Many of you I'm sure are in that "cutting phase" in preparation of the beach days of summer. Because you're on a site with the word powerlift in the name, I'm guessing you don't want to look like a little Bieber twig after either (if you do, this may not be the right site for you). Cutting properly can be tricky. Decreasing your adipose tissue while maintaining or increasing muscle mass requires planning and lots of hard work. No supplement in the world will change you from a big strong Vince Wilfork to a big, strong, lean Arnold. That requires work. LOTS OF WORK. Supplements do, however help you make your cuts without destroying your muscle mass. Below I outline the elements of my cut routine that may be of use to anyone in this position.
Many people will tell you physique is 80% diet and 20% gym. That is true for bodybuilding, NOT POWERLIFTING. Follow the above mantra and watch your gains vanish right before your eyes. Instead flip it with 80% gym 20% diet, or find some comfortable middle ground. The higher the percentage of gym work the more WORK you need to do. There is no slacking here. No days off. You can be what you want to be, but you must MAKE yourself that. It isn't going to happen on its own.
I'm coming off a good 9 month bulk phase. During which I experienced unparalleled gains in muscle size and record setting strength gains. You can bet your precious protein stash I don't have any intention of letting that vanish to the wind. My workout is still 5x5 based. Emphasis is on compound lifts with as much weight as possible. The difference is sets 4 and 5. During these I drop the weight a bit and bump up to 8-10 reps to achieve maximum PUMP. Remember, more muscle leads to a leaner physique!
During a bulk cardio is the enemy. My cardio then was running to the squat rack so somebody else couldn't take it. During a cut it is both friend and foe. Properly executed cardio is an important tool in your arsenal. Make sure to stay within AEROBIC ranges. Many pieces of cardio equipment will identify this through your heart rate. Choosing "fat burn" will tell the equipment to do this. Aerobic range means your cells are utilizing oxygen, important as fat catabolism is impossible in the absence of oxygen (carbs and protein used then). You will probably feel that you're not exerting yourself 100% - and you're NOT. This is for good reason. Push yourself to the point of heavy breathing and cramps and you begin anaerobic respiration where your body begins eating away at the ample protein stores in your blood or muscles. Your body (and hopefully your mind being that you're still reading this) would much prefer protein to be used structurally - building and repairing muscle. Only as a last resort should it be used as an energy source.
Work Your Core Muscles
Your core muscles (abdominals, obliques, etc..) require resistance training like all other muscles. Sure you could do a trillion crunches, but that's not going to give the textured abs your looking for. Not to mention a strong core leads to stronger squats and deadlifts while reducing back injuries. I highly recommend searching youtube for Sylvester Stallone's ab workout from his Instone video and supplement series. Key to remember here is that core muscles require resistance training just like your biceps and quads. Reps are not always better than weights here. Also bear in mind that cardio and core go hand in hand. Everyone has a six pack, it's just a matter of enhancing and enlarging it with core workouts, while uncovering and enhancing definition with cardio.
DIET & SUPPLEMENTS
Too many people treat supplements like a magic bullet. Just like drinking 10 protein shakes a day isn't going to do anything but make you fat if you lay around all day, cutting supplements won't do anything without being paired with the right work. Think of supplements as a magnifying glass. Use them to magnify the work you're doing rather than as a foundation for your plans.
Carbs are the enemy of burning fat, right? Wrong. Your body cannot live without carbs. Your brain can metabolize one unit of energy to produce ATP and operate: Glucose. No carbs, no glucose, you get the picture. Secondly, carbs assist in the burning of fat. Fatty metabolism is most efficient when one unit of sugar (glucose) and one fatty acid are metabolized together. When fat is burned in the absence of carbs, you produce ketone bodies which accumulate and are toxic. Ketogenesis, as it's referred to is very apparent by the strong odor of nail polish remover in the breath. If you're at this stage, you're doing this way wrong and need carbs ASAP.
So it's been established that carbohydrates are essential. Like my previous article on protein, not all carb sources are created equally. Look for whole food sources of complex carbs. An example I like to use is an orange candy vs. an orange. Both are loaded with carbs, but the candy is refines simple carbs such as sucrose, whereas the orange is loaded with natural complex and simple carbs along with fibers and vitamins. Obviously the orange is ideal here. Timing is also essential. I like to get a good dose of natural carbs such as an orange within the golden 30 minutes after a workout. This piggy-backs off the workout induced insulin spike and drives the carbs to the muscles. The sooner after training the better. Carbs in the muscles lead to quicker recovery, stronger muscles, and higher intensity workouts.
Protein is King. You know that already. During cutting season it is no different. The training routine I described above involves lots of heavy compound lifts which should not only maintain, but build muscle. This requires lots of protein. GNC has a good link to a protein calculator to get an idea of what you need. They calculate seemingly for those lifting less intensely than powerlifters. I always go higher with lean proteins Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey and Casein powders, and currently with Nutrex's delicious whey-casein-egg protein blend, Muscle Infusion. Muscle Infusion has the 7 different units of the proteins mentioned before. This allows quick, intermediate, and slow digestion ideal for muscle recovery, growth, and sustenance.
PRO TIP: I recommend GNC's protein calculator above, but unless your get a great sale, buying your protein from them is a rip-off. Even with gold card prices and shipping included, it's almost always cheaper to purchase online from the likes of bodybuilding.com, AllStar Health, or even Amazon(especially if you have prime!).
