LeanGains – Cutting

Using LeanGains with Intermittent Fasting for Cutting

I’ve made numerous references to the LeanGains diet and training system over the past 6 months on my blog, having personally achieved great results with it. After threatening to do this a few times, I thought it was finally time I put together a comprehensive introduction and guide for those of you interested in it. This post outlines the main points of the method, with information specifically targeted at those of you looking to cut some body fat off an already existing muscular base.

To whet your appetite, here is a sample of some of the results that people have achieved:

This shows what can be achieved with LeanGains

Some good results from a 12 week LeanGains cutting cycle

Using intermittent fasting and monitoring your macros you can drop a lot of body fat with LeanGains

And my own 12 week results:

My own results from my 12 week cutting cycle on LeanGains

Overview

  • LeanGains uses a combination of Intermittent Fasting (massive fad at the moment, but LeanGains has been out since 2007) and carb cycling
  • Intermittent fasting has numerous, well documented health benefits (such as living longer, increased focus and concentration during the fasted state) – the chief one LeanGains is concerned with though is to create a maximal length fat burning window. About 8 hours after you have eaten your last meal, your body will be burning through stored fats only – http://rippedbody.jp/intermittent-fasting-leangains-introduction-benefits/
  • Carb cycling is used to maximise the benefits of the anabolic state from weight training
  • Meals are eaten between 1pm and 9pm, with ideally the largest meal of the day being eaten at lunch time (this is the optimal setup, but there are others that facilitate training first thing in the morning, or in the evening)
  • Goals can be Cutting, Body Recomposition, or Slow Bulking. Cutting is best for people with a solid muscular base already who want to shed some body fat (be honest – do you really have a muscular base? If you cut with no muscle, you’re just going to look weedy), Body Recomposition is for those starting from more of a beginner’s perspective (not much muscle, a bit flabby), and Slow Bulking is best for those who are already lean (<10% body fat) who want to pack on some lean muscle. I’ll only talk about Cutting from here on in – the approach is slightly different for the other two goals
  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is calculated using a formula (I’ll go into more detail on this later) – this is the number of calories you burn in a day averaged over the week, with a multiplier for exercise taken into account
  • Macros (total daily calorific intake combined with nutrient composition) are calculated and applied depending on whether it is a training day or a rest day. In the case of Cutting, +10% over BMR is consumed on a training day, whilst -30% is consumed on a rest day (I have a spreadsheet handles all of this, but the calculations are simple)
  • Cutting is designed to work best with a 3/4 weekly split of training/rest days. (3 * +10%) + (4 * -30%) = a nice -90% BMR deficit per week. Assuming 3,500 calories = 1lb of fat, you should be dropping 1lb every fortnight with this setup
  • It is of course possible to lose weight quicker, but the LeanGains Cut is designed to minimise any muscle loss and retain strength during this period. Faster weight loss would invariably end up with some muscle atrophy
  • Protein intake is kept constant every day at 2.5kg/lean kg of body mass
  • After training in a fasted state, your body enters an anabolic (building mode) window for 8 hours. For this reason, fat is kept to a maximum 30g on these days, to avoid laying it down, and extra calories come from carbs, to refuel your muscle glycogen stores and provide your body with energy to use the protein to synthesise muscle
  • On a rest day, fat intake is raised to around 60g (for hormonal reasons)

Training

  • The creator of the LeanGains programme, Martin Berkhan (his site/blog is here – tons of useful stuff, quite scientific in places though), devised a training setup called Reverse Pyramids to work optimally with the LeanGains programme
  • No more than 3 or 4 large movements are performed, and training should take no more than an hour
  • No cardio required – this will simply wear your muscles out, and make you more hungry
  • During cutting your main 4 exercises (bench, squat, deadlift and overhead press) are performed once each in a weekly cycle – you won’t really have the energy to do them more often since you are on a calorie deficit
  • A couple of warmup sets, of no more than a few reps are performed – the idea is to warmup without fatiguing yourself
  • Your first work set should be at your heaviest weight, for fewer reps. The idea is to maximise muscle load whilst you are still fresh, which will give maximum benefit
  • Your next two sets are performed at -10% load respectively, but with extra reps. An example setup for bench press would be:
    • Set 1: 100kg/6 reps
    • Set 2: 90kg/7 reps
    • Set 3: 80kg/6 reps
  • This has the additional advantage of giving you 3 rep ranges to make progress within for each exercise. Even though your top set may stall on a Cut, you can still be making progress within the other 2 rep ranges for each exercise – this is great for keeping you motivated. During the 18 weeks of my cut, there was never an entire week where I didn’t make progress in at least one rep range
  • If you hit your target number of reps in any range, you add a small amount to the weight for the next session
  • It’s a good idea to get yourself a set of 0.5kg and 0.25kg plates from somewhere like here – in most gyms, the smallest plates they have are 1.25kg, and by adding a pair it’s a 2.5kg jump. This can actually be a pretty big increase for a lot of exercises, and by jumping up too quickly you are likely to get stuck on a weight that is too heavy for you to perform sufficient reps for you to progress past. Better to take 4 weeks progressing in 0.5kg increments to reach and then surpass a total 2.5kg gain, than to try and do it all in one go and get stuck
  • You must track your progress, on a spreadsheet or notepad. It’s too difficult to remember 27+ different targets (total across each rep range in each exercise), and it’s important to be continually progressing. It’s the whole reason you’re at the gym after all! I used a google spreadsheet (here) to track my weekly targets. I could then update it from my phone as I went through my workout
  • You can see my cutting training setup on the same google spreadsheet. It split 9 main exercises out over 3 weekly training sessions, and arranged them so as to avoid using the same muscle groups on the same days, ensuring that each group was at its freshest when it was trained. I got a little lazy filling it in towards the end, and only filled it in where my targets had increased – the blank spaces are where the target remained the same, week on week
  • I chucked in a couple of sets of abs every session (there are a ton of different ab exercises you can do), since this was an area I was keen to improve. Eventually, you will be squatting and deadliftiing heavily enough that you won’t need to do any ab work at all
  • Body weight exercises are generally good, with the addition of a weight belt with some extra plates attached if needed – weighted dips, weighted chins, weighted pull-ups etc. Machines should never be used (as I’m sure you already know)

Nutrition

  • One of the main benefits of LeanGains is the IIFYM mantra (If It Fits Your Macros). This basically means that it doesn’t matter where you get your protein/carbs/fat from, provided you stay within the daily limits. Provided you get most from healthy sources (quality meats etc), you then have leeway to eat whatever you want on top – sweets, ice cream, chocolate, sausages etc. Some diets (ie paleo) can be incredibly restrictive in terms of food choices, which makes the whole thing harder. I’m a bit of a jelly sweet fiend, but since they are pure sugar (ie pure carbs), I was able to eat them to my heart’s content on my training days
  • A full breakdown of how to work out your BMR, and calculate and track your daily nutritional macros can be found here – http://rippedbody.jp/2011/10/23/how-to-calculate-leangains-macros/
  • I use a custom Excel spreadsheet with a ton of automatic calculations and formulae to track my nutrition, commonly eaten foods, recipes etc. I toyed with the idea of posting it up here, but to be honest, a lot of work went into it, and I’m planning on launching a fitness site soon with my housemate who is a personal trainer, incorporating this calculator (a proper website-based version), training programmes, diaries, charts etc – I’d be hamstringing the business idea by putting it all up here for free. There is enough information available in the link above if anyone is serious about doing this

Supplementation

  • It’s no secret that I think pretty much all supplements are a load of shit
  • However, that said, there are a few core supplements that are actually worth taking (creatine for example) which will greatly benefit your workouts
  • There’s a huge amount of misleading information, bro science and marketing out there, and finding the truth can be difficult. Fortunately, the guys at examine.com have put together what basically amounts to a Supplment Bible
  • It’s updated every single month with the latest information, and has been based on literally 10s of thousands of hours of review of the latest scientific literature
  • Check it out here – Examine.com Supplement Goals Reference Guide

Miscellaneous

  • There is a wealth of (mis)information out there on LeanGains. Really, only Martin’s site and RippedBody.jp and a few notable others are reputable sources. Treat anything else, especially forum posts, with suspicion
  • You’ll notice a big drop in your body weight in the first couple of weeks, due to the low carb diet on rest days causing your body to dump water retention
  • Conversely, since you are eating a lot of carbs on training days, you will balloon with water retention on these days (your body retains 4g of water for each 1g of carbs you eat). Don’t become too obsessed with looking at yourself in the mirror every day, as you may become disheartened. Better, is to get your body fat % properly measured at fortnightly or monthly intervals to ensure you are heading in the right direction. Calipers are fine for this, but better accuracy can be achieved if you have access to a floatation tank for hydrostatic weighting, or better still a DEXA scan (http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/body_fat_tests.htm). Avoid the electronic handheld body fat measuring devices – they will primarily reflect how much water you are currently retaining, and the measurement shown can fluctuate by as much as +5%/-5% dependent on what day of the week you use it. Additionally, the current passed through your body always takes the path of least resistance, meaning the handheld devices will only measure your upper body fat, whilst scales with foot pads will only measure lower body fat
  • A LeanGains cycle typically lasts 12 weeks. You assess results at this point and then determine your next goal
  • The first couple of weeks will be the hardest, as your body has to adjust your hormones to be in sync with your new eating patterns. You may likely be starving hungry or grumpy, but it will subside, just persevere. Personally, I love the increased concentration and focus I have first thing in the morning, and my energy levels are far more regulated during the day than they used to be – no more lethargy
  • Take a before shot when you start (douchey selfie in the mirror shot), one at 6 weeks and one at the end – you’ll be amazed at the difference. I personally dropped 10% body fat in a little under 18 weeks
  • Two great books which helped me with my training setup and technique are Beyond Brawn and Starting Strength respectively. The author of Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe, has a great site with a lot of free instructional videos also

That about covers it I think. Now that I’ve got the main points of the method laid out, and specifically Cutting within this post, I’ll go into Slow Bulking in a future post. I’m only 3 weeks into my Slow Bulk personally at the moment, so I’m figuring out a lot of stuff as I go along.

This is information I’ve collated myself from various sources, along with the personal experience of the last 6 months. I don’t believe there is currently as comprehensive a breakdown of all aspects of LeanGains cutting as I’ve presented here, even without the spreadsheet calculator.

Any questions, drop a comment.

Cheers

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36 thoughts on “LeanGains – Cutting

  1. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2013/02/20 « Free Northerner

    • If you are coming into this off the back of a carb-heavy, “normal” diet, you’ll see big losses in the first couple of weeks as all the water retention leaves your body.

      Other than that, progress was reasonably steady for my throughout the 12 weeks. A lot of people report weight plateaus for several weeks at a time, followed by sudden drops. This is a known phenomenon (Google for “LeanGains whoosh effect”) and it’s important to keep faith with the programme during these periods and keep plugging away.

    • Thanks for your reply. SInce the date of my last question i have lost a serious amount of body fat with perhaps 10% loss in strength. The lower abs and lower back are still issues and very annoying. Do you have any tips? I am taking Alphamine early in the morning in a fasted state

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    • It’s possible my site doesn’t display exactly the same across all browsers, but I haven’t checked – and I don’t really want to!

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  4. Thank you very much for the great info.

    Please help me in the two following questions:

    1- Swimming: can I add swimming twice a week to the program. I swim 45 min, with almost 600 cal. 11% is the fat burned in each sission, meaning that I need a carb re feed. At the end, I will be doing carb reseeding for 5 days, comparing to 3 days in his program.

    2- he did mention the days off are 4. Is it related to recovery, low carbs strategy in these days, or both?

    3- can I do full body workout with heavy weight, instead of his program.

    Thank you once a gain..

    • 1. It’s up to you. If you want to cut quicker, don’t replace the lost calories, but be prepared to be more tired in the gym. Perhaps replace 300 calories of the 600 with a small carb feed on these days.

      2. The days off are set at 4 in order that when your training/rest day macro totals are added up, that you end up at a large weekly calorie deficit. Consuming carbs takes place on training days to maximise the replenishment of muscle energy, and they are eliminated on rest days because they blunt the fat burning effect. If you mess around with the 3/4 training/rest split, you will reduce the effectiveness of the diet plan.
      3. You can do whatever workout you like. However, the idea of hitting each body part very heavy, once a week only, is to maximise the retention of muscle whilst you are on a calorie deficient diet. Be aware, if you try to train too much, you will run out of energy, and your max lifts will suffer, and you will stand the chance of losing muscle.

      • Thank you very much for the beneficial adivse. Please note that my worry in 5 days workout is the recovery for both muscles and cns. Is it enough for such a workout to be recovered in 2 days per week.

        As far as I could understand, the whole program is more diet. Workout is just a help.

        Thank you very much..

      • Nope. One of the main purposes of the LeanGains cut and the way the workouts/rest days are structured, and the type of workouts that are recommended, is to preserve lean muscle mass whilst you lose fat. Losing fat generally is easy.

        You might as well just diet normally if all you want to do is lose a bit of weight.

        If you’re going to try to do LeanGains, then I suggest you stick to the programme properly as it was intended. Drop the cardio for now, it’s not necessary.

      • Thanks for the great subjects always.

        Just one question digging my head, hope you can help..

        I am sedentary in the 4 days off, and very active in my workout days.

        Based on my Polar watch, I am spending 1000 cal in 1h 45 min workout. Do I need to add this number to my BMR 1600 cal in the 3 days and then add the 20% on them, total is 3000 something.

        In the days off. I will go for 20% by 1600 cal in less.

        Please advise if this is the way.

        Thanking you!

      • Nope – just stick to whichever activity multiplier for your BMR is the correct one, and use that number in your calculations. Don’t add any more on.

  5. Great info this. One quick and not so quick question lol…

    1.) What would you say the optimal calorie deficit is per week for 0.5-1lb weight loss?

    2.) I have been on a recomp for the past 8 weeks, and seen very little physical appearance change (there has been some, but it’s subtle, and I understand this can often happen with recomps), so I have just switched to a cut to get my bf down from about 12-13% to 10% before I bulk. I have been doing the ‘big three’ x3 a week (deadlift, bench and squats) with OHP and weighted chins thrown in alternately, and have made good strength gains. An instructor in my gym even came up to me the other week and complemented me on it. HOWEVER, having just switched in to my cut this past week, my first couple of sessions back have been noticeably harder. I was zonked at the end, whereas before I had more energy. I’m unsure what I should do now… persist with what I’ve been doing (if my body lets me), or switch to a different routine? If so, I’m not sure what the best way about it would be, as I see lots of conflicting advice on this. Any thoughts would be very much appreciated.

    Many thanks. 🙂

    • 1) 1lb of fat ~= 3500 calories (1g fat ~= 9 cals). So if you want to lose 1lb of fat a week, you’ll need a weekly deficit under BMR of 3500 calories.

      2) When on cutting macros, you won’t be making much progress in your lifts, if any – you’re carb depleted most of the time, and so won’t have a lot of glycogen in your muscles for energy.

      The goal is to preserve your existing muscle mass whilst losing fat. The training programme of working out 3 x a week, performing each big lift once a week using reverse pyramids as close to your maximum weight as possible is the optimal way to do this.

      If you follow the programme I linked to in the body of the post above, you won’t go far wrong.

      Also, look into getting a pre-workout supplement (with no carbs). Something with beta-alanine will give you a boost, or even a strong black coffee will help.

      Cheers

    • The approach for women is the same, except fasting is recommend to be kept to 14 hours maximum due to hormonal reasons. Obviously the BMR figures are going to come out a lot lower. Using the calculations on Andy Morgan’s site, it’s actually possible to come out with negative carbs on rest days – obviously this just means as close to zero as possible.

      I’ve personally helped 2 of my female friends with a programme with good results.

  6. hey im a student and I workout 4 times a week but I feel that rather than that im pretty sedentary…what number should I multiply my BMR for do a body recomposition?

      • I did crossfit for about 6 months 2 years ago, and since then I’ve been lifting fairly constantly. Normal stuff, but till now I’ve never really followed any specific routine or diet, which is why I feel like I don’t look too different though I’m considerably stronger than when I started

      • Ok – just asking because IMHO, if you haven’t got a decent amount of muscle to begin with, cutting is just going to make you really skinny. Depending on how much muscle you’ve got, you might be better with body recomp macros for 3 months at first.

