training throughout your mini cut.
Without it, you risk losing muscle mass, regardless of how much protein you have. So don't plan a 2 week gym holiday when you start your aggressive fat loss.
An adjustment to training volume however, is probably a good idea.
With such an aggressive calorie deficit, your ability to smash out PBs and recover effectively from hard training sessions is going to be impaired. So adjust your volume and intensity accordingly.
In practical terms, this might be completing 2-3 working sets per exercise and stopping each set 3-4 reps short of failure. As you get a feel for your ability to recover, you may decide to increase intensity, getting closer progressively close to failure each week. But only do this if you have the ability to recover effectively.
Remember, your mini cut is primarily to drop body fat, not build muscle. That comes in the 12-16 weeks after your cut.
You're kidding, right?
You're in a massive calorie deficit and you want to increase it some more with cardio? You must be crazy!
But, in all seriousness, you don't need cardio. That is, unless you're pretty sedentary and want to increase calories burned, which potentially allows you more food and makes a mini cut, possible.
So the general rule is do as little cardio as possible.
Modify training volume and intensity during a mini cut. And don't include cardio unless you have to.
"Filling Nutritious Foods And Fuelling Your Workouts Is The Priority"
What you eat becomes all the more important on a mini cut.
Filling foods become a must in order to help you adhere to your deficit. Prioritising nutrient-dense foods will help. Lean protein, low calorie veg and fruit, are all good inclusions to your diet. Don't waste calories on fruit juices and sodas that don't fill you up. Yes, you can have them, but think about what will work best for adherence.
The 80/20 rule is somewhat cliche, but it works well. Aim for 80% of your calories to come from fresh meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, and fruit. The remaining 20% can be used on those more indulgent treats.
And spare a thought for fibre. Often, fibre intake suffers on a low calorie diet, so aim for 30g per day to maintain optimal digestive health. Prioritising high fibre vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates will help. But if you struggle, supplementing with a product such as Psyllium Husk, might help you hit your target without adding too many extra calories.
Nutrient timing doesn't increase in its importance when you're on a mini cut.
However, there are some basic considerations.
Frequency of protein feedings optimises muscle protein synthesis (the building of new muscle) and minimises muscle protein breakdown. The balance between the two is important for both building and retaining muscle. But, chances are, you're not too far away from being optimal without really trying. Here's the optimal way to set up your protein feedings.
When it comes to carbs, fuelling for the activity, is a good principle to abide by. Whilst it doesn't matter a great deal when you have your carbs, timing might give you an edge in the gym. And if the timing suits your lifestyle, then it makes sense.
First off, consider high and low carb days to help fuel your training. More carbs on heavy training days. Less carbs on other days. You can always cycle calories too in the same way. However, be mindful of not going too low as your intake is already near the 'punch yourself in the bollocks' level. Too low may result in a blow out and a food coma.
Also consider when you train. If you train first thing in the morning, more carbs the night before, may provide a little more fuel when you need it. And if you train later in the day, more carbs prior to training may have the desired effect.
Experiment with a few different strategies until you find the timing strategy that works for you.
Think about the timing of carbohydrate as a means to fuel training in the best possible way, rather than as a diet hack.
Daily weight fluctuations can feel like a sucker punch to the midriff at the best of times. So brace yourself for several digs to the gut on your mini cut.
In reality, these fluctuations shouldn't bother you. More often than not, they're due to changes in glycogen and water levels, so completely unrelated to body fat. In the first 2 weeks of your mini cut, you're likely to experience more drastic weight loss, due to glycogen and water depletion, so don't use this as the yard stick for progress.
Focus on your weekly average weight and compare that to the prior week to get a better indication of progress.
The Bottom Line On Using A Mini Cut To Stay Lean While Building Muscle
A mini cut can be a great tool to stay relatively lean while building muscle. But it's not for everyone.
Adherence is likely to be the biggest factor as to whether or not a mini cut is a viable approach for you. Everyone is different. And therefore, not everyone can diet in this aggressive manner for a number of weeks. If you struggle with consistent adherence to a moderate deficit, maybe a mini cut isn't for you.
If a mini cut IS a sensible approach for you, opt for the biggest practical calorie deficit you can get away with, keep protein high, and modify training volume and intensity. Get these basic components right, and your mini cut will be a great way to stay lean while systematically building muscle over the long-term.
How To Get Your Hands On A Free 4 Week Beginner Training Programme
Here’s what to do next to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body. Simply click the link below and I’ll send you my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), a guide on calculating your calories, plus so much more.
So if you want it, grab it here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.