The Ultimate Bodybuilding Cutting Diet

Ever wondered what bodybuilders eat to get those rock-hard abs, and super-cut physiques? Well, we created a blueprint. 

If you’ve stacked on gains and you are ready to cut, then you’ve come to the right place. Pre-contest prep requires commitment, hard work, and consistency. But above all, nutrition and diet are the cornerstones to your results, and just eating clean isn’t going to cut it, pun intended. If you want to learn more about bodybuilding cutting diet, or how to lose body fat and maintain muscle mass, then keep reading.

Bodybuilding Cutting Diet Goals

The goal of a bodybuilding cutting diet is simple – body optimization. Lose as much body fat and retain as much muscle mass as possible is the name of the game. That means that your diet and your training is going to look very different than when you’re in the building or bulking phase of your training program. Workout volume is going to increase, calories are going to come down, and your cardio is going to increase. 


Influences on Body Composition

Whatever your body type, or composition happens to be, there are certain factors that are at play. 

  • Genetics, namely your body type. Are you an ectopmorph, mesomorph, or endomorph.
  • Metabolic rate, meaning how fast your metabolism is another genetic factor.
  • Calorie consumption will be a crucial factor that will influence overall outcomes.
  • Quality of Diet is a concern, if you want to bring the best package to the stage. What you eat matters. If you can get away with eating candy and running on energy drinks, and still have a six pack that's great for beach season, but not great for a show. 
  • Exercise program is also crucial to defining the results you want to achieve.

Cut With Control

When you’re ready to start cutting down weight, the first thing to remember is that when you cut, you will lose some muscle in addition to body fat. It’s inevitable. That’s why you’re going to want to cut at a slow yet consistent pace, so that you can maintain as much muscle mass as possible without too much muscle wasting. You’ll need to calculate how much weight you need to lose to get to your target goal, based upon how many weeks out you start your cut. For example, if you’re ten weeks out, and you need to cut 10lbs, then 1lb per week should be the goal. In a traditional 12-week cut however, you never want to lose more than 2-2.5lbs per week, otherwise you'll lose too much muscle mass. 

When your body is in a caloric deficit, muscle loss can and will most likely occur. The key here is cutting slowly and with control.

Tracking your macronutrients and weighing your food will be crucial to presenting the best package when you step on stage. You need to have your food, diet, and macros down to a science. It's proven that when you don't track your food intake, caloric intake is greatly over or underestimated. The last thing you want it to assume how much you're eating without accurately tracking your progress and food intake.

Nutrient Timing/When To Eat

How often you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Most competition diet prep will start 12 weeks out and during this phase, you'll actually be eating more often. You'll most likely be traveling everyday with your meal prep ready to go no matter where you are and eating every 2-3 hours. You'll need to use a food scale and keep careful track of what and how much you eat.

Caloric Deprivation

When you strictly diet a long period of time, while you're turning up the training volume, your body will be deprived of the essential vitamins and nutrients it needs for optimal function. You'll be eating high protein, low carbohydrates, and minimal fat at around 20% of total calories. Supplementing with complex carbohydrates, protein, omega-3 fatty acids like krill oil, and amino acids will be crucial for your overall success on stage.

Now, let’s talk macronutrients.


Protein is responsible initiating the muscle building process, otherwise known as muscle protein synthesis. Protein is crucial to maintain muscle mass during your cut. Protein is broken down into its simplest form amino acids when ingested. Amino acids are released into the bloodstream then utilized to maintain and build more muscle. Therefore, maintaining a positive amino acid balance is key, to inhibit from muscle catabolism (break-down) and rebuild and repair your muscle.

If you're unable or want to get more protein in your diet, consider supplementing with Whey Protein Isolate. Isolate is the best type of protein to use when on a bodybuilding cut, due to the cold-filtration process, removing any excess lactose, fat, and carbohydrates, leaving you with a purified form of fast digesting protein and amino acids. 

RECOMMENDED PRODUCT Whey Protein Isolate (Grass-Fed, 30 Servings)

Here is a list of acceptable lean protein sources you can include in your bodybuilding cut - chicken, beef, turkey, pork, white fish, egg whites. 

