As a nutrition coach, I’ve worked with many clients who want to gain muscle while staying lean, so I have years of experience teaching clients how to implement mini-cuts.
So what is a mini-cut? A mini cut is a short, aggressive fat loss phase (2 to 4 weeks) that can help reduce the amount of fat you accumulate while bulking. A mini cut is particularly helpful if you want a leaner, more defined physique for an upcoming event or holiday that is fast approaching.
Mini cuts are not suitable for everyone though, so it’s important to ensure that you are a good fit for this diet before starting. And if you do start, how to do it properly in order to achieve the desired results.
In this article, I will discuss,
- The pros and cons of doing a mini
- How to decide whether you should do a mini cut
- How to calculate your macros and calories for a mini cut
Mini Cut: A Quick Overview
A mini cut is a short-term diet where you significantly reduce your calorie intake to create a more aggressive calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you need to maintain weight), with the intent of seeing more rapid fat loss.
Once you have finished your mini cut and reduced your body fat percentage, you are then able to enter into a muscle-building phase at a leaner body fat percentage.
Entering a muscle-building phase when you are leaner will help you build the best physique. This is because as you bulk you will put on some muscle and fat, but you will have less overall fat by the time you finish your bulking phase than you would have if you were not lean to begin with.
A mini-cut will be most effective if you have been in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you need to maintain weight) for a prolonged time period. This is because your metabolism will be faster (you’ll burn calories at a faster rate) and you will likely have more body fat to lose.
- Check Out: Body Recomposition Calculator: Lose Fat While Gaining Lean Muscle
Mini Cut Benefits
The benefits to doing a mini cut are:
Getting Lean For An Event or Holiday
If you have an upcoming event such as a photoshoot, or even a holiday that you want to look lean for, then a mini cut can help you to shed excess fat at a faster rate.
A mini cut is especially helpful if this event of holiday is last minute and you don’t have time to go through a longer dieting phase (i.e. 12-16 weeks).
For example, if you have 4 weeks until a beach vacation then you can enter into a mini cut and lose approximately 1-1.5% of your body weight each week (2-3 lbs/week for a 200lbs individual) so that you’re leaner for your vacation.
Creating The Illusion Of Having Added More Muscle
Although you won’t be adding any muscle during a mini cut, a lower body fat percentage can give off the illusion that you have more muscle mass compared to how you look with a higher body fat, since you will have more muscle definition.
For example, a woman who has 120lbs of muscle and has a body fat percentage of 23% will look leaner than a woman who has 120lbs of muscle but has a body fat percentage of 30%.
Keep in mind that if your ultimate goal is to build more muscle mass to have a more muscular physique, you will likely have to enter into an extended bulking phase.
Setting You Up For A Longer, More Effective Bulking Phase
Taking time to do a mini cut before, or even in the middle of a bulking phase, can help you to decrease unwanted fat gain, which will allow you to extend the length of your bulk.
Typically bulking phases come to an end when the individual has put on more fat than they desire and wish to pursue a cutting phase, but when you end your bulk you also decrease the amount of muscle you’re able to gain.
So if you included a mini cut before or in the idle of your bulk, you wouldn’t have as much fat mass as soon and could continue bulking for longer and increase your muscle building potential.
For example, if you bulked for 12 weeks straight you could expect to gain around 3lbs of muscle (1lb/month) and 6 to 12lbs of fat (0.5 to 1lb/week), but if you incorporated a 3 week mini cut halfway through your bulk and lost 6lbs of fat (2lbs/week), then you could theoretically bulk twice as long (24 weeks) to gain a total of 6lbs of muscle with only 6 to 12lbs of fat.
They Are Short And Effective, Which Can Help To Create Momentum
Lastly, mini cuts are beneficial because they produce results at a faster rate, which is highly motivating when you’re dieting.
With a longer diet, many people will lose motivation and give up because results can be slow to become noticeable.
Since a mini cut is short and aggressive, it can help dieters create momentum by producing fast results in your physique which can boost confidence and motivation to stick to their diet.
Mini Cut Drawbacks
On the other hand, the downsides of a mini cut are:
Lower Energy Levels
Anytime you are reducing your calorie intake, you’re reducing the amount of fuel that your body needs so it’s normal to feel like you have less energy.
Since a mini cut requires a more intense calorie deficit, you can expect that you will experience some significant fatigue. This fatigue could impact your training, ability to perform daily tasks, and your cognitive processes (i.e. brain fog).
