Naoto, our Japanese coach over on AthleteBody.jp, has developed quite a reputation within the bodybuilding community in Japan for building champions.
There are many lessons I could draw from this experience, but the most relevant is:
If you want to succeed in cutting to shreds by a fixed time point, make sure you start early enough.
(This also applies if you hope to get in shape for a beach vacation! 🏖 🩳 🍹)
One of the curious things about Japanese bodybuilding culture is the majority start dieting three months out from competition, regardless of how much body fat they have to lose.
This costs them muscle mass, causing them to lose placings. And because they suffer terribly, they lose control after and regain way more fat than they should. 🤦🏻♂️
Coaching in this environment is like having a cheat code for success. There is a clear advantage for those who play the long game.
(Cultural note: In Japan, it’s the tested bodybuilding competitions that are the most prestigious. Those who take drugs tend to compete abroad. — This is relevant because steroids help with muscle retention, but natural bodybuilders don’t have that luxury. Hence, the lessons apply to us.)
So, how do you know how early you should start dieting?
Well, for many of you looking to get shredded by summer, the answer may be now.
But here’s how you calculate that and a case study to go with it.
How To Calculate How Long You Need To Cut
- Estimate your current body fat percentage — you can use my visual guide to body fat level utilizing a few dozen client pictures to help you see where you’re at.
- Decide how lean you wish to be. — Use the guide linked above or the results page .
- Subtract the second from the first. — This will give you the total body fat percentage you need to lose.
- Divide by 0.5. — 0.5% is a sensible rate of body fat to aim to lose each week.
👆 This will give you the number of weeks it’ll take you to cut to your desired condition, assuming perfect adherence. However, for most people, perfect adherence should not be assumed. Stuff will come up, so I recommend you add 20% to any estimated time frame.
Let’s show those numbers in action with a case study.
A Case Study — Helping Nori Achieve His Dream
Nori came to us with the goal of winning the Tokyo show. He competed in 2019 and 2020 but needed to be bigger and leaner to win. So we decided to take the 2021 season off so he could spend a long time bulking.
Below is a photo of Nori at the end of his bulk. How many months before his competition do you think we started to diet? (See if you can guess based on what I shared above before you scroll past the picture.)
The answer was 30 weeks.
We estimated his body fat percentage to be about 20%. We know that he would need to be down to ~5% body fat on stage to be competitive. So, he had 15% body fat to lose.
And to ensure muscle retention, we wanted to lose no more than 0.5% of body weight per month.
Dividing 15 by 0.5 is 30 weeks. Given Nori’s obscene levels of dedication to the sport, we could assume almost perfect adherence. We went a little faster at the start which allowed us to go slower at the end, where muscle loss risk is highest.
Here’s how he looked after cutting:
Nori was not quite the biggest on stage, but he was the leanest, and I’m delighted to say that he won. 😊💪
It’s important to note that here on the English site, we specialize in working with recreational trainees, not competitive bodybuilders. If you’re after competition coaching, consider my co-author on The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books, Eric Helms, and his team at 3DMuscleJourney.
If you’re interested in becoming one of our coaching clients, we now have a short waitlist, but we’d be delighted to see how we can help.
I hope this has been helpful. Thank you for reading! 😊🙏🏻