Complex Carbohydrates

Cutting carbs is a necessity when you're trying to achieve a caloric deficit and lose body fat, but not cutting all your carbs. Including complex carbohydrates in your bodybuilding cutting diet is going to be important to retain muscle mass and energy. Cutting down calories and your carbs will leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Glucose the sugar derived from carbohydrates is a primary fuel source for your brain and body. When you're low on energy, your body will try to produce glucose from amino acids. Carbohydrates will prevent this from happening since they are easily broken down for fuel sparing more muscle tissue.

Complex carbs digest much slower than simple carbohydrates, due to their longer-chain molecular structure. Complex carbs are also sugars, but they do not spike blood insulin, keeping your blood glucose levels stable, and provide a long-sustained energy release. These types of carbohydrates or clean carbs work best for prolonged training, improving endurance, building more muscle mass, and optimizing body composition. Complex carbs slow the absorption of sugar, slowing down digestion, which results in lower cholesterol levels and keeping you fuller for a longer period of time.

Great examples of some complex carbohydrates for a bodybuilding cut, would be oats, quinoa, brown rice, basmati or white rice, sweet potatoes, or Swolverine Clean Carbs

RELATED ARTICLE Best Carbohydrates For Bodybuilding


Your fat will be especially low during your cut. Now, with that in mind, fat does have a substantial effect on your hormonal balance. Several studies have shown that diets low in fat, below 15% of total caloric intake will significantly decrease testosterone production, while diets higher in fat increased serum testosterone levels [R].

Although testosterone production will be lower, too much fat can contribute to greater amounts of adipose tissue, and therefore, for purposes of cutting need to be kept between an optimal level between hormone maintenance and reducing  body fat.

Bodybuilding Cutting Macros

Your macros will be calculated and based upon your specific body type and conditions. However, in general we’ve included some basic information to calculate your macros and where they need to be to cut.

Here’s what you will need to know before calculating your macros:

  1. How many calories do you eat in a day (roughly, we’ll use 2300 calories for example)
  2. Determine your ideal ratio of protein, carbs, and fat (we’ll use 50% carbs, 25% protein, 25% fat for example)
  3. Multiply your daily calories by your percentages
  4. Divide your calorie totals by its calorie-per-gram number

Here’s how to calculate your macros based on 2,300 calories per day

  • Carbs:2,300 x 0.50 = 1,150 calories from carbohydrates
  • Protein:2,300 x 0.25 = 575 calories from protein
  • Fats:2,300 x 0.25 = 575 calories from fat

Here's how to calculate your macros into grams

  • Carbs (4 calories per gram): 1,150 divided by 4 = 287g carbs
  • Protein (4 calories per gram): 575 divided by 4 = 143g protein
  • Fat (9 calories per gram): 575 divided by 9 = 63g fat

Although these are general parameters, we highly recommend working with 1:1 with a nutrition coach from The Swole Kitchen to eliminate the guesswork and get the results you want to be show ready.

What's The Best Macro Calculator?

If you don't feel like going through all the trouble, you can get a pretty accurate reading by entering in some quick information into an automatic macro calculator. The best macro calculator to give you an accurate reading is The Swole Kitchen Macro Calculator. 

Go check it out for yourself and calculate those macros!

Fat loss and muscle maintenance are the main goals during a bodybuilding cut. A lower carbohydrate and high protein ratio will tend to accelerate fat loss efforts. Bodybuilding cut macros will tend to be between

40-50% protein - 10-30% carbohydrates - 30-40% fat.

There are ways that you can accelerate fat loss efforts such as carb-cycling, intermittent fasting, fasted workouts, and increasing the amount of cardio on a weekly basis. That being said, what you eat (your macros & ratios) are going to have the largest influence on positive or negative results

RELATED ARTICLE How To Calculate Your Macros

What To Drink During A Bodybuilding Cut

During your cut, you’ll want to keep your calories low especially the calories coming from what you’re drinking. First and foremost, water will be your drink of choice 99% or even 100% of the time. You can have other low calorie beverages such as green tea and coffee, if you want.

Supplements For Bodybuilding Cut

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

Contest dieting is a high powered version of a conventional clean diet, but more strict, which includes high protein, to maintain muscle mass and reduce body fat, low carbs, and low fat, with increased amounts of aerobic exercise. Your body will be severely nutrient deprived, making supplements extremely crucial to your success.

We already mentioned two important supplements while cutting, which are whey protein isolate, and clean carbs. However, BCAAs will also be crucial during your cut to maintain a positive amino acid balance to inhibit muscle mass breakdown.

