Article last updated: January 2020 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
One of the main concerns I get from clients during their cutting fat loss phase is about losing muscle mass and getting smaller.
When you cut you will get smaller, but not because you lose lean muscle mass.
Instead, you will get smaller because the cut reveals your true level of lean mass.
The issue is that most skinny-fat guys have a low level of lean mass – even after months of doing hard training.
When you cut down to a low body-fat percentage, you will likely look very small and your bodyweight will be much lower than you’d like it to be – even if you diet and train correctly.
It takes a lot of lean muscle mass to look good at below 12% body-fat where you have ripped abs.
To give you some perspective, most guys who trained for +3 years will be at a normal bodyweight and look quite normal in a t-shirt when they’re at a very low body-fat percentage.
It personally took me around 5 years of training to be able to look big in a shirt at 12% body-fat and it’s only now after 9-10 years of serious training that I feel I can cut down to 9-10% body-fat and actually look big.
Therefore, cutting down to get ripped abs doesn’t make sense until you’ve added some serious mass to your lats, upper chest, biceps, triceps and upper back.
The other way to look at this is by looking at the volume of fat mass and muscle mass.
5 pounds of fat mass takes up a lot more space than 5 pounds of muscle mass because muscle mass is much more dense:
To put this into perspective: Most skinny-fat guys carry minimal levels of muscle but lots of fat mass.
When you undertake a cut and start replacing some of the fat mass with muscle you will end up looking a lot smaller.
Overall, it will take a long time before you carry enough muscle to look good, therefore you have to mentally prepare yourself for that so you don’t get disappointed.
Also when you cut you eat less carbs therefore you store less glycogen in your muscles and your body retains less water. (This is more significant for trained individuals with a lot of muscle mass. The good thing is that lost size will quickly be regained once you start eating at maintenance again).
Finally, there is often some muscle loss during cutting but this occurs most often in:
- Advanced individuals who are already close to their genetic limit (at this point your body has a very hard time keeping extra muscle mass you gain during bulks).
- Individuals who want to go below 12% body-fat and get ripped abs.
- Individuals who don’t have their training and diet dialled in.
In other words, as long as you aren’t an advanced trainee, you don’t go below 12% body-fat (why would you with a low level of lean mass anyways?) and your training and diet are decent you won’t lose a lot of lean mass if any.
The small amount you may lose will be regained as soon as you switch back into maintenance Calories.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer