This is not an exhaustive guide, a keyword targeting exercise, or something I suggest you follow; this is my hot take on why I decided to run a mini-cut phase this year alongside how it went.
When I moved to Sheffield at the start of this year, for the first time ever, I was living alone. This meant cooking, sleeping, exercising, writing, being and doing with no concern I would get in any one else's way.
I felt liberated. This new buzz must have kicked my hormones and energy expenditure up a couple of notches because, systematically, I was increasing my food intake week on week and finding that what I used to consider my maintenance, 500 calories later, was nowhere near enough for me to even maintain my weight.
I got up to 2,800 calories a day and my weight began levelling off. I got to 3,000 a day and it was staying the same, and I probably should have ridden this a little bit. Instead, working out in a strongman gym and inspired by the athletes around me – who, for the most part, were all over 20% body fat – I decided to commit to gaining.
3,300 calories in and I was putting on a half kilogram each week but feeling strong...and then I became ill. And rather than take time away from the gym, or return to maintenance, I pushed on through to 3,850 daily calories. With everything at an intensity that I was conscious of being too much, I obviously, then, completely burnt out.
In that last month, I had a terrible loss of confidence and self-love. I felt fat, I felt like my gains had stalled and my stomach felt terrible all the time.
I needed to come down; I wanted to pack on more muscle; I didn't have six months to cycle a cut and bulk back-to-back, so I put my reading into practice and started a mini-cut.
Quickly, Jack, what's a mini-cut?
A mini-cut is a two to six week period of running a calorie deficit with the aim of dropping around 0.75-1.25% bodyweight each week. In a typical dieting phase, we might aim at a more conservative range of 0.5-1% over six to 12 weeks.
So it's just a shorter, more aggressive cut then? Yes and no.
For this quick take – and please refer to Dr Mike's video on mini-cutting for detail – I deliberately went for a mini-cut over a longer dieting block to lose as much fat as possible and set myself up for another massing phase. In a traditional, slower, cut it's not uncommon for people to diet for 12 weeks and then stick to maintenance calories for four weeks before cutting or then gaining.
My weight (fat) gain in the last four weeks of my first gaining phase had really gotten to my head and stomach – internally and externally – and I needed to get back to a weight I felt comfortable at and restore my faith in the work I'd put in while eating in a surplus:
Above is a comparison of the end of the gaining phase (week 12) versus the end of the mini-cut (week six – six weeks later). Using averages from across both weeks, the difference in weight is roughly 10lbs. The difference in daily calorie intake is a stonking -1,800. Now, a couple of things clearly happened in this time:
I learnt how to pose with greater conviction
I found a better light source
And, allowing for points one and two, I found some decent lines under the water and fat I'd previously accumulated.
My hamstrings and arms were the major surprises – and sure this is pure onanism, but, for the first time in a while, I liked the way I looked. Not only that, but I found day to day life – walking, digesting – easier and cardio and climbing were relative breezes. Not only did I shift fat, then, I shifted the fatigue of being bigger.
Now, the task is to put on more size but, starting from a leaner composition, I should be able to reach the muscle mass in the left photo at a lighter weight and then push onto further gains. We'll see.
Would you mini-cut again?
One hundred percent. By the end of it, I'd gotten so into the groove of what I was eating – despite this being almost half of the gaining amount, my food choices were nutritious and delicious – and how I was training – my steps were around 10,000 a day, rather than 12,000 two weeks prior but we'd added an extra cardio and weights session into the mix – that I could have easily done another week, maybe two.
But that's not the point of mini-cutting; we get in, we get out before metabolic adaptations occur and muscle starts to strip away with the fat.
What would you do differently?
Not have a holiday/stag do in the middle of the initially planned four weeks – this was the major reason I ended up doing six weeks. Even though I didn't take the mick, I was nowhere near calories or macros – not least when half my intake was alcohol and I was one of the lighter drinkers
Cut calories sooner through food
Do one more weight session from the start
Use cardio rather than step increments – when I was hitting 12K+ steps a day, my recovery was non-existent.
Writing this three weeks into my gaining phase – started immediately after the right photo – I'm five pounds heavier and feeling strong. Workouts are far more intense and, for the most part, my recovery's great. My caffeine intake has gone from threshold danger levels to 200mg a day max and my hunger is becoming much less of an issue.
Interestingly, I'm not enjoying my sanctioned off-plan meals, and sweets and cookies have lost their appeal; I'm really going to eat 90:10 whole to processed in this phase it seems, because if I don't, my stomach won't let me hear the end of it.
Renaissance Periodization, A Guide to Mini Cuts [accessed 8 July 2022].