        Don’t forget – gaining muscle is 75% diet, 20% in the gym, and 5% other small factors. If you aren’t getting enough protein, or hitting enough total calories, you won’t get any gains.

  7. I appreciate the concern! I’ve read from a few websites that in my case it seems like cutting first will be better. I don’t have much faith in body recomp unless you’re already pretty ripped.

    • Actually body recomp works best for those with little muscle mass and some fat to lose. In your first 6-12 months of serious weight training (proper squats, deadlifts, bench etc – measured not in time you’ve been going to the gym per se, but time that you’ve been getting everything on point), your body is in a unparalleled position to both gain muscle and drop fat simultaneously. The key to getting it to work is proper nutrition and proper training. If you don’t get your diet right and your lifting right, nothing will happen.

      As you train for more years, you have to focus on fat loss or muscle gain more individually – although it is possible to do a very slow “lean bulk” if you get your nutrition correct.

      Your call of course dude, but if I can give you any advice – you don’t want to cut when you’ve got almost no muscle, you’ll end up looking like a waif, and being on a calorie restriction is going to hamper your gains when you should be making the most of the initial surge you get for the first 12 months. There’s a lot of rubbish information out there on the net. I understand people just want to get shredded as quickly as possible, but you’ll stand yourself in much greater stead by doing things the right way around.

      Anyway, good luck with it all!

  8. Hi!! Awesone article, very helpful! I’m an intermittent faster, I do 18/6 and I’m looking at getting muscle gains so I’m learning before I go cold turkey and incorporate leangains! I’m a pretty active person and I have for habit to get up and do 20min HIIT (cardio or resistance) just because it makes me feel good fir the rest of the day!
    Do you recommand I cut it back to my rest days only? And do I need to “eat back” those calories?

    • Hey pal, excuse the delay in replying.

      The best way to gain muscle, is a small weekly total calorific surplus, which can be incorporated flexibly into LeanGains depending on how many days you want to weight train per week. Provided you’re getting about +15% extra calorie per week for your BMR x 7 (mine is around 2800 say, so I’d be looking to hit 2800 * 7 = ~20000 + 15% = 23000), and you still manage to maintain a calorie deficit on the days you don’t lift to minimise fat loss (+40%/-10% training/rest split for 3 training/4 rest days a week is basic slow bulking protocol), you can actually manipulate the split however you need to in order to fit around your training pattern. Any more of a weekly surplus than about 15%, and unless you’re in your first 18 months of lifting, you’ll end up gaining fat.

      Since you want to gain muscle, and being at a larger calorific deficit would harm this, then yes, you need to eat back your calories from cardio. Make sure you don’t “double count” them though – you can either increase your activity multiplier in your BMR calculation to reflect the additional exercise, or just keep it how it was and add on only the calories you burn from cardio. This is what I prefer to do – I use the multiplier for 3 training sessions a week, and then any cardio I just add on separately.

      Hope this makes some sense 🙂

  9. Hello my friend, thanks for this exwould excelent i would like to ask you about the BMR, Im 6’0 and my weight 80.3 cms and my bodyfat 13 with LBM: 70 kgs when I calculate my BMR: it was 1830 calories but my question its about multiplicate my BMR with my frequency activity its 3 ttimes at week i multiplicate my Bmr with 1.5 and then was like 2800 do i have take my macros from my BMR with my activity or just my BMR because in my first week i eat in my like 3200 calories on train days and 2000 in rest days and i didnt see any change please if you can help me 🙂

  10. Love this site and wish I’d found it years ago. How do you decide whether to recomp or cut? I have some muscle and some fat, approx 15% body fat. Also, I have weight trained for years but mainly for maintenance so I have a good size chest and back but my arms are small and abs are non-existent so how can 3 exercises only hit those weak spots?

  11. I am a newbie to leangains and I want to know if I workout 6 times/week(which 3 of them are weightlifting)will it have any effect?Im treating the weightlifting days as the training days and the other workout days as the rest days.I still have a calroric deficit which I must have to cut but will I burn muscle due to excessive exercise or minimize the cut effects?

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