When you’re in an intense calorie deficit, like you would be in a mini cut, you will likely feel more hungry. This increased hunger is normal while dieting more intensely because your body will always try to ensure it has enough energy for basic functions.
These increased hunger pangs can make a mini cut more challenging because being hungry can be uncomfortable and difficult to work through, which could lead you to stray from your mini cut by increasing your intake.
- Related Article: 34 Tips For Getting Used To Eating Less
Can Be Quite Stressful On The Body
Putting your body into a calorie deficit can put stress on the body since it is not being given its normal amount of fuel, making it less resilient.
The negative effects of an intense diet can compound if you are experiencing stress in other areas of your life (i.e Work, school, relationship).
For this reason, a mini cut should only be undertaken when stress levels are low in your life.
How Long Should a Mini Cut Last?
Since the nature of a mini cut is that it’s shorter in duration than a regular 12-16 week cutting phase, your mini cut should not last longer than 6 weeks.
This is because a mini cut requires a more aggressive calorie deficit, and the longer you stay in this type of deficit the more you run the risk of losing precious muscle mass.
Additionally, you need to be in a mini cut for a minimum of 2 weeks to see fat loss progress, even if you have cut your calorie intake aggressively.
Key Takeaway: The duration of your mini cut will depend on how much fat you are looking to lose, but should be between 2 to 6 weeks in length.
How To Decide Whether You Should Do a Mini Cut
There are people who would benefit from a mini cut because it would help them get closer to their ultimate physique, but there are also people who wouldn’t benefit from a mini cut because it would do more harm than good.
Who Should Do a Mini Cut
- Those who have spent time in a calorie surplus and have allowed their body fat percentage to become higher than they’re comfortable with.
- Bodybuilders who do not want to stray too far from their contest shape (physique) during their “off season”.
- Those who have a holiday or event that is fast approaching, and have been maintaining or gaining weight prior to the mini cut.
Who Shouldn’t Do a Mini Cut
- Anyone who is eating below maintenance calories (in a calorie deficit) already, and cannot afford to drop calories any lower without losing muscle mass.
- Those with a history of binge eating or disordered eating who are triggered by an aggressive diet.
How To Calculate Your Macros & Calories for Mini Cut
Here are the steps to take to calculate your calories and macros for your mini cut:
1. Calculate Your Calorie Deficit
A mini cut will require you to reduce your calories by around 30% of what you are currently taking in. This means that your calorie deficit will vary depending on the number of calories you are currently eating.
For example, if you normally maintain your weight on 2500 calories per day, but having been eating in a surplus at 3000 calories per day, this would mean you would eat 30% less calories than your surplus calories. This would create a deficit of about 900 calories, putting your new calorie intake at 2100 calories.
It is important to note that if your calorie intake is already low, it will be more difficult for you to create a significant deficit for a mini cut without undereating.
For example, if you are only eating 1450 calories per day, eating 30% less would put your new intake at 1015 calories.
A calorie intake that is as low as 1000 calories will likely be very difficult to adhere to and cause negative side effects like nutrient deficiencies, dizziness, extreme hunger, nausea, fatigue, and headaches.
For this reason, a mini cut will be most effective when your calorie intake has been at maintenance or higher (ideally over 2000 calories per day).
2. Determine Your Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat Intake
Once you have determined your calorie intake for your mini cut, you can calculate your macronutrient intake.
During a mini cut, you need to prioritize your protein intake because protein is essential for maintaining lean muscle mass, and for increasing feelings of fullness and satiety. I recommend allocating 30% of your total daily calories to protein.
For example, if your mini cut required you to eat 2100 calories per day, this would mean that you would need to eat around 158 grams of protein per day to meet your goal.
- Related Article: Is 1 Gram of Protein Per Pound Enough? What The Science Says
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, so it is important not to cut them out entirely even when you are doing a mini cut. I recommend eating around 40% of your total calories from carbs.
For example, if your daily calorie intake is 2100 calories during a mini cut, you should be eating 210 grams of carbs per day.
Your fat intake will be lower during a cutting phase because fats have the most calories per gram; however, I would never recommend cutting it out entirely, since dietary fat intake is crucial for many bodily functions. I recommend allocating 30% of your calories to fat.
For example, if you are eating 2100 calories during a mini cut, this would mean you would need to eat about 70 grams of fat per day.
- Related Article: Do Macros Matter For Weight Loss?
How To Modify Your Mini Cut
A mini cut is short in duration so it is unlikely that you will need to make any significant changes to your calorie or macro intake to continue to see progress.
However, if for some reason you are experiencing a plateau in your weight loss during your mini cut, you can increase your calorie deficit by subtracting 100 to 200 calories from your intake to continue seeing results.
If you do decide to adjust your calorie intake during your mini cut, I would recommend keeping your macronutrient intake the same as suggested above (30% protein, 40% carbs, 30% fat).
How Should You Train During a Mini Cut?
While you are on a mini cut, the way you train can affect your results, so here are a few basic rules to help you optimize your training during a mini cut:
During your mini cut, you should aim to lift weights and strength train consistently to maintain muscle mass and to burn calories.
To keep things simple, you can stick to the same training plan that you were following during your muscle building phase, while keeping in mind that you will have lower energy levels now that you’re in a calorie deficit rather than surplus.
When energy is low, it’s important to prioritize larger muscle groups (glutes, back, chest) over smaller muscle groups (shoulders, biceps, triceps, calves). Try to train each major muscle group twice a week and only add smaller muscle groups if you have the energy for it.
Cardio can be helpful during a mini cut because it can increase your calorie deficit further, but it may not be necessary.
If you are seeing progress with your mini cut without engaging in cardio, then cardio is not required.
If your rate of weight loss is slower than expected during your mini cut, then you could add a 30 minute cardio session to help increase your deficit and your rate of fat loss, rather than decreasing your calories further.
However, during a mini cut I recommend prioritizing time spent lifting over time spent doing cardio, because lifting encourages muscle retention and cardio increases the chance of muscle loss.
Will You Lose Muscle During a Mini Cut?
If you are strength training and prioritizing your protein intake during a mini cut, then it is unlikely that you would lose muscle mass despite being in a more intense calorie deficit.
With that said, if you are already at a lean body fat percentage (less than 10-12% for men and less than 15-17% for women), then an aggressive cutting phase could result in some loss in muscle, because it more difficult for lean individuals to lose fat compared to those sitting at a higher body fat.
What Should You Do After a Mini Cut?
After a mini cut, you can return to your maintenance calories to maintain your weight or you can build more muscle by eating a calorie surplus.
Since a mini cut is so short, there is likely no need to spend time reverse dieting (gradually increasing your calories) back to your maintenance calories.
If you want to put on more muscle after your mini-cut, then you will need to return to a calorie surplus (eating above your maintenance calories). However, if after your mini cut, you wish to maintain your weight, then you should eat at maintenance.
If you don’t know your maintenance calories, you calculate them using an online Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculator like this one (TDEE = Maintenance calories).
- Related Article: Lean Bulk Macros – How To Calculate The Proper Way
How Should You Schedule Your Mini Cut?
A mini cut is most effective when you’re scheduling it around your muscle building phases (bulk), so I recommend planning your bulking periods first and then planning your mini cuts.
For example, if your goal is to put on as much muscle as possible, you could enter a bulking phase for 12 weeks, followed by a 4-week mini cut to help reduce any excess fat gained during your calorie surplus, before entering into another bulking phase.
Additionally, you should look at your calendar to see if there are any events or holidays coming up that you want to be lean for and schedule them to happen after a mini cut.
I would recommend planning it so that when it’s time for your event or holiday you’re eating at maintenance and out of a calorie deficit.
For example, going from a 12 week bulk followed to a 4 week mini cut, followed by 1 to 2 weeks of maintenance for your event or vacation.
You can repeat this bulking/mini cut schedule a few times until you have reached your desired amount of muscle mass, and then start a maintenance phase to maintain your new physique.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is A Mini Cut Effective?
A mini cut can be an extremely effective tool to reduce body fat if you have been in a bulking phase for an extended period of time. A mini cut is short and aggressive, meaning that you will be able to reduce your body fat quickly. After the mini cut you could maintain your weight or continue building muscle.
How Much Can You Lose on a Mini Cut?
During a mini cut, you can expect to lose around 1-2% of your body weight per week, depending on how much body fat you have to lose. For example, a 250-pound male could lose 2.5-5 pounds in one week.
What Results Can You Expect During a Mini Cut?
If you decide to do a mini cut and reduce your total calorie intake by around 30%, you can expect to lose around 1-2% of your bodyweight per week. This aggressive calorie deficit should only be followed for around 2-6 weeks, but can result in a weight loss of around 1-3 pounds per week for a 200 lb person.
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.