Remember when I said protein is composed of amino acids? 

As you digest macronutrients, such as protein, they are broken down into their simplest form - amino acids. This is why branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are often referred to as the building blocks of protein. Branched chain amino acids are composed of three essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Your body does not naturally produce these amino acids; therefore, it is essential to obtain them from the foods you eat, or from supplements.

Research suggests, that BCAAs have a positive impact on muscle protein synthesis, the muscle building process. BCAAs also prevent protein degradation or muscle mass breakdown. In order to build muscle your body must be in a net positive amino acid balance. If the rate of muscle protein breakdown is greater than the rate of muscle protein synthesis, your body becomes catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue for energy.


BCAAs assist to keep your body in an anabolic state, while performing prolonged exercise bouts, or during a cut. By supplementing with BCAAs you ensure your body is in a positive amino acid balance, which will support muscle growth, repair, and reduce muscle soreness post workout.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCT BCAA (60 Servings, Lemon Lime)

Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn)

The second recommended supplement for a cut, is going to be creatine, namely buffered creatine, or Kre-Alkalyn.  Normal creatine monohydrate can cause bloating, and water retention, because it has poor bioavailability. Kre-Alkalyn is pH corrected, absorbing quicker and negates the need for loading. 

Over 90% of the creatine in the human body is localized in muscle, in teh form of creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate serves as an energy system in your muscles, providing a reserve of high energy phosphate for your workouts. This supplement is really a necessity for bodybuilding as it increases, strength, size, and power. 

RECOMMENDED PRODUCT Kre-Alkalyn (60 Servings, Unflavored)

Omega-3 (Krill Oil)

Your fat intake during your cut, is going to be extremely low, making dietary and health fats extremely important to supplement. Essential fatty acids help the body with recovery, athletic performance, and immune resistance.  

Krill Oil is derived from tiny shellfish that are packed with Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA). They also contain the world's most powerful and potent natural antioxidant called “Astaxanthin” which gives the oil its “reddish” color.  Compared to Fish Oil, Krill Oil is absorbed 68% better than fish oil and is metabolized within 2-3 hours, whereas Fish Oil is utilized between 48-72 hours.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCT Krill Oil (60 Servings, Vanilla)

The Ultimate Bodybuilding Cutting Diet: Takeaway

The most important factor when you're starting a cut, is discipline. You can have all the motivation in the world but if you lack discipline, you're not going to get very far. In addition to your diet, training, and supplementation are important as well to bring a solid winning package to the stage. If you're not sure where to start and need more guidance, I would seriously consider hiring a certified nutrition coach to help you with your cut. 

Contest dieting is a high powered version of a conventional clean diet, but more strict, which includes high protein, to maintain muscle mass and reduce body fat, low carbs, and low fat, with increased amounts of aerobic exercise. This can leave you feeling lethargic and depleted, making supplementation crucial to your success. 

In summary....

  • There are a few rules to follow and live by when you're on a bodybuilding cut
  • Create a detailed and specific diet plan, tracking your macros, water intake, and supplementation. If you can't then hire a nutrition coach. 
  • Use a food scale, measuring cups and spoons, to ascertain the calories an grams of protein, carbs, and fat in whatever you eat. 
  • Eat every 2-3 hours
  • Meal prep and carry them wherever you go to ensure you're getting the food, calories, and nutrients you need. Invest in a cooler or back pack.
  • Take all necessary supplements, whenever necessary, including protein, carbs, vitamins, essential fatty acids, 
  • Drink a ton of water, and aim for at least 4-5 liters per day

Need Help With Optimizing Your Diet And Nutrition Plan To Finally Get The Results You've Been Waiting For?

The Swole Kitchen provides 1:1 nutrition coaching, macro coaching, and custom meal plans to help guide you to becoming the best version of yourself. We teach you how to enjoy the foods you love in the right amounts, so you can fit into your favorite pair of jeans, hit your health and fitness goals, and be healthy and happy. We guide you through making sound nutritional decisions and teach you along the way, so you can learn how to take control of your health, and discover what if feels like to live again.

We believe that everyone can optimize not only their athletic performance but their human potential. The way we believe we can optimize performance is through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes. We provide the nutrients you need to power your active lifestyle.


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