You're trying to burn your excess fat so you may not immediately thing consuming fat is a great idea. You're half right. Fat comes in at a whopping 9kcal/gram compared to 4 for both protein (when used for energy) and carbs. That being said dietary fat is essential, in moderation! Keep your fat intake low - I strive for about 10-15% of caloric intake when cutting. Of this fat the more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats the better. Saturated fats are bad but in very small moderation are acceptable. Trans Fat is synonymous with run and hide. Stay away from it! Dietary fat is essential for the digestion of certain lipid soluble vitamins
(A,D,E,K). It is also the source from which your body produces testosterone. This is a fine balance point. Bodyfat stores excess ADEK vitamins as well as many toxins. Be careful not to over do it with these vitamins, as they can become dangerous and cause overdose in excess. Excess bodyfat also actually decreases testosterone levels even though it's dietary cousin is the source of testosterone production!
The most common supplement used directly for cutting is the thermogenic. These products boost your metabolism, magnifying the effect of any work you do in terms of energy use. In english, you burn more calories, more fat, with the same work. My favorite so far is Cellucor's Super-HD. Like most thermogenics, it's loaded with caffeine. Studies on caffeine have shown that it may directly cause your body to turn to fat for energy more often. The most definite effect is an increased heart rate. Be very careful here if you have any heart, liver, or kidney problems (only a doctor can tell you if YOU are healthy enough for vigorous exercise and supplementation!). A heart pumping faster is a heart that needs more calories. When you do cardio, this bumps and sustains a higher HR, thus burning more calories. It also works a bit like an energy drink minus all the sugary crap. Dosage on Super-HD is 1-2 in the morning and 1 in afternoon. I work it out so my 1-2 serve as my "morning coffee".
Super-HD comes packed with loads of water soluble B vitamins. Don't worry that the label says it has 4167% of your daily value of vitamin B12. B vitamins are water soluble, meaning you use what you need and the rest hitches a ride in your urine out of your body. The downside to that is you need to replace it daily, there is no storage for later. B vitamins are essential for burning fat. They are a coenzyme required to harness the energy locked inside fat molecules. Without B vitamins, you will not burn fat, or protein, or carbs. In other words, you need B vitamins.
The final ingredient bundle is the SuperHD ThermoSculpting Blend. This is made of various plant extracts such as capsaicin extract from hot peppers. These ingredients have been shown to promote fat burning for energy as well as inhibit fat storage.
I'm going to include Fusion Bodybuilding's FUBAR in this category as well. It was designed as a preworkout capsule, containing various forms of caffeine allowing for sustained release. I have found it to be the best pre-workout for cardio days, as it seems to produce the longest energy rush. The caffeine should also perform the same as the caffeine in the Super-HD. I substitute FUBAR for the afternoon dose of Super-HD on cardio days.
This is a niche category with only one product that I am aware of, USPLabs Anabolic Pump (AP). I love USPLabs for always pushing the envelope and finding these new niches. AP promises to increase insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells (probably all of your cells) causing them to absorb all the carbs in your blood rather than letting them be converted to adipose tissue. This is similar to the insulin spike post-workout. I've only been taking this for about a week now, but already I notice a difference. Extra stored energy in my muscles to harness in the weight-room, as well as amplified physical effects from my workouts. One very important note: The instructions say take 15-20 minutes before a meal containing 60+ grams of carbs. PLEASE listen to this. I haven't personally strayed, but I have read other reviews of people taking their AP and then forgetting or getting delayed in eating. That could cause you to go severely hypoglycemic and have very serious medical consequences. As with all supplements, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!
BSN's AminoX reigns supreme here. The taste (fruit punch) is out of this world. Tastes more like a casual beverage than a powerlifting supplement. BCAA's are high in the amino acids leucine and isoleucine. These are very important for inducing an anabolic state in the muscles. BCAA's also play a role in preventing muscle catabolism. Muscles are catabolised during cardio when there is a need to use amino acids for energy. By having a BCAA shake before beginning said workout, there are ample BCAA's available in the blood to protect the muscles. On days I am lifting followed by cardio (ALWAYS lift before doing cardio!) I take one AminoX shake before lifting, and mix another to consume as I am doing cardio. It's all about protecting the gains!
Another great BCAA supplement is Fusion Bodybuilding's Agent-M. I love the ingredient profile and mixability of this product. The reason I raved so much above about AminoX rather than Agent-M is purely flavor. AminoX has many flavors to choose from (fruit punch being the best!). Agent-M comes in any flavor you want as long as that flavor is grape. I just so happen to hate artificial grape flavoring. Besides that this product is great with all the benefits of AminoX and then some. On an interesting note I just found out that Fusion is making this in caplet form. Great idea! That is something I would be very interested in.
Moral of the story: work hard, eat right, and magnify your gains with proper supplementation. NOTHING can replace the hard work, but proper diet and supplements can magnify your results. Stick to heavy lifting, but mix in some higher reps every now and then along with cardio and core workouts. WORK HARD! The results will follow!
And as always, the fancy legal stuff: All of the above are based on my experiences and research and are for informational purposes only. Workout and consume supplements at your own risk and remember, always consult with a doctor before beginning a workout routine or drastically changing your diet. Be Careful. Stay Safe. Lift Heavy. Be Strong!