Whether you’ve ever followed a diet plan or gone through a cutting cycle, there comes a point when weight loss simply… Isn’t happening.
It feels like no matter what you do, you can’t figure out how to break through a weight loss plateau. Until now.
The truth is, you probably feel as though you’ve been doing everything right. Following the right workout plans, eating well, hitting the gym often – what more can you do to rid yourself of a cutting plateau?
If we’re totally honest, we may not have a magic wand, but an understanding of the human metabolism will certainly set you on the right path to breaking through a weight loss plateau. There is often an art to mastering your cutting cycle – a combination of energy in, and energy out. But there’s more to it than that…
Let’s start from the top.
What is a cutting plateau?
During a cutting phase, hitting a cutting plateau means that you’ve somewhat hit a ‘ceiling’ in your weight loss efforts, having not lost any weight for at least 2 weeks.
While our natural weight can fluctuate slightly across days, or even weeks, due to water retention and even bowel movements – if you’re purposely trying to lose weight and your weight loss has stopped or slowed a lot, you’ve hit a cutting plateau.
During your cut, hitting a cutting plateau is totally normal and to be expected even for the most experienced of bodybuilders. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how particular you are being about your calorie intake, how often you’re working out or how much effort you feel like you’re putting in – it’s totally natural to get stuck at least once or twice during a cut.
Plus, the further you are into your cut and the more you lose (and the leaner you get) the higher chance you have of hitting a cutting plateau. Once you hit a low body fat percentage, going even lower can be tricky without adding cardio into your routine. This can also involve lowering your calorie intake even more.
How to break through a weight loss plateau
Now, this is where things get interesting. Knowing how to break through a weight loss plateau starts with checking that you’re currently measuring and recording your calories accurately.
While you may think that the odd calorie can go unnoticed, it could be affecting your weight loss efforts and causing you to hit a cutting plateau. If you’re new to bodybuilding and cutting cycles, it can be easy to count your intake incorrectly or “cheat” a little too often. After fixing these errors, you can begin losing weight again.
Doing fine with your calorie count? Then it could be time to do one of the following:
- Eat less
- Get moving more
If you’re already struggling with your reduced calorie intake, I wouldn’t recommend going for option one – eating less. Many bodybuilders opt for eating less, thinking it is an easier way to cut faster. However, a further calorie restriction can start to get a little dangerous.
Instead, maxing out your exercise allows your body to kickstart weight loss again, breaking through a weight loss plateau much more safely. By working out more, you’re setting your body up for long-term success, compared to starving yourself during an even lower calorie intake.
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But how much should you be exercising for breaking through a weight loss plateau? The trouble is, there is no scientific answer to give here. Of course, pushing your body to the extreme isn’t going to do you any good in the long run, but you can certainly exercise more than you first think.
Exercise for breaking through weight loss plateau
Increasing your exercise may look something like this:
- 1.5 to 2 hours of cardio weekly (HIIT for example)
- 4 to 5 hours of weightlifting weekly
This combination will help you maximize your weight loss and help you in breaking through your weight loss plateau. When you feel as though you’ve hit your exercise “ceiling” you can head back and review your calorie intake.
Weight loss plateau bodybuilding
When you’re eager to start breaking through a weight loss plateau, it can be tempting to push your body to crazy measures – whether through exercise, calorie restriction, or both.
Although the human body is pretty resilient, if you go overboard with your workouts, it is likely you’ll begin to struggle with hunger and cravings, poor sleep, bad moods and low energy.
If you feel as though you’re maximizing your exercise time and still not losing weight, there could be two reasons why breaking through your cutting plateau is proving difficult:
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Fat loss is being affected by water retention or bowel movements.
During a cut, water retention can play a somewhat varied role in how much weight you lose. Often, it’s easy to go for 2 to 3 weeks without losing much weight before suddenly shifting several pounds seemingly overnight. In bodybuilding circles, this is often referred to as the “whoosh effect” where weight is lost through frequent urination.
Furthermore, this overnight “flush” frequently occurs after a “cheat” meal or a break in your diet, since an increase in calories (especially carbs) can make a huge dent in cortisol levels, which then reduces water retention.
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Plus, your bowel movements can make more of an impact than you first thing – causing you to believe that you’ve hit a cutting plateau. This can then trick you into thinking you’ve maintained weight, or even gained weight (in some circumstances!) as well as bloating.
For these reasons alone, it’s recommended you wait 2 to 3 weeks before reducing your calorie intake – opting for increasing exercise time instead.
If water retention is stopping you from breaking through weight loss plateau, be sure to weigh yourself each day in the morning, without clothes, to average your results every 2 weeks.
As I mentioned earlier, our natural weight can fluctuate across days, if not, weeks. And so, short-term spikes in carbs, water or sodium can make it feel as though you aren’t losing fat daily/weekly.
However, if you aren’t losing weight across a 2 week average, you may need to alter your diet or exercise routine.
Fat loss has slowed/stopped due to natural metabolic adaptations.
If you’re having trouble breaking through a weight loss plateau that’s unrelated to water retention or bowel movements, you could be facing a cutting plateau due to natural metabolic adaptations which occur during cutting. Assuming you’re not facing the first reason here, the only route to losing weight again is to start eating less.
However, don’t go diving into a ridiculously strict deficit – think gradual, not drastic. Aim to cut your daily calorie intake by 100 calories every 2 weeks by reducing your carb intake (don’t reduce your protein or fat).In most cases, this will be enough to keep you losing fat.
How long you can maintain this for will depend on your body, however, a good rule of thumb is to stop cutting calories when you’ve reached about 90% of your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Breaking through a weight loss plateau – Our conclusion
If you’re struggling on how to break through a weight loss plateau, you’re not alone, a cutting plateau is totally natural and nothing to be afraid of.
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A few minor changes to your diet and exercise regime will help you stay on track with your cutting goals. Before making any drastic adjustments, be sure to take note of the following:
- Determine if you really are in a cutting plateau by weighing yourself daily and averaging your weight across 2 weeks.
- Ensure you’re accurately measuring and recording what you’re eating, without any huge “cheats”.
- Max out your exercise until you’re doing around 4 to 5 hours of weighlifting and 1.5 to 2 hours of cardio each week.
- Once that starts to feel like you’ve hit a cutting plateau, cut your calorie intake by 100 calories every 2 weeks, by reducing carbs – Not protein or fat.
- Stop cutting calories when you’ve reached about 90 percent of your BMR.
- If you’ve been eating slightly below your BMR for more than 2 weeks and still haven’t reached your desired body fat %, bring your calories back to your total daily energy expenditure for 4 to 6 weeks to allow your body to normalize, and then start cutting anew.
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