5 Tips to Maintain Strength While Cutting

“Well…I’m cutting again, there goes all my strength…”

Too many people accept that cutting/weight loss/getting shredded…whatever you want to call it, HAS to imply loss of strength gains. It does not…

Now, I will be honest…is losing weight an ideal situation for making strength progress? No. I’d never even begin to make that argument. It will always be more advantageous to maintain your maintenance calories or even a slight calorie surplus if you solely have a goal of strength gains.

That being said, I think too many doom themselves to the idea that all their strength progress will go right out the window as soon as they start to lose weight. It’s entirely possible to hold onto most if not all of your current strength performance while losing weight, and in certain situations you could even see an individual IMPROVE their strength during a cut. Here’s 5 ways to maintain your strength while cutting.

1. Keep Protein Intake High

We’ll start with the obvious one first.

When it comes to breaking down your macros for a cut, protein is going to hold highest importance in terms of holding on to the muscle mass you’ve currently built and your strength progress with it. While you may not be supplying your body with enough calories to actively grow during a cut, you can still supply it with enough protein to recover properly.

Proper protein intake is a spectrum and not just a singular number I can tell you to go hit, but I would shoot to consume anywhere between 1.6-3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight (Yes you’re going to have to do math fellow Americans).

With maintaining strength and muscle mass in mind I’d actually shoot to be towards the higher end of that range (there are zero health risks associated with this higher level of protein intake), and then fill out the rest of my macros once I know what my protein intake should be for the day.

2. Utilize Carbs Around the Time You Train

A big complaint you’ll hear when it comes to cutting is individuals either have a lack of energy, or overall feel “rundown” for their training. This could be the effect of a calorie deficit that is potentially too large, but in many cases I find it has to do with an individuals carb intake.

Carbs are our bodies preferred source of energy. If you aren’t supplying your body with that energy source…you are going to feel it.

Yes…to a certain degree we can’t avoid cutting some of our overall carb intake to achieve our weight loss goal. However, what we can control is WHEN you consume your carbs. Because carbs are going to be a significant source of energy for you, it’s going to be advantageous to work the bulk of your carb intake in BEFORE you train, so we can utilize those carbs WHILE you train. This will guarantee you have peak energy levels for the most physically taxing part of your day (which I’m assuming for most of you is your training).

Shoot to consume a bulk of your carbs 1-2 hours before you train, and even consider using some of your daily carb intake for the day as an intra-workout (during your workout) to maintain your energy levels while you train. You’ll be surprised by how much a lifesaver this simple change-up can be, even if you are deep into a cutting phase.

3. Maintain Adequate Recovery

If we know one of our training variables is going to be less than optimal, we want to GUARANTEE that everything else is on lock.

Hitting that protein number we just talked about will ensure your muscles have the materials they need to recover from training.

A large bulk of that “rundown” feeling in regards to cutting can be effectively combated with a kick-ass sleep habit. Shoot to go to bed around the same time each night. Ideally you’re looking for at least 7 hours of quality sleep (not tossing and turning during the night). Avoid the consumption of alcohol and THC before bed (both effect sleep quality regardless of if they “help you fall asleep”), and limit when you consume caffeine (also effects sleep quality) during the day so it’s out of your system by the time you go to sleep. Additionally, limit screen time before bed and even consider blue light blocking glasses. Finally, create a comfortable environment to sleep in that is both cool and dark.

On top of nutrition and sleep, we NEED to have a system in place to moderate stress in our lives. Losing weight is already going to be placing a stressor on your body, we don’t need anything else on top of that. As it would happen that “training stuff” you are doing is actually a great stress reliever. Additionally you can try meditation, walks, spending time with friends and family, music, making time for leisure activity, expressing gratitude, positive self talk, the list goes on. Stress relief is going to be unique to the individual, but if performance is important to you (and you know your overall well-being) it needs to be a big part of your game-plan.

4. Stay on Your Strength Programming

For whatever reason everyone seems to have it in their head that…because they are in a cutting phase…their training NEEDS to change.

It does not.

If you want to hold onto as much of your strength as possible, you’re not going to have much luck randomly switching over from heavy sets of 5 to light sets of 10-15. In fact, this is a fantastic way to make sure you LOSE as much strength as possible.

Whatever you normally do, keep doing it. In fact, continuing on with your normally scheduled strength programming can be a great way to objectively measure how your cut is going. If you are able to maintain your old strength numbers and are currently losing weight, you are actually getting stronger.

There’s this myth that exists around cutting that, you need to do high sets and reps so you are burning as many calories as possible per workout and the truth is…it doesn’t really matter. Your calorie deficit should be established by what you are doing with your diet, and your training program should be established by what your goal is.

If you have a hypertrophy goal then yes, you’ll be doing higher volume sets, however, if you’ve always been into strength, there’s no need to go changing up your program now.

5. Lose Weight Slowly

Finally, if you want to maintain as much strength as possible while cutting. Be patient!! 

So many people immediately tank their training progress with a cut because of how aggressively they are trying to lose weight. If you put yourself into a severe calorie deficit (anything over about a 500 calorie deficit per day) you are GOING TO FEEL IT. 

All of the cutting “horror stories” of feeling awful, feeling like you have no energy, horrible training sessions, etc. come from people who tried to do too much too soon. If you are serious about maintaining your progress, chose the slow and steady route.

I generally recommend that people try to lose no more than a pound of bodyweight per week (this would be a 500 calorie deficit per day). If you have time, you could go even lower and do a half pound per week (around 250 calorie deficit per day). These smaller calorie deficits are much more manageable from a quality of life perspective AND they aren’t going to screw with your training.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.