Bodybuilding typically results in getting bigger and stronger — so it’s only natural to assume that it simply involves eating and lifting weights. But bulking up, known as the building phase, is only half the process and can leave muscles concealed under a substantial amount of body fat. To acquire a stage-worthy physique, bodybuilders go through what’s known as a cutting phase — where losing fat is just as important as keeping muscles intact.

In fact, bodybuilders go to great lengths to maintain or increase muscle mass while cutting weight, which can feel a lot like walking on a tightrope.

First off, you’ll have to acquire muscle mass during the building phase. Once you’re bulked up, it’s time to trim down — and get rid of any excess body fat that may be concealing your hard work.

But losing fat without losing muscle mass can be a tricky business. The cutting phase is what sets bodybuilders apart from weightlifters — and it can be hard enough to turn one into the other. According to Total Shape, a well-known health and fitness site, proper food portioning and minding calorie count on food and drink intake plays a vital role in shedding fat while trying to gain muscle mass.

But fortunately, the art of bodybuilding has evolved so much that you can cut a lot of complicated steps (and any excess fat) with just a few simple tools — and plenty of dedication.

What is an Ideal Target Body Fat Percentage for Bodybuilders?

Stage-bound bodybuilders typically have a body fat percentage of around 5%, while falling below this threshold is generally not recommended. Going any lower can pose significant health risks and getting down to 5% is certainly no small task — and should always be done under professional supervision.

When getting into bodybuilding, it’s important to note that a healthy body fat is based on age and gender and that healthy body fat is typically higher for women than men. A woman aged 30-40 is considered to have an excellent body fat percentage at 14-18%. In the same age group, a man is considered to have an excellent body fat between 8-14%.

Body fat has numerous essential roles in the body and having yours too low can lead to complications with blood pressure, cardiovascular function, hormones, energy levels, and more. Needless to say, completely eliminating fat is out of the question, and your objective as a bodybuilder should be to find a balance between your body fat percentage, health and physique.

A strategy often used by professional bodybuilders is to have a competition-ready body fat percentage for the stage and a higher—and healthier—body fat in the offseason. This ensures that a competitive body fat percentage is always within reaching distance without compromising your health in the meantime.

Flex Numbers with Calorie Calculation and Weight Loss

Calorie intake will be the crux of your bodybuilding journey and will require precise nutritional measurements to cut fat, increase or maintain muscle mass, and ensure good health. In order to preserve muscle mass, the slower you lose weight, the better.

That said, a healthy recommended weight loss target is around ½ to 1 percent of weight per week. Knowing exactly how many calories you’ll need per day to maintain weight, lose weight or gain weight is a lot easier with the help of our Goal Weight Calculator.

This handy tool only requires basic criteria to help determine the ideal calorie intake you’ll need to achieve your goals. It can also help you plot an efficient meal plan, eating times and even find room for dietary flexibility. As your situation and goals change, the goal weight calculator can be adapted to your needs and adjust its output accordingly.

When using a Goal Weight Calculator, it’s important to understand how to achieve Caloric Distribution that is both healthy and effective in trimming fat while maintaining muscle mass. The calculator will produce a number that is typically around 200 calories below what’s required to maintain your current weight.

In order to successfully trim weight without losing muscle, you’ll be utilizing macro splits (macronutrient ratio of carbs, fat and protein calories) which helps you structure your diet more efficiently. This typically involves around 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of lean body mass, 15 to 30 percent of calories from fat, and the remaining calories from carbs.

Let’s get into a little more detail about the macronutrients.

Protein: A Bodybuilder’s Best Friend

Protein is essential to muscle building, among countless other physiological functions. As a bodybuilder, you’ll find that protein not only becomes a major staple of your diet — but actually plays a vital role in your lifestyle.

Protein gives you energy before and after workouts, helps stabilize your appetite, burns fat, and (of course) builds and maintains muscle mass. With the balancing act of cutting weight without losing muscle, protein will serve as one of the most useful tools on your journey.

A successful bodybuilder must be a protein strategist — and capitalize on the anabolic window (when protein and carbs are more efficiently absorbed), optimal sources of protein, and how to balance protein distribution throughout the day.

Our Goal Weight Calculator can help you do just that, and when combined with our specially formulated Strength and Lean Muscle Stack, you can take all the guesswork out of what’s needed to build a lean muscular physique.

Carbs: More Than Just an Energy Source

As the main energy source of the human diet, carbohydrates offer on-the-spot calories perfect for a big boost before an intense workout. But when it comes to bodybuilding, there’s more to carbs than just the energy they provide.

For one, any unused carbs get stored as glycogen in the muscles, and can actually give them a fuller and more robust look. Some bodybuilders practice what’s known as carb-cycling — or switching between high to low intake every several days to balance these effects.

Because carbs can influence the appearance of your muscles, professional bodybuilders use a technique that involves cutting carb and water intake before a showcase to create a shrink-wrap effect. With less water weight, the muscle can be pumped back up with fast-digesting carbs and get sculpted just in time for the show.

Fat: It Can Work to Your Advantage

Even when trimming fat, you’ll still need to account for 15 to 30% of your calorie intake with this essential nutrient. Your body needs it for a wide-range of functions — many of which are directly related to your success as a bodybuilder.

Building muscle mass creates a positive feedback loop that results in the production of more testosterone — which leads to a further increase in muscle mass. The hormonal system (where testosterone is made) is regulated in part by fat cells, and not having enough fat in your diet or body can lead to impacted testosterone production among other health issues.

Fat is also essential to your metabolism and can help regulate your appetite while increasing your fat-burning rate. It’s important to include healthy fats in your diet while leveraging our Lean Muscle Stack to your advantage for optimal strength, endurance and recovery alongside weight loss and lean muscle gains.

Cheat Meals and Bodybuilding

Cheat meals have benefits that go beyond eating the foods you love when weighed against a balanced calorie deficit. Glycogen storage has been linked to increased leptin production and metabolism efficiency based on a study performed to determine a relationship between leptin and carb intake.

A Goal Weight Calculator can help you determine when a cheat meal might be in order and if it aligns with your current bodybuilding goals. Of course, cheat meals aren’t a necessity — and anyone affected by emotional eating should probably avoid this bodybuilding strategy when trying to reach peak performance.

Resistance Training and Cardio

Ultimately, no amount of calorie distribution or supplement efficiency will get the job done without a proper workout plan. Because cutting weight typically involves a calorie deficit, professional bodybuilders often integrate cardio with resistance training to offset their deficit and avoid issues associated with a minimal calorie intake.

Try the Ultimate Weight Loss Stack by BELDT Labs, it combines a powerful fat burner, amino acids, AKG, CLA and Garcinia Cambogia so you can accelerate weight loss and better control your metabolism, energy levels, recovery, and fat oxidation.