mini cut guide

Your goal is to build muscle…

You’ve been gaining noticeable size and strength consistently from week to week…

You’re midway through your bulk, have been utilizing the best bulking diet, and are happy with the progress you’ve been making…

But there’s just one problem…

You’re starting to feel excessively “soft” around the midsection and your overall body fat levels are beginning to climb to a level that you’re just not comfortable with.

Your main focus is still to pack on muscle, but at the same time you’re feeling hesitant because you really don’t want to gain any more fat.

What’s the best course of action at this point?

Enter the “Mini Cut”.

What Is A Mini Cut?

mini cutting

Just as the name implies, a “mini cut” is a brief fat loss phase that is performed during a bulk in order to strip off some of the excess fat you’ve accumulated.

Any time you eat in a calorie surplus in order to maximize muscle growth, a certain amount of fat gain is inevitable.

There are a few important steps you can follow in order to minimize fat gains while bulking, but you’ll always put on some fat regardless.

This is a normal part of the muscle building process and is to be expected, since it simply isn’t possible to divert 100% of your calorie surplus to pure muscle growth only (especially if you’re “dirty bulking”).

So, if you’ve been maintaining a calorie surplus over a prolonged period of time and your body fat levels have shot up a bit too high, mini-cutting can be used to bring those levels back under control so you can continue to focus on bulking and still stay lean.

When Is Mini Cutting Appropriate?

bulking fat gain

The “best time” to do a mini cut is partly a matter of personal preference, since it can vary depending on your goals and on how much body fat you’re ultimately comfortable carrying.

That said, assuming you’re going for the traditional “aesthetic” look and want to be both muscular and lean year round, I wouldn’t recommend allowing your body fat levels to drift much beyond the 15% mark without inserting a mini cut into the mix.

Going slightly higher can be fine depending on the person (since everyone will look different at varying body fat percentages), but it’s around 15% or higher where your abs will begin fading into the background and your clearly visible “4-pack” will gradually dissolve into a blurry “2-pack”.

The bottom line though is that if you’ve reached a point where you’re genuinely unhappy with how much fat you’re carrying and are losing the motivation to bulk further as a result, shifting into a brief calorie deficit is probably a good idea.

Also keep in mind that the more fat you allow yourself to gain during your bulking phase, the longer you’ll need to spend dieting it off later on.

Rather than having to do a drawn out cutting phase in order to drop from, say, 20% body fat all the way down to 12%, the use of mini cutting will help to keep your body fat levels permanently under control so that you can avoid those lengthy, tedious fat loss diets altogether.

How To Do A Proper Mini Cut Step By Step

lose fat while bulking

Mini cutting is ultimately a pretty straightforward process, and here’s how I’d recommend going about it…

First off, you don’t need to bother with a typical “bulking to cutting transition phase” where your calories are gradually tapered down over the course of several weeks from a surplus to a deficit.

This is useful in preparation for a full blown fat loss cycle, but when it comes to mini cutting, your goal is to be as efficient as possible so that you can lose the fat quickly and get right back to your muscle building phase.

For that reason, you can simply drop straight from your calorie surplus right into a calorie deficit, with my default recommendation for most average trainees being the standard deficit of 500 calories below maintenance.

This amount is large enough to produce significant ongoing fat loss, but small enough that your appetite, energy levels and gym performance will remain in check.

That said, because mini cuts are only carried out over a short time frame, a more aggressive deficit of up to 750 calories below maintenance can optionally be used if you’d prefer to just “tough it out” in order to lose a larger amount of fat.

It really just depends on how much fat you’re wanting to drop and how important minimizing hunger/energy loss is to you in comparison to just losing more fat at a faster rate.

In any case though, 500-750 calories below maintenance is what I’d recommend for a standard mini cut, with 500 being my “safe” recommendation for most people.

If you fell off track a bit during your muscle building phase and aren’t quite sure what your current calorie maintenance level is, here are 2 simple ways you can estimate it…

The first is to use a basic body weight multiplier. 

