I am in 5 days into a cut in order to get ready for a Summer wedding and a trip away with the lads. Have you ever wondered why Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and fitness competitors – you know, those men whose bulging biceps and flat stomachs look unattainable to the average Joe – they have a dirty secret: they don’t look like that year round!!!!!

In fact, in many cases, they only keep their low body fat levels for a few weeks out of the year. Think about it: every single one of them only has one brief moment where they have to look their very best – a photo shoot, a movie scene or a fitness competition; the rest of the time, they may not be letting themselves go, but neither are they driving themselves crazy by weighing their food and counting every calorie. After all it can be very demanding mentally and physically.

If you’re like many people, your life has an in-built off-season: the winter. Many people ask what’s the point in having low body fat during the coldest months of the year if the only payoff is a weakened immune system and a slightly slimmer profile in a snowsuit? The natural progression of the seasons has given rise to a popular concept in the fitness community: summer cutting (or “summer shredding,” if you like alliteration).

Summer cutters take advantage of the winter to bulk up and (hopefully) put on muscle by eating at a caloric surplus. Those winter months become valuable not only because you can’t expect to gain much muscle without those added calories, but because, psychologically, it’s easier to undergo a period of caloric restriction (the dreaded diet) if you can prepare for it with a period of unrestricted eating.

Here are a few useful tips for helping you succeed in losing weight for the summer without losing your mind. First, this involves coming up with a strategy, an action plan that you both understand and can stick to. It’s all well and good to tell yourself that you’ll consumer 1000 fewer calories per day, but if you can’t ultimately stick to that plan and end up gorging on junk food to assuage your guilt, your plan was doomed to fail from the start. Similarly, once you have a plan set, you need to know what steps you can take to ensure its success.

1. Come Up with a strategy that is tailored to you

This is the boring part, and it involves a little math, but bear with me. You need to know some basic facts about yourself: what you weigh (use a scale), what your body fat % is (use calipers (try not to let this deter you), a fitness scale, or simply ask a friend or online fitness community – you only need a rough estimate) and how many calories you need each day to maintain your body weight (your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR). You can calculate this last figure by plugging your age, gender and weight into an online calculator.

Now that you know these things, it’s time to plan your rate of fat loss. To conserve muscle while losing fat, it’s better not to be too aggressive in your caloric restrictions. Trust me I know! The consensus seems to be that a deficit of 500 calories per day is ideal; if followed correctly, this should lead you to lose about a pound of fat per week. So let’s say that you calculated your BMR at 2,500 – that’s how many calories your body needs each day to maintain its weight, assuming no exercise. Subtract 500 from that and you have your daily caloric goal: 2000 calories.

Next up you need to think long term. If you are a 200-pound male, carrying an estimated 20% body fat, and you would like to drop down to 10% (the point at which most people see visible, defined abs), you need to lose 10% body fat, or 20 pounds (10% of 200 lbs). At the rate of one pound per week, it will take you 20 weeks to reach your goal. That may seem like a long time, but being conservative in your restrictions will, first of all, ensure that you don’t lose much muscle mass as you drop weight, and, as an added bonus, make it less likely that you cheat on your diet, which is always the hardest part.

2. Go Food Shopping

As you prepare to transition from a winter bulk into a summer cut, take the time to clear out all the junk food from your kitchen, office drawers and presses. That half-finished packet of crisps or jellies? Toss it, because chances are, when you start to restrict the calories, it will prove too tempting for you to pass up on. The same goes for ice cream, fizzy drinks, white bread – anything that contains a lot of calories and very little nutritional value.

The next thing to do is hit the shop, where you will be buying high-volume foods like spinach, lettuce, rice, Greek yoghurt and lean meats. Eggs and egg whites are staples as well. Feel free to stock up on tons of lean meat, which you can then freeze when you get home.

Psychologically, there are two main benefits here. First, by spending a lot of money upfront on healthy foods, you will be committing yourself to a healthy diet. Nobody likes wasting money, and wasted food is wasted money. Next up, by ridding your kitchen of those easy-to-nibble-on, diet-destroying snacks, and by replacing them with healthier options, you’ll be giving yourself no choice but to eat healthy, and very soon your reward circuitry will kick in and you’ll feel good about sticking to your diet. Trust me healthy food can taste good, check out @shanewalshfitness on Instagram to look at some of the meals that I have prepared.

3. Calculate Your Macros

Once you’ve figured out how many calories you’ll be consuming each day, the next big thing to calculate is your macronutrient needs, the ratio of carbs to protein to fats. The big one, for our purposes, is protein, but carbs and fats are very important too. As a general rule of thumb, you want between 15% and 30% of your total calories to come from fat, and about one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. So in the above hypothetical, our 200-pound man carrying 20% body fat would require about 160 grams of protein per day. The remainder of your calories come from carbs, so knowing that, calculate 15% of 2000 (for your fat), then multiply 160 (your grams of protein) by four, since there are 4 calories in each gram of protein. Your total calories from protein and fat amount to 940, leaving you 1060 calories from carbs, or approximately 265 grams of carbs per day.

I hope that your head isn’t melted after those calculations!!!!!!

4. Adjust Your Workout Program

Funny things happen to the body in a caloric deficit. Your primitive brain won’t know that you’re willfully depriving your body of food, and so it will go into starvation mode. If you want to keep your hard-earned muscles, you’re going to have to work against your body’s instincts. That means reducing your total volume (fewer repetitions) but ramping up the intensity (working with near-maximal weights). The heavier weights will force your body to conserve muscle mass, thus making it all the more likely that it looks to your fat stores for energy.

On the other hand, if you continue to punish your body as if you’re consuming far more calories, it’s only a matter of time before fatigue, exhaustion and even injury catch up to you. Your ability to go hard in the gym depends, in a big way, on the food you’re eating, so when you cut back, make sure your gym sessions slow down accordingly.

If you have any questions on what I have written above please don’t hesitate to contact me on Instagram @shanewalshfitness or email me directly on shanewalshfitness@gmail.com