Centr trainer Luke Zocchi stands shirtless with his hands on his hips.
Luke Zocchi

Healthy shred vs unhealthy shred: spot the signs

Luke Zocchi

Let’s rip the band-aid off: shredding will challenge you, but it shouldn’t break you.

I’ve learned this from personal experience. My last two cutting diets involved no booze and eating as clean as possible, and I’ll be honest, the first two weeks were tough.

Taking on a shred challenge yourself can be a great thing to do. I found it really motivating to get into great shape.

But I have also seen people cut corners to try to get results fast – because they’re on a tight deadline, or too caught up in aesthetics – and that’s where things can get dicey for your health.

Centr trainers Ingrid Clay and Luke Zocchi strike a powerful pose and show off their shredded physiques.

We’ve designed the Power Shred program to empower you to lose fat safely while maintaining muscle, with a sustainable workout load and body recomposition meal plan.

But when you’re training at full intensity and cutting back calories, there can be a wobbly line between a safe shred and an unhealthy one. How do you know the difference?

1. Your shred workouts should feel tough, not impossible

When you’re cutting calories, it makes sense that your energy levels are going to be lower – and that can make workouts feel harder than usual.

But you shouldn’t be so tired or weak that you can’t get through them.

I’ve seen people who think they can fast-track results by heavily slashing back their calorie intake. That plan falls apart when they get to the gym and can’t perform.

You still need to eat enough to be able to train at high intensity, because that’s how muscle gets built and maintained. You don’t necessarily need to eat before a workout, but if you notice that your training is really feeling like a slog, it’s a good idea to time your nutrition so you’re fueling up before a session.

We’ve got advice to help you nail it in our Power Shred snacking guide.

2. You might feel hungry, but you shouldn’t be starving

If you don’t usually track your food intake, or normally grab a snack every time you walk past the fridge, being in a calorie deficit is going to take some mental effort. Trust me. But we’re not talking shipwrecked on a desert island levels of food deprivation here.

I like to think of it as mental hunger versus physical hunger.

During a cut, you will definitely hear me say “I would kill for a burger and fries right now”. That’s the mental hunger talking. When I start to feel a physical hunger in my stomach, that’s when I know I actually need to eat.

If you’re constantly feeling totally starving, there’s a good chance you’re not eating enough. Our Centr nutrition expert Angie Asche recommends looking out for the following signs:

  • a drop in energy levels

  • decline in performance or weakness during workouts

  • negative changes in mood

  • you feel like you’re starving every time you sit down to a meal

Make sure you read the Power Shred Nutrition Handbook – jump to the regular and pescatarian or the vegetarian and vegan version – to estimate your individual needs and get some handy tips on fueling well.

A composite image showing four high-protein snacks from the Centr recipe library.

Fuel safely and nail your shred with 20 of our favorite high-protein snacks.

3. You should be losing fat, not muscle

Quick recap: the aim of a shred is to maintain or gain muscle while losing as much fat as possible. That requires consistent training and being in a small calorie deficit.

If your calorie deficit is too big, you won’t be gaining muscle, you’ll actually start losing it pretty quickly.

Losing muscle mass isn’t the only drawback of underfueling. Your energy levels and workout performance can drop. Your sleep and mood can suffer. You won’t be getting all the nutrients you need. Cutting back too far can also slow your metabolism, meaning you’re burning less energy and fat loss stalls.

So while slashing calories dangerously low might seem like a shortcut to results, in the long run it will send you backwards.

4. You should have a life, not become a hermit

Okay, so you might not be hitting the beers every weekend with your friends, but doing a shred shouldn’t mean you have to live in a cave for 14 weeks.

I always hear Angie’s words ringing in my ears when I think about this: “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” If you find yourself turning down your nephew’s birthday party because you’re worried about cake, or you’re avoiding catching up with friends over dinner, there might be a problem.

Of course, you need to commit to your training and meal plan. But once you get into that routine, if you have a night out you know you can lock right back into gear the next day.

Want more shredding advice from the experts?

Luke Zocchi

Chris Hemsworth may wield the hammer, but it’s his personal trainer Luke Zocchi who cracks the whip. A certified personal trainer, Luke is renowned for his fast and efficient training methods, using weights and bodyweight to get maximum results in minimum time. He’ll also show you how to fuel your training with quick, easy and healthy recipes.

Luke Zocchi

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