Since your body fat levels should still be within the normal healthy range, you can estimate your maintenance level pretty close by simply multiplying your body weight in pounds by one of the following activity multipliers:

Sedentary = 14 (little to no exercise)
Lightly Active = 14.5 (light exercise: 1-3 days a week)
Moderately Active = 15 (moderate exercise: 3-5 days a week)
Very Active = 15.5 (intense exercise: 6-7 days a week)
Extremely Active = 16 (intense daily exercise and strenuous physical job)

The second option is to use the “Harris Benedict Formula”.

This equation is a bit more accurate since it takes individual factors into account such as your sex, height and age.

Step #1: Calculate your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn at rest…

Men: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
Women: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161

Step #2: Take that number and multiply it by your activity level…

Sedentary = 1.2 (little to no exercise)
Lightly Active = 1.375 (light exercise: 1-3 days a week)
Moderately Active = 1.55 (moderate exercise: 3-5 days a week)
Very Active = 1.725 (intense exercise: 6-7 days a week)
Extremely Active = 1.9 (intense daily exercise and strenuous physical job)

Neither of these calculators will be 100% perfect, but it should be close enough to give you a good starting point to work from, and you can simply adjust from there once you see how your body weight responds.

If you find that you aren’t consistently losing a minimum of 1 pound per week, you’ll know that the calorie intake is too high and needs to be decreased.

On the other hand, if you find that you’re losing weight very rapidly (more than 2 pounds per week) and are feeling excessively hungry and physically drained, you can increase it in order to slow things down a bit.

How long should your mini cut last?

A typical mini cutting phase can be as short as 2 weeks up to as long as 6 weeks, and it really just depends on how much fat you’re aiming to burn off and how large of a calorie deficit you’re using.

Keep in mind that the point of a mini cut is not to get shredded abs and striated delts; the idea here is simply to bring your body fat percentage back down to an acceptable level so that you can continue bulking comfortably.

Depending on your overall activity level throughout the week, a calorie deficit of 500-750 calories will produce somewhere between 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week, so you can gauge the length of your mini cut based off of that.

Your body weight will usually drop by a larger amount than that when you first get started, but this is simply due to the decreased food volume and the fact that your body will be storing less glycogen and retaining less water weight on the lower calories.

Don’t be alarmed if you lose up to 3-4 pounds in the first week or so, and remember that the reduced glycogen/water weight will bounce back once you return to your calorie surplus.

How should you shift back to bulking once your mini cut is over?

You don’t need any sort of long, drawn out “transition phase” here either, but you also don’t want to jump straight back to a large surplus and begin eating based purely on hunger right out of the gate.

Doing so will almost always cause you to over-eat and could very easily erase a good portion of the fat loss you achieved during your mini cut.

Even though mini cuts are brief, they’ll still end up producing food cravings regardless (especially if you’ve been using a larger calorie deficit), so it’s important that you return to your calorie surplus in a cautious and controlled manner.

A good method for this is to just go back to eating at your calorie maintenance level for one week, allow your body weight to stabilize, and then move into your calorie surplus from there.

Read my guide on how to properly transition from cutting to bulking if you want to learn more.

Lose Fat While Bulking: Mini Cutting Recap

mini cut during bulk

If you find yourself drifting much beyond the 15% body fat level during your muscle building phase, a brief mini cut can help you drop back down to a comfortable level so that you can continue gaining muscle and stay decently lean all year round.

Employing a proper mini cut is quite simple:

  • Drop straight from your calorie surplus right into a calorie deficit. 500 calories below maintenance will work well for the majority of trainees, though a slightly more aggressive deficit of up to 750 below maintenance can optionally be used.
  • Maintain your deficit for a period of 2-6 weeks depending on how much fat you’re aiming to lose. 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week is what should be expected as long as you stick to your training and diet closely.
  • Once you’ve dropped the fat and your mini cut is over, return to eating at your calorie maintenance level for one week. From there, move into your regular calorie surplus and resume